How To Write A Company Overview That Rocks

Company Overview

One of the worst, most boring, things in the world you’ll ever have to read is a company overview. Am I right!?!

“Since 19__, we’ve been an engineering firm. Blah, blah, blah services we provide. Blah, blah, blah how many people and offices we have. Blah, blah, blah, we are customer focused and give great customer service. Blah, blah, blah we’ve won the following awards…”

Folks, that’s only the first paragraph! There’s usually like a full page of this drivel. And I get it. Many RFPs ask you for your company overview. Plus, it’s not like you can do without one. You’ll need it for your website and if you still have a brochure..that too.

But how do you turn a boring company overview on its head and write something that’s actually compelling?

Well, today I’m going to share with you step-by-step directions on how to do just that. And, if you follow these directions, I think you’ll be shocked at what you are capable of writing.

But first, let me tell you a little story.

Why I Was, Luckily, Never Tortured By Boy Scouts

At about the age of 11, I entered the Boy Scouts. My mom was totally against it. She tried to persuade me not to by explaining that I would have to leave home on the weekends and sleep in the woods.

Note to all mothers, this is a surefire way to convince your 11 year old to join the Boy Scouts! To me, that sounded like a dream come true (keep in mind, this was the 80s – before gadgets and the internet).

But what I didn’t know was this. When you get about 30 boys (between the ages of 11 and 16) and put them into the woods together…let’s just say it can turn into Lord Of The Flies pretty darn quick.

And this particular Boy Scout troop had something called “initiation.” That’s when you, as the new scout, would have to endure something horrible to prove you could “take it” and were not a snitch. And the severity of this act depended on how little the older kids could tolerate you.

For example, they tied one kid to a tree and beat him with sticks. They tied another to a metal cot in an empty campsite and left him there for hours. Like I said…Lord Of The Flies.

Yet, I was never initiated. I know it was discussed because one time I overhead one of the older kids say, “No, I like him. He makes me laugh.”

That was my saving grace. The only thing keeping me from being tied to a tree and beaten was that:

  • I Stood Out From The Other New Scouts
  • They Liked Me
  • They Trusted Me

Why That’s Important

I’m sharing this story because I want to illustrate two very important takeaways. First, if you make your clients read a bore-you-to-death, full-page description of your firm…you should be tied to a tree and beat with sticks. It’s true! That’s the only legitimate reason ever to do that to someone.

But probably more importantly, if you can write a company overview that’s a little different and gets potential clients to like and trust you…that puts you in a good position.

Can we all agree that’s what we want our company overview to do? Ok, good.

We’re going to build our company overview using what’s known as the Know, Like, Trust (KLT) Hook.

What Is The KLT Hook?

The KLT Hook was popularized by copywriter Kevin Rogers and has its roots in a common formula used by stand up comedians. This formula is typically used during an initial joke to endear an audience. It was most famously used by Jimmy Fallon in his first monologue as the host of the Tonight Show.

The KLT Sales Hook has four parts:

Identity

You start off by identifying yourself with the audience. You show yourself as someone just like them.

Struggle

Next, you identify a personal struggle, one that your audience can relate to. The struggle should reflect a problem your audience currently has.

Discovery

Then you identify a discovery: something you learned that helped you solve this problem.

Surprise/Unlikely Result

Finally, you give the audience something unexpected. This is often that you achieved a result better than one would expect.

Jimmy Fallon’s KLT Hook

Let’s look at how Jimmy Fallon used this formula.

The joke starts around 1:25. Let’s dissect it.

“I really don’t know how I got here. I grew up in upstate New York, a town called Saugerties, New York. It was a beautiful town. I had a great childhood.”

What’s he doing there? He’s really not talking about himself, is he? He’s identifying with the audience, all those viewers that have fond memories of their childhood and the town they grew up in. What he’s saying is,”I’m just like you.” Then he goes on.

“If you would have told me as a kid that I would graduate high school then go on to be on Saturday Night Live…then eventually go on to be the host of the Tonight Show…”

Now what’s he doing? He’s identifying his challenge and showing some weakness. He wasn’t the kind of kid to be voted as “most likely to succeed.” I, like most of you, wasn’t that person either. Again, we can identify with this struggle. but what does he say next…

“…I would have said, “I graduated high school?”

This is the punchline. And there are two important elements to this. First, he’s discovering something. He’s just learning that he graduated high school.

But the discovery is not what makes it funny, is it? What makes it funny is we weren’t expecting him to say that. We would expect him to say that he just assumed he would graduate high school but would be surprised to be hosting the Tonight Show. We weren’t expecting him to be surprised that he graduated high school.

But how do you apply this formula to your company overview? I’m going to show you, but first let’s look at how and why it works.

How And Why The KLT Hook Works

By using the KLT Hook, you are first showing the audience that you were just like them. You are showing similarity.

Studies show that people like those who have commonalities. If we can understand and feel empathy toward their situation, we’re more likely to embrace them.

Then you identify your struggle. Again, studies also show that by identifying our own struggles/weaknesses, we prove that we can be trusted. This helps get the audience’s guard down.

Then by identifying your discovery, you flip the script. You’ve stumbled upon a solution they have not. Here you are identifying a secret. This portion of the KLT hook draws people in because it creates a “knowledge gap” (gap between what the audience knows and what they want to know). When there is a knowledge gap created, the audience will want to close that gap. Therefore, it arouses their curiosity.

Finally, you end with the surprise. You identify a result the audience wasn’t expecting. In comedy, this is the twist that gets people to laugh. In business, this is the twist that gets people interested in buying your services.

Using The KLT Hook For Your Company Overview

My most classic example of using the KLT Hook is the profile I use for speaking engagements.

“Matt Handal was a marketer submitting boilerplate proposals and materials that were indistinguishable from his competitors’. He had no idea how to convince new clients to buy his firm’s services. And worst of all, nobody would listen to him.

One day, he stumbled upon some academic research on how people really make decisions. Since then, he’s convinced government clients to give his firm large sole-source contracts, written one of the most popular books about proposal writing, and people even fly him across the country to teach them how to apply Mind Marketing to their business.”

That’s a hardcore implementation of the KLT Hook! 🙂

Yeah Matt, that’s great for YOU! But how do I use this at my firm?

I use the KLT Hook to write custom company overviews for each market or client type. Those really aren’t my examples to share. But let me throw a quick one together here:

“Pat Flynn and Dave Brown met in 2007, the day they were both laid off from a giant architecture firm. They had no job prospects and were burnt out from the “big firm approach” to architecture.

Sitting at a local pub, with nothing to lose, they scribbled down some ideas of how two unemployed architects might impact the world. One of those ideas hit them like a train.

So, armed with a loan from Pat’s grandmother and working out of Dave’s basement, they set off to pursue a singular vision: To build a practice that put people first and delivered practical, cost-effective, architecture solutions to businesses that needed them.

Today, Flynn and Brown Architecture is the largest firm dedicated solely to commercial projects. Pat and Dave proved that an architecture firm can serve people, make client budgets work, and put the interests of the businesses it serves above its own. And we’re awful glad they did.”

Now tell me that’s not one of, if not the, best A/E/C company overview you’ve ever read!

The Company Overview Challenge

Now’s your turn. I’m throwing up a challenge. Take a stab at rewriting your company overview using the KLT Hook. Then post it in the comments. I’ll read every one and even lend my thoughts. Give it a try and post a comment.

Comments

  1. Great article! I loved the comedian reference – I’ve always been fascinated with joke writing. So here’s my quick stab using the KLT Hook. (Too many F’s in the first paragraph? :))

    As a teenager in the 1970s, while his friends were off fishing and playing football, Fran Colantonio spent his Saturdays fixing radios and car engines by his father’s side. Vittorio Colantonio, an expert handyman, often left a frustrated Fran to find the problem and fix it himself. Never one to turn down a challenge, find it and fix it he did.

    Since then, Fran has never stopped working with his hands or solving problems. Although he received a B.S. in Business Administration and even worked as an electrical engineer, he never stopped building decks for his Newton neighbors or renovating their kitchens. When he had more than enough work for a year, he knew he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. That was in 1978.

    Fran is now the owner of Colantonio, Inc., a $50 million general contracting firm, specializing in complex renovations in the academic and affordable housing markets. He thrives on finding creative ways to get the job done on budget and on time. The firm self-performs in carpentry and many other trades, with the same talented crew he’s had for over 20 years.

    When Fran is not in the office or on a job site, you can find him out back in the shop – restoring a 1960 Jeep Willys truck with his teenage son.

    • Matt Handal says:

      Thank you for participating Amy.

      There is a story here. But you need to tighten it up and better define the elements.

      Let’s look at your identity:

      As a teenager in the 1970s, while his friends were off fishing and playing football, Fran Colantonio spent his Saturdays fixing radios and car engines by his father’s side. Vittorio Colantonio, an expert handyman, often left a frustrated Fran to find the problem and fix it himself. Never one to turn down a challenge, find it and fix it he did.

      We can tighten that up.

      While his teenage friends were off playing and having fun, Fran Colantonio spent his Saturdays fixing radios and cars in the family garage. His dad’s “sink or swim” teaching method forced him to find the solutions to frustrating electrical and mechanical problems.

      Something like that. Much more concise.

      But what is the struggle here? You need to better define that. It sounds like he wasn’t happy as an engineer. He really wanted to build schools and houses.

      Then what was the discovery? His neighbor asked if he would help build a deck?

      And I think the unlikely result is he built a $50M firm. But I think you need to clean that up.

      The last line, while I get what you are trying to do…does not fit in with not wanting to be an engineer. It would be better if his son helped him build stuff.

      Read my comments to the other comments because they will be helpful.

  2. Our vertical market is K-12: Just like every K-12 student from the great state of Pennsylvania, XYZ Company too, was born and raised here.

    Over five (5) generations of the XYZ family worked in the buildings trades since the late 1800’s. Despite severe economic hardships and trying times, even a train wreck that blocked the road for six months on which the business sat didn’t stop the vision to diversify the family business. With nothing to lose, John Doe ventured to incorporate XYZ Company in 1952, with focus on fuel oil delivery and service.

    By 1996, we spread our wings into the energy business delivering Performance Contracting Services after becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of XYZ Corporation – a publically traded Fortune 250 company. With annual revenues exceeding $X billion, it’s comforting to know the same company is responsible for the financial backing of all agreements.

    Over 60 years in the making, XYZ Company has steadily grown to a $XM organization with a local presence throughout the state. Our firm has been recognized by several national magazines as one of the Top Specialty Companies in the country.

    Today, we excel in making schools today more comfortable AND more energy efficient. With Pennsylvania’s fated brutal cold and humid seasons, not to mention construction season, we’re awfully fortunate to be in the HVAC business.

    • Matt Handal says:

      Jen,

      I think there is something here. But it is not well articulated yet. This seems to be all result and no struggle. There is no story without a struggle.

      It seems like John Doe wanted something more for his family business. So he (bought a truck?) and started delivering oil. Why, I wonder?

      How did that turn into mechanical design and contracting in the k-12 market? Why did you get into that market? Was John’s school unbearable cold? Was it cozy and comfortable? Was it John’s kids who had the discovery?

      Read the other comments where I give some other advice that would be relevant to you as well. I think you need to search for the story here, clearly define all the elements, and cut everything else.

  3. Coffee stains and Cheerios

    When John Wallace quit his steady job with the County of San Luis Obispo as Office Engineer and started his company based in his small house, his wife was bit dubious about this new endeavor. It was 1984 and Wallace & Associates was a powerhouse company of one.

    Every movement is started by one person but it is the early team members, who make the leap of faith, that validate and invigorate a company. Engineers Craig Campbell and Brad Brechwald joined and the company took off. As quirky group of engineers that shared the same core values it was not long until word got around that they produced superior work and were dedicated to their clients all five of them.

    Today after more than thirty years Wallace Group is a multi-disciplinary engineering, design, survey and planning company with more than 60 co-workers. From that kitchen table full of coffee, breakfast cereal and creativity launched a community minded company whose professionals serve their clients, co-workers and the public interest. Plus they build cool stuff.

    • Matt Handal says:

      Chris,

      Thank you for participating.

      There is too much going on here. You need to get clearer about each piece.

      What’s the identity? It seems to be about John, but then you drop him almost immediately. Every story needs a hero. It doesn’t have to be John. It could be the firm or brad/Craig. But there needs to be one hero. It’s unclear who that is.

      Next, you are missing the struggle. What’s the struggle here? His wife wasn’t on board? That’s an annoyance, not a struggle. They started small? Everybody does. You need to better define the struggle.

      What was the discovery? I don’t see a clear discovery.

      And what is the unlikely result? Again, I don’t see it.

      Like I suggested to Susan, try writing one line for each of these elements.

  4. I was a dreamer growing up as an only child in California. Mom called me ‘nature girl.’ When I was four, she took me to church and asked “do you feel God?” I said “no, but I feel him in the backyard” – perhaps a premonition of my future as a Landscape Architect. Dad took me on lazy drives through the rolling valleys, collecting pop bottles and scavenging from sun-drenched orange groves. That love of nature later led me to Alaska as a young Biology student, where I experienced many wilderness adventures. When Mom died, I returned to California to be near Dad. Drifting through colleges, I finally landed at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in the Landscape Architecture program. I loved the idea of designing with nature, but graduating didn’t come easy. I was certainly not on the ‘fast track.’ I spent days, weeks, even months dreaming in some wild place… the Sierra Nevada mountains, the seashore, the desert.., searching for answers in the natural world.

    After college, I worked in environmental restoration for a few years, and then married a Wildlife Biologist. As a young wife and mother, I one day had a deeply mystical experience when I did “feel God in church,” as Mom had hoped. For over a decade, my husband and I poured our lives into ministry. We were living a simple dream – to love through serving others. Life was happy and fulfilling, but also a financial struggle. In 2007, I returned to Landscape Architecture with the passion of one following a new dream. I studied hard, earned my license and a second degree in Horticulture, learned AutoCAD and launched my private practice. Through the difficult economic downturn, I persevered, determined to succeed.

    Along the journey, I’ve discovered that the dreamy nature girl has found her true niche as a Landscape Architect. I take delight in solving the complex puzzle of integrating client desires, materials, horticultural needs, budget and site conditions, and I am honored to use my talents to help make other dreams come true. I’ve recently moved with my family to beautiful Colorado, where my desire is to put my skills at the service of architects, to display their structures in the best setting. I am confident that our collaboration will benefit the architectural design concept, be site-appropriate and cost-efficient, and will enhance the beauty of any project.

    In my life, I have had many dreams fulfilled. My foremost desire is to help make your dreams become a beautiful reality.

    • Matt Handal says:

      Susan, I think you have the elements of a story here. But you need to refine it and cut it down to its most basic elements. Try writing only one sentence for each part.

      It sounds like the relationship with your mother and God is the identity.

      But what’s the struggle? It might be that you devoted your life to God in a way that wasn’t providing financially. Was there another way?

      The discovery sounds to be that in landscape architecture feel connected to God (through nature) and serving others.

      Then I think you are missing the surprise/unlikely result. It’s probably that you can be a success while caring for others and serving God.

      Those are my thoughts.

      • Thank you very much Matt. I will rewrite it with your input.

      • Thank you Matt, I cut it down a lot and tied together the dream idea with Mom and ‘seed’ theme.

        I was a dreamy only child growing up in California. Mom called me ‘nature girl.’ Dad & I roamed through sunlit valleys, scavenging pop bottles and oranges.

        When I was little Mom asked “do you feel God at church?” I said “no, but I feel him in the backyard.” Preview of things to come? The nature girl grew up and ventured to wild Alaska, but Mom died, and I came home for Dad.

        Drifting, I landed at Cal Poly, in Landscape Architecture. But “designing with nature” in college didn’t come easy. I graduated, but not on the ‘fast track.’ I would grab any chance to dream… in the Sierras, the seashore, the desert… trying to find my place in wild spaces. After college, I married a biologist and started a family.

        One day, surprised by a mystical encounter, I suddenly did “feel God in church,” as Mom had hoped. For a decade, my husband and I poured our lives into ministry. Life was happy – a simple dream – to love and serve others. But I admit it was a financial hardship. And, my hidden talents lay dormant, like a seed.

        In 2007, I returned to Landscape Architecture with new-found passion. In quick time, I earned my license, a Horticulture degree, aced AutoCAD and launched a private practice. Through the hard economic downturn, I persevered – no stranger to struggle. I remembered… Mom said I could do anything, if I’m true to God and myself.

        As a seed grows to a tree, a dream is fulfilled. The ‘nature girl’ found her place as a Landscape Architect. Success can be defined as being true to oneself and to God. For me, it’s using my knowledge, talent and skill to care for others through design with nature. My dream is simply this: to make yours a beautiful reality.

        • Matt Handal says:

          Susan,

          I still think this needs work. You really need to cut to the story here. Way too many details. No need for analogies or flowery language. No need for secondary characters. Cut it to the absolute core story. I imagine something like this:

          “Nature and faith have always played a huge role in my life. When I was a child, my Mom would ask, “Do you feel God at church?” “No, but I feel him in the backyard,” I would reply. But after a spiritual encounter as an adult, I took a leap of faith and poured the next decade of my life into the ministry.

          I was living a simple dream – to love and serve others. But my talents and love of nature were not being fulfilled. Was there a way I could serve others, make the world a better place, and truly be close to nature?

          One day, the answer was given to me. In 2007, I earned my landscape architecture license and launched a private practice.

          As a landscape architect, I use my knowledge, talent, and skill to care for others through design and nature. My dream is this: to make yours a beautiful reality and help everyone see the divinity of nature.”

          See how much better that is when you cut to the absolute core?

          • YES! Thank you SO much. Awesome. It’s hard for me to cut to the chase, great advice.

  5. Great article Matt! Amen for bashing the “blah, blah blah aren’t we old and amazing” boilerplate project descriptions. It takes a brave soul to point out the big elephant in the conference rooms of many AEC firms. You have inspired me to write a post of my own on this subject (Converting the Old School to a New Hook-http://www.blog.dbcreates.com/converting-the-old-school-to-a-new-hook/) in which I give you the respect and credit you deserve.

    You have also made me very grateful that my fellow Girl Scouts are a far more genteel lot than your hostile brothers in blue. I confess that at some level I agree that being tied to a tree and whipped with sticks is fair punishment for those who refuse to hit the delete key on the boring boilerplate. However, I also recognize that it is in my best interest to disarm myself and embody a more compassionate approach. After all, the content criminals are my target clients.

    I want to congratulate inspired AEC marketers who have endured protestations and redlines, daring to deliver client-focused, differentiating and, dare I say, “entertaining” content in an industry saturated with uninspired, boring verbiage.

    Now that I have officially become a marketing consultant and am on the cusp of launching my brand, this article had me composing my KLT Hook before I finished reading it. Like you Matt, I started my career cutting and pasting boilerplate. Those days are gone.

    Fast forward a decade or two and we are completely tied to the internet, social media, SEO and a content revolution that has thoroughly transformed AEC industry marketing. Small to mid-sized firms have either passed through the “blah blah blah” barrier, been acquired by industry giants, or wonder why they aren’t achieving their growth and profitability objectives. The time has come for change resistant AEC firm leaders to, in the words of the incomparable Prince, “Come on, everybody get your groove on (hey baby) come on! Get your groove on.”

    So Matt, please keep fighting the good fight and consider me a partner in your “Help Everybody Everyday” anti-drivel content marketing campaign.

  6. In 1989 Suri Ramanna quit his job as a structural engineer and opened the doors of TRC Worldwide Engineering armed with only his steadfast belief in service, innovation, and quality.

    Service means exceeding expectations. Meet every deadline, return every call, and respond to every RFI as fast as humanly possible. No excuse is acceptable. Service also means giving back to the communities in which we live; our employees are leaders of numerous civic and charitable organizations wherever TRC has an office.

    Innovation means taking the time to look at every project with a fresh set of eyes and implementing the most creative and economical engineering solution. It is also delivering that solution in the most expeditious manner. TRC has two full service offices in India with two hundred skilled people providing drafting and other critical services. In other words, we work two shifts a day, every day.

    Quality is defined by, and embedded into, a firm’s culture and engrained into every employee at every level. At TRC good enough is not good enough. Do your work and check your work. The famous quote from Voltaire, “Good is the enemy of great.” is every employee’s number one priority.

    Today Mr. Ramanna is the president and CEO of a diverse, international engineering firm with four hundred outstanding employees who have proven that dedication to service, innovation, and quality leads to success for TRC and, most importantly, for our clients.

    • Matt Handal says:

      Barry,

      You didn’t really use the format. The first sentence is fine. But the rest doesn’t follow the format. The result is it is lame. Read my comments to the other write ups posted. That should help.

  7. Melise Gerber says:

    Matt, I often find that the biggest impediment to changing the firm overview is convincing company management that the profile needs to be changed, and that the new version is better. I have frequently worked for people who ask me to improve their marketing materials, and then reject anything that strays too far from what they had originally. Do you have any advice for overcoming this problem?

  8. Good Morning Matt, I’ve been tasked with adding “narrative” to our corporate overview, which is pretty much the standard overview that you highlighted in your blog post. Issue is I’m not easily able to identify all the elements.

    Our company was founded by a group of engineers and surveyors, unheard of in 1977, to start a full-service firm and one of the few firms today that offer comprehensive engineering and survey services.

    I can’t identify the struggle in our story. The discovery, I’m thinking, would be our founders seeing a need and deciding to join their firms together to meet their clients needs.

    I’m not sure there’s much of a surprise either. The founders already knew the company would be received well since they had collaborated together times before and were getting great feedback from their clients who continued to do business with them when the firm was established.

    Any guidance/feedback you can provide would be appreciated.

    • Matt Handal says:

      Grace, what makes you think there are only a few firms that do surveying and engineering? 

      “Comprehensive” and “full service” are overused and meaningless terms. Just google “full service engineering” and you’ll see what I mean. 

      You’ll have to rethink this.

      In general, I think you are approaching this with your boss in mind. He/she is going to want to impress the client. He/she will not want to show weakness. But that’s not what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to take that protective shielding down a bit.

      We’re trying to tell the story of your firm. And the story is a human story. Humans struggle. Humans are not always perfect. They don’t always have the answer right away.

      Why didn’t they just stay working for the firms they were with? Why were they compelled to start this new firm? Was it just greed? Or was there something they felt their old firm was missing?

      Be extremely specific. What was the problem? What led them to disregard their old firms and start this new one?

      Sit down with your founders and get their story. Dig deep into their life prior to this new firm and the early days of the firm. I have to believe that’s where the story is.

  9. I’m writing an overview for my brand new nonprofit but I’m having trouble with the surprise ending. (Love the creative format, by the way): As a single mom whose kids are not grown, I set out on a journey to discover or re-invent myself.

    I caught the entrepreneurial bug and saw the freedom that was possible when I discovered this whole new world of personal development.

    Studying the styles of some great mentors & coaches, I learned The Secret, aka The Law of Attraction. To have the life and freedoms we all seek, we need to know our purpose (to know what we want to do) and our ideal client (to know how we’re going to fund this life).

    My Purpose= I have a message to share with the world. I want everyone to know all the possibilities that exist in the world.

    My Ideal Client=The person who thinks happiness is impossible because they can’t afford to0 pay for it.

    As I networked in the new world, I found out people want to help but don’t know how effectively, so I created Life Teaches, a nonprofit as a medium so those who want to help are connected with those who need help. “People helping people.”

    P.S. Website is not up yet, but I’m on Facebook.

  10. Kids are NOW grown, not NOT. LoL

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