The Hero of Your Business Story

The other day, I was minding my business on the subway when a teenage boy no older than fifteen walked into the car and started telling a story. Being a very familiar scene for any New Yorker, most times I simply tune out, reach into my pocket, and turn the music up in my headphones, careful that they don’t see me and think I’m reaching for money (I know this makes me seem heartless, and I swear I’m not).

When this boy started talking, though, I turned my music down and honed in on his story.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to interrupt your ride,” he started, “but my sister has Cerebral Palsy, and I’m saving up to buy her a new wheelchair.”

This was a new one for me. He wasn’t selling candy, he wasn’t looking for food or a place to stay. His ask was completely selfless.

He continued, “so if you can spare anything, anything at all, it would help my sister out a lot, and we would both greatly appreciate it.”

Now, who’s to say whether is was true or not. But his story sparked something in me, and in the other train passengers. They pulled out bills (not coins…BILLS) to give to the young boy.

The Hero's Journey Chart

Image courtesy of

As a marketer, this situation made me ask myself “why did these people give? What triggered them emotionally to the point of reaching into their pockets for spare dollar bills?”

And it brought me back to the classic hero’s journey from grade school English class. Image courtesy of:

To refresh your memory, the hero’s journey follows a protagonist through a series of events that facilitate him/her experiencing some sort of transformation or significant change. That’s the key: the protagonist always returns a changed person.

When we apply that archetypal model to the subway example, the hero of that story isn’t the boy and it isn’t his sister: it’s the person that gave money. THAT’S where the transformation in this story occurred. These people had their headphones in and their books to read; they didn’t want to be bothered. That day, the boy’s story took each subway passenger through their own personal hero’s journey.

Now let’s circle back to your business story.

In your business story, you are not the hero.

Let me repeat that one more time.

YOU ARE NOT THE HERO of your own business: the audience is the hero. And when you make the audience the hero, you give them the power to do something good for themselves and for the world.

Your job is to move your audience to the point of transformation so they are willing and excited to take part in your story. It’s a simple shift you have to make in telling your business story, but I promise it will make a major impact on how your audience relates to you and how you help them through their own transformation.

So do that right now. Rewrite (or just write) your business story. Make your reader the hero. And leave a comment about how it works for you.


How to Get a Line Around the Block

How to Get a Line Around the Block by Paige Media

A few weeks ago, I played tour guide for some family members in this delightful monster of a city. I actually love showing people around New York because it’s brimming with excitement at all hours, and I feel really proud to show it off. While I do my best to shield people from the dreaded “touristy” parts that can make any reasonable human want to flee to the nearest airport (which is neither convenient nor cheap to do), sometimes it’s unavoidable…especially when it comes to food.

New York City is known for its cuisine– from the iconic (yet questionable) hot dog carts to the five star, booked out for the next three light years dining experiences, you can get it all here. And of course a classic slice of New York pizza is a must for natives, transplants (people like me who move here from somewhere else), and visitors alike.

So we hiked over to Brooklyn, to an artsy little neighborhood just under the Manhattan bridge appropriately referred to as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) for an early dinner on a Friday night.

The Story Begins…

Most New Yorkers are familiar with the story of the Grimaldi’s pizzeria rivalry. It’s one of fierce competition, tight family values, lawsuits, eviction, backstabbing, and revenge; the essential ingredients for any compelling narrative. Essentially, it boils down to this: Patsy and Carol Grimaldi were operating a successful pizzeria in Brooklyn, New York. Their pizza was attracting diners from all over the world including an impressive list of celebrity clientele. In 1998, they sold the entire business (including the name) to a businessman named Frank Ciolli, a decision they quickly regretted. Soon, everything started unravelling. The Grimaldi’s couldn’t do much else but watch the empire they built somersault in a direction that didn’t align with their vision for the brand.

When Ciolli failed to keep up with the monthly rent, he was evicted from the space. He didn’t think twice; he packed up the restaurant, moved everything directly next door, and continued to run the business. Meanwhile, Patsy and Carol saw this big business opportunity to scoop up the former Grimaldi’s location and start their own pizzeria from scratch.

Today, Juliana’s (run by Patsy and Carol) and Grimaldi’s still sit right next to each other in DUMBO, Brooklyn. At any given time of the day you can see a line outside and around the corner at both restaurants; everyone from curious locals to selfie-snapping tourists comes out to try the pizza. And they wait a long time to do it.


Paige and her family in Brooklyn, Paige Media

Me and the fam out and about in Brooklyn

Maybe the pizza’s good. Maybe it’s not. I’ll get to that in a second. But the story is what really leaves people salivating. The story is why we come, why we wait for hours to sit down for a hot slice, why we tell our friends about it. It’s a real urban legend, and we (literally) eat it up. I can’t say it enough: a good story is truly irresistible. (Tweet that!) When we hear a story that we can relate to, we get excited and we want to buy whatever they’re selling.

I told my family a somewhat watered down version of that story as we sat down for a pie at Grimaldi’s (I’ve been to Juliana’s before and now, of course, had to try the competition’s product). As we walked out of the restaurant that night and passed the line of stomach-growling pizza fans waiting to get in and spend their money for a taste of a classic New York legend, my grandfather took my hand and whispered to me, “you know, the pizza wasn’t even that good…”

“You’re right,” I said. “But the story is.”


What’s your favorite rivalry story? Share it in the comments and let me know which side you’re on so I can root for your team.


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