Tim-Williams---Photo-1November 15, 2011 | By Tim Williams

For over one hundred years now, agencies have been organized to create, produce and place either individual messages or groups of messages categorized together as “campaigns.”

The process for accomplishing this has been largely sequential: brief, concept, produce, ship and then on to the next execution.  Writing in the insightful new book The Idea Writers, Creativity magazine’s Teresa Iezzi lists the assumptions most agencies grew up with:

“… that pushing out a Big Marketing Campaign that runs for several weeks and then stops is the best way to connect a brand to consumers; that a large media budget assures a marketer of getting its message across to its desired audience; that one-way, TV-borne messages are the only, or even the primary, or even a necessary unit of marketing; that people only watch media-company-made content at media-company-dictated times …”

iStock_000021013279XSmallThis of course is not the nature of storytelling.  Storytelling is an iterative – not linear – process.  And the vast majority of agencies are not set up to work this way.  Unlike conventional advertising, the dynamics of storytelling involve:

  • Less emphasis on the skills needed to write a good headline and more on the ability to write good dialogue; valuing and cultivating long-form writing, not just short-form
  • Creating ongoing conversations and ideas
  • Curating ideas and story threads
  • Developing a “back story” that guides the narrative of a brand
  • Creating not a big idea in the form of a big production, but a big idea developed in multiple smaller, deeper executions

As Iezzi goes on to observe, on any given day, brand storytellers at agencies “might be writing a script for a web film, orchestrating a transmedia story or conceiving and helping to develop an app.”  Some agencies, such as Campfire, are built around this approach from the ground up.  Their work surrounding the introduction of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series is multidisciplinary storytelling.

In the era of brand storytelling, the metrics of success have to move from simple brand awareness to more relevant assessments like:

  1. How effectively are we telling this brand’s story?
  2. How well are the main themes of the story being communicated?
  3. Has this story begun to take on a life of its own?

Agencies must now think of themselves less as service companies and more as media companies.  The new role of the storyteller is to literally become the voice of the brand – and that’s an exceptionally valuable role to play for a client.

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