We’re all storytellers.
June 11, 2012 4 Comments
By “we’re all” I mean advertising people, who I assume make up the majority of this blog’s readership (the remainder of you came here searching for “Kim Kardashian Hot Tube” whatever the hell that is – the link is workplace safe, don’t worry).
And by storytellers, I mean that we all need to create interesting narratives in order to our job. I don’t care if you’re an account guy or girl, a copywriter, a planner, a experience designer, or a art director. If you can’t tell the story, you won’t be successful. Account people need to sell in work, ideas, strategies and budgets to the clients. Copywriters and art directors need to tell a story to the consumer that resonates with them and makes them care. Strategists & planners need to tell a story about the consumer in a way that intrigues the client and sets up the creative as the ideal solution to their problem.
I recently came across a list of 22 “rules” of storytelling from the creative geniuses at Pixar. While some weren’t totally relevant to the advertising audience, a great many of them were. Here are the ones that I think are so crucial to what we do every day.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
So many presentations are too obviously written for the audience of the presentation and not the audience of the product or service. Often times we are forced to add in things that “the clients really want to see” or that we need to show “just to show we understand something.” And worse than either of those is when you confuse yourself or your peers for your target market. Just because we think it;s easy to understand, or cool, or new, doesn’t mean the person we need to reach will.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
Writing a story, or a presentation, or a strategy is never “one and done.”
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
Far too often people try to cram way too much into the story for fear that they’ll forget something valuable or miss something. Or my favorite – “what if someone who wasn’t in the presentation gets this deck and doesn’t understand it?” If that happens, you have a great reason to tell the story again to a whole new audience.
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
Once you know what your point is, and where you need to end up, not only does the path to get there become more clear, the journey becomes more interesting.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
As my VP Scott is so fond of telling me “Speed is essence of war.” Sometimes it’s better to get done quickly and most of the way to the point than to spend too much time refining and miss your window of opportunity.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
Write everything down. You an always cut things out later, but if you leave something out, you might never find out where it could take you (and your story).
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
Per the previous principle, I always write them down, but I often let them go just as quickly. When I’m writing a brief or a strategy presentation I always run through huge lists of “main ideas” before finally settling on the right one. And usually it’s not even on the list. But I might never get there if I don’t work my way through all the previous ideas.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
For me this usually manifests itself as “why would anyone care?” The whole point of advertising is to make people care. About a product, a cause, an idea, etc. If you can’t figure out why anyone should care, then you don’t have a very good story. or strategy.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
No solid marketing strategy begins with “The client needs to sell more widgets,” but a lot of bad ones do. And unfortunately, in our hyper-consumerist society it’s too often that products are brought to market just because they were invented. Without a compelling reason to root for the character (or client in my case), it’s going to be tough to craft a compelling story about their products and services.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
See #12 above.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
Stories need to be told. Write your story. Grab your creative director and run him/her through it. Get feedback and make adjustments. Sitting alone in a room is great for some things but the story needs to be tested with audiences and not just pondered and nitpicked by the author.
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Every story – whether it’s an ad campaign, a movie plot, or a new business idea needs an “elevator pitch.” You need to be able to tell me the most compelling thing about your story in 30 seconds or you’ve lost me. Once you have that done, the rest is just details.