Rachel Spielman

Rachel Spielman

Storytelling. It’s a concept as old as cavemen that somehow feels new again, as companies and brands begin to engage with consumers in more experiential ways. If you’re like most people, the stories that capture your attention are the ones with rich anecdotes and personal details, heroes and villains, tension and resolution, with a surprise finish and inspiring morals. If you need convincing, look no further than the political cycle that has taken over the news media. Talk about heroes, villains, colorful content and tension!

Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the power of storytelling, seeing it as a way to more deeply engage with consumers. From mom-and-pops to Fortune 500 giants, companies are looking for ways to tell their stories through videos, games and apps that integrate with real life, and they’re making big bets to deliver.

Just recently, United Airlines announced it created a “chief storyteller” role, bringing on Oprah Winfrey’s former producer Dana Brooks Reinglass to take on the challenge. A major brand such as United Airlines tapping a media and digital expert really shows how companies are recognizing the intrinsic importance storytelling is to their success. Interestingly, Reinglass was also named MD of digital engagement, showing United Airlines’ dedication to sharing their story in innovative, forward-thinking ways.

But a chief storyteller isn’t a new concept. In fact, Nike employed a “chief storytelling officer" as far back as the ’90s. Nowadays, those wearing the moniker include Julie Roehm from SAP, Jason Moriber from Verizon, Russell Brady from Adobe and Steve Clayton from Microsoft, just to name a few. These people are physical reminders that storytelling is what makes brands human. They work not only to create consistent and authentic storytelling for brands and companies, but also to engage in ever more relevant ways with their audiences, tapping into new social platforms and experiential initiatives, and building brand loyalty, which is increasingly important as customers have more “on demand” opportunities.

I find it odd when people refer to storytelling in marketing as disposable content. Those stories we painstakingly research, piece together and build are nothing short of treasures! And yes, attention in the digital age is short-lived, but great stories aren’t. The stories that matter are memorable; they live on in your connection and loyalty to a brand, company or an individual. And the more of these meaningful stories you tell, the stronger that connection becomes.

As a public relations professional, I consider myself a guardian of stories, someone who can help uncover that missing piece you never knew about and help make it meaningful to people who otherwise might not care. In PR, we try to find the special stories our clients can tell, and match them to what’s relevant to their customers to create a kind of “connected” storytelling. Connected storytelling combines authenticity and relevance, thereby creating that all-important emotional connection that turns a good story into a great one. 

Both personally and professionally, I’ve come to realize how important it is to write your own story, from the beginning to the middle to the end. For companies and individuals, we define what defines us, not the other way around. After all, every day is another opportunity to turn a page.

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Rachel Spielman is head of storytelling at Ruder Finn.