The Architecture of Campaign Storytelling

I attended a very entertaining #BeyondDigital talk this week at Starcom MediaVest Group’s London HQ on the foundations of great storytelling in brand campaigns. 

The core of the talk was about how to create a structure for your campaign story – a Story House – which is fit for purpose and carries the potential to resonate across a multi-channel media landscape.

The starting point to building a ‘Story House’ is to know the story you want to tell before you begin for you will be a liar, to reference John Irving, if you start your campaign story before you know how it ends.

“Know the story before you fall in love with your first sentence. If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you? Just an ordinary kind, just a mediocre kind – making it up as you go along, like a common liar.” John Irving

A simple ‘Story House’ is built on four blocks of foundation:

  1. The Character – who is this person, what worries them and what inspires them?
  2. The World – what is the world you are asking people to enter and how will you return them to their own world at the end of the campaign?
  3. The Event – where the shit happens, the aspect of the story that will be solved by the character who we have grown to care about
  4. The Idea – the question that needs to be considered with the answer ready to land

The ‘Story House’ structure then has two pillars built on those foundations:

  1. BUT… the story starts out with conventional wisdom until it hits the BUT… and that BUT needs to be a teasing, flirty one which tempts you to want to know more
  2. SO… which should be sooo conclusive that the story is neatly wrapped up, leading to the next steps (or desired action)

Story ropes stretch across the two pillars to complete your ‘Story House’.  These ropes should be designed with four types of people in mind, which are neatly described by the team at  Each of these metaphors will seek their own experience of the ‘Story House’ as they live out their lives in a multi-channel media world:

  1. Monkeys – someone who wants to play and get involved, who will pick and choose which rope to play with and when
  2. Lions – powerfully crossing the story, choosing where to engage and looking for solid, strong evidence wherever they go
  3. Owls – seeking a birds-eye complete view of the story and inspecting any or every element with a detailed mind
  4. Horses (or multiple horses) – who want to be led gently and will run away if you scare them with the style of the story experience

The session finished with a great alternative version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem, ‘If’ which I’ve shared below.


#What is your story? In a simple clear headline

If you can keep your red thread when all about you,

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can capture your story into a memorable phrase,

So back at their office your client can use it too

#Open with conventional wisdom then provide an intriguing hook

If you can open by stating an undisputed fact,

An anecdote, quote, stat, picture will do,

Then tempt with a “but…” to capture attention,

Yet refrain from offering your solution too soon

#Focus your story on what makes them tick

If you can plan when to seed fear at the right moment,

And understand what kind of fear it should be,

If you know what will resonate with them most loudly,

And make it seem like you also agree

#Einstein: “If you can’t explain it to an 11 year old, you don’t really understand it.”

If you can tell the truth and not be sucked up in politics,

Or rejig the numbers, don’t deal in lies,

Or use jargon, don’t give way to jargon,

Or meaningless metaphors, don’t talk too wise

#Know your audience and give them what they want

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with controller and promoter,

And inspire those two communication styles just the same

#End with everyone clear and on board with what happens next

If you can talk with crowds and refrain from acronyms,

Or walk with CEOs — nor lose the common touch,

If you can build to your main message through evidence,

And end on an “If” to ensure your next steps and such

#Storytelling is persuasion. Which will save you time!!!!

If you can fill a simple narrative,

With what, why, how and when,

Yours is the art of storytelling and the persuasive gift that comes with it,

And — which is more — you’ll have an easier life, my friends

(Words by Heather Dansie, Associate Research Director, SMG)

Matt Bourn, Managing Director, Braben

If you are interested in how businesses are usin content to tell their story, next month PRmoment is hosting our annual Storytelling: The role of public relations as a content provider conference. Speakers include senior comms and marketing folks from Specsavers, Inmarsat, eBay and Three.

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