Is storytelling the emperor’s new clothes?

Is storytelling the emperor’s new clothes?
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Storytelling. Amplification. Engagement. I’m sure you have heard these words so many times that you just glaze over. It goes something like this: “To break through the noise we need to start telling our brand stories and amplifying them so we get consumer engagement”. Groan.

Storytelling is the buzz word of the moment. Particularly now that content marketing is gaining more airplay. In my profession (PR) we use the phrase ‘storytelling’ liberally. It is a critical element to everything we do, and always has been.

Every day we use different techniques and tactics to tell the stories of people and organisations. We believe that every person and organisation has a story to tell. And amazing stories deserve a good audience.

The way the industry talks about storytelling seems to be so now, so hip, so happening. So 2013. But is it? Of course not.

Recently, as part of Corroboree Sydney I met a storyteller – Julie Freeman. She is an elder and a Traditional Owner from Wreck Bay in the Booderee region of NSW.

She holds the very special and important role of storyteller. Since the beginning of time, storytelling has played an important role in Aboriginal culture. The stories are about the air, the land, the universe, their people, their culture and their history. They are handed down from generation to generation.

As I sat listening to Julie, I hung on her every word. I was enthralled. She made me laugh. She made me cry.

She shared stories about ‘deadly beautiful’ women and the troubles of brothers Whale, Starfish and Koala. She shared the story about how the bluetongue lizard got its blue tongue and why the platypus looks likes two animals put together.

She told a story about the time when there were two moons. And you know that, “We’ve been here for maybe 100,000 years, and we’re still here. So if I tell you there were two moons, there were two moons!”

She said that once you start seeing the stories in the landscape, you start seeing it differently. “Everything is connected – the ocean, the wind, the trees, the landscape and the people.”

It was storytelling at its finest: true, powerful, emotional and wondrous. How could a story that started maybe 100,000 years ago not have all of those qualities? We are truly blessed to be living in a country that has stories woven into its landscape, and people like Julie telling them.   

As an industry we can get caught up in our own hype. Certainly content marketing and social media is creating new ways for people to record, express, and consume stories, but it’s no different to what storytelling has always been – just in other formats.

Let’s try to remember that next time we say the words: storytelling, amplification and engagement.

Catriona Pollard is CEO at CP Communications. 

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