Once upon a time (a little thing called storytelling) | M&M Global

Once upon a time (a little thing called storytelling)

In the first of a new series of blogs, Mark Chaves, general manager of innovation and strategy at Carat Malaysia, discussed the importance of telling a good story.


Once upon a time…

…and the juvenile storyteller begins.

For the most part in a media agency cycle, it’s all about making sense out of numbers, costs, metrics, and the like. Exact and quantified. Well, not anymore. Today, it’s parts hard and soft – quantitative and qualitative.

In 2014, Carat Malaysia’s top honcho Bala Pomaleh had the vision to put a storyteller within the organisational mix – someone whose task is primarily to put an author’s hat, craft stories, and tell it well.

I took on that challenge, and after six months of implementing shifts in the way of work, we have seen dramatic changes in media storytelling. Campaigns are brought to life vividly and told like an author would for its readers. Our historic performances at awards shows were validations that the changes are making a difference.

Of course, storytelling alone didn’t tip the scale, but it moved it many clicks forward.

What’s the significance of storytelling in the evolving role of media? It legitimises a media agency’s special position as a communications partner, a big-picture thinker, an imaginer, a thought-originator. After all, communications planning is essentially storytelling.

Media’s role in the advertising ecosystem can no longer be summed as “costings & flow plan”. That’s a misnomer in today’s landscape. In fact, we in media may be at fault, too. When asked about what I do, the easiest I could think of was “We put the ads on TV.” To the uninformed, they understand it, but of course that’s no longer who we are – far from it.

We are originators of ideas, too. And we’re serious about it. The next time I will be asked, I will boldly say “My job is to ensure my client’s products end up in your hands.”

How will storytelling achieve that? It all starts with a thought expressed in PowerPoint. While being able to present stories verbally is remarkable, articulating them in slideware is equally important.

Storytellers with a strong command of the written language, with excellent media fundamentals, who can visualise solutions to problems is a triple-threat asset in any organisation. They will make a difference in the pursuit to improve the ways of working.

Media agencies have learned a lot from its creative agency partners, who are almost always master storytellers. Clients are endeared every time. Who doesn’t love a good story anyway? One of the biggest dramas in any story is the reveal of the big idea – possibly two of the most powerful words in all of advertising. Media agencies can dramatise them now, too.

Give it a few more years and media agencies will become masters of the craft of storytelling.

In Malaysia, the Philippines, and other advanced markets in Asia, media agencies are now hothouses for compelling communications plans as a result of the conscious effort to tell stories well. And there have been a lot of strong works.

As a judge at awards shows, I have seen the improved quality of storytelling. This is change in the right direction. Give it a few more years and media agencies will become masters of the craft.

We should strive for that because we have all the right ingredients to cook up a compelling story – extensive consumer understanding and spot-on insights, calculated ideation, innovation-laden ideas, brilliant media math on effective channel planning – all backed-up by fathoms of data (which creative agencies are still light on). I would like to see the day when media agencies will be client’s first point of contact and consequently influence campaign briefs.

What an evolution that would be.

If your organisation would like to ride the crest of evolution, here are five things you can do now if you believe storytelling can make a difference. It is a challenge, however, surmountable.

  • Love the hard and soft sides of media equally – The fundamentals of communications planning is storytelling that marries the hard and soft. Love for the quantitative is hygiene. Passion for the qualitative sets you apart.
  • Think visually in designing communications – Tell and retell the story in your head until the images appear clear. If you can visualise, you can execute.
  • Designate a principal author – A book needs an author. Your communications plans should have, too.
  • Choose an author from the current ranks – All authors should know the media language well – develop someone from the inside and give her or him the opportunity to direct.
  • (To: The Global Heads of Strategy and Communications Planning) Look East – The Asian diversity is a perfect place to test new planning frameworks. If 60% of the world’s audience will listen, the rest of the world might.

I fervently believe that media agencies will lead in innovation and creativity, and the evolved media agencies will dictate what’s next in advertising in their respective markets.

Competitive fees can flip minds, but great ideas will eventually win hearts.

And when great ideas originate from Asian media agencies, remember that once upon a time in the far, far East, there are passionate people with big ideas who can craft – and tell, and sell – stories that have happy endings.

Juvenile no more.

Mark Chaves

General Manager - Innovation and Strategy, Carat Malaysia

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