Storyteller in Residence

I love to tell stories. I have my entire life. I guess I never outgrew it like lots of kids do.

In my book Content Rules we talk about the idea of companies having brand journalists who join the team with the focus of creating content for them. I know Eloqua has done that with great success and I’m sure there are others out there.

I’ll never be a journalist because a journalist is suppose to be objective in their reporting and I’m someone who will always have an opinon and will share it. Because of that, I believe there is a place for a new kind of position at companies and organizations. One of a Storyteller in Residence.

I can already sense a few rolls of the eyeballs out there, but hear me out.

There are artists, executives and entrepreneurs in residence right now. Most are not full time positions, but each provides unique services and exposure to the company/organization they are working with.

What if they started bringing on people who could help them find and craft their stories. Agencies could use this person to work on a variety of projects from pitching new clients to insuring that well thought out stories were made part of current campaigns. Non-Profits and schools always have new stories to tell and the world wants to hear them. B2B companies who still don’t (for the most part) understand why content is important to them could finally be shown the light.

The reason for an outside storyteller, is that most employees are so close to the subject that they are blind to the stories that are right in front of them. They see them as boring day-to-day happenings or nothing that anyone would want to hear. Those are actually the things that people do want to hear because it allows them to start developing a relationship with whoever or whatever the story is about.

The best people to hire for this would be those who are not stuck in any one medium. In today’s world the great storytellers can work in whatever medium is right for the message. Sometimes this will be a visual narrative, other times a photo essay and sometimes a good old bunch of words that together tell the story. I meet people who fit this description every day and most of them are looking to do more of it so there is a talent pool to pull from.

Humans crave stories. It is what kept us around the first campfires and made us paint on cave walls. They entertain us. Stimulate us. Give us a sense of connection with whoever they are about.

Stories are more than what is found between the pages of our children’s books. Stories are powerful messages that when done right can deliver amazing results for you and your company.

Am I crazy to think this is a good idea? Are there companies out there already making this happen?

What do you think?


  • Mr Lady

    Yeah. That would be, like, ::flips hair over shoulder:: the best job in the whole world for me. I think you might have just started something, mister. 

    • ha ha ha….

      Leave to you to make me giggle in such a perfect way.

  • Anonymous

    Dogfish Head Craft Brewery just did this, hiring my friend Justin Williams to be their “Off-Centered Storyteller.” And they’re certainly a brand with stories to tell.

    • That is awesome!

      Dogfish seems to be doing so much right lately. It is funny because over and over it seems beer companies are figuring this stuff out.

      Just further proof that beer IS awesome.

      Thank you for the heads up about this. Off to read the link now.

      • Anonymous

        But I like your distinction of storytelling vs. journalism. Very critical. 

      • EXTREMELY different in my mind.

        Many journalists are also storytellers, but going the other way is harder.

  • Love this idea. And let me add….I want this job!

    • It honestly would be my dream that someone would come by and see people raising their hands like yourself and hire everyone.

      THAT would make for a great story and one that I’d be more than happy to tell the world.

      I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

    • It honestly would be my dream that someone would come by and see people raising their hands like yourself and hire everyone.

      THAT would make for a great story and one that I’d be more than happy to tell the world.

      I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

  • Yeah tihs is pretty much my dream job.

  • I think Storytelling workshops and guidance over a period of time is a better way — yes, people can be blind to the best stories their company has to tell, but they need to be taught how to recognize and share them, rather than handing that off to a designated person. Teaching them how might take a bit of time, mind you, so perhaps a contract person who works with the company for a little while to recognize key narratives and platforms and how they can use them would be useful.

    Making it a position doesn’t make sense to me, though — for a few reasons. It’s kind of like hiring a “name” social media person to run your accounts… they’re generating attention for you based on their personality, experience, and history, not because everyone in your company learned to use the tools and make a go of it. I can see storytelling falling into the same sort of dilemma — people listen to us because we have an amazing storyteller, and while he IS telling stories about US, people are engaged because of his unique capacity to make things interesting. If he moves on, does that mean we hire another good storytelling personality? Feels like it would be better to bring someone on to coax the stories and storytellers from your internal resources, and then empower you to do it yourself.

    If you raise someone up to that position internally, I think I’d be more on board, but I think it’s more valuable to teach everyone in your organization how to share your stories than to hand them off to someone else.

    Also, with the budgets most nonprofits have, I think it’s not feasible or appropriate. If you can teach the staff, board, and donors to share your story — again, perhaps by having a storyteller on contract for a short while, or doing workshops — you’re better off.

    As with social media, it works better if everyone participates and buys in.

    • I agree with you that whenever possible it is better to have this grow internally and in my opinion ALL social skills should be taught to everyone in a company, but that is a much larger conversation.

      I’m not suggesting that people “hire names.” Because most times this means that the person would focus more on themselves than the people they are working with. The key here is that the company, organization, client or whatever is front and center and that is the way it needs to be.

      Plenty of room for both.

      • No, I knew you weren’t suggesting people hire “names” — but people who tell stories really well as a natural part of who they are tend to stand out and rise to the top (witness: YOU! 🙂

        I think those people become little beacons that are hard to replace.

        But I think we’re probably on the same page. Just thinking through it.

      • And I welcome the challenging conversation because I’m figuring it out too.
        I debated internally for a couple of weeks where my thoughts were on this before posting it because just like most other things in this world there is no clear cut “right” answer.

  • I think it’s possible and a good idea. But honestly, I think a good brand journalist can do this.

    Maybe it’s because I’m a former journalist who just recently took a job as a content manager. But your storyteller in residence basically describes what I do here. From putting together slideshows with pictures and videos to our large “Dream Jobs” series, I ferret out stories they didn’t even know were right in front of their faces.

    • I agree that in my situations they are one and the same, but I also know that some people freak out over the word journalist so I wanted to provide a different angle to it all in the hopes more people would accept that this is needed in today’s business world.

      I think every good journalist is someone who knows how to craft a story. It is a required skill for damn sure.

      Where are you doing this now? I’m curious to check it out because I love having examples of companies who are doing this and it sounds like yours is.

      • I’m at in Waltham, Mass. They hired me because they get a great number of pageviews and uniques a month, but it seems like they check their salary when they’re job hunting or going for a promotion and don’t come back until the next time such a need arises. So I’m trying to create some content that will get them coming back in between raises and job hunting.

        I’ve only been here a short time so the larger projects (Dream Jobs for instance) are still in the works. But in an attempt to mix it up and create an editorial voice that’s more conversational and personal (one of my main missions upon being hired), I decided to feature some of the employees here in an article about the importance of body language during a job interview. Usually we use stock photos but this time we used actual employees in pictures and videos, and had them act out some dos and don’ts when it comes to body language.

        It actually just went live today. Check it out, I’d love some input. Not to mention you’re also on my list for potential Dream Job candidates. I’ll shoot you an email.

      • See now. THIS is a cool idea and a smart one as well.

        I definitely want to hear more and would love to find out how it works out so that I can tell others. Plus your local!

  • I think you’re completely on point about the importance and effectiveness of storytelling. It’s a crucial skill for anyone who works with communications-oriented discipline –  be it sales, education or advertising.

    I’m not sure whether assigning a role of Chief Storyteller is the best way to incorporate this skill into your agency process/DNA. Rather, agencies should strive to hire people who are great storytellers and have it be a distributed skill across the organization. Being able to come up with great ideas is one thing – you should also know how to communicate them efficiently (and this is where the skill of storytelling comes in). The best person to tell a story is the person who has done the grunt of the background work, simply because that intimate familiarity with an idea is the best soil for growing a great story around it.

    Maybe this is a stretch but your question reminds me of the Chief Innovation Officer debate that was ignited a few months ago (

    • Just to clarify something. I don’t think having a C-Suite level person dedicated to this makes any sense at all. Isn’t that what a CMO is for? *grin*

      I carefully chose to use the “in residence” title because I see it as a critical part of the team that works with others. I also think it is critical for them to teach others.

      I agree that companies should be looking for these skills in all candidates, but I’ve also worked at and seen far to many who just want a set of skills. “you are a copywriter” “you are a designer” and if you don’t fit into that little box then it freaks them out.

      The best employees will always be the one with a diverse skill set and I think that is more important than ever.

      • You’re completely right – giving it a second thought, post morning coffee, I should’ve said “Storyteller in Residence” (and by that I essentially mean a storytelling specialist) rather than Chief Storyteller. My reasoning is this: It’s one thing to have data specialists or mechanics specialists. Those are skills that are required more for certain types of projects than others. Storytelling on the other hand is like a communicative tissue, it should be applied to all of your moments of communication. It facilitates understanding, memory and, if you’re good at it, makes your ideas more compelling.

        I think assigning responsibility of this skill set to one or a couple of people is an excellent starting point, so that they, to your point, can teach others. But in the long haul, it’s something every communicator in an agency environment should aspire to master.

        And yes, completely agree that the best employees are those with a diverse skill set. Good solutions to the increasingly complex problems we’re challenged with call for bringing in as many perspectives as possible.

      • Isn’t it always fun what you think of POST coffee. I know I’m the same way.
        Thanks for chiming back in.

  • C.C., 

    Interesting points. I live in a weird universe where I not only work in a position where I am crafting the stories about my company (a digital agency), but we’re also a brand storytelling agency. I figure it to be as strange as being a Military Policeman on a military base, or a lifeguard during swim team practice (which I also was). Who needs the police when the base is filled with soldiers?? Of course, we all know there IS a need. The cobbler’s kids have no shoes…

    However, what I do know is that storytelling is becoming so very commonplace now, when even a year ago had I told someone I was a “Storyteller” or work at a “Brand Storytelling Agency” I’d get a raise of the eyebrows and a look of confusion. 

    I think your point about the value of a storyteller that’s unbiased and has the ability to take a perspective of someone not so deeply intertwined with an organization’s every day happenings (often blinding them from the real stories) is quite valid. However, let’s not suggest that unearthing a story is a fast or even easy process. 

    I suppose my agency (Story Worldwide) is an offshoot of “Storyteller in Residence” where we help brands tell their stories. But it’s a process we’ve perfected over years with exercises that involve numerous stakeholders from the brand. I’m not saying a Storyteller in Residence couldn’t do this. However, I hope readers know that your idea—the position of Storyteller in Residence—is not something that a marketer can simply sidestep into. It takes years of knowledge, both of journalism and marketing. I’ve been neck-deep in this stuff for over a year and I still learn every day. 

    Also, there’s the constant struggle between morphing from an outsider to an insider. The more familiar one becomes with a brand (a necessity to effectively tell its story), the more biased one can become. When it’s an agency-brand relationship, it’s one thing. When it is an individual actually becoming part of the brand, that’s something different.

    Regardless, thanks for getting my brain going this morning!

    Jon Thomas

    • Thanks for chiming in because I know you know what your doing in this space!
      You are right. This isn’t magic, but it isn’t simple either. It takes time, skills and planning.

      I’m glad you are not getting as many raised eyebrows. That is great news. You are obviously talking to different people then I am though because I get weird looks every day when I mention things like this. 🙂

      • I didn’t say I wasn’t getting ANY raised eyebrows…just fewer 😉

      • *laugh* Ok, I feel better now.

  • “…agencies should strive to hire people who are great storytellers and have it be a distributed skill across the organization”

    That’s a KEY point, Joanna. Well done. 

  • susan

    I love the idea. This would be a fantastic addition to our team where we are trying to understand the process of evolution of our product. You can learn a lot from history.

    “… but here [sic] me out” should be “hear”, no? 

    • Yeah, this is why I need a permanent editor in my life 🙂

      Thanks for the catch.

  • Anonymous

    Sign me up!

  • Anonymous

    CC –
    I love this idea, and actually had blogged this morning about the value of storytelling versus reporting within news organizations. (I focused on the editor’s role there.) But I did have one point contrary to the thought of developing storytellers throughout the organization, versus having a storyteller-in-residence. Part of being able to tell a good story is the ability to step back and see the whole picture, and if your job is x but you’re expected to tell stories, too, you may be too close to the subject.

    I’m intrigued by the storyteller being a step removed from the basic structure, and ideally, to be given the freedom that they can tell honest stories. Can the storyteller tell less-than-positive stories? Because like it or not, things don’t always work as we plan. If our storytellers don’t have the freedom to share it warts and all, it’s just a dressed up form of marketing, and communities will see through that. 

    • I agree that not all stories are rainbows and happy trails. I think that is something that scares a lot of companies and I totally get that.

      Especially if you are a public company you have to keep this in mind. It is going to be a constant balancing act to figure out what is appropriate or not.

  • CC:
    Good stuff.  Overall, I’d say most brands could use one.  As an aside, similar to the discussion in the Weber book I gave you, there’s going to be a classic tension of where that role fits — Communications or Marketing.
    More importantly, I think what you’re uncovering is the fundamental need to continue to refine/recharge the marketing & advertising thinking within big brands.  Great creatives are storytellers; great marketers are storytellers; great writers are storytellers.  So big brands are going to constantly wrestle with the dynamic of having someone in this role implying that others “are not” — I’d argue those people who “create content” in a brand or in an agency need to own the storytelling as a critical part of their brand’s communication and marketing, vs outsourcing it.
    Now, some may need a jolt — so the idea of a catalyst who is a “SIR” is intriguing, although I’m skeptical the Fortune 1000 would use $ there.  [note:  the difference with the EIR, I think, is that with an EIR we’re talking about creating a fundamentally different business model vs. running the existing business.  The SIR idea in play here is about affecting the current business, thus the difference.]

    Overall?  Love the idea of integrating Storytelling “everywhere”.   The practical idea of creating a separate job, in a world of scarce resources, feels like the corporate immune system will kick in all too often.  Maybe that’s the P&L owner in me, vs. the clean slate marketer.
    All that said, as you know I am a fanatic for the concept of storytelling — in our work with clients and in our pitches.

    • Yeah it is a bit of a utopian thought to think that this will happen across the board and in reality I hope long term that most companies allow this skill to come out more from the employees they already have. It is a cultural shift for sure.

  • Steve Woodruff

    I find, as I consult with various companies about their identity and message, that they all DO have a story – but it usually hasn’t been articulated. As you say, an “outsider” has to draw it out. Sometimes that central story can be the most memorable part of how they present themselves to potential clients (and potential employees, truth be told). A whole bunch of money spent on never-read glossy brochures could better be spent investing in the services of a marketing storyteller!

  • Donna

    I agree with you, CC. Humans crave stories. I’ve been hammering on this point for months. That’s why I’m excited to be interviewing Steve Clayton, @font-face {
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    senior director of storytelling at Microsoft, for my Trafcom News Podcast later this month.

    • I look forward to hearing that one. Be sure to let me know how it turns out and even come back and share the link here so people can find it.

  • CC –
    Love the concept!
    I started on this path about a year and a half ago  – – or at least determined that it was the fit for me at that time.  I struggle with how to make it happen.  In some companies, there is so much pressure on the bottom line that there is not room for this approach.  Where I am now, I try to integrate storytelling into my results, but it’s far from the focus of my position.
    Adding to my list to revisit it this weekend.  It’s so easy when you’re busy in a new role to lose sight of some of this stuff.
    Definitely keep us in the loop – those of us in the potential “pool” would love a voice like yours behind us!

    • Agreed. I never said it would be easy or quick, but it is a skill that needs to be integrated in with others.

      I’ll certainly keep you in the loop.

  • Would this be like the guy in “A knight’s tale”. That announces his competitor?

  • Pingback: Storytelling: my latest obsession « opinionate()

  • CC – I love this idea. Since it’s not something that actually exists anywhere (as far as I can tell) it would be an ideal goal for somebody who is looking to differentiate themselves within their company.

    One of my tasks at GM is to uncover stories in the energy & environmental space that need to be told. Something I would suggest for anybody who wants to become a Storyteller in Residence is to expand your network. Sometimes, the best stories are sent via email by colleagues who know I’m on the look out for good stuff. Without their constant input, I wouldn’t have half of the stories to tell.

    Anyway, I endorse this idea.

  • I’m working on my M.A in Non-Fiction Writing as a matter of fact, and could not agree with you more. Story is a thing that unites us as a species, and I think it has value beyond entertainment.

  • Jane

    INTERESTING… your MIL told me about your FB blog but I found you here since I con’t do FB anymore…. slow internet dial up….

    I am her Pastor’s wife, Jane and she was sharing this morning about your blog… Our son, same name as his dad is also a great story teller…  ….   also I have a cousin who is a pastor in the Ft. Wayne area   Jerry Paul… 

    I will subscribe and follow you writing…

    • He is a good man as well. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Jane

    sorry I notice that I comment the wrong place  …. it was intended for Jon Swanso

  • AmyMccTobin

    What would your job title be?? We need a different name; I LOVE stories… I see my life in stories or chapters… but the word story implies fiction… 

    Brand Evangelist has been overused.
    hmmm… I’ll have to contemplate it for a while. LOVE The concept.. and I think good companies have Story Tellers as their Sales Managers – gotta get the force to buy in first.

  • Angela Moore

    I love this post! I am that storyteller. I shall be known as a professional storyteller rather than a PR pro from here on out!

  • Meghotpants

    Oh my goodness, that’s my photo! So cool to see it used on your blog! 🙂 Also, great post on being a storyteller!

    • Thanks for the nice words, but I took that photo of my notebook so not sure what photo you are referring to.

      • Meghotpants

        My apologies! I have a similar photo that I took for the blog that I wrote for.

      • No worries. I’ve done that before 🙂