During my recent job search (which happily ended in me joining the Econsultancy blog team), I was amazed to see (way above my pay grade) a number of adverts calling for a ‘Chief Storyteller’ or words to that effect.
Clearly I’m way behind on this. A quick Google search tells me software giant SAP hired its own chief storyteller back in 2013, and Nike employed a ‘Chief Storytelling Officer’ as far back as the 90s.
Perhaps this job title actually has some merit, then, and isn’t just something to be scoffed at by the anti-buzzword brigade (of which I am a proud member).
What does a chief storyteller do?
While my title question may seem to answer itself (it’s a person who tells stories, obviously), I thought I’d explore what a chief storyteller really does and why some of the most successful businesses on the planet are employing them.
I suppose the best way to work out what companies mean when they ask for a chief storyteller is to go straight to the source and look at a couple of job postings.
In the example below from Knexus, you can see that they are essentially asking for a top-level marketer, but with reference to ‘storytelling content.’ In this case it feels like the chief storyteller badge isn’t entirely necessary, although I can see certain links with messaging, etc.
Perhaps Knexus is jumping on the buzzword bandwagon in this case in the hope of attracting search traffic for that phrase. Either way, this example didn’t do much to help me understand the term.
This example from Etsy, on the other hand, seems to make much more sense in relation to the job title.
It’s all about communicating the right messages to the public and, quite literally, telling the company’s story.
Having a chief storyteller makes sense for a company like Etsy. It does have a genuinely interesting story to tell and will want to communicate it in the right way.
Why not hire a novelist instead?
I assure you that subheading is 100% snark free.
Let’s go back to Etsy for a second. You can see from the ‘About You’ section below that it requires somebody with a journalistic/editorial background.
But it isn’t only accomplished non-fiction writers who are being snapped up by firms looking to get their stories out there.
Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, whose second novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize, recently joined creative consultancy Wolff Olins.
His job title? Chief Storytelling Officer (there’s also a ‘Head of New Thinking’ there, but let’s not get sidetracked).
It does make sense when you think about it. Good novelists can make people feel emotionally connected to their stories, which are often complex in nature and told through multiple voices. This is exactly what businesses will want to achieve when it comes to telling their own stories.
Building a narrative
In answer to the title question, I suppose a chief storyteller is somebody who is hired to construct clear narratives around specific messages a company wants to put out, either externally or internally.
It sounds an awful lot like PR or communications to me, so am I convinced we need to call them chief storytellers? Not entirely, but I do at least see the logic behind it.
While the job title made me cringe when I first heard it (and continues to do so), on reflection it sums the role up concisely without leave any doubt as to the person’s responsibilities (provided the role accurately reflects the title).
The risk is that companies will jump on the bandwagon and start calling every senior marketing, PR or communications person a ‘chief storyteller’ (as demonstrated by my example earlier on in this post).
If that happens, I’ll be drifting swiftly towards the ‘no’ camp.