BERKELEY STORYTELLING ACADEMY: "PEOPLE WANT DRAMA”
Berkeley Communications' Storytelling Academy, ran by 'chief storyteller' and CEO Chris Hewitt, is an engaging and enlightening insight into the art of "story do-ing" and compelling communications strategies.
Berkeley Communications founder Chris Hewitt brings polite small talk to an abrupt end by asking his Storytelling Academy attendees to summarise the purpose of their businesses in one succinct line. This is no mean feat considering, as Hewitt forewarns, someone was once kept overtime at the workshop until they were able to fulfil this task.
The academy session, held at The Shard, lasts roughly three hours; there is also a shorter, virtual alternative. The in-person session is relaxed and intimate, hosting fewer than ten attendees, and Hewitt takes the time to understand each participant’s business and its challenges individually. Repeatedly, he prompts participants with questions about their target audience, the service their business provides and the relationships each business is built upon.
Then the workshop is in full swing, with Hewitt kicking off an entertaining and sometimes surprising few hours by declaring that “jeopardy” needs to be at the heart of a business’s employer branding, as this is what “draws people in."
“People buy drama,” he says. “We are afraid to do this, but the ‘bad bits’ and challenges your business faces needs to be positioned in your brand as much as in your press releases.”
Throughout the workshop, like any good drama, it is difficult to predict what is coming or what will feature on the next PowerPoint slide. The session is woven with cautionary tales and sensational short stories, such as the familiar organ harvesting myth in which a hapless man is seduced by a beautiful woman at a bar, and later awakes in drugged haze to find one of his kidneys thieved. “What sticks out in this story, is how it makes you feel,” Hewitt announces to a sobered room once the recording is over. “Senses matter. You don’t just hear a story; you feel a story.
“If it bleeds, it leads,” he later emphasises further, for dramatic effect perhaps.
Berkeley Communications promotes a 'North Star’ approach to corporate storytelling, meaning that there needs to be a clear and direct approach which is easily communicated. Although, as one attendee observes, this is in danger of becoming a "constellation" for bigger businesses with multiple departments.
Concision is at the heart of Hewitt’s storytelling approach. Although Hewitt names Dickens as among his influences, the style of storytelling he promotes is closer to Hemingway in its simplicity: “Your brand identity needs to be about story-doing, not just story-telling.”
Ultimately, a good brand identity needs to follow a basic story structure. Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ is given as an example. “Who is the hero of your story? Because it isn’t you,” Hewitt says. “You are the facilitators, guiding your audience towards a goal.”
Despite The Shard’s plentiful natural lighting, walking out of the workshop feels like seeing the world a bit clearer, with an understanding of how to be an engaging storyteller and to not accept drinks from beautiful women in bars.