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A Story About Storytelling



Once upon a time, I considered public relations a place to tell stories. Then, a career happened where messages and content delivery superseded everything else. And we let it.

It’s time to take storytelling back. It’s stories after all – not messages – that people want to hear, share and tell. But we must bring our clients and our talented staff along with us.

Welcome to Edelman Storylab.

Our Toronto office created the storytelling lab, which is an inspiring day around the art of storytelling that has since been brought to New York, Atlanta and Chicago. And soon, it will be introduced in other offices as well. I have been lucky enough to participate in several of these events, and each time I walk away remembering why I love what I do. The day is spent with storytelling experts – from authors to filmmakers to photographers to artists to dancers – giving us some outside expertise in their crafts. But no doubt, the best part of the day is answering a client brief in a genre like film, dance, etc. that rallies our staff in ways I’ve never seen and lets our creative flags fly.

We recently brought Storylab to my home office, Chicago. And I was to do the open for the day. How would I start? I decided to think about who inspired me to be a better storyteller… and the choice (and my story) became as clear as it is unexpected.

You see, the guy that inspired me to be a better storyteller was… wait for it…

Michael Jordan.

Okay, let’s go back to 1997.

I was three months into my new job at Edelman. I was leaving work and in Grant Park Chicago was celebrating the Bulls fifth national championship against the Utah Jazz with about 100,000 people. I thought to myself that I should check this out (even though at the time I was still a Knicks fan having grown up in New York).

I watched as each of the Bulls went up to talk to the crowd about the win. I was expecting a lot of fist-pumping. I wasn’t expecting to learn something that I would take with me throughout my 15-year career at Edelman. Take a look at this short video of the Bulls event. It epitomizes to me that every time we have the stage – no matter what stage that is – we can choose to talk. Or we can choose to tell a story. Take a look at the Bulls and the different ways the players approached this celebratory moment.

1997: Bulls championship rally in Grant ParkThe Chicago Bulls celebrate their fifth NBA championship with a rally in Grant Park. Excerpts from live coverage on CLTV.

Dennis Rodman chose to talk about himself.  Scottie Pippen as the ultimate team player came up with a tagline for the team (which I forgot two seconds after he said it). And they both did what you would expect.

And then there was Michael.  He somehow turned the Bulls win into a story about the working men and women of Chicago. He authentically connected with his audience by proclaiming that his job was easy and that everyday people’s jobs were hard. His story made the people of Chicago – not the celebrated Chicago Bulls – the hero of his story. This humble approach is something that the NBA talent of today has perhaps long since forgotten.

He made me a Chicago Bulls fan forever that day. Because while I really don’t care about basketball, on that day I wanted to be like Mike.

You see, what he proved to me that day was that a great storyteller can rally a non-fan into a fan. And, isn’t that what so many of us do for a living after all… address people who otherwise might not care about a company, brand or issue – and turn them into a fan?

I’ve taken that inspiration and tried to put it into my work every day – some days much better than others. And when we host Edelman Storylabs those are the good days. A day where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the business. A day where we take these learnings and test our own storytelling skills. I hope all of you get the opportunity to experience Edelman Storylab.

I walk out of each Storylab a little better than I came in. And for me, that might not be befitting of “Happily Ever After” – but it’s pretty damn close.

The End.

Caroline Dettman is the executive creative director at Edelman overseeing the Edelman Strategic and Creative Guild, a network of strategic and creative talent that ensures Edelman ideas make a real impact for clients.

Feature image originally posted by Cliff1066.

  • Great article, thanks Caroline.

  • Micheal is a class act who has never forgotten that his fans are what made him into what he is today.

  • Story IS king. It’s why we have language – so we can tell even the simplest of stories. For heavens’ sake, one could say we think in stories, or at least in lessons and conclusions represented by stories. Stories can move us like nothing else. Stories represent experiences, feelings and logical conclusions – all of the currency of the mind – thought and emotion. Without stories communication would be useless.

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