What story structure and project management have in common (no, really)

Nick Parker
15 February 2017

Stories and marketing are becoming ever more intertwined, but few people actually know how to write a compelling story. Nick Parker looks at why mastering the nuts and bolts of story structure is as important a business skill as project management.

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I was watching Esso’s Sophie’s Story the other day. It’s a fine example of a ‘brand story’ advertising: beautifully shot, with the lightest of touches on the product placement – and just a bit dull. Because it’s missing some key elements that, you know, make a story a story.

Which made me think, dammit brand and marketing folk, we need to get better at talking about stories. I don’t mean that we need to be better at evangelising about the power of stories. At the last count, there were only 137 people left on the entire planet who hadn’t heard that brands that harness the power of storytelling are perceived as smarter, sexier and as having better teeth. No, I mean we need to get better at talking about the nuts and bolts of how stories work, better at helping our clients (and perhaps ourselves) be ‘fluent in story’. If we don’t, YouTube might collapse under the weight of boring narratives.

If project managers can get us all talking their language, we can get business fluent in Story.

Nick Parker

It should be totally do-able. If you think, most of us have become fluent in the language of project management: I know my SWOT analysis from my Gantt chart, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving a meeting without assigning actions and agreeing next steps. Once, I didn’t know these terms. Now, they’re just part of how I talk about getting things done.

If we could all speak as fluently about, say, a story’s need for forces of antagonism, or where a story’s turning points are, the same would be true of stories – we’d have a shared language to help ourselves and our clients work out what our stories need.

So, let’s start talking more explicitly about how stories work. If project managers can get us all talking their language, we can get business fluent in Story.

Which might mean fewer dull stories. And then, of course, we would all live happily ever after.

Nick is a former creative director at language consultancy The Writer, working with clients including BT, RBS, PwC, BBC and Spotify at all levels — from CEOs and leadership teams to Heads of Brand, HR and Legal, to people in direct day-to-day contact with customers.

Among many other things, Nick has written speeches for CEOs, trained government ministers, and helped develop the world’s largest tone-of-voice programme.

Nick believes that thinking about story is one of the most powerful processes businesses go through: “Every time I work with clients on their story, the process uncovers unexpected and exciting things. You’re never really just ‘telling the story’. You’re almost always breathing life into your strategy, sharpening up your brand, working out what your propositions should be… and a thousand other things.”

Nick is also a published short story writer and his collection, The Exploding Boy and other tiny tales has a cult following.

John Yorke Story: Story for Business

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