A Storied Career. Kathy Hansen asks about storytelling.
A Storied Career
Kathy Hansen's Blog explores traditional and postmodern forms/uses of storytelling. I was recently interviewed by Kathy. The interview has been reposted here. The original interview is at A storied Career.
Q: Who are you? Share something about your early years, something that coloured how you think about storytelling now.
A: In 1969, our family took delivery of a Telefunken stereo in a teak cabinet. I’ve since seen many of the very same cabinets in vintage furniture stores across Toronto, so I know we were not alone in our experience. The unit was carefully carried into our small house, positioned in the place of honour in the living room and plugged in. Mom, Dad, my brother, our dog and I sat down for the first sounds from our very own hi-fi system. The unit came with a record and we placed that on the turntable, carefully closed the sliding doors and sitting back to hear a voice that sounded very much like Peter Ustinov tell us that we were about to experience the incredible quality of High Fidelity Sound Reproduction. A car horn sounded from the left side of the cabinet and then birds tweeting on the right … clarity and amazing precision … and then a symphony began some orchestral suite. This was our foray into a way of hearing that would establish a new measure of what is good, average and unacceptable in sound reproduction. This quality of sound would be forever remembered by me as high fidelity sound — sound which reproduced the complete range of the sound experience — subtly nuanced, magnificently reported, larger and more textured than life. There is a direct relationship between how I think about story, about what I call High Fidelity Story Telling and this early experience of hi-fi sound reproduction.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your company’s concept of “High Fidelity Story Telling?”
A: We have broken down High Fidelity Story Telling into seven distinct deliverables — each one can build out a campaign or be used alone. We use something called ‘residual memory’ to program the stories to be memorable and easy to recall/retell. The way we use imagery, with words or on its own, is quite different from the convention. We have begun to deliver a story essay for Monforte Dairy each month, and we want to do that for others. We are talking to a foundation who can use all seven facets of High Fidelity Story Telling to launch and sustain a fundraising campaign for a significant sum … we can incorporate our storytelling method into social media campaigns … Can you tell that after 27 years in business, I am completely smitten with storytelling?
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field?
A: Once I understood that billboards and all printed material were the result of graphic designers, copy writers, commercial photographers and an elaborate team of post-production experts, once I understood this world, I knew, with absolute conviction, that I wanted to be the one that imagined and directed what would materialize on all manner of media. My early work was catalogues for Tom Taylor Marine Outfitter, then fashion brochures and posters for Peter Nygard, for whom photographer Taffi Rosen and I travelled to Italy, then to the British Virgin Islands for North South Yacht Charters… and on the strength of this work, there were more and more new clients. And then, like a light switch being turned “off” and then “on”, there was a shudder felt all over the world as disasters, natural and otherwise, resulted in the demise of thousands of people. And for me and for others, this resulted in questioning what is important, what is true, what is real. I was part of a world-wide movement toward authenticity, of turning away from the flash-in-the-pan advertising campaigns of the 1980s and early 1990s. To me then, as now, there is nothing as authentic, as moving, as memorable, as story.
Q: What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: People crave authentic pathways for reason, selection and understanding. As a fine artist, as a graphic artist and as a marketing strategist, I weighed and measured the most authentic methods of conveying truths, ideas, and passion, and I progressed quite naturally to storytelling that is subtly nuanced, imaginatively reported, richly textured and often married with rich, somewhat surprising imagery.
Q: Do you think the storytelling movement has peaked? To what extent do you think “storytelling” has become an overused buzzword?
A: Let’s consider a new buzzword to measure story — grok — from the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. Grok literally means “to drink,” but it is taken to mean “understanding” — wherein someone really gets inside an idea so completely that they have drunk it in and now it is part of them.
It is possible to have people, your people, the people you want and need, to grok your story and by extension, grok your brand. Story is a condition of brand; it is brand building, it finds a voice, projecting a sentiment, sharing deeply held beliefs and intention in a way that is far more powerful and lasting than a clever campaign. Leaders become oral storytellers, clients and suppliers become re-tellers, employees can put on the story like a super hero cape… The story gains momentum — it can leap tall buildings.
Q: Your bio notes that you “execut[e] agricultural theme marketing initiatives for a brighter future on a greener planet.” Can you elaborate on that idea and perhaps describe an example? How did you get interested in that area?
A: We get involved, completely involved with the ideas, the sentiment and the source of the stories. Obviously we can only take on clients when we share a belief, when the client proves triple bottom-line thinking — when the client is ready to reveal their truth: complete with highs and the lows. Truth is absolutely necessary for the kind of storytelling that wins hearts and minds. What I have learned through my work with the University of Toronto has informed my fine-art projects; my involvement with the University of Guelph and Monforte Dairy has produced a deep commitment to environmental, sustainable, humane food production.
Q: What do you love about storytelling?
A: Story is so dear to me personally that I use it to share ideas always… in my paintings and photographs, which tell of happenings, birth, death, flight or even just being… always leveraging story for conveyance. To Thine Own Self Be True — is a first book project, Mugs with Frames Portrait of a City — an installation and game about how approachable people in Toronto are, and SARAYU, a series of images that marry a goddess with situ. The method of telling the story is completely unique to the source of the story. Using commercial examples, each client has a look, feel and method that is completely unique to them — non-transferrable.