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Note to CMO: A Good Story, Well Told—Screenwriting and Marketing

by Stephen Denny  |  
December 19, 2006

Dear CMO:

Writing a compelling story is the inner game of marketing and is often the exclusive realm of your creative agencies. The client scowls during the presentation, asks if the logo could be bigger, and then selects the execution he thinks is the funniest. This symbiotic relationship holds up pretty well unless a client-side marketer sneaks behind the curtain for a look. Which I did.

Attending Robert McKee's STORY seminar has been on my "list" for years, along with other dubious goals (let's face it, getting an Oscar and hosting the Latin Grammies are going to take some work at this point). But because I come from a family of creatives, this was an itch that needed scratching.

McKee is a mash-up of Don Imus and Charlton Heston. His seminar consists of three 12-hour days. He doesn't accept interruptions. Removing rants against the president (one per hour), notes on the decline of Western Civilization (one every 15 minutes), and profanity (every third word), we could have been out of there after a day and a half. But context is everything and life itself is profane, so I won't complain.

The thing is, I don't aspire to write a screenplay. I invested 36 hours of lecture time because the development of "a good story, well told" is central to everything we marketers do. Everything else, to quote the professor, is "body and fender work."

For the sake of brevity, here are a few points to consider.

'Luke... I'm your father...'

Turning points are events during which progressively greater risks are taken and irreversible decisions are made. The protagonist's journey begins with a life-changing incident. The protagonist struggles against forces of antagonism. The quest drives the protagonist towards the possession (or not) of the object of desire. This journey is universal, in all cultures.

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Stephen Denny has been a marketer for more than two decades and blogs about strategy, marketing, and big ideas at Download his e-book, This Sentence Has 5ive Words: Eigen Values, Creating Truisms and the Future of Marketing and follow him on Twitter: @Note_to_CMO.

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