Serious about Story: Who is the Storykeeper in Your Organization?

by Jason Ocker
Oct 16, 2018

Every piece of content released by your business—a website, a white paper, a tweet, an app, a video, a speech, a booth, anything with words on or in it—is an opportunity to strengthen your story in the market…or a risk for damaging it. But who in the marketing organization is responsible for the integrity of that story? Who is the one who ensures that every outreach across all the many channels of modern marketing is consistent, accurate, adapted appropriately to its medium, and told well and at maximum power? Who is the storykeeper?

What Makes a Storykeeper?

First, the storykeeper creates the content—the very words of the story—either as author or editor. They are the source or the gateway, and will probably be both, to what degree depending on the size of the organization. But the storykeeper is an expert at content, first and foremost, because content is the vehicle for the story.

Second, the storykeeper has significant knowledge of the business. Books are written by experts, and the storykeeper needs to be an expert to create content about the business. How do the products work? How do clients use them? How do these solutions fit the corporate strategy? The storykeeper needs more than a general idea and casual access to a pool of experts. They need an inherent expertise that they can clearly communicate.

Third, the storykeeper knows the audience. If a storykeeper doesn’t intimately know who the story is intended for, that story will be at best ignorable and at worst irrelevant.

Finally, the storykeeper knows how to tell a good story. If the storykeeper has 1-3 licked, but can’t recognize, plan, and write a good story, then all of that expertise will be bottled behind bad content.

What Roles are Best Suited for Storykeeper?

Let’s start at the top. Should the head of marketing be the storykeeper? They have the knowledge of the business and audience required. They probably even came up with the story itself. However, because of their executive and strategic duties, at least in larger organizations, marketing heads are often a level or more away from where the everyday content decisions are made.

What about the marketing manager? Conceptually, they have a similar role to the marketing head, but are much closer to where content is made and distributed. However, often the marketing manager is more of a much-needed tactical role focused on schedules and channels. Story integrity isn’t about tactics.

Is it the content strategist? Maybe. Nobody knows what a content strategist is. It’s often defined so broadly that it means “marketer.” For instance, here’s a detailed day in the life of a content strategist that doesn’t mention the words story or narrative once. Here’s one where the content strategist is defined as an analytics role. And here’s one discussing it as a technical role.

That leaves us with the copywriter, the one actually putting key to screen. A customer’s impression of the business and knowledge of the solutions often come via the words a copywriter composes. However, the problem with the copywriter as the storykeeper is trusting the story to a role not often considered strategic. In many marketing departments, copywriters are merely experts at verb tense who have bookmarked. Their role at the table is to transcribe what’s being said. Or to edit somebody else’s copy. As evidence, this role is the most outsourced one on the list.

Seriously, Who Should the Storykeeper Be?

Simply put, the storykeeper in your organizations should be whoever is in charge of content. And the closest person to the content is the copywriter.

They are the original fount for the content. The word experts. And adding domain knowledge atop that defining skill of writing is exactly what a writer does. They become an expert on the topic, and then they write about it.

However, for the copywriter to be the storykeeper, it would take some redefining of the role. The copywriter would be less the gateway grammarian and more the impelling force behind the content. Ideally, the role would be strategic enough to report directly to the CMO.

That’s especially true today, where content marketing is a proven for consistently establishing thought leadership, reaching an audience, and attracting leads. In many respects, this redefined copywriter role is an editorial director, like at a magazine or website. In fact, at larger organizations, this role would head an entire department of content creators.

By the way, there’s an easier way to tell who the storykeeper is for your organization right now. It’s the person saying, “That’s not our story.” Or “How does that fit our story?” or “How do we tell that story?” or “Let me go write the story.” It’s the one obsessed with the story.

If nobody is saying this regularly in your organization, then your story isn’t being kept. And if it isn’t being kept, it’s also not being received.

Photo credit: Michael Kooiman

Jason writes. Tells stories. Develops strategies. He oversees a wide range of creative and technical projects. He’s also an award-winning author of half a dozen books and has been featured on or in CNN, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and TIME.

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