Branding Storytelling Retreat 2008

by Alan Cock
Member, Producers & Organizers SIG

Sponsored by the NSN PRO SIG


Branding Storytelling: What does it all mean?

Find out at the PRO SIG Winter Retreat
February 15, 16, 17, 2008
Fairfield Inn-Airport
5220 W Southern Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana

  • Discuss branding with Loren Niemi & Cristin Thomas
  • Meet Pauline Moffat of the Indianapolis Fringe Festival
  • Attend “The Talk of the Town” fundraising dinner featuring Bil Lepp
  • Learn about Storytelling Arts of Indiana’s collaborations with the Indiana Historical Society, with host Ellen Munds, Executive Director of Storytelling Arts of Indiana

Friday, Feb 15th: Arrive by 5 PM. Dinner with Ellen. Producer’s Guide discussion.

Saturday, Feb. 16th: Breakfast on our own. Meet at Indiana Historical Society.
9 AM – 1 PM: Branding discussion with Loren Niemi and Cristin Thomas
1 – 2 PM: Lunch in the cafe.
2 – 3 PM: Meet with Pauline Moffat of Fringe Festival
3 – 5 PM: Your choice – return to hotel, visit a museum, have a massage, etc.
5:30 – 10 PM: The Talk of the Town benefit dinner and concert with Bil Lepp

Sunday, Feb. 17th: Breakfast on our own.
10 – 11 AM: Any final discussion on branding?
11 – 12 N: Storytelling collaborations with the Indiana Historical Society – Ellen
12 N – Lunch together before everyone takes off


Loren Niemi (Minneapolis)
Cristin Thomas (Tejas Storytelling, Texas Storytelling Association)
Ted Parkhurst (founder/previous owner of August House Publishing)
Pat Moore (Minneapolis)
Howard Lieberman (Minneapolis, Storyteller)
Guerry McConnell (Tennessee Storytelling Association, President)
Doc McConnell (Tennessee Storytelling Association)
Mary Morgan Smith (Pittsburgh Storytelling Festival)
Linda Yamoto (SF Bay Area Storytelling Festival)
Eric Wolfe (Miami Valley Ohio Storytelling, produces “The Art of Storytelling with Children” podcast)
Ellen Munns (Exec director of Storytelling in Indiana)
LouAnn Homan (Teacher from Northern Indiana)
Alan Cook (Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival)
Tyler Steele (Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival)

Note to self: We should be advertising in the Broadway Series Playbill and on NPR


We all have similar issues with attracting audiences:
Keeping the idea alive throughout the year, using a series of smaller events
Can offer discounts
Make sure our websites are active all year round
“fringe festival” is another type of festival, 100% uncensored

Branding: your visual and verbal identity
-clarity, consistency, character

Character is a specific look/feel, unique to organization
-you know it’s the “Target” company before you even see the name (and sometimes even before the logo)

Balloon talking bubble, silhouette of person as a logo idea to represent storytelling

Clarity: be clear about how you use the brand

Characteristics of the audience:
:Made in the consumer’s mind: image in the consumer’s mind: “storytelling is only for children”
-try using pictures of adults instead of just kids…mix up pictures on website
-who is the audience and what do they want? we sometimes make an assumption, interviews help understand

:Emotional connection: we tend to have a narrow range of emotional connection with folks, much of it’s geared to humor and they miss lots of the more emotional range of connections

-how do you craft the emotional connection in terms of the products?

:Unique: specific, we identify a brand based on a specific name, image

:Functional: fits into their life, we have little control over how the audience takes away…

:Long Lasting: People remember the brand, it can be revisited

Note to self: I think we need to brand storytelling “festival” and storytelling “events” or “series”
SUBSETS: Storytelling is the overarching idea and there are subsets, such as ?

Storytelling: “spoken narrative with and in response to an audience”
Northland definition…”storytelling is the art of live narrative performance shaped by audience response”

Ellen: the only adverising we spend is on NPR

Model of what people want a “storytelling” experience: 90 min top end, 3 performers

These are necessary to reach the younger and more tech savvy audience:
Facebook/MySpace pages for festival/events, Blogs

Talking to general public, which of the following three labels do they prefer?
“storytelling”, “spoken word”, “narrative”…they preferred “spoken word”

“spoken word” performances for all ages
-“performance” is too limiting because it limits the idea to a platform/stage and takes away from the intimate conversation -Ellen

The discussion moved to branding a storytellers tour
-in order to get national funding (like the balletmet tours or broadway series) we need a “brand”
-need to brand “storytelling” in a new way that will get more attention/respect
-when you mention “storytelling” it can turn people off because of the implication that it is for children or not a serious art form

Looked at the two models:
The Classical Model
-each performance consists of 1-2 national performers with 1 local or regional act opening
-time of performance: 90 min
-each performer appears at x number of theater venues
-each venue presents x number of performers for a season
-marketing is unified
-ticket prices are unified
-season tickets are sold

Commissioning Model:
-each venue agrees to commission one performance
-each venue agrees to present each of the other commissioned pieces
-total number of commissioning venues limited (typically 6-8)
-performance time: 70-90 min
-each performer appears at all participating venues
-marketing is unified
-ticket prices are unified
-season tickets are sold

Estimated cost for either model is $5000/venue/preformance

Story Tour vs Storytelling Tour:
-discussion pointed out that “storytelling” implies children

The Moth: urban, personal, narrative (
Speakeasy: Washington DC, similar event (
2 features tellers and then an open mic often filled by lottery…”theme” based

Sometimes the venue defines the name/brand

“Storytelling 2.0”

Communicating the human experience
Connecting the human experience
Authentic human experience

“Spoken word” is too confusing, it encompasses too much…talking, yelling at your child, rap, theatre, etc -Howard

Communicating the human experience…authentic connections
“Sharing the human experience”?

Actors don’t call themselves “actors”, but “performance artists”…”spoken word” label is useful =Cristin|
-when we use the word “storytelling” it shuts people down and narrows their idea of what we encompass

Emerging trend in business is “conversation”…ironically -Loren

Storytelling, Story or Stories: Communicating the Human Experience
what about reversing…”Communicating the Human Experience…through Stories”

“Story Teller” vs “storyteller” and what about “story artist”? -Howard

We voted and we have 4 for “storytelling”, 5 for “story” and 4 for “stories”

“word by word” was generated in another discussion and might be useful -Ellen

Stories…the Human Experience
Story by Story…the Human Experience
Story by Story…Sharing the Human Experience

What do we experience?
emotion, memories (remembering), community (shared experience), personal

“Outrageous Outbursts of Fun” is being used as a tagline for the Indy Fringe festival ( -Ellen

“Story by Story: The Human Experience Shared”

“Story by Story: The Human Experience”

“Story by Story: Sharing the Human Experience”…this was the winner!

Cristin shared that we’re missing that middle market…we get older generation and younger school generations…but no one in between…no one from the university age range and up through to 40’s seems to want to attend Storytelling events

Discussion about what is the “commissioning model”…more of like a “Broadway series” type of model where locals ‘commission’ or harvest local talent and send them on the circuit

Sunday, Howard threw out the label “Varied Voices: One World” and we liked the idea of using “Varied Voices” as a brand


Ellen mentioned that there is a week long training in Indianapolis (they actually offer the training throughout the world) for strategies on funding

we kicked around some ideas about how to fund storytelling
-talked about benefit dinners
-auctions, silent vs live (wine, decorated purses, bowls, dinner w/storyteller, commission storyteller to write family history, etc)
-matching grants
-using “seed” money to encourage others to donate, challenge others to beat the initial donation

Author’s Bio:

Alan Cook is the board president for the Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival. His interest in storytelling come from years of listening to storyteller Bill McKell around the campfire on many scouting events. When Bill founded the storytelling festival in historic Chillicothe, Ohio, Alan was brought on to develop the festival website and later design the printed graphic materials.

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