January 30, 2017

Does the C-Suite Really Need a Chief Storytelling Officer?


When I “grow up”, I want to be a Chief Storytelling Officer (aka CSO). It’s so much cooler sounding than “Principal” or “Chief Marketing Officer”.
The Chief Storytelling Officer is somebody wildly creative, skilled at crafting narratives and, at the same time, a leader. They can drive a brand forward with a new and exciting approach to sales and marketing.
As storytelling is embraced by more brands, the Chief Storytelling Officer position is slowly starting to emerge. Last year, United Airlines named Dana Brooks Reinglass as its CSO. Jim Olsen, United’s vice-president of corporate communications, explained the move:
“The idea is using stories to give employees and customers a window seat to how we’re doing things and changing things and making a positive difference. Data points are important proof points, but what’s really interesting to people and what they remember are stories.”
The CSO position is not new. SAP hired a CSO in 2013 while Nike hired a CSO in the 1990s. But the growing interest in storytelling is prompting more brands to consider whether they need a CSO.
The question is whether the position and title are necessary. Does a brand require a CSO, as well as a CMO and senior executives for communications and marketing?
If you take a step back, it is important to consider why a brand needs a CSO. It is important for brands to tell stories to drive sales and marketing. Sales and marketing activities such as content marketing, social media, and presentations – are now powered by narratives. If a company fails to tell stories, it misses opportunities to engage and connect with customers and key stakeholders.
Nevertheless, the CSO is a sexy proposition. Maybe brands believe they can’t fully capitalize on the power of storytelling unless it a senior executive leading the charge.
This is someone responsible for making sure the company embraces storytelling and integrates it into every part of the business. The CSO manages the brand’s key narratives and works with other executives to drive strategic cohesion collaboration, the exchange of ideas, and tactical execution.
In a blog post by Vala Afshar about the need for chief storytelling officers, he quotes bigSTORY’s Mike Bonifer on why stories are important: ”
“Stories are what connect us all. Stories are how we make sense of the world. Stories give context to information. Leaders of organizations are generally the chief storytellers and they are talking to the marketplace employees about the vision of the company and their intentions for the future. The difficulty that leaders have is translating that into operation.”

Does that mean brands need a chief storytelling officer?

My answer is “no”.
As much as storytelling matters, there is no need to expand the C-Suite. Storytelling should be top of mind for every senior executive in a world in which brands are publishers/media. The importance of storytelling is driven by the CEO or COO and emphasized and evangelized by the CMO, VP, marketing and VP, communications. In other words, the key players already exist.
At its essence, storytelling is part of a brand’s DNA. It is an integral part of how they do business – everything from sales and marketing to customer service and employee relations. Everyone within an organization is a storyteller and, as important, knows the brand story.
Storytelling is more than telling stories; it is simply how business is done. And that happens without having a CSO in the house.

I’ve worked with dozens of startups and fast-growing companies looking to accelerate their marketing and storytelling. My services are driven by frameworks and processes to create messaging, strategic plans and content. If you want marketing that makes a difference, let’s talk. If you are looking for hand-picked startup content, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

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