Monday, June 2, 2008

You Still Gotta Tell A Story

I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Nelson, the Vice Chairman of the Omnicom Group and all around marketing icon at the IMC weekend at West Virginia University last Friday. He was the keynote speaker at the Friday night reception and dinner. Since I'm an a new/emerging media class this semester, I was anxious to hear what Nelson has to say about new media. He didn't disappoint.

You might expect a guy who has come up with some of the most brilliant marketing ideas of all time to have it all figured out, but he's the first to admit he doesn't. "I'm a tremendous believer in ditigal," Nelson told the group. But "we are just beginning to figure out how to talk to people in a digital environment."

Nelson observed that everytime there's been a sea change in communication it took a generation for people to really get it. "TV -- it took us 10 years to realize that (advertisements) shouldn't be radio on TV. This is the best time to be in our business because we know the least. How do we connect the (IMC) disciplines? How do they work together? How much should we spend? What's the mix? That's your generation's job to figure out," Nelson charged. Hmmm I thought. Does that sound exciting -- or scary?

Nelson's address did have one comfort -- and caveat. It's his opinion that some things about what we do won't change. The biggest thing is story telling. While the way we tell the client's story and how we deliver it will change "without a story we are lost," says Nelson. So if we're good at figuring out what the story should be, and good at telling it, then we will still be successful no matter what the landscape.


P.S. Given his background and success you might think that Nelson would only want to talk about himself and his achievements. In reality he is full of surprises (he wears light blue socks with his dark business suit), self-deprecating in a very funny way (he makes lots of original jokes about his baldness), and he is a GREAT listener. Before dinner, he made the rounds of the room, stopping to talk to each student, asking what we were learning. Friend and former classmate Dave Michaels chatted with him about a project we collaborated on in Creative Strategies last summer, and he focused on what we had to say with great interest. He didn't say it in his speech, but I have to think that's another reason why he's been so successful: he listens. That's another good lesson learned. You can be an expert at all the technology involved in new media, but you still have to be able to listen.


Heidi M said...

Anne--I'm glad you shared this. Storytelling is the one consistent factor in the communication field. Stories are universal--there's a connection point where we can identify, learn, observe, laugh and reflect.

Anne said...

Thanks Heidi. He was really cool. I was so impressed by how he just stood there and listened while two starry-eyed graduate students went on and on about stuff that's like first grade for him.

Unfrozen Cave Girl Marketer said...

Speaking of telling a good story, I think you just did - about Bruce Nelson. I liked the insight about him being a good listener. Contrary to what some might think about "the boss" I think listening is a trait of some of the best leaders in our industry.

Anne said...

Cave girl... Thanks. I have to remind myself of that every day. I like to talk!