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April 4, 2008

Jeremy Garbett: Experiential communications - what's the story?

It’s a tricky moment.

"So what do you do?" comes the question.

Let’s go for this small mouthful. "Well, I represent a highly creative agency that adjusts perceptions, creates insights and advocacy and inspires measurable action."

Sounds faintly Freudian with a whiff of marketing in the air. It creates more questions…

"But what exactly does this agency produce? Have I seen your work? And you base yourselves in Acton?!"

And I haven't even mentioned the term 'experiential communications' yet…

Yes, it’s sometimes a tough question, depending on who the questioner may be. My 84-year-old mother doesn't quite get it, yet my nine year-old niece does. Maybe there is another way.

When asked to describe what we do, one of our senior team tells this story.

Thanks for the memory
"At school I had this great history teacher. His name was Mr Wormleighton. We were allowed to call him Harry. One day we arrived for a lesson to find that he'd locked the classroom door, leaving us to wait in the corner. After a few minutes the door opened just enough for Harry to whisper to us all to crouch down on our hands and knees and crawl into the room and under our desks. Giggling, we all dutifully complied.

"The night before, Harry had visited the school drama department and 'borrowed' a smoke machine. This now explained why our classroom was full of acrid, thick smoke.

"'Picture the scene...' shouted Harry over a tape playing Sounds of the Somme. 'It's July 1916. We're in France. One of the most terrible battles of the First World War rages all around us...'

"Over 30 years on, I can recall every detail of that lesson. I remember facts and figures, I remember the fear and rage of the Great War poets whose tracks had been mixed into the battleground soundtrack that Harry had so painstakingly created. In just 45 minutes he transported me and my classmates from a comprehensive school in Salford to the front lines of the Somme. And then he brought us all safely home again, changed, filled with knowledge, insight and a 12-year-old passionate determination to be a pacifist forever."

The power of a story

So Harry had planned this. Sat down and thought about how his audience could be affected. He then created the perfect fusion of message with experience to create a truly memorable event through a powerful story.

And that's exactly what our industry should be doing for our clients across the world. We plan. We create. We take audiences on a journey that's engaging and memorable. That ultimately changes behaviours. We're not claiming that it’s new (after all, Harry was doing this over 30 years ago), but we should perhaps remind ourselves that a great story, delivered with passion, is always at the centre of truly inspiring communications.

To find out more about Jack Morton Worldwide check out their MyERpage

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