01/31/2014 06:37 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2014

Storytime in Corporate America

The other day I responded to a want ad for a "storyteller," and, since having returned to freelance writing after a long career on both the agency and client side, I thought I would investigate. Here's my story:


It was a dark and stormy night, rain blowing in sheets across the lights of the new skyscrapers south of Market. I was on the streets, unemployed and looking for work when I saw a man in a black trench coat underneath a streetlamp, collar pulled up close about his face against the deluge.

When I saw him flick his cigarette butt to the ground and skulk off I decided to follow him, being broke and out of smokes. He wasn't very big. Maybe I would roll him in an alley or under the Bay Bridge onramp. If he was smoking my brand.

After a couple of blocks he stopped and entered a dive bar, a Jack London hangout or so I thought. I followed. The bar was crowded with Ewoks in drag, so my quarry was easily recognizable. I approached him as he removed his fedora and unbuttoned his raincoat.

"Got a smoke?" I asked. I gasped. There before me stood the ghost of David Ogilvy, the father of modern copywriting.

"Are you kidding?" he said in his characteristic British chuckle. "This is San Francisco. We don't smoke in bars."

"Oh, of course, I said, unscrewing my prosthetic. "How about a job? I'm a copywriter. A handicapped copywriter."

"Copywriter? Forget it. A copywriter can't get arrested in this town. Even handicapped copywriters. Clients want storytellers now."

"Storytellers? Well, I'm a novelist too, does that help?" I unscrewed my other prosthetic.

"HA! Everybody is a f**king novelist these days, fer chrissakes. Big whoop!" He reached into his pants and pulled out a little black and yellow pamphlet, which I immediately recognized to be "For Dummies."

"Here. Read this."

Sure enough the cover read "Business Storytelling for Dummies." I scanned it quickly, really jonesing for a butt by now. I noticed the Ewoks were gathering around, humming like Buddhist monks. Now I was scared. I screwed in one of my prosthetics and started reading the Dummies pamphlet, which promised to help me "accurately translate data, facts and figures into rich, captivating messages tailored to any situation or audience."

Rich, captivating messages! Thrills, chills, spills! Lions, tigers and bears!

Intrigued, I read on, even as the Ewoks began to lift me above their heads like a king or a God or something. I'll admit I was feeling rather God-like, as the pamphlet promised that my newfound powers would "empower me to use storytelling techniques to connect with my audience and drive my business to new heights!"

It all sounded too good to be true, and all I had to do was change my job title from "copywriter" to "storyteller," put all the case studies in my portfolio in the front and possibly work in a few Ewoks, or lions, or knights errant.

"This is cool," I said to David Ogilvy. But when I looked up, he was gone, and so were the Ewoks. Both my arms lay on my desk before me and the cursor on the screen was still blinking right where I had left it, right where I had started working on a story for a new client that started with:

It was a dark and stormy night...


"Business Storytelling for Dummies" indeed! Man. If had thought of that I probably wouldn't sitting here gig-hunting. Because these days if there's one way to make a killing it's in repackaging the 1-2-3s of just about anything, slapping a new label on them and enclosing it all between a black and yellow cover.

I give "storyteller" another six months. Next? Sonnets.

Gather 'round the hearth ye customers of mine/ and thou whilst tell you a tale most divine/a Value Proposition of beauty to behold...


Jeb Stewart Harrison is a storyteller, bard and jester of international renown, a 25-year veteran of agency and client-side positions and now the proprietor of JSH Creative, offering "storytelling" and social business services to individuals and businesses alike. His latest novel, Hack, has become a cult classic on distant planets heretofore non-existent as has his Adventures in Limboland, a blog of slowly emerging social significance.