The Collaborative No. 19
Today we are featuring Everyday Visionary Melanie Deziel who is the Founder of StoryFuel.
Melanie is a lifelong storyteller, international keynote speaker and recognized as one of the world's leading experts in native advertising and brand content. As an award-winning branded content strategist, she travels the world teaching marketers and publishers how to tell better stories.
Prior to starting StoryFuel, Melanie was the first Editor of Branded Content for The New York Times where she won the OMMA award for Best Native Advertising Execution in 2014 and 2015. The key to native advertising is that it is non-disruptive. Readers are exposed to advertising content that looks and functions like natural content.
Marketing is trying to sell you something, while storytelling strives to connect, entertain or inspire. A company becomes human and relatable through their story, not the product or service they provide. Melanie reminds companies to keep telling their stories until you become a story worth telling.
You can follow Melanie Deziel on social media by clicking these links:
- Where do you currently work?
- What is your current role?
- How would you describe to a child what you do for a living?
I help brands understand the power of storytelling so they can tell better brand stories.
- What do you hope you have a reputation for as a professional?
As a professional, I hope that I'm known as someone who helps people think differently, and makes them love storytelling. Being seen as a great speaker would be a pretty nice bonus, since I often share my knowledge from the stage.
- What is an accomplishment from your career that meant the world to you?
When I was working as the first editor of branded content at The New York Times, inside T Brand Studio, I got to work on an amazing project sponsored by Netflix. For the launch of Season 2 of Orange Is The New Black, we collaborated with Netflix on an amazing long form investigative piece about what it's really like to be a woman in the American prison system. We spoke to current and former inmates, prison reform advocates, prison employees and more to paint a picture of what it was like, and included all kinds of multimedia, like a three-part mini documentary, infographics, audio clips and more. The piece was covered widely in the industry press, praised by our newsroom journalists, and won a number of awards, and having all that hard work recognized as being truthful and high-quality brand storytelling was undoubtedly one of my proudest moments.
- What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve had to learn the hard way in your career?
You can't be everything to everyone, and when you're an entrepreneur, you can't do all things yourself, either. Specialization of audience, is key, and leaning into your strengths lets you make the biggest impact. The sooner you can let go and delegate, you'll be able to amplify your impact so much, you'll wish you did it sooner.
- What are some of your go-to sources of inspiration and staying on top of emerging trends that impact your field or industry?
Content marketing is a growing industry and there are so many resources scattered across the web. For current news, reading Contently, Digiday, AdAge, AdWeek and the blogs from the Content Marketing Institute and Native Advertising Institute are key. But for me, a big one is also making sure I'm following a lot of experts and the brands themselves on social media, so I can see what they're doing and what stories they are telling!
- What is something you need in your work environment in order to thrive in your role?
As silly as it sounds, I really like to have a bit of hustle and bustle around me. Silence makes it tough for me to focus. I like working out of coffee shops most days, and from hotel lobbies and airports while I'm traveling to speak. Having noise to tune out helps me stay focused. (If you need to manufacture this environment, try Coffitivity, which plays coffeeshop sounds from your laptop!)
- What you envision for your customers/clients/stakeholders/ patients/citizens/students, etc.?
I started out as a journalist, because I really believe that storytelling is the most powerful way to convey information, to touch hearts and to change minds. For me, as a brand storytelling consultant and speaker, my mission is to help my clients and audience members believe that too!
- What is one of the biggest challenges you are facing or trying to solve right now?
As an entrepreneur, scale and growth are two things I'm always focused on. I'm always looking for ways to create new products, share new ideas, and grow my business so I can do more of the same. Making time for that type of planning and creative work can sometimes be a challenge.
- When and where do you tend to get your ideas?
I get a lot of my ideas when I least expect it— when I'm in transit, in the shower, walking outdoors or falling asleep. I try to make note of them (when I'm able and it's safe to do so) but having that great idea when you can't take action can be so painful!
- What are three of your favorite books?
"Friend of a Friend," by David Burkus
"Attention Pays," by Neen James
"Exactly What To Say," by Phil M Jones
- What’s one of your favorite non-profits?
The mission of the Innocence Project is one that I feel really strongly about. The work that they do can not only transform lives and reunite family, but actually save lives.
- If you could collaborate with any group or individual in the world, who would be your top three picks?
I'd love the chance to work with an ocean conservation group of some kind to tell some stories about the wonders beneath the sea.
I'd also really love to work with some local craftsmen to help understand their love of their craft and teach them to share that with others
And, if we're reaching for the stars, I'd love to spend some time with the Obamas to learn more about their story and find a way to tell some powerful stories together.
- What would you want to collaborate on with the people/groups you just mentioned?
I know it might seem like more work than play, but I'm really just fascinated by how the world works and what moves people, so with each of the three collaborators I mentioned, my goal would be to try to unearth what motivates them and find a way to convey that to others through the written word, visuals, videos or audio.
- If you were invited to give a TED Talk (or have given one), what would you speak about?
I founded StoryFuel because I want to teach others to love storytelling as much as I do, and a big part of that requires making them see themselves as idea-generators and storytellers. I'd love to take on the challenge of helping people generate a wild number of story ideas in that constrained time frame, to prove that anyone can find stories, even if they don't think they are storytellers.
- How do you unwind at the end of a stressful day?
Lately I've found cooking to be a really nice outlet. I'm by no means a chef, but I've enjoyed the creative side of creating a dish. I find that the structure of a recipe gives me something to focus on and helps me slow down the day's information processing.
- What do you think your 80-year-old self would tell you right now?
She'd probably tell me to take better care of myself and save more for retirement.
- What do you think your 10-year-old self would be most impressed with about your life right now?
My 10 year old self would be shocked at how much I get to travel the world to speak. As a kid, I wanted to see the world but wasn't sure how, so I'm sure my 10-year-old self would be amazed that I found a way to do it.
- What does your creative process entail when you're doing what you do best?
I think and create in a non-linear way, which means I do a lot of "unloading" first, and then organize it all and make sense of it later. I'll often start by just getting it all out: I'll open a blank document on my computer or a fresh notebook, and just write out ideas, questions, references and other things related to a idea. Sometimes it's an audio recording from my phone, just talking it all out. Once I've got it all out, It's a lot of moving pieces around, clarifying, expanding and putting things in the right order so it makes sense. I'm no artist, but I do tend to sketch things out and doodle as part of that process, showing the connections between various things and marking things for follow up.
- Is there anything particularly compelling that you want us to know that we didn't ask?
One of the things about my personality that is both a strength and a weakness, is that I have this insane thirst for information. When I first learn about something, I want to know all there is: I research, read books, find experts, ask questions. This is a huge asset when it comes to storytelling, interviewing and trivia, but it's also something I have to keep in check. It's really easy to get absorbed in a new world, and forget that you have to turn that knowledge into action to make use of it.