4 Brand Storytelling Lessons from a Former Washington Speechwriter

Disclaimer: This is not a political post. However, politicians and Washington D.C. staff may be referenced throughout the course of this blog. 

In early 2017, I had the chance to listen to Jon Favreau, former speechwriter for former President Obama, talk about his time in Washington. While the stories he told – days on the campaign trail, working his way up to Chief Speechwriter, holing up in his room on Christmas Day to finish a speech – were fascinating on their own, it was Favreau’s insight on speechwriting and brand storytelling that truly caught my attention.

Favreau outlined four lessons he used in his writing when representing the most powerful man in the country. His tips are ones that we can all follow representing our clients, stakeholders, and brands.

4 Brand Storytelling Lessons from a Former Washington Speechwriter

Lesson 1: Focus on the story

For Favreau, this was key in his speechwriting. He would find ways to convey messages about equal rights or healthcare by telling stories about the people these changes would impact.

In destination marketing, we have the same goal. Oftentimes it’s easy to get caught up in the “key messaging,” the top points that you have outlined as the most important information to convey to your customers or constituents. But don’t lose sight of the story. Tell people why they should care about your promotion or discount by reminding them of the experience or impact it will have on them. Make storytelling part of your brand, because great brand stories are just that – stories.

How to use storytelling in visitor guides.

Lesson 2: Use words and phrases that people actually use

An easy lesson, but a great reminder. When working in any industry, certain words and acronyms can become commonplace in your vocabulary. But don’t forget to take a step back and look at your writing through the eyes of an outsider. Would the average person understand what “TPA” means? How about “DMO”? Spell it out and keep it simple. If your grandma wouldn’t understand what you are saying, chances are you need to revise.

Do you know your tourism terms?

Lesson 3: Humor is one of the most underrated but effective methods of storytelling

I love this lesson, but it comes with a word of caution. Favreau talked about how he often used humor to lighten up a topic and make it relatable to the audience. It also helped break up the drone of a long speech. But with all things, there is a time and a place for humor. You know the brands you are working with, and whether or not the subject matter allows for a more humorous tone.

As one of my favorite fictional characters Albus Dumbledore would say, “Use it well.”

Lesson 4: Brand storytelling is fundamentally about maintaining your idealism. Caution is its greatest enemy.

Favreau’s final lesson was an interesting one. He cautioned the audience not to hold back in their writing. He noted that the greatest speeches are the ones that lay it all out on the table, that take risks, and that are not too cautious or careful in their messages.

Looking at that advice from a branding or PR standpoint, the message is clear. Caution doesn’t get you noticed or set you apart from the rest. It is the truly unique ideas, the ones that take a little bit of a risk that yield the most memorable campaigns.

Through his speeches, former President Obama used these techniques to inspire change in the country, and he was known for being a great storyteller. He encouraged people to take action, to unite, and to fix problems. In essence, that is what we are trying to do with the brands we represent, and that’s what brand storytelling is all about. Tell a great story. Unite people. Inspire action.

See more storytelling tips from Jon Favreau.

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Sarah Martin

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