On a rare trip to New Zealand this week, Microsoft’s Creative Director and General Manager of Microsoft’s Global Image team, Steve Clayton, took the time to chat with PRINZ about storytelling.
Steve leads the team responsible for Microsoft’s internal and external company storytelling with a mission to change the perception of Microsoft through stories. Here’s what we learned:
What is the purpose of your visit to New Zealand?
Two fold – primarily to attend and present at Microsoft’s Ignite conference. My session is titled “secrets to telling awesome stories” – a 45m canter through my experiences of telling stories from inside Microsoft for the last five years. I’ve had the pleasure of helping to build out websites such as www.microsoft.com/stories and news.microsoft.com as well as working with our new CEO, Satya Nadella, to help tell the story of a changing Microsoft. Along the way, my team and I have learnt some interesting stuff on how to tell a great story – digitally and physically so I’m here to share. The second reason is to meet with our local teams and talk about Microsoft’s new mission and how we communicate that internally and externally.
Who are you meeting?
Hopefully a packed room at Ignite but beyond that, I aim to meet the odd barista, sommelier and chef as I’m a big fan of the culture and cuisine here in New Zealand. I also seem to have amassed a decent sized collection of ex-colleagues, friends and university pals who all live in Auckland so I’m meeting up with many of them too!
What’s the biggest mistake brands make with their storytelling efforts?
The most common mistake I see is not telling a story – and talking about a product. When this happens it feels like the advertorials you see in magazines – content that is perfectly valid in many cases but masquerading at something else.
What other global brands – in your opinion – do a good job of storytelling?
Nike with Instagram in particular, Red Bull with social/stunts/videos and GE with storytelling from inside a giant organisation.
For storytelling, Microsoft uses YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, any others? And what’s coming next on the horizon re: social and sharing platforms
We use those channels as well as recently launching our Instagram channel and taking a unique approach there that is non product oriented. The other thing we do though is build our own platforms – most significantly www.microsoft.com/stories where we tell long-form stories from inside Microsoft. But storytelling is even broader that this in my mind – it includes events and how we produce them as that helps to tell the story of the company. I don’t really know what’s coming next – people are exploring Snapchat and other new social platforms but content is the core of storytelling so great writing will continue to win out and on the web, great photography is vital. That’s where we’ve invested a lot.
You’re passionate about technology and its impact on the world – what’s the most positive impact you’ve seen in 18 years at Microsoft?
There are many but the most recent one was a story we told in Kenya at http://news.microsoft.com/kenya2015 – where a small group of entrepreneurs have worked with Microsoft Research to deploy a technology called TV white spaces. While there are other efforts with balloons and drones that aim to do this, we’ve already connected over 200,000 people across several continents with this amazing technology. It uses traditional TV radio spectrum to deliver WiFi over a very wide area at low cost – on Kenya resulting in schools that are now connected to the Internet and seeing their educational quality rise almost overnight.
If you could tell young aspiring storytellers/content creators the most valuable thing you’ve learned in 18 years, what is it?
This sounds obvious but all great stories start with people – find the people behind a story and you’ll be on the right path.
Where does your team fit within the public relations/marketing/social media structure of Microsoft Corporation?
My team is part of the marketing organisation inside of Microsoft which has a communications team in which I sit. Our team includes corporate social media – managing the official Microsoft handles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. Another team manages them for products such as Windows, Xbox, Office etc.
A lot of Microsoft’s successes are highly technical. What’s your process for translating that information from jargon to relevant and digestible material for your audiences?
It’s a real talent that we try to nurture – often by employing writers from outside the tech sphere as they’ll ask questions to seek to understand the jargon and can then translate for readers. The most important thing though is pushing yourself to use language that you could use with friends and family not in the tech world – which often means using analogies or talking about what the technology enables rather than get caught up in the excitement of how it works. If I tried to explain Machine Learning to someone using tech language I’d lose them quickly – so starting with “machine learning helps predict the weather” is a more accessible way to enter that story.
Any other comments?
Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms – and it really is an art. My advice for people who want to get better at it is 1) read Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate 2) be naturally curious – ask why a lot 3) think visually – photos/images really do convey a thousand words.
Steve Clayton is Creative Director and General Manager of Microsoft’s Global Image team. The team is responsible for Microsoft’s company storytelling both internally and externally with a mission to change the perception of Microsoft through stories. Steve and his team produce company events that harness the CEO and executive voices along with digital properties such as Microsoft News Centre, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Prior to this, Steve held roles as Chief Storyteller for Microsoft and prior to that was Director of Cloud Strategy in Microsoft International and CTO of Microsoft’s UK Partner Group. He has worked at Microsoft for over 18 years in a range of sales and technical roles – always with a passion for technology and its potential impact on the world.