Creative Director Dan Germain shares his thoughts with PSFK on the importance of highlighting the human stories that drive the success of any organization.
Dan Germain is the Head of Creative at Innocent, a majority-owned Coca-Cola beverage company that sells fruit drinks throughout Europe. As a member of the team from its independent beginning, he has learned the power of storytelling to help brands and their consumers relate to each other. At PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON, Dan will share key lessons he’s learned that hopefully can be applied to any business.
What does a creative director on the brand-side, Dan?
What I do in the business is run a team of people who act as an internal agency. These are the people who write copy, draw pictures, make adverts, design packaging, produce digital content, design what the office looks like… you know, just make sure that everything that we do looks, sounds, and feels as it should. I also have a responsibility throughout the business to make sure that whatever we do is culturally, socially and meaningfully ‘innocent’.
I guess the reason I ended up doing it was because when we started the business, we didn’t have any money to give to anyone else to do all that sort of stuff, so we just had to figure it all out for ourselves.
Then as we’ve grown, and we’ve been able to spend a bit of money, we have expanded to work with interesting external people and agencies. I make sure that firstly we have the best people internally to do the work that we need to do, and also that we don’t just sit around looking at each other; that we go outside and talk to other interesting people, find other new, stimulating things that will help us do stuff better.
What would you say you have learned in the your first 13 years?
I’ve just learned that it’s really difficult to nail down what the correct tone of voice is. I think businesses spend ages trying to define what their tone of voice should be, without great effect.
Rather than spending a lot of time trying to define what the tone of voice is, it’s important just to find really good people internally to write; to be in‑house journalists. There’s loads of interesting stuff going on in our business, plenty of interesting stories happening, people out in the field, sourcing fruit from really amazing, interesting and out of the way places.
Our job is to get to those people who might not be natural storytellers, sit down with them when they get back from a trip, and ask them about everything that happened. Before they go, we might brief them to take pictures and to think about the people they meet, and note down the stories and the interestingness that they come across. Once we have those stories, we can figure out how and where to pass them on to our drinkers.
But we don’t just talk about fruit. We often cover themes that have absolutely nothing to do with what we sell. We just strive to be interesting. We scour the business and the wider world to find interesting stories and content.
In fact, we’re always thinking about material. I’ve never worked in a newspaper or a magazine, but it feels to me the same way that you would organize your staff, if you were an editor. You’ve got to keep thinking ahead to what’s going to be a newsworthy story whether that’s one week or six months ahead.
The idea of creative director as editor in chief is very interesting, no?
These days, more and more people I meet who work as creative directors seem to act as editors. They’re not necessarily the people coming up with the ideas. They’re not directly developing exciting content. They’re nudging things along and asking the right questions, which I guess is what editors ultimately do. You find time for people, you challenge your writers and your artists to think differently, and you assemble the right combinations of these clever people, and the right conditions for them to thrive. Then something interesting should happen.
You are going to speak at PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON on September 13. What will the audience hear about?
What I’d like to talk about is the importance of storytelling in a business or organization. Lots of great businesses and organizations seem to be a bit useless at telling their stories.
This may be down to the fact that not many businesses think in terms of stories, whereas pretty much all of human history and human experience is passed down from person to person, from generation to generation, as a story.
If you think of all the really interesting stuff that you’ve ever learned, or ever heard, the most interesting, the parts that stick the most, have come to you in the form of a story that a friend told you, or a grandparent, or that you read in a great book.
I just think that, even if your business is small, there will be someone there who can tell the story. They know the story and are actually thinking about what the story could be, in the coming months and years.
To not invest fully in creating and curating your organization’s story means that you miss a massive trick, because what you then end up doing is spending a ton of money on inventing some kind of fake story that never happened, but has to be turned into some sort of ad campaign, or book, or redesign or rebrand, which is usually a lot of bullshit.
Actually, the true story is the thing that people want to hear, that people love. They can relate to the people that tell them.
We’re sure that the talk is going to be fascinating for everybody – whether they sit in small companies or a brand management company that manufactures brands where marketers are asking, “How do you bring the human spirit and storytelling back into the brand?”
No matter how big or small your organisation, if you put the right person from the start, you can be telling a real story about that new brand, from the beginning.
When we launch in new countries it’s a new start, every time. You find that you need to have your storyteller in place from the beginning. You will have someone taking care of sales, someone doing marketing, someone doing finance in your launch team, but you also have to have your storyteller in place so that they can be documenting what’s happening, and talking to people about it.
The launch story is where the tone, the ethos and the beliefs of a business spring from, so you need that person in place, conversing, responding, listening, right from the beginning.
Come see Innocent Drink’s Creative Director speak at PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON on September 13.
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