Megan Sheldon Q and A
It’s a great pleasure to feature another up-and-coming story practitioner, Megan Sheldon, in this Q&A series. Canada seems to boast a strong contingent of story folks, and since my state of Washington borders British Columbia, it’s a treat to spotlight a BC neighbor.
Bio: With ten years of experience in public relations, marketing, and advertising, Megan has worked both client and agency side with clients such as UNICEF, Sarah McLachlan Foundation, and the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC). Narrative Communications is a story writing and branding agency that works primarily with artists, entrepreneurs, social enterprises, and small businesses. Megan is a Strategic Storyteller who draws out the many stories that surround an organization and then turns those stories into a powerful brand. Through her network of creative individuals, including designers, web developers and videographers, she collaborates to then bring that brand to life by producing and launching integrated marketing and social media campaigns.
Q&A with Megan Sheldon:
Q: How did you initially become involved with storytelling?
A: When I was in my late teens, my mom introduced me to Joseph Campbell and other Jungian mythologists as a way of understanding my place in the world. At the time, I was studying English and media at McGill University, and I wanted to be a journalist. Six years later, after working as a journalist, an editor, a PR strategist, and a marketing consultant, I decided to pursue this passion for mythology and completed a master’s from the University of Edinburgh examining myths that have been told and retold over the centuries. I started to recognize the patterns and archetypes that emerged from so many stories, and wanted to explore our innate connection to stories further.Q: When did you see the connection between marketing and mythology?
A: Growing up, I was always suspicious of marketing; the last thing I wanted to do was build brands that were inaccurate or deceitful. What I recognized in storytelling was the ability to embed many different experiences into a single story, allowing people from all walks of life to connect with a brand message. For me, branding is about listening and interpreting people’s experiences and finding the common threads that connect them back to a business. I always ask my clients “What do you want people to feel when they hear about your business?” Our day-to-day experiences with a business impact our decisions and ultimately determine the success of a company.Q: Describe one of your favorite projects or initiatives.
A: When I worked in Ghana as a community engagement coordinator, I saw the power of story first hand with the young girls I worked with. While I was living there I was introduced to the work of Shannen O’Brian, a fellow Vancouverite who was working tirelessly in Northern Ghana to build a charity (Create Change) that sends young girls to high school and university and provides rural communities with access to clean water. I was immediately inspired and told Shannen about my vision for Narrative Communications. Shannen approached me last year and I worked with her to build the brand story for Create Change, which is being launched later this year, as well as the brand story for her new social enterprise Karma Exchange, a way for businesses to align themselves with charity while marketing their products to new audiences. Shannen brought four of the girls from Ghana to Vancouver this past November for a six-week documentary speaking tour (For Our Daughters), and I volunteered to be their story coach, helping them weave together their experiences into a powerful presentation. Working with Shannen on all three of these projects has proven to me that storytelling can be a powerful way to connect people to a cause and ultimately change people’s mindset.Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: When I was studying in Edinburgh I was introduced to the concept of Mythos (myth) and Logos (logic). These two notions were once the pillars of society and life functioned by giving equal weight to both frames of thought. Slowly, this subjective idea of myth depreciated and instead value was placed on science and technology — i.e., things that could be proven — which created an imbalance in the way people interpreted their experiences. I believe we are beginning to recognize this imbalance and are turning to storytelling to connect with people, ideas, and brands on a more personal level. Technology is advancing at an alarming rate, and we are being inundated with more brands than ever before. If we can’t distinguish a brand’s story, and see how it directly affects us, it loses power. Technology can be an excellent tool for sharing our stories, as long as you focus on the message and not simply the medium.
Q: What’s your favorite story about a transformation that came about through a storytelling act?
A: My process involves interviewing not only the decision-makers of a business, but also their staff, clients, friends, and supporters. Almost every one of my clients is amazed when they hear the different experiences people have in relation to their own business. Too often we believe the business is “ours,” and we forget that it is being experienced by so many different people, each of whom should ideally bring or take away something of value. I worked with the Sarah McLachlan Foundation for two years, helping them launch the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, a free music school for at-risk youth in Vancouver, B.C. The breakthrough came when we recognized that while Sarah’s story was integral to the brand, it was the stories of the students, the instructors, the staff, and the community that were feeding the vision. I was then able to weave together the unique perspectives and experiences into a brand story that embraced diversity and acknowledged everyone’s contribution.