Branding today isn’t about the story you tell—it’s how you tell it. That’s what Nathan Phillips will say when you ask about his role as chief creative officer at New York-based branding agency Narrative. And he would know. Phillips has spent the majority of his career telling stories. His career has included stints as a comedian, writer, creative director and experiential marketer, and he's earned a slew of industry awards, including a 2015 Emmy for an interactive documentary called “The And.”
At Narrative, which only has about 20 employees yet is a go-to shop for brands like Under Armour and Samsung, Phillips gets to put his creative storytelling to good use, helping brands bring their messaging to life across platforms. If his day job didn’t keep him busy enough, Phillips also runs a custom speech-writing service, Oratory Laboratory, alongside his wife, Victoria Wellman. Marketing News caught up with Phillips to discuss his unusual, highly creative career path, and his thoughts on the future of content creation.
Q: There seems to be a clear through line to your career, as you’ve moved from comedy to writing and directing, and then on to advertising. Those fields obviously have a lot in common, but what prompted you to get into the agency life? How’d you decide to “go commercial”?
A: I think of advertising as art in which you have to prove something. Working with a great strategy partner—and making stuff that has measurable impact—just straight up makes me a better writer. When working on other projects, like a book or a film, I concept like a copywriter, and I think it makes for better, more conceptual work.
Q: This spring, you were named chief creative officer at Narrative, an agency that opened its doors just about two years before they hired you. Here’s your chance to pitch your agency: What do you guys bring to the table that other firms can’t, or don’t? What excites you about what your firm can do for brands?
A: Narrative does a great job of connecting technology to great taste. For brands that are trying to stay relevant, we offer real cultural roots, and a dedicated focus on music, sports, fashion and art. And as we build narratives for brands, we use technology to find innovative ways to get people to actually pay attention to the awesome stuff we’re making. Being cool only works if people are paying attention.
Q: What are your marching orders at Narrative, apart from your general oversight duties as head of the creative team? And what are your personal success metrics?
A: We’re growing really fast. Right now, maintaining and developing an internal culture that embraces creativity and helps us stay weird is absolutely vital. You never want to get too busy to listen to good music.
Q: You’ve spent much of your career as a content creator—both in your vocation and your avocation, of sorts, with the Oratory Laboratory. Where do you think the marketplace stands regarding branded content, and where are we headed? In five or 10 years, do you think that consumers will care where their content comes from, whether it’s from a traditional content source or from a brand? Will it matter, as long as the content is good?
A: It’s already a non-issue. The question is, Can we re-think the way we measure success for brands so that we focus on real impact and not just clicks? As long as brands want to really mean something, their output will always be embraced.
Q: Building off of that last question, what’s your read on what the future holds for content professionals? Will trained or expert content creators—journalists, editors, professional writers and the like—be more or less in demand as the process of content creation becomes more and more ubiquitous and user-generated?
A: David Mamet says that the worst thing an actor can do is go to acting school. I think that’s probably true for most creative pursuits. I don’t think the commoditization of improv has made better comedians—it’s just made more of them. You still have to get up on stage every night and practice your craft to be great at making anything. Experts are people who’ve put in the work, regardless of their education, and they’ll always be in demand because it takes a lot of practice to know when you actually have a good idea.
article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Marketing News.