Gnarly dogs and new tricks. What I’ve learned teaching Ad peeps the science of storytelling.

When Jonathan Pangu first suggested he wanted to market our Story For Influence course to advertising creatives and brand execs my initial response was

Jo. Are you on crack again?

Two reasons

1: Aren’t all advertisers already great storytellers?

2:  Won’t the creatives hate us when we teach there is a scientifically-backed model for effective and compelling storytelling (as opposed to a genius, ad-man guru with ineffable superpowers levitating in the background)?

An early response from an agency MD didn’t exactly build confidence:

‘If my creatives didn’t know how to tell a story, we probably hired the wrong people.’

I admire the bravado. And said agency do some terrific work. But if some of the very best players in Hollywood can piss upwards of $114 million (loss) on a film like Cats  then even the oldest, most gnarly dogs can learn new tricks.

At the BBC we never got any training except in really boring shit that we didn’t want to do. Like compliance forms and inputting metadata. Otherwise, all the learning was on the job. Back and forth with editors or sparring with colleagues about what made a story worth telling.

I was very driven.

So much so that twice when I made a really bad radio doco I slipped it out under someone else’s name (another producer who was a bit of a prick). No-one noticed. That’s how you know it was a really bad doco. Bad because it was boring. Wallpaper. No-one was going to sit in their car at the end of a journey refusing to get out till the story ends.

In the trade that’s known as the ‘tyranny’ of good storytelling. It gets a grip on you and won’t let go.

Serious question. If you have something to sell how can you not benefit from learning to have a crack at doing just that?

And that’s the key. Over the years duckrabbit have trained hundreds of people: creatives, politicians, film-makers and rescue dogs. The vast majority love what we teach and the rest we bribe with cheese.

At heart though I’m only interested in delivering one thing. The training I wish I’d had when I was younger. That would have saved me a world of pain. That would have got me where I wanted to go quicker and with more confidence.

Good documentary storytellers know what journey they want audiences to be taken on. We know what we want people to feel. And with the luxury of not having to advertise anything wins are easier.  But there is so much push and pull in the advertising world that sometimes what is needed is a moment of calm. A moment of clarity when you can look a client in the eye and confidently say THIS story is going to work and we can explain to you exactly why.

If you ain’t got that feel, or you need it back, or just need a reminder, this course is for you.

To date we’ve delivered the course to VCCP (London), M&C Saatchi (Australia) and Emotive (Sydney). At the back end of the course they’ll happily tell you taking it is a no-brainer.  Even without cheese.

So what have we learned?

Within six hours we can teach a foolproof model for storytelling, that sharpens creativity, proves that the best brands still cock it up (without even realising) and leaves creatives (more) confident they can tell influential stories that will work for their clients.

I’ve watched the creatives we’ve been working with applying the learning to current briefs and getting excited about what they can deliver before we’ve even finished.

That’s the course paying for itself in real-time.

And it’s not just a course for agencies. Clients should be applying what we teach as well. So many are making work themselves now, and if they’re not they’re still buying and shaping work with agencies. There’s a real risk they will blow a great story. We call it opportunity fail.

Could have been great. Should have been great. Failed to be great.

So yeah my fear of being ‘hated’ for modeling storytelling was unfounded. The peeps we teach are talented and hungry for any advantage. Everyone we’ve trained has it in them to tell powerful stories.

I only shit myself once. And that’s when I got this mildly threatening feedback from Cam Blackley, the super-sharp Chief Creative Officer at M&C Saatchi:

It’s so good we don’t want anyone else to know about this course.

I did start wondering what lengths he might go to make sure no-one else gets the training?

Sorry Cam.

Short of a feet wrapped in concrete, night-time trip out of Sydney harbor, we’re going to keep the show rolling.

But you’ve got a team of winners anyway and now they are even more ahead of the game.


Want to chat through the training? Drop super friendly Jo Pangu an email (

What I learned will stay with me for the rest of my career.

Tom, Copywriter M&C Saatchi Australia

‘A fantastic course which solidifies the importance of storytelling in the work we do. Duckrabbit run a smooth show full of interactivity and pointed case studies which left us better equipped to tell our own tales with a little more magic. Makes me wonder why this kind of training isn’t mandatory in all colleges and agencies.’

Jim Thornton, Deputy ECD, VCCP London

“You really have made this story structure click for me. In such a short amount of time, you’ve completely changed the way I approach writing. Would recommend to anyone.”

Jason Leigh, Copywriter M&C Saatchi Australia

‘Thankyou, I really enjoyed the workshop. It made so much sense. Made me wonder why Story Theory isn’t instilled in every creative.’

Chris, Creative VCCP London

‘It’s been three fantastic sessions. Thinking about the work we’ve had in play, you realize what has been missing.

Avish Gordhan, ECD, M&C Saatchi Australia


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