Leaders

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Discussing the power of storytelling with a Group Creative Director

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Where would we be without stories? Stories have the power to change minds, inspire creativity and drive change. In the hands of the right leaders, stories can change the world forever.

The Writer's Group Creative Director Charli Nordone certainly loves the power of words, and she hopes that the entire industry will soon recognise how strong they can truly be. From wanting to be a journalist at seven to leading an international agency that's been changing the industry since 1999, Charli is an extremely inspired leader and you can tell she lives to inspire others with her own creative energy.

Today we are Getting to Know a lover of storytelling, what she learned from Covid-19, and how relentlessly she and her team work to inspire each other on a daily basis.

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Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?

I’m probably not the first person to say this, but there isn’t really a typical day.  No two days are the same. But it’d be a safe bet to say there’s a good mix of calls with my team and with clients, and checking in on how various projects are going. Then there’s the more strategic work, like developing a new product. And of course, the creative work. So I could be working on: a tone of voice project, a training roll-out, a messaging guide, some writing, a naming job, or a whole programme to measure the impact of our work. 

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

I’m happy to report there hasn’t really been one. If there has been a challenge, it’s not one that’s been imposed by anyone else. I joined The Writer in 2010 and left in 2013 to pursue something totally different – setting up and running a food tour company in London. After five years, I felt like I’d done everything I set out to do, sold that business and came back in house. So my only challenge was making that decision. Turned out that it wasn’t all that difficult!

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I started out as a copywriter in a recruitment ad agency. Before that I’d interned at an ad agency in Manchester, but as an account exec. I was very clearly a frustrated wannabe creative even then. (I was an absolute pest. Badgering the creative team to let me write something. Which they eventually did, and I was hooked.) I was a copywriter for five years and during that time had the most fantastic managers/mentors. They encouraged my love of language. And then, when I saw a job with The Writer, it felt like my dream company – one that is all about words and the difference they can make. 

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

Encouraging both our teams and our clients to get more scientific about the impact of language in business. We’re using new tech and tools to put hard measures on writing.  For example, we were tasked by a client to improve the quality of their reports. Doesn’t sound all that exciting, admittedly. But we’ve helped that client transform how they create reports: going from great tomes that no-one wanted to read, to exec summaries with just seven bullet points. And we measured things like the amount of time saved by writing pithier reports, the readability of those documents, opinions of the people who have to write them, and the ones that have to read them. 

At the start of that project, 0% of reviewers had positive opinions of the reports. After we’d trained their authors, 100% of reviewers had positive opinions. 

As for loss: I could say not becoming the journalist I thought I wanted to be when I was seven. Or never going for a job at Time Out in the mid-noughties, because I thought that would be the coolest thing. Instead, I’d say it would be not appreciating the life we had when we were together in the office enough. I have been so unbelievably impressed with how everyone has adapted and taken to working remotely. But I think it’s safe to say that everyone is mourning the loss of the ‘old normal’. That said, I’m excited for what the new, revised normal will come to be. 

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What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?

Short answer: the people I work with. Long answer: I think I’m in my role to help others succeed. To move obstacles out of the way and find ways to help them thrive. So that’s a pretty good motivator. Also, I love the consultative nature of the work we do. A client might say they’d like us to rewrite some customer letters. But we’ll work with them and find that the problem is inconsistency across an entire CX journey, and that they need a tone of voice. I’m motivated by getting to the root of a client’s problems, and figuring out the fixes.  

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I love a good social psychology book or autobiography from a businessperson. Simon Sinek, Arianna Huffington, Steven Pinker, Malcom Gladwell – they’re all firm fixtures on my bookshelf. 

How has COVID-19 affected you?

I’ve got to know my local park intimately. 

Obviously, the biggest thing is not being physically with other people every day. In the creative team, we were very used to bouncing ideas off one another. A shout would go up of ‘what do you think of this headline?’ Or, ‘what’s another word for wit?’ And you’d get a whole load of ideas come back. Working virtually means we don’t have that so much, so we’ve had to figure out ways to replicate that kind of interaction. 

What is your biggest hope for 2021?

That more people recognise the power that their words have. In every interaction with a customer, every memo that goes out to employees, every email you send to a colleague, the words on your ads and the words in your Ts & Cs ­– they all bring an opportunity to make an impression on the reader. And say something about your brand.

So, if a brand doesn’t have a tone of voice, or they’re not using it consistently, or it’s a tone of voice that is made up of three adjectives and nothing more, then they’re missing a trick. 

It always amazes me how much care and attention will be given to a logo, but a brand’s language gets forgotten about. I’ve bought more products and services based on the way a brand talks to me and treats me, that I have for their colour palette. 

I think 2020 has really elevated the importance of language for brands. And I’m having so many more conversations with clients who’ll say, ‘our logo is sacrosanct, we want our tone of voice to be held in the same regard’. So more of that in 2021 please. 

What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?

Get as much experience as you can. I tried out different things through work experience placements when I was at uni: publishing, reviewing, event management, being a runner on Big Brother (I thought I wanted to go into TV. I did not.) Trying out different things really helped me find what I actually wanted to do. I think it’s okay to know you want to be in a creative industry, but not know exactly in what job. If you can, try things out. 

How do you recharge away from the office?

I’m going to sound so boring. It’s cooking, baking and craft-y projects. But more often than not, it’s just a small spotty dachshund and his need for walks and attention. This is all lockdown-based. I promise I had a life before this.  

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

Either, I’d have stuck with psychology after uni and would be working in behavioural science. Or if I was more skilled, I would have loved to train as a designer and specialise in typography.  

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

I’d love for inclusive language to become the norm. I don’t think anyone is intentionally setting out to exclude people with the words they use, but it’s all too easy to not use person-first language or use terminology with problematic origins. Because people don’t know what they don’t know. So we all need to educate ourselves. We’ve created a 60 minute ‘Language of inclusion’ workshop, and internally we learnt a huge amount in doing that. And we want to keep learning and developing sessions that’ll share that knowledge with other people. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

Talk like Ted by Carmine Gallo – for becoming a better public speaker. 

Inside the Nudge Unit by David Halpern – for understanding how language and behavioural science combine to influence people’s behaviour.

Give and Take by Adam Grant – for thinking about your team and being productive.  

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly – just because it’s beautiful.

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