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Gina Lovett
Gina Lovett 25 April 2014
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Cooke Puts Gates Letter Success Down to Clarity in Digital Storytelling

POSSIBLE chief executive Justin Cooke has attributed the success of a key piece of communications work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to careful attention to digital storytelling.

POSSIBLE chief executive Justin Cooke has attributed the success of a key

piece of communications work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to careful

attention to digital storytelling.

Speaking as part of a panel at the Sitecore Digital Trendspot 2014 conference, Cooke told an audience of about 500 digital marketers how the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual ‘letter’ – a personally written and flagship piece of communication used by the Gates to publicly share the aims and progress of the organisation – had more than doubled its intended audience. The goal was for the letter to reach 500,000 people in a year, but it had reached 1.2m. Gates had penned five annual letters discussing the foundation’s activities and progress, but for 2014, the organisation wanted to focus on debunking three

myths about international aid that hinder progress in combating poverty and disease.

 

Echoing a theme that carried throughout the day of balancing digital and

analogue needs, Cooke drew attention to the significance of the act of letter

writing in the age of digital. ‘It’s a powerful and personal act,’ said Cooke. The

challenge around putting this letter in a digital context was to overcome a

prevailing cynicism of humanitarian work and aid to developing countries. The

aim was to capture as wide an audience as possible.

Cooke commended the digital storytelling work, done by POSSIBLE’s

Seattle team – from visual impact and interactivity to the clarity of message

and ‘shareability’ of the letter. Throughout the letter, video and image show real

people whose lives have been transformed at the centre of the message.

The agency also devised the letter so that readers were given opportunity to

agree or disagree throughout the three main arguments, with the results shown

immediately after. ‘It’s these functions and features that make it shareable,’ said

Cooke.

Setting out these key tenets of the re-imagined letter as an example of digital

storytelling, Cooke emphasised the importance of putting real people as the focus

in photos and videos. ‘The best stories are honest and human and it’s this that

will have impact,’ he said. He also stressed the need to give a message absolute

clarity, making it easy to understand – and building in interactivity.

Cooke was part of a panel discussion at the Sitecore Digital Trendspot 2014

conference, sharing expertise and opinion on what digital storytelling is and how

it is distinct from traditional storytelling. The panel included Director of agency

Lab, Tom Head and head of communications and marketing at law firm Bird &

Bird, Keith Hardie.

Panellists discussed how, unlike traditional storytelling, digital storytelling is non-
linear and interactive, and is increasingly ‘distracted’ across a wide variety of

channels. The ability of storytelling in a digital way means an ability to capture

data, according to Lab director Tom Head. ‘The great storytellers are also great

listeners,’ he added.

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