The Story Lab Week: telling tales in Manchester


The Story Lab, sister agency to Carat, produces and distributes entertainment that attracts audiences around the world. But could they produce a The Story Lab Week that would attract audiences from as far away as floor 4 here at Portland Street? Short answer: Yes. They very much could.

The Story Lab Week was a packed agenda of talks, activations and special guests organised by the team to enable Dentsu Aegis Manchester to immerse themselves in all things content and partnerships. It was also an opportunity for the team to take over our inboxes and our diaries, not that we needed much convincing – everyone loves a good story.

With at least two events every day, I was forced to be selective with my time and prioritised the content of the presentation rather than the range of snacks being made available. Sometimes, fortuitously, these two things collided.

Day 2 of The Story Lab Week, Licence to Thrill

The always-engaging Clare Heys (Brand Partnerships and Content Director at ITV) threw back the curtain on some of their most impressive recent campaigns.

The ingenuity of the ITV team really shone through; a few highlights for me:

  1. Remembering how ITV generously let John Lewis take over their most monumental theme tunes with Elton John-style piano to tie in with their Christmas 2018 advert launch.
  2. When it comes to cars, what’s better than having Take That rescue a host of stranded fans with a fleet of Suzukis. Closing a dual carriageway and asking Gary Barlow to be a taxi driver, all in the name of a brand partnership? Impressive.
  3. And I’ve heard Clare rhapsodize about the brand partnership exemplar that is Love Island on a few occasions, but her enthusiasm does not wane. Biggest surprise was that it was actually ITV demanding their official fashion partner I Saw It First showcase a fabulous yellow dress with 48-hours notice and not the other way around.

Key take out: when it comes to brand partnerships, every idea stays on the table.

Day 3 of The Story Lab Week, Once Upon A Time

The Story Lab Director Sarah Leyland guided Jamie Morris and Harriet Arkell, of Sky Atlantic and Mail Metro Media respectively, in conversation about the art of storytelling.

Jamie, Channel Editor, shared his expertise in storytelling through TV (Chernobyl!), his love of Fleabag and generally had us all wondering how much TV he must watch.

Commercial Editor Harriet is tasked with delivering sponsored content that keeps readers on the page and meets (often strict) client criteria all whilst dealing with grumpy journo’s and making changes in real time. She also had some stellar celebrity gossip from her own journalist days.

Key take out: even the blandest of brand product can be reframed to hold its own amongst the tumult that is the Mail Online. 

Day 4 of The Story Lab Week, Let Me Entertain You

It’s only in writing this that I realise the name of this session was because The Story Lab’s Entertainment Development Partner is Robbie (Ashcroft).

A more creative job title would be something like ‘Storytelling Detective’ as Robbie spends his days hunting down content to acquire for global distribution. The Story Lab already has international smash hit Ninja Warrior in its catalogue and my money is on You Are Not A Loan being its next success story.

Robbie also talked Suzuki. All Star Driving School smashed E4’s prime time slot averages when it presented a cast of celebrities learning to drive in the brand’s vehicles. So successful, it’s coming back for another season.

Key take out: that this is a job that actually exists! That The Story Lab is a creator and owner of video content that people genuinely love. And that brand and product can be woven seamlessly into compelling TV content to deliver convincingly against brand metrics.

A week-long story short? The Story Lab team did an amazing job organising an exciting and informative week, showing off the wide remit of the agency and leaving us all eager to recreate our client brands as superstars.


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