Staff from Washington Filmworks and the Seattle Office of Film and Music were lucky enough to meet and talk with Scott Macklin, the Associate Director of the Communication Leadership Program at the University of Washington. The program is designed to create the next generation of professional communicators.
What exactly is a professional communicator? In essence, storytellers. “Every organization should have a chief storytelling officer,” says Macklin. “We are training the next generation of people to craft communication strategies for companies. Students will become both transformation and translation agents – that is, they work within organizations to be able to understand its heartbeat and story so they can create footsteps to connect with other organizations.” Macklin explains that it’s both a bonding and bridging activity he wants to see come out of the program.
The program offers two degrees: the Masters in Communication in Digital Media (“it trains students to embrace engagement strategies around creating content,” explains Macklin), and the Masters in Communications in Communities and Networks (“training leaders to look at their organization through a communication lens.”) Macklin believes the program is at the heart of an amazing talent pool. “The Pacific Northwest has all the ingredients – amazing storytellers, technology, and philanthropy – to be the epicenter of storytelling in the 21st century.” Macklin is training young professionals to embrace these ingredients in the world of communication.
But with the digital marketplace changing rapidly, how does storytelling – including content and filmmaking – change with it? “Content is king, and the story we tell hasn’t changed so much – the protagonist overcoming challenge, the hero’s story,” explains Macklin, “but context is queen. Context is the engagement strategy – which audiences are we participating with? This is not just a transmission world of storytelling, but a transaction world of interacting with people.” Macklin details that the main challenge in today’s communications is engaging with the user and buyer – he trains professionals to play with the context of the story. “Content and context should work in tune with one another, and technology allows this to happen.”
In order to couple content with context, it’s important to have a goal and success criteria in mind. “There are multiple ways to define success, and each is based on the kind of content you have,” says Macklin. “Whether it’s selling a film at a festival or creating conversations on how youth are treated, communicators must put the operational imperatives in place to make that happen.” One interesting piece of technological context that is creating engagement is social media. Twitter, for example, can track content but it can also facilitate interaction with it. Macklin cites the website for Life of Pi, the film, as an example: “There are various graphics and videos that take people behind the scenes, but audiences can also use social media hashtags to set up their own stories and scenarios, and ask filmmakers questions. It’s a very dynamic use of technology to get people engaged.”
While students learn how to create communication strategies, the program allows them to have a place to be able to publish the work they’re doing. Flip the Media is the media outlet and online publication dedicated to students getting a chance to get their pieces out in the world. Papers posted on the site have been accepted at conferences, articles shared have been picked up by publications such as Rolling Stone, and even some writers were hired based on the work they’ve done on the site. “Their efforts on Flip the Media perfectly align with the work they do in the program.”
Exciting things are in store for the Communication Leadership Program. “We are in the process of reviving our Four Peaks TV program,” Macklin’s monthly interview series with media visionaries. Additionally, “we have created our own scholarship fund – we put money we make from tuition and fees back into this program’s fund to help fellow future communicators.”