The interviews in this article were conducted by History Factory intern, Alison Gray.

History Factory’s creative team leverages the power of storytelling every day to deliver engaging and authentic content for clients. In order to find out more about the value of storytelling, we chatted with creative leads Ashley Mullenix, Dario Sarlo and Adam Nemett.

What is the value of storytelling?

Dario: If you go far back in time, it stretches to being able to share experiences with others before printed word and before the ability to draw a picture on a cave wall. It’s essentially communicating an experience from yourself to somebody else or a group of people. Almost like taking them through that experience, giving them the introduction to it, giving them a taste of the feelings that you had as you went through that journey, and then trying to share those emotions with somebody else or a group of people.

This is a photograph of ancient cave paintings. It shows a herd of horses.

What separates an average story from a remarkable story?

Adam: An emotional arc. What I mean by that is in a good story, there has to be change. It can’t just be here’s why we’re great, and here’s why we’re great. We’ve always been great, and we’ve never done anything wrong, and we’re still great today, and we’re going to be great tomorrow. I think that’s boring. An exceptional story or even just a good story is one that plays with ups and downs and tension and release. 

How do you pull out important stories from clients’ pasts?

Ashley: Spending a lot of time with their archival sources. You have to get in and immerse yourself in it, because by doing that, you start to get a sense of the different characters and their personalities and what was a big deal at the time that maybe didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal…it’s diving in and doing a lot of searching, doing a lot of getting your head wrapped around what sources there are and where some of those hidden gems might be located.

How are our stories used by clients?

Adam: I think they’re used to engage people and excite them and inspire them, to potentially provide a cautionary tale or a warning to help them change in some way or compel them to do things a little bit differently than they’ve done in the past. It could be to get them to develop a new mindset of, let’s say, innovation or corporate social responsibility. And telling some stories from the distant or recent past can help validate some ideas happening right now.

In what ways has storytelling changed since you began at History Factory?

Dario: I suppose that the biggest trends are the ones that everybody talks about and in the industry, which are around data or technology. We can take the stories that we’ve been finding and writing about for 40 years and start to put those in new formats. So we might have written a story about Mr. John Smith founding a paper mill in 1800, but now we can create a virtual reality experience where you get to go straight back there and see him on day one putting together the documents or signing the lease on the building. So, the new technology and new opportunities that arise give us a new way of communicating the same story that we would have found 20, 40 years ago.

What is your favorite story since you’ve been at History Factory, and why?

Ashley: My favorite project that I’ve been a part of was the HarperCollins corporate headquarters museum.

We put exhibits in all across their lobby and down their corridors and elevator lobbies, just all over the place, instead of nice generic corporate art. We actually used their history throughout the building. And I think because stories and reading have played such an important part in my life, especially when I was younger, it was just fascinating to be able to do the children’s wing of that, in particular, and use the work of some of my favorite authors growing up.

This is a photograph of a wall display in HarperCollins' corporate headquarters museum.

One of the things that we found that we ended up putting up in the lobby section was a mural of an old staircase…. The story behind that old staircase was that we found some quotes by authors [about] coming to present their stories for their first time to editors at HarperCollins, walking up those steps in trepidation and anxious to find out “is today the day I’m going to become an author?” And then this idea of putting in the hard work and climbing up to see what are the results of that, I think is something that resonates with everybody. So we ended up putting it in that space. Authors are still climbing the stairs to talk to their editors to find out what’s going to happen to their work. So it’s this nice contrast between old and new.

Where do you see the future of storytelling?

Ashley: I think in the future we will stop referring to it as storytelling. I think it’ll just become a part of how you do things. Something that’s so obvious you don’t have to put a name to it.

Adam: I would like to see in the future much more transparency and humanity and accountability from these massive entities that are controlling our lives. Being able to see them or hear them tell their stories, good and bad, in a more honest and authentic way, I think, would have really positive ramifications for the whole world.

Dario: It was exciting to interact with the recent Netflix “Black Mirror” episode titled “Bandersnatch,” which was a choose your own adventure. You could sit there and watch it, but you could also make decisions along the way and click left or right, or up or down, or whatever the choice is.

Being able to interact felt a little bit like a novelty, but also maybe opening up a whole new approach to storytelling and experiencing stories.

So we’re telling the same things but just in a different way, so it’ll be continuing to find ways to leave stories and reaching all the senses so that they’re memorable and you can always be there; you feel more and more that you’re right there in the midst of that experience.

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