Park Howell: Purpose-Driven Brand Storytelling Strategist, Keynote Speaker & Story Coach
“I’m looking for someone who’s got story in their soul.”
That request arrived in late November 2020. Jon, the founder and president of an 18-year-old Minnesota health care company, sought help developing his company’s storytelling culture to increase sales and create a legacy for his brand.
“I’m your guy,” I said.
You know why? Because I’ve had story in my soul ever since rocking this footie sleeper.
I came across this picture in the Howell archives earlier this year and texted it to my boyhood buddies. Mike Martin, we call him “Smoke” because of his Smokey the Bear brown eyes, had never heard of Twinkles cereal. So he went digging on YouTube. Holy smokes did the universe respond.
Who knew my go-to morning meal was the star-shaped cereal in the storybook package? The rest is hiSTORY.
Give me a bouncy G.
My storytelling career actually began with music. When I was in the first grade I watched my grandma Mable bounce across her old upright piano playing a ragtime tune. I was transfixed by how this little old lady was ebullient on those keys. That was the moment I knew the piano was for me. Now I know why they call it “playing.”
I started taking lessons and writing songs in the third grade (see all of those masterpieces on top of the piano?). All that work taught me a ton about persistence, patience, and what happens when you’re not prepared for a piano recital. I can still see mom and dad with their heads in their hands.
But when you nail a tune and get the room rockin’, there’s nothing quite like it.
I still feel that exhilaration today through my virtual keynotes, leading a masterclass, or workshopping a bunch of eager storytellers. Believe me, I know the importance of practice, practice, practice.
Because life is performance art.
If you’re curious about the musical moments in my formative years that have shaped who I am today,
check out my profile on anthym.life. You can even create your own life’s soundtrack. I’d love to hear it.
What’s in a name?
You might be wondering how I got my name. A lot of people ask me. So here’s the deal…
Most of us were named after family members. Starting from bottom left, I’ll take you clockwise. That’s Mike, Tom, Dan, Melody, Steve, Chris and then me, Park. That 70’s Show nailed the hairstyle.
It turns out that when my dad graduated from the University of North Dakota around 1946, his first job was as a civil engineer for the city of Fargo, ND. His boss was a Norwegian by the name of William Park Tarbell.
He went by W.P. but people mostly called him Park. W.P. passed away in 1960, right before I was born.
I asked my dad why he gave me that guy’s name.
He told me, “Because Park Tarbell was the nicest man who always got things done easily and happily.”
That’s W.P. sitting nearest you on the right side of the picture. Pretty cool, huh?
True to my namesake, I try to get things done as easily and happily as possible.
The art of visual storytelling
In the 6th grade, I was happy to win my first and only art prize. An honorable mention in the St. Brendan’s annual art show. But it wasn’t easy illustrating my food wagon with varying degrees of dried-out felt markers. Not sure where the inspiration came from, but you can see my entrepreneurial spirit in action.
The creation hung for decades next to the pool table in the basement of our childhood home in Woodinville, WA. My folks branded the place The Happy H. You couldn’t have come up with a better name because it embodied what our folks were all about. Happiness.
I rescued my piece of art that was exposed to the elements all those years. You can still see how a wayward beer from any one of our myriad high school parties ran down the door of the outhouse. Michele framed it for my 50th birthday. It now graces my office wall.
You’re welcome to come and experience it post COVID. It might cheer you up a bit.
I graduated from Bothell High School in 1979 and earned two degrees from Washington State University. My first was in music composition and theory (see how storied moments shape our lives? Thanks, Mable.).
But figuring I might starve as a composer, I also received a B.A. in Public Relations.
Music and communications have intersected in my life today as I consult, teach, coach, and speak internationally on the applied science and bewitchery of storytelling. Stories, like music, have a way of bringing two disparate worlds together creating a third, more powerful place.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, which I’m told I sometimes do. Ok, often.
Loving the storytelling of western novelist Louis L’Amore (my college cerebral M&Ms), and given Seattle was in a deep recession in 1985 with zero job prospects, and being that I was tired of cutting and selling cords of alder wood in the miserable northwest winter drizzle for $50 while also moonlighting as a bumbling waiter at Anthony’s HomePort in Edmunds with two degrees, I moved to Phoenix.
Heating up my career
I met Michele in 1986, an office romance. She was an account executive and I was a copywriter at Austin Associates ad agency in Phoenix. As we created our family of three kids, I spent those 10 years building my career working with various ad agencies and finally as creative director for Quorum International.
Then, in 1995, I took the leap into entrepreneurship and started my own agency called, well, Park&Co.
We were fortunate to buy our building in 2003, and it remains a fixture in the prestigious Arcadia neighborhood on the border of Phoenix and Scottsdale.
But even though I was named Advertising Person of the Year in 2010 by the American Federation of Advertising in Metro Phoenix, and Park&Co was listed among the Top 10 Impact Businesses in Arizona by the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce in 2011, I needed a change.
About five years earlier, I had realized that branding and advertising as we knew it no longer worked.
While our clients used to own the influence of mass media, the internet leveled the playing field. The masses had become the media and they now own your story. The old way of advertising and marketing had become impotent and I went on a quest to find the answer.
Luckily, in 2006, our middle child Parker, began film school at Chapman University in Orange, CA. While he was there I asked him to send me his books (since I was paying for them) so I could learn what Hollywood knew about storytelling.
To save you time here, you can hear how it all came together on a special episode of my podcast, show #250, where I share my origin story.
Or you can read about it in my new book that I published on June 1, 2020, called Brand Bewitchery.
This is when I learned about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey story framework.
I recognized its power for branding immediately. When I studied it I learned that this story archetype is found in everything from the first recorded story of Gilgamesh to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Lego Movies and everything Pixar produces.
It’s so ubiquitous that Campbell called it the monomyth. We are naturally drawn to this story structure because it mirrors how we experience life.
Each of us is on our own Hero’s Journey daily from small challenges to epic adventures.
Since the monomyth is essentially a template for how we go through life, I decided to map it to brand strategy in the hopes of humanizing business. I fine-tuned it to the 10-steps of what I call the Story Cycle System™, a virtuous narrative spiral that expands customer engagement and brand bonding with every revolution.
The Story Cycle System™ is distilled from the timeless narrative structure of the ancients, inspired by the story artists of Hollywood, influenced by masters of persuasion, guided by trend seers and informed by how the mind grapples for meaning.
The first time I used the Story Cycle System™ for crafting a brand story strategy was in 2009 with Adelante Healthcare. Avein Saaty-Tafoya, who headed the rebranding effort as the community health center’s CEO at the time, details on the Business of Story podcast how they grew by 600% because of their refreshed brand story created through our system.
We applied our narrative spiral process to many brands over the subsequent five years, but…
…then I snapped.
Or at least that’s what people thought. Because in 2016, I transitioned away from my ad agency and into The Business of Story full time. At 55! And I’m not talking miles-per-hour, but a mid-life redefinition.
As digital marketing strangled traditional advertising, creativity died. My new, or should I say revived, passion was for storytelling to humanize purpose-driven businesses, especially challenger brands and their sales teams.
The same curiosity that drove me to study music composition and theory so many years ago was now propelling me into consulting, teaching, coaching, and speaking on the applied science and bewitchery of storytelling.
My goal is to help leaders of purpose-driven challenger brands and their people excel through the stories they tell.
As Joseph Cambell said, “When you follow your bliss doors will open where there were only walls.” And that’s exactly what happened to me. My journey has taken me to…
- Five years of creating and teaching the storytelling curriculum for the Executive Masters of Sustainability Leadership at Arizona State University showing business leaders around the world how to advance their social initiatives further and faster through the power of story.
- Four years of coaching brigadier to four-star generals in the U.S. Air Force how to connect with their airmen and women and congress through story.
- Innumerable in-person and virtual storytelling masterclasses and mastery courses for organizations that include Dell, Hilton, Visit California, Destination D.C., McCormicks (the spice people), Cummins (the diesel engine people), American Express, and Premier Protein plus a host of small companies to emerging challenger brands.
- Teaching executive ed. and story marketing courses at Emory University, Stetson University, Nova Southeastern University, Dayton University, ASU, and of course my beloved WAZZU.
- Featured speaker at TEDxGilbert in 2018: Start Looking For Your Scenes and your Story Will Find You.
- Keynotes and workshops at Social Media Marketing World (5x), New Zealand’s Annual Social Media Conference, Digital Phoenix, Brand Bootcamp, among others.
- Hosting the Business of Story podcast which is ranked among the top 10% of downloaded podcasts in the world.
- Producing Build a Better Brand Story Sprints to clarify your story, amplify your impact and simplify your life.
- Publishing Brand Bewitchery.
Brand Bewitchery: How to Wield the Story Cycle System™ to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand
Thirty-five years in the making and seven years in the writing, Brand Bewitchery guides you through the Story Cycle System™ to not only help you clarify your brand story but teaches you how to tell it as well.
While showing you the applied science of storytelling with the three primal narrative frameworks I share, my book also demonstrates the bewitchery of story through real-world anecdotes captured within.
Brand Bewitchery is so comprehensive that it caused a client to dub me The World’s Most Industrious Storyteller.
He said the moniker captured how I put storytelling to work to grow the influence of leaders, the productivity of sales & marketing teams, camaraderie among colleagues, and measurable ROI for brands.
I liked it, so I kept it.
If The World’s Most Industrious Storyteller title is a little over the top for you, then just call me Twinkles. That’s what my Bothell buddies now use. (Thanks a bunch, Paul Herrick.)
That’s my story. What’s yours?
Story on, my friend.
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