By Joe Pulizzi published August 31, 2013

Corporate Storytelling Lessons from Kevin Spacey

kevin spacey speechIf you haven’t seen this video from actor and House of Cards star Kevin Spacey, it’s worth the five minutes of your time. The speech, edited and served up by the folks at Telegraph UK, contains a road map for brand storytelling worthy of global enterprise brands.

In case you aren’t already familiar with the Netflix-produced original series, House of Cards, it was considered a risky move in the world of episodic “television” content for many reasons. Notable among them is that, unlike most traditional TV shows — which film a pilot, get network funding, then produce and release episodes one at a time over the course of a season — all 13 episodes of House of Cards were released on a single day.

In the video, Spacey himself speaks to the potential benefits of this innovative distribution strategy, proclaiming, “Give them [the audience] what they want, when the want it, in the form they want it in…”

The success of House of Cards (as well as that of the latest Netflix series to be released en-masse, Orange is the New Black) proves that this distribution model can work. But how might it apply to content marketing, which operates in vastly different ways than the business of television? And, more specifically, how might a nontraditional release schedule like this impact corporate storytelling?

Here are some key insights, derived directly from the words of Kevin Spacey, that all content marketers need to take to heart:

Your customers are desperate for stories

We at CMI have spoken with many marketers who still believe it’s almost impossible to rise above the “content clutter.” To be honest, this has always been the case. But we have come to understand that epic corporate storytelling will always rise to the top, as customers covet truly unique insights. Thankfully, helpful and informative content is now considered the rule, rather than the exception.

Do you want social media and other new media to work for you? Give your customers the necessary assets, and enable them to engage with your stories in innovative ways — ways that may even astonish your management team. The audiences are out there, just waiting for you to provide them with these opportunities.

Long-form content has never been more powerful

I get frustrated when I find marketers that belittle their content marketing to such a degree that they only create it in 140-character strings. As Spacey details, some of the best stories in the world take time to play out. They simply cannot be told in one blog post, or one video, or one tweet. Would House of Cards have been nearly as engaging if it had been whittled down to a story that could be told in a single episode?

When it comes to content marketing, producing long-form, consistently shared corporate storytelling efforts has always been, and still remains, the best way to build lasting relationships with customers. But, to deliver on this promise requires a sound strategy, advance planning, and the ability of marketers to think beyond the campaign.

Use behavioral data to plan your content strategy

Netflix chose to fund House of Cards (after virtually every other network turned it down) because data showed that its audience wanted this type of content. While many of us might long for the consumer behavior insights that Netflix has access to, we all have an abundance of analytics data we can easily tap into, if we so choose — no matter how small our company may be or how limited our resources.

What blog posts are working best for your marketing objectives? What webinars or videos have you created that have helped move your customers through their buyer’s journey? The data exists — you just need to capture and leverage it to create stories that will position your business as the go-to resource in your content niche.

Perhaps we should get Kevin Spacey to speak at Content Marketing World 2014? Do the views he shares in the video resonate with your corporate storytelling and content marketing strategy? Let us know your thoughts.

Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing,” will be released in September 2013. Preorder it now on

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Katherine Kotaw

    Any CEO or marketer who doesn’t watch this Kevin Spacey video and immediately demand a shift in marketing strategy toward brand journalism should watch it again — and again. Spacey eloquently states a basic truth: tell a story well and your audience will keep retelling it for you. Great content doesn’t need a massive PR budget to support it. It just needs distribution, which is just a few — and free — clicks away on social media. And, as Joe points out, any company with any size budget can measure the success of their storytelling efforts. If storytelling approach isn’t working for you company, tell better stories. Thank you, Joe, for sharing this.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      You got it Katherine…great take. Spacey has a new fan for sure.

  • Terrence Blair

    Telling great stories has always been the way to go — stories that’s informative and helpful. It doesn’t matter the device on which people consume them. Content creators must create content people can embrace, talk about, and help you distribute.

  • abelniak

    I love this video, Joe. Spacey totally gets it. I wonder how many others in H’wood will follow suit.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Only a matter of time Alan!

  • cindy frei

    It is indeed all about great storytelling and great content, but as a former TV producer turned Marketer, making great content is no easy task. There is an art to it, just like anything. Our new world of marketing requires integrating the skill sets of folks from many different arenas. We all need to wok together to make this successful.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Cindy…Amen. I think brands are starting to realize how hard it is to tell great stories.

  • Navid Firoozi

    Joe, thank you for this post. Spacey makes a compelling case for what should be on top of each and every marketer and brand strategist’s mind!

  • Keri Thomas LeBlanc

    Wonderful post, Joe. Stories have always drawn people together and helped us share our common experiences. It’s good to hear that people don’t always want a short story. They are willing to invest the time to follow a well-developed story.

  • Louis T Weintraub

    Finding House of Cards as a possibility to view one weekend day was one of the most pleasant experiences I discovered on Netflix, cable or program TV. The story and the acting were excellent….the absence of commercials unbelievably wonderful and the intrigue of the story captivating.

    Almost too good because I took the time to view all 13 episodes over the period of the two weekend days. AND SINCE VIEWING THE END OF # 13, I CAN NOT STOP WANTING TO SEE 14, 15 AND MORE.

    Too much of the programming out there is being controlled by the stations, sponsors, money people behind whoever, etc.

    As I recall cable started out in most cases commercial free……today fast forwarding through the commercials can wear out a high quality DVR.

    Kudos to Kevin Spacey and those who supported and believed in his efforts for bringing this exciting and well done story to the folks who support the artistic community by watching their presentatios. Kudos to Netflix for bringing this great series to their subscribers………..NOW!!! Please bring us the rest of the story.

  • Cathy Miller

    This is fabulous. Thank you for sharing it. And isn’t it true that what Kevin Spacey says about giving people what they want, basic customer service? But, we are too often bad at doing that. We find more rules, more ways to place barriers before what customers want, that we forget the whole point of service.

  • Jon Jeter

    “They want control..if they want to binge..” After the experience with the West Wing and The Wire, from now own, binge watching is the only way I’ll watch. Example, want to watch Newsroom…waiting for Netflix so I can watch 2/3 back to back.

  • Russell von Frank

    Imagine the possibilities of TV, Movies, Stage etc. if those involved were as articulate, bright, creative and passionate as Kevin Spacey. In front or behind the camera he is a genius.

  • Colleen Weston

    Finally got a moment to watch this, and it was well worth it. I love the “content binging” he talks about…as I am guilty of “binging” on a good Netflix show.

    I think it is important, though, to also consider that the content he produced was multi-layered, with deep themes, far-reaching conflicts and very complex characters. With everyone clamoring to “get the stories out” I think brands miss the importance for having multi-faceted and truly valuable content audiences want to “binge” on. There is a definite need and advantage for serving a good quality steak to go with the sizzle you are a offering. Thanks for posting!

  • Avi Pogrow

    I hear Howard Stern say on America’s got Talent- “You guys know how to move an audience” and that is the ultimate test. As a Rabbi and Junior High teacher I always looked for the effect on the room.