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Inside Brand Storytelling's New Brand Film Certification: Q&A With Program Founders

Jordan Kelley, Content Director,

Today, the ad industry is being propelled by consumer behavior and forward-thinking brands. The worlds of marketing, advertising and entertainment continue to merge in what is still considered new territory.

As the industry itself innovates, institutional education and ongoing learning within this area remains for the most part stagnant.

Today’s leaders in the brand storytelling industry recognize the importance of crossover skills in marketing, content and entertainment. However, education in advertising, marketing and film remain siloed.

In early 2022, Brand Storytelling will meet the needs of current and aspiring brand marketers by offering a first of its kind certification in brand filmmaking, powered by the East Tennessee State University Research Corporation. We asked Brand Storytelling Director Rick Parkhill and Stephen Marshall Ph.D., Professor and CMO of the ETSU Research Corporation, to tell us more about the inception of the Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification, its goals to merge education and diversity initiatives, and their hopes for the potential industry outcomes of this flagship program:

What inspired the launch of the Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification?

STEPHEN: I’ve been innovating in the media and marketing higher education space for more than a decade now with brands like Adobe and the Digital Marketing Institute. I firmly believe higher education needs to better align with industry to be sure we are producing workforce-ready graduates with the knowledge and skills required for success. I had a university colleague invite me to a virtual interview with Rick for his class. Once I met Rick and saw the level of brand storytelling expertise in this community, I was blown away and knew there was an opportunity to partner so we could fill this every important industry talent gap. Brand Storytelling has always had an education mission, but this certificate now formalizes the foundation of brand-funded content and film.

Why do you believe there is a need to be met in this space? How will offering this certification meet that need?

RICK: Over the past 7 years, we’ve had the opportunity to get to know hundreds of “brand storytellers” , both during in-person and virtual events, and have learned these individuals come from three distinct career paths: journalism, entertainment or marketing. All of them will tell you that they learned “brand storytelling” on the job. For example, Heidi Collins was a TV-journalist and anchor for CNN who left that career behind to create short films for LifeTime Fitness. Of course, she brought great journalistic sense to her storytelling, but needed to learn the nuance of brand-funded films and how to deliver value to the client while still telling true and compelling stories. Brian Newman is an example of someone who comes from the world of entertainment and film and is now a leading consultant on brand-funded content. Brian earned a film degree from University of Florida and a Masters in Film Studies from Emory. He became the Executive Director of Renew Media, supporting independent filmmakers and later CEO of Tribeca Film Institute. In 2013 he launched Sub-Genre, a strategic consultancy that guides brands through the process of leveraging entertainment for marketing & CSR initiatives working with brands like REI, Yeti, Shopify and Patagonia. Neither Brian or Heidi prepared themselves for their career path through educational resources as they just didn’t exist. This certificate program intends to bridge that gap for the many individuals with journalism, marketing or entertainment experience that wish to pursue new opportunities within the dynamic world of brand filmmaking.

SubGenre Founder Brian Newman taping his class for the Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification
SubGenre Founder Brian Newman taping his class for the Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification

What will participants in the certification program be able to expect?

S: Participants can expect an engaging brand storytelling education led by the best experts and brands in the world. We know experiential learning is essential to learning application and retention, so we have designed the certification around a real brand film RFP (request for proposal) from our brand sponsors. Students earn their digital certification badge by completing the brand RFP. Students can expect to extend their professional community via our student and alumni communities as well as with direct brand engagement as we know brands are partnering with us for recruiting purposes. In summary, we’ve designed the course with best-in-class online education in mind and our certification is one of the only academic/industry partnerships in the world.

What diversity initiatives will be enacted as a component of the certification program launch?

R: Beyond addressing the educational need, this certificate program intends to help bridge the diversity gap that exists in the brand storytelling industry. As brands point more resources towards creating original content, it’s essential that diverse voices and faces are not only represented in the storytelling, but participant in the ideation and production. Thanks to the support of our corporate sponsors, dozens of DEI students will receive immersive scholarships in 2022. These individuals will benefit from the direct mentorship of the faculty members as well as sponsors and other industry leaders. Ultimately, we intend to help boost the career of these students by introducing them to the Brand Storytelling network and helping to seize new opportunities where their participation will be welcomed and valued.

What value do you think this certification will bring to current and future brand marketers?

R: Everyone in a brand marketing role today is increasingly challenged by a highly fragmented media environment and consumers with endless access to content on their terms. Gaining the skills and understanding of how to attract audience with compelling content while managing to boost brand affinity and awareness is going to be a must-have arrow in the marketing quiver. This certification will prepare them to think and act strategically to entertain, inform and inspire through brand-funded films.

Dawn Reese (SVP, Managing Director for UM Studios U.S.) teaching her portion of the Brand Film Certification
Dawn Reese (SVP, Managing Director for UM Studios U.S.) teaching her portion of the Brand Film Certification

How is the certification program offered?

S: Our certification program is an online four-week experience with each week taught by a different brand storytelling expert. We’ve designed the certification to be asynchronous meaning you can do it on your schedule. Each week students will dive into instructor videos and brand storytelling content with real brand content examples and learning materials that bring the content to life. At the end of each week, students will engage directly with their instructor and their brand expert guests in a recorded live Zoom class session. For an additional fee, we also have an immersive certification experience where students work on teams coached by the instructors and immersive experience students pitch their RFP directly to the brand. Certificate graduates will continue their experience with a vibrant alumni community.

What future do you envision for brand film? How will offering this certification help get us there?

R: The future has arrived! Seriously, just look at the films we will be screening in Park City come January 2022 at Brand Storytelling. We chose 15 films from 160 high-quality submissions. These films stand on their own creatively and artistically while still managing to boost the brand that funded them. We’ve said it time and again, in this media environment, brands must become adept at attracting audience with content that can compete. They must become really, really good storytellers. This program intends to help them accomplish that.


Visit to learn more about the Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification, powered by the ETSU Research Corporation.


About Rick Parkhill

Rick Parkhill is a B2B media entrepreneur, the founder of InfoText, Digitrends, iMedia and BrandStorytelling. A media junkie and observer, infatuated with the impact of media and technology on culture and society. Producer of over 100 advertising and media events, publisher, and journalist.

About Stephen Marshall Ph.D.

Stephen Marshall is an award-winning professor, (digital) marketer and higher education administrator. Marshall consults and trains companies, universities, and students to digitally transform customer experiences to exceed organizational goals.


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