Innovative Content Lab Focuses on Storytelling

Castleton University’s Media and Communication Department is creating a university-first “Content Lab” that will pair students with area businesses and non-profits to tell their stories and reach larger audiences for their products and services.

The thought behind the lab, according to department chair Michael Talbott, is that people love stories – but hate reading and seeing ads.

“We teach students to tell stories. It unifies all our concentrations,” Talbott said. ”That’s exactly what this is. It’s telling stories that resonate with people that relate to local organizations.”

Netflix is a master at this sort of content, Talbott said, referencing how the company sponsors investigative stories about women in prison or narcotics trafficking – with mentions of its “Orange is the New Black” and “Narcos” shows included in the text.

They read like stories, not ads, but serve an advertising role that Netflix was seeking – and in respected publications like The New York Times.

The Content Lab concept is in its infancy stage this semester with a partnership between Castleton students and The MINT in Rutland. The MINT, the region’s first and only makerspace, is a large, high-tech equipped workshop and classroom space with high-end machinery and tools too expensive for most people and small businesses to buy. Businesses or residents looking to use the tools and space pay a monthly membership fee for access, Talbott said.

The idea was hatched when Lyle Jepson came to Talbott looking for interns to help spread the word of The MINT’s offerings. Talbott was hesitant, saying students in internships need to be learning from professionals in their respective fields, not simply working for clients.

But it got him thinking about the content lab idea.

That led to him to ask professors Andrew Wilson, Stephanie Wilson, and Bill DeForest if they’d be willing to incorporate an assignment for The MINT into their respective video production, public relations and graphic design courses.

They agreed, and as part of the semester, each will be producing content to help get the word out about the fledgling not-for-profit business.

“This is the incubator for the content lab that we hope to launch in the fall,” Talbott said.

The hope is that some students in the classes will love the idea and want to take on leadership roles with the content lab in the fall and get credit for the work through independent studies or practicums, he said.

He said he’s hopeful students will give preference to telling stories in the content lab about not-for-profits and campus organizations, but he said he doesn’t want to determine who they choose to work for.

“I want them to decide who their clients are,” he said.

Stephanie Wilson said her PR Campaigns class visited with The MINT officials seeking input on what they want potential clients to know.

“We will start with research, then come up with goals and objectives. The second half will be tactics, like writing news releases, media kits, and maybe even planning special events for the makerspace,” she said before the visit took place.

Wilson’s husband, Andrew, said he plans to use a portion of his Video Workshop class to create video content for the project, to be used to promote The MINT. That could come in the form of stories on the biweekly Castleton news magazine showed on PEGTV or video news releases sent to area TV stations with hopes of airing them as news stories – or both.

“I think it’ll be a great experience for students,” Andrew said. “I just had one student who is in both of our classes and the first words out of her mouth were ‘we’re going to The MINT next week.’”

Jepson, executive director of the Rutland Economic Development Corporation and Castleton dean of Entrepreneurial Programs, said he’s excited by the plan. He said The MINT wants to aggressively market itself within a 30-minute drive radius of Rutland.

“We have a specific audience and we’re excited to have the students working with us,” he said. “This is far more than we could have expected. It’s an outstanding opportunity for students too.”