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April 4, 2013 Volume 34, No. 25

MU and former Hallmark executive partner to help prepare university students for creative Missouri jobs

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MEDIA MAN Ron Green, a retired Hallmark executive, is helping MU better understand the digital media needs of companies. Photo by Rachel Coward.


Digital storytelling in demand at many Kansas City companies

About two years ago, Ron Green, then an executive at the Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City, met with Charles Davis, a professor in the School of Journalism and facilitator of the Media of the Future Initiative for Mizzou Advantage

MU was looking to develop corporate partnerships, and the card company was interested in brainstorming how best to move forward despite the decline of print media. Green and Davis discussed how the Reynolds Journalism Institute and Hallmark could work together in the digital age.

During the meeting, Davis mentioned that the school had been working on an initiative focusing on digital storytelling. “Ron practically leapt up,” Davis said.

Green is well-versed in telling stories through digital mediums. His first 15 years in editorial set the stage for his development. Later he founded and for 13 years led Hallmark’s Creative University, which took 1,400 artists, calligraphers, designers, photographers and videographers — one of the largest creative staffs of any company in the world — and transformed them from working in conventional artwork formats to digital design and multimedia.

A partnership formed in spring 2011 between Hallmark and Mizzou centered on digital storytelling, which is the use of digital media to craft a narrative that might be personal, corporate or journalistic. 

In July 2012, Green retired from Hallmark, and this past January he became a part-time consultant for Mizzou Advantage. At the heart of Green’s marching orders is strengthening the digital storytelling industry in the Kansas City area. 

“My role is to be a forward scout,” said Green, who lives in Olathe, Kan. “I have my eyes and ears to the ground in Kansas City about what digital storytelling and digital media opportunities there are for Mizzou and its programs.” 

Green grew up in a small town in Michigan where, he said, everyone was an autoworker, a farmer or a teacher. “I didn’t think I wanted to be an autoworker, and I would have been the world’s worst farmer,” Green said. 

He spent nine years teaching high school English, speech, debate and drama in Spring Hill, Kan., before joining Hallmark in 1980 as an editor. 

When he arrived for his first day of editorial training, Green was handed a 2-inch binder filled with random memos on editorial guidelines, procedures and reminders. There was no clear roadmap on how to train him. His background in instructional design took over. Early in his Hallmark career, he developed a comprehensive training manual for editors.

Although he transitioned quickly to editorial management, at the heart of his work was training and developing Hallmark employees. The card company wanted to build a “creative competency development program,” which Green said is a fancy name for a program that trains people. He founded Creative University in 1995 to develop all aspects of knowledge and talent for Hallmark’s creative professionals — business knowledge, creativity, innovation, artistic skill development and technical proficiency. 

According to Green, at least 450 Hallmark employees have job duties involving digital storytelling. Hallmark, VML, Barkley Creative, AMC Theaters and Google Fiber make Kansas City a hotbed for digital media work. 

Green is proposing that the university establish a physical presence in the Crossroads Art District in downtown Kansas City to share its expertise in educating students, professionals and the community in digital storytelling. 

Meanwhile, through training, hosting events and forums, and supporting community-based work, Green is building a pipeline of knowledge between Kansas City and Columbia. He hopes it will lead to more internships and jobs for MU students. Davis said he eventually wants to extend the corridor to St. Louis, as that’s where a lot of Mizzou alumni live and work. 

 “In this digital storytelling space, these cities face a real talent shortage,” said Davis, who is leaving MU in July to become dean of the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Through talking with Green and Hallmark leadership, Davis got a sense of what skill sets businesses are looking for in recent graduates. To better provide companies with what they need, Davis developed a four-year digital storytelling degree, now in the final stages of approval. 

“If businesses are telling me they need more talent, then Mizzou needs to grow that talent,” Davis said. “Ron gets us to the table.” 

— Kelsey Allen