The Heart of Storytelling

In the ideas economy, it’s difficult to predict the “when, where, why, how much, and how long” of producing a story that moves your audience while moving the needle for your business. As marketers and storytellers, when we focus too much on fabricating an authentic story (that must result in ROI), we miss out on real ones lived every day.

For Vers team members in the Tampa Bay area, which hasn’t seen a direct hurricane impact since 1921, we were almost susceptible to missing a story unfold in our own pond.

Days after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Panama City and surrounding areas, one of our clients, Master Restoration, was on the front lines supporting affected communities. Through restoration efforts in commercial and residential areas damaged by the hurricane, they were on a mission to live out their core value of servant leadership.

Back in Tampa, as we sat in a meeting soundboarding video ideas for Master Restoration’s brand story, an email came in with pictures from their working locations. 375 miles from home, Master Restoration was already living their brand story, and we felt compelled to capture it.

Within hours we had a vehicle packed with production equipment. At 6 a.m. the following day, we hit the road. We had no itinerary, no sleeping arrangements, and were expected to be without cellular service for the following two days. All we had was a list of addresses, some lunch meat, and our cameras.

We’ve said before that a video is worth 1.8 million words―but this experience left us without them. Though we documented our trip through social media, the video and images collected couldn’t fully communicate the devastation and grief left in the wake of Hurricane Michael. The best we could muster came from this one-take video captured on Mexico Beach:

If the focus here is ROI over cost―the cost of lives lost and billions of dollars in damage―then we missed the mark. But if 5,300+ views from a candid cell phone video translates into support needed to help breathe new life into tragedy, then storytelling prevails.

Next, we will focus on producing the brand story for Master Restoration. There were a number factors that helped make this production work, but here are our takeaways:

Be brave (and flexible)

The challenges of this project both scared and excited us. However, if we acted out of our fears, we might’ve hesitated and missed the opportunity. There was too much at stake for our client.

With no power in Panama City―meaning no gas, no food, no charging devices or camera batteries―we had to leave the city limits in order to regroup and refuel for each day. The closest hotel was two hours west, in Destin, adding even more commute hours. And while capturing golden-hour footage at the end of our first day, we even had to change a flat tire at our last location. Yet we persevered.

With little planning, some clear direction, and a lot of gusto, our team was able to navigate uncertainties with faith, anchoring our confidence in knowing stories would unfold and we would do everything we could to record them.

Immerse yourself in the story

This is the secret to storyhacking. It’s not enough to offer the evidence of story through content; sometimes you have to be the evidence. Put yourself in position to feel and to think as people do in the environment or circumstances you’re attempting to speak from.

For us, that meant taking moments to observe and reflect on the state of things. We noticed how every tree bent in half towards the sea. Which meant winds blew from north to south, as Michael moved from south to northeast. For those who are not familiar with the anatomy of a hurricane, that means they received the worst winds the hurricane had to offer.

In Mexico Beach we reflected on personal items left out from the storm surge: bikes, boats, stuffed animals, furniture. We realized it wasn’t just property. It was memories.

Put people first

When we interviewed people, we considered their emotional state, remaining sensitive to the trauma of losing parts of their homes. At the same time, we had no idea what they were going through, so we had to create a space for them to open up, and bring us into their emotions.

Throughout the trip, there were times when it was appropriate to turn on the camera and record an interview, but there were also times when it was more appropriate to sit and talk, or listen.

Our vision is to capture engaging stories, but our mission will always be people. Thousands of views or not, if you can affect one life by serving others or sharing a story, you’ve hit the only ROI that matters.

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