The Skill of Telling Stories

guest: Hugo Perez, Professional Storyteller & Content Strategist
company: Local Boy Creative
On today’s episode of Mind Your Own Marketing Business, Tim is joined by Managing Director of Local Boy Creative, Hugo Perez. They dive into the facets of owning a story telling agency and how to maximize that skill, Hugo touches on his wide breadth of experience, among other interesting topics. They close with some real world stories regarding project value & maximizing teams.
Episode Transcript

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Introduction: Through the creative world of Mind Your Own Marketing Business. Explore a variety of trends in the creative landscape, getting insider knowledge and advice from the industry’s finest. Fjorge is proud to present Mind Your Own Marketing Business with host Tim Barsness.

Tim: Thanks for joining us on the Mind Your Own Marketing Business podcast, I’m Tim Barsness founder of web and mobile development team Fjorge. Today in our show we will be talking with Hugo Pérez about his storytelling agency, Local Boy Creative. Welcome to the show, Hugo.

Hugo: Thank you so much for having me.

Tim: We’re glad you could be here. Hugo, can you tell us a little bit about your company?

Hugo: Sure. Local Boy Creative is a boutique agency that works with a handful of clients to help them refine and define their storytelling in the marketplace.

Tim: How do you do that?

Hugo: We work at what we have identified as the common thread. Every brand that’s out there has a common thread that runs through it. It’s their heart. It’s the essence of who they are and what they are. We start off by working with everyone to really bring that to the forefront, and then honing and attaching everything that we create back to who they are, the essence of who they are.

Tim: Got it. How about a little bit about Hugo? How did you get to where you are today? How did you come to form this agency?

Hugo: I’ve had the got fortune of having a career that spanned both the PR marketing sides of the world as well as the broadcast and journalism side of the world. Having worked at both private and public, in companies around the world, I started seeing this opportunity to work with more specific opportunities to really bring the storytelling to life.

About 10 years ago, I started doing some independent consulting with folks as I kept meeting them along the way. That led to finally my own consultancy, which is what Local Boy is. It was really all about having that really deep personal touch and focusing on one client in a really in-depth manner, in a very specified focus area. It wasn’t about doing everything from a 360. It was about really getting to the heart of what that story is and bringing it to life.

Tim: What is it about your work that gets you out of bed in the morning? What are you really excited about, really passionate about?

Hugo: As a creative and in the world that we are with all the digital tools and opportunities that are out there, I just get really excited about making that light bulb go off over people’s heads from both the brand side and the consumer side. My biggest passion is just to make the connection happen to really bring ideas to life. I get up often really early in the morning. I just get snapped out of bed because I’m excited about the projects that I’m working on and the ideas that I’m bringing to life and the opportunity to just get people excited about things that are happening around them.

Tim: Is it a specific idea that gets you out of bed or just ideas in general?

Hugo: It’s ideas in general. I often tell my friends I feel like I live my life with a movie soundtrack going on in the background. I hear the epic swells and the hits of specific notes because I see the world not through rose-colored glasses, but I see the world more through storyboards. I can see the arcs of parts of the story. I can see those. I want to grab those. I want to bring them to the individuals to make those breakthroughs happen and that excites me.

I get up excited and passionate, not only about my projects, but I’m dreaming about other people’s projects and other ideas. There’s so many mornings that I wake up thinking about, “Hey, what if this brand did this?” or “What if this individual did that?” I just get excited about the idea of telling a great story and getting people excited.

Tim: I know for me if something comes really naturally to me, sometimes communicating it to other people I can find very challenging. I’m just curious if you see the arc in a story so clearly, so easily, do you find it challenging to then take that and communicate the strength of that to a customer or a co-worker?

Hugo: I don’t. I think part of that is part of the DNA of who I am and my common thread. It’s about having a vocabulary, an understanding of how to connect at a personal level with individuals. In today’s marketplace, I think, the consumer is yearning for brands, for ideas, for individuals that are selling or providing a service to connect with them as a human being.

I think part of what I do and what my personal skill set is, is around getting rid of all the mambo jambo, getting rid of all the jargon and really honing in on what’s the real essence, and making it real personal and real natural. In order to get to that point, what’s happened is, I feed my creative spirit at all times. I’m reading and watching and engaging and doing things. I think having that vast array of stimulus coming into my creative spirit allows me then to come back very simply, hone down an idea and present it.

Tim: You mentioned you’ve been working independently about 10 years. I’m curious, has there been a period of time where you had less work than you’d really liked to have?

Hugo: I don’t know what you think about this, but I’m a big believer in the whole idea of the side hustle. This whole consulting thing has been back and forth between a side hustle and a full-time engagement. Yes, there have been times when my consulting work has been a little more less full than I’d like, but I’ve always had also another full-time job on the side.

Maybe it’s too much caffeine in my life or something, but I’m very overly stimulated about this whole spot that we work in or that I work in right now. I try to take on a lot of different ideas and projects. Working a full-time job, work in the side hustle, and then see-sawing them back and forth depending on the workload has been very satisfying for me and very gratifying.

Tim: Yes, absolutely. i think my perspective on side hustle versus full-time engagement– It’s funny. I think the grass is always greener. Stability is nice, but being able to dedicate 100% of your energy towards something is also really nice. I can’t say that I’d take one over the other.

Hugo: This is why I like the idea of storytelling and the common thread because I agree with you. There’s something about the stability. In the whole storytelling and developing of a common thread, it has a natural endpoint for that element of what we’re doing. I get to dive in and maybe spend anywhere from two days to three months, really engaging and figuring that out, and then I can stop there and then we make a decision and say, “Do we want to now bring that to life or are we good and should I go on to another project?” That balance has been good for me as well.

Tim: Right. I guess at the end of the day, the question is really are you passionate about the work you’re doing? Not necessarily whether you’re doing it for yourself or for other people.

Hugo: Absolutely. You asked me what gets me up in the morning. I get excited about getting up because I enjoy doing the work. That’s why I’ve been fortunate enough to be selective to a certain extent. Everything that I’ve take on, I believe in, and I want to be a part of, and I really want to get behind. It gets me up because I love just doing the work.

Tim: Sure. Tell us a story. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in your career?

Hugo: Oh my gosh. There are so many. I spent a lot of time working for a well-known candy company in the world, makers of some of the most well-known chocolates. The kind that melt in your mouth not in your hands. I’ve gotten the opportunity to go around the world with them and help tell their stories. What got me really excited and what I thought was really cool was, storytelling is the same anywhere you go. All of us as human beings relate to stories. We relate to the story-telling art. What’s the problem? What’s the solution? What are benefits?

Being able at one point during that time to spend time in Indonesia and be in the middle of jungle communities and figure out a way to tell the same story of the benefit and the value of this chocolate product that I was working on marketing at that point, was really one of those core moments where you stepped out of yourself and you’re like, “Wow. I just told a story and convinced someone that this is good and helped them to understand why it’s valuable without even knowing the language.” Because stories are stories are stories and a good story will always break through. That was really cool.

Tim: Got it. You mentioned Hugo that seeing a story arc comes very naturally to you. I’m curious if you can describe what it looks like when it comes. Specifically, is it a full story that comes to you or is it an idea that you can then build off of and turn it into a story?

Hugo: I think it’s the idea. I mentioned that I like to put a lot of stimulus into my creative spirit. I spend a lot of time just reading and engaging with a lot of different materials in all sorts of subject areas. I’m not doing this because I want to go after a specific area to get more business in. I’m genuinely a very curious person. I like to always be reading and engaging and debating on a wide range of things, so that when it comes to a problem that I’m presented, from a business point of view, a client comes to me, it allows me to very clearly seeing aha here’s what the big idea is, and now they start breaking that apart. I remember reading– Malcolm Gladwell has a book called The Blink. In essence, very boil down essence of what his idea is in Blink is that, there are people that have the capacity to infuse their minds with a lot of different knowledge. Then when they are presented with an opportunity or situation, at the blink of an eye they can make the right decision. It’s not that they are super intelligent or smart, is that they have the ability to retain all the stuff that they’ve been presented with, and then formulated an instant idea. I think that’s what I’m able to do. I’m able to formulate an instant idea that then we can massage and horn down into what the actual campaign will be.

Tim: Got it. What advice would you give to our listeners about how to improve their storytelling?

Hugo: I would say you can prove your storytelling by really paying attention to the arcs of what people are used to. What’s the issue? What’s the climate? What’s the turning point? What’s the resolution? Really start thinking as a marketer. How do you build those three elements into anything you’re bringing across. Then expose yourself to a lot of different storytelling techniques and strategies. Go to the movies, read magazines, read books, have discussions, go out to dinner, go to different places, sit in the corner and watch how people engage. Because when you started fusing yourself with all these different stimuli, all of a sudden when you are trying to tell your own story, you have a lot to draw from and a lot to be inspired from.

Tim: It sounds like basically what you’re describing is to take in our culture, but just take it in from a different lens of what is the story that people are telling.

Hugo: That’s a great way of putting it. Our society around us is evolving and becoming more and more diverse, and there’s a lot of culture from a lot of different ways, a lot of different angles to be exposed to. The more that you can put yourself out there and soak it in, the more that’s going to come out in how you tell a story, and the more diverse and differentiated and interesting and engaging it’ll be.

Tim: Would you say that there are many different types of good stories?

Hugo: Of course, yes. I think one of my pet peeves with any of the teams that I’ve ever led as a creative have been when they come back to me and said, “Let’s use this approach that we used last year”, or “Hey, we have these two approaches that we always use”.

I remember I worked for a company where I knew it was time to leave when the managing director came to me and said, “Look, at our company we have three approaches that we use for everything that we do in creative. That’s all we want you to do.” I said, ” Yeah, yeah, it’s not a place for me,” because I believe that there is as many different approaches as there are rice kernels in a rice bowl, as there are snowflakes on a snowy day, as there are raindrops that are coming down.

It depends on who you are marketing, what you are telling, what the channels are and you can come up with so many different approaches to telling the story. As long as at the heart you remember what’s the common thread that makes you who you are, what’s the issue that you’re dealing with, what’s the turning point, what’s the solution, and how are people then going to be able to engage and apply this into their lives.

Tim: Sometimes I struggle and I’m going to use movies as an example. Sometimes I struggle with stories where a lot of people are saying they love the story, but for me, it takes a long time to get into something that’s engaging. I’m curious, if I feel like I’m investing more than I want to invest in a movie to get to something that’s engaging for me should I move on or should I keep sitting there and hoping it comes?

Hugo: You know what? Now you’re speaking movies which is one of my particular love areas. Things that I really enjoy. I think what your experience is, is what many of us experience. It’s you haven’t been hooked yet. As a movie maker, or as a storyteller, as someone that’s engaged, I say the first 15, 20, 30 seconds, the first five minutes of a movie, you need to do something that gives someone a reason to say, “I need to stick around, because there’s something of value coming up to me.”

When you’re experiencing that, I would say that’s lazy storytelling that’s happening in the movies. They haven’t really thought through how to make that view or be really be engaged. I translate that over to marketing. It’s the same thing. We have to hook people. We have to give them a reason to want to stick around. Normally it’s those first few moments of engagement. What can you give me that’s going to make me feel like it’s going to be worthwhile to be hanging out here with you.

Tim: Right. Do you personally know when you’ve found that?

Hugo: I know when there’s something that’s really good at the beginning. Often there’s a little massaging that always has happened which is fine. You get that sense right away you are like, “Yap, this is it. People are going to really turn their heads on that.” That’s when it’s really exciting. Frankly, it comes down to two things to know that you have it. I boil it down to curiosity and value as the two key ingredients. You want to engage someone quickly to something that’s going to be compelling, that compelling reason to stick around. Then you want to show them that there is a value for them sticking around. If I can define fairly quickly something that’ll stock the curiosity and hence at the value I know that I’ve got them hooked.

Tim: Can you give me a specific example of what a curiosity is and then what a value is? Maybe something in your work or something that you’ve seen recently.

Hugo: Sure, curiosity would be some unexpected visual or sequence, something that really grabs attention right from the beginning. I think of one of my favorite brand marketers right now is apple. They do such beautiful work. When they released one of their phones about a year or two ago, there was an iconic commercial that they did that had all these balloons that were just floating through an urban downtown area. Everything was kind of grey scaled except for these balloons that were red. That was curiosity seeking because you’ve seen these balloons floating, and you’re seeing the color and it just grabbed you. It’s funny because the motion of the balloons floating in the air also kind of led you mentally down the path they wanted you to go. They were walking you down that path. There was that curiosity that was built in right there.

Tim: I’m curious, if I want to break through as a marketer what are some the best ways to do that?

Hugo: Well, it’s a pretty broad question, but I would say what level of marketing? What kind of marketing? Who are you trying to engage with? Is it agency work? Is it as a boutique? Is it as an in-house? There’s so much marketing, but let me try to bring that to a much higher 10,000-foot level that’ll cover it all.

Marketing to me is the art of storytelling. I’ll have an idea, a product or a service, something that I want to get out, and I need people to engage. If I want to get involved in marketing, I got to know how to define what the opportunity is for those people that I’m going to market to and get them curious.

I would say to get started, really start learning how to condense and summarize what the opportunity is that you’re offering. How do you get– Whatever the issue that’s brought to you, whatever the opportunity, whatever the product, and learn to really tell what that is, what the value is of that, or what it solves, in 30 seconds or less. Of course there’s going to be a wide range of ways that you can apply and distill and expand what you’re doing, but if you can’t get to the heart of what it is that you’re trying to bring across in a very succinct manner, then you’d still need some work to do as a marketer.

Tim: Here’s something interesting that might be relevant to our company. I feel like have condensed our marketing, both our marketing strategy and our message. When we revisit it, because it’s condensed a lot of times we look and we say, “Okay, yes, it’s still the message.” We don’t necessarily expand it back out and then bring it back down to something. Is there a really solid way to do that? I expect that our message should change over time, but it feels like because it’s condensed we’re not necessarily looking at the bigger picture.

Hugo: You bring up a couple different things there that are interesting. I would say again remember what I mentioned earlier about the common thread. The common thread never changes. You are who you are at all times. The approach to telling what your story is changes, the vehicles that you use to tell your story changes, what you emphasize changes, but who you are doesn’t change. What your product is doesn’t change. If I’m selling a widget, the widget is always going to be a widget, but I have a lot of different ways to tell it.

Companies like yours, I would say the challenge is that they lose sight of that. Instead of expanding or refining the approaches, the storytelling methods, the channels, the emphasis, they keep reinventing what it is that they are. That gets you off track. That’s why it’s really, really important to know who you are, what you deliver, what you offer, and be really clear in that, and everyone on your teams do that.

I remember working with a very large telecom company, top four in the world, and we were doing a common thread session. I brought in the top 15 stakeholders at the company including the CEO, and we started by asking everyone in the room on a cue card, tell us what the company delivers. Can you believe me that out of 15 people, I had 14 different answers. Then the CEO got up and his answer was totally different than everyone else We had a lot of work to do because they were all trying to go down the path of, we should do these kind of commercials, and we should sell these kinds of things, and we should do this. None of them were aligned as to who they were and what they were offering.

Tim: Totally. I want to cover a couple stories from Hugo’s blog. The first one titled, Between Warhol and Worthy. I’m curious if you can give us a summary, Hugo

Hugo: Sure. When I worked with some of the bigger agencies, one of the biggest challenges that we were having is that, I had creatives that worked on my team, that were so passionate about their arc that they wanted to really put a lot of time and effort into every single [unintelligible 00:20:37]. Then we had clients that had finite budgets and defined timelines that wanted something great, but didn’t want to have to go through the heartache of prying that away from an artist that was creating for them.

I defined or I developed this idea of between Warhol and Worthy as a training mechanism for my teams to help them really understand how to decide how much effort to put in. In essence what it says is this, everything that we do as marketers, as creatives, as artists, should be at the top of our abilities and great, because we believe in our own talent. We do this because we love what we do, but we need to determine how to ratchet it down and be okay with, after two rounds I’m going to give it you and going to be okay with that. I don’t need to define.

What we did for our teams is, throughout the year that they were working with us, every once in a while, every two months, every six months, every once a year maybe, we defined one project where we said, “You know, what this is the one that you can go to town.” That’s your Warhol. Go away in a corner, do whatever you think you need to do, make this the thing that you’re going to go home and cry when your mom looks at this. Everything else I need it to be defined based on these criteria that I gave you, timeliness, budget, approaches, whatever. I need it to be great, but I don’t need you to put six months’ worth of work into that. I needed done within deadline.

Having that mindset definition explained, really helped my teams to deliver quickly, effectively and something that they were proud of, but without making them feel horrible that it wasn’t to the full extent of what they know that they were capable of.

Tim: Got it. Interesting. Our second story is, Squad Goals: Lessons Learned on Collaborations. The article outlines some attributes for successful teams; trust, conflict resolution, transparency, ambiguity and change, communication and recognition. I’m curious, have seen one of these to be the most important or if you have a favorite within the list?

Hugo: All of them have really strong value, but I put trust at the top of that list. Particularly in today’s day and age where so many people have access to so many tools that makes them feel as if they can contribute at any level. I think the most successful teams are the ones that learn to trust each other and realize, even though I have an idea, I need to lean on this guy next to me who is the expert there, and I’m going to trust that they are going to contribute what’s going to make it work out for the overall team.

I think collaboration is an arc that is not stressed enough in the business place. We’ve been ingrained in this mindset that I have to win for me. It makes a challenge and in terms of having people that are excited about working together and delivering great products, and delivering within the expertise of what they have. Trust, having each other’s back, making sure that it’s about the team win and not the individual spotlight.

Tim: What do you do to create trust in a team?

Hugo: You spend a lot of time in team building. We need to spend time when it’s not under the pressure, in the spotlight, in the timelines, to just get to know each other and really be able to value what it is that everyone contributes. Then making sure that when the wins happen, in order to create that trust, that we share the wealth of the celebration and not just highlight one or two people. Everyone was a part of it. We all like each other because we spend time together, so we can all dive deeper into that trust factor with each other.

Tim: Perfect, thank you. We are out of time, so that’s it for today on Mind Your Own marketing Business. You can visit Hugo’s company at localboyproductions.com or follow him on Instagram at newzdude that’s N-E-W-Z dude. Thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can download episodes of the program by going to fjorgedigital.com/mindyourownmarketingbusiness, or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud.

[00:24:36] [END OF AUDIO]

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