PaulFPaul Furiga is chief storyteller, founder and CEO of WordWrite Communications.  Before founding WordWrite, Paul was a vice president at Ketchum Public Relations in Pittsburgh, where he served clients including Bridgestone/Firestone, Delta Air Lines and Rutgers University. Paul is active in the community, serving as vice chair of the River City Brass, on the boards of Fragasso Financial Advisors, The Rivers Club and the IABC Pittsburgh Chapter. We caught up with Paul to talk PR, journalism and branding - oh, and to find out what story crafting is.

Please tell us a little bit about WordWrite Communications and your areas of expertise.

The people who know us best, our clients, would tell you that at heart, we’re great storytellers. At WordWrite, we’re in the business of helping our clients uncover, develop and share their great, untold stories. We use every tool in the PR toolbox to do that, including inbound marketing and social media. Our focus is on companies with complex products and services, so we work primarily with businesses that sell to other businesses. In terms of industry focus, healthcare, manufacturing and professional services are sweet spots for us. An interesting aspect of our work is that we find ourselves doing more and more public affairs work. That has us working on some very interesting environmental and health issues in particular.

As the CEO, you wear many hats. Which is the most challenging one?

For me, the biggest challenge is the balancing act.  I am focused on leading and shaping the team and culture, while at the same time sharing the vision of storytelling and most importantly, selling the unique nature of both of those to companies who really need and want our help.

Can you explain StoryCrafting to us ?

Several of our team members have experience in journalism and so we come at the idea of telling stories from the perspective of having done so in a very public way, thousands and thousands of times. To us, storytelling is far more than a technique or tactic or cute parlor trick, though plenty of agencies that claim to be storytellers are mostly relying on story as one of those kinds of tools. To us, storytelling is the fundamental essence of how people communicate. It is the only communications approach that is biologically hard-wired into us as humans. It requires no batteries, no assembly and no customized social media platform. StoryCrafting evolved over a series of years, based upon our journalism experience, our study of biology, social science, history and of course, marketing. In 30-90 days, we help StoryCrafting clients uncover their authentic story, identify and arm the fluent storytellers best prepared to share their story, and help our clients identify their most important audiences and help them build mechanisms to keep those audiences continually engaged as they share their great, untold story.

Please tell us about your upcoming book.

Why Your Story Trumps Your Brand, which I expect to publish in 2016, is my manifesto and explanation of the primacy of story in marketing and public relations success. Until recent years, far too many very smart business leaders looked on the idea of storytelling as some sort of gimmick. It’s not. And we now have the science, thanks to brain imaging and study, that shows how and why great storytelling motivates people better than any other approach. Until recently, this was all just anecdote to those analytical thinkers who consider so much of what we do in marketing and PR as some stripe of random fluff.

The working title of the book describes what I’ve learned in some 35 years of telling stories: There’s a heck of a lot more to the way your audiences look at what it means to interact with your company or organization than the color or size of your logo, your snappy tag line or a cute commercial. It’s much deeper than that. All companies and organizations begin with a deep passion and yearning of some individual or group of individuals bent on solving a problem or creating a movement. For far too many, somewhere along the way, that drive and spirit are lost. Or worse, the drive and spirit are misinterpreted by important audiences and the company or organization’s story becomes one that it doesn’t control and one that is negative.

I’m not saying your brand is unimportant. I’m saying that your brand comes after your story. And without a good, fundamental authentic story, shared by fluent storytellers and powered by continuous engagement with your audiences, your brand will never be as powerful as it could be.

Take Nike as an example. Today it’s easy to think of it as the company with the swoosh or the one that proclaims “Just Do It.” And those are two elements of its brand. But that is NOT the Nike story. The Nike story is the pursuit of athletic excellence for everyone. And that’s a story that began with Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, who mentored Olympic champion runners but couldn’t find shoes worthy of them. It’s about his partner, Phil Knight, who shared that passion and helped Bowerman create a company driven by the pursuit of athletic excellence for everyone. The swoosh and slogans are OK. When you understand the story behind it all, they become that much more powerful.

You spent a good portion of your career as a journalist. How did that prepare you for your role as CEO?

Despite the current troubles afflicting journalism, in my mind, it is and will continue to be one of the most important pillars of our free society. It’s also a phenomenal training ground for storytellers, a chance to meet and be exposed to so many different ideas, people and situations. This exposure gives you such great practice in sharing the stories that move hearts and minds. It also prepares you for leadership if you’re attuned to the awe-inspiring and sometimes tragic stories you cover. If you’re covering breaking news, which I did for many years, you are exposed to the great mistakes of many people. You literally learn from the mistakes of others. I spent time as an investigative reporter and covered the savings and loan bailout for example. I learned so much from that.

You have worked with many exciting brands over the years. Do any of them stand out in your mind? Why?

It’s hard for me to pick just one brand as my favorite. Product introductions are always fun because it’s about something new. Some of the crisis engagements we’ve had have been the most meaningful because quite often, the continuation of an entire company and the livelihoods of many people is on the line. Most of those situations, for obvious reasons, we don’t talk about. One that particularly stands out came in 2000-2001, the Firestone tire crisis. The company’s tires were failing on Ford Explorers and the companies blamed each other. It was a very painful time but Bridgestone Firestone survived and some time later, a major national daily paper wrote a case study article that wondered how the company’s competitors didn’t kill it when it was on the ropes. The reporter marveled at how Bridgestone Firestone survived to thrive. A lot of us on the PR team shared that article. Many, many people worked to turn that situation around and save the company and thousands of jobs. It was gratifying to have played a small part in the overall effort.

What or who inspires you?

I love music and I draw a lot of inspiration from that. I’ve played all my life and in a recent bout of mid-life craziness, for a short time, I was playing bass in three bands at once – R&B, country and classic rock. Another inspiration is my wife and family. They help me keep it real. I have two daughters and the younger one jokes that she’s the forgotten middle child because WordWrite was “born” after her in 2002.

Favorite vacation spot?

Without a doubt, my favorite spot is the Mexican Yucatan peninsula and nearby beaches and islands. My wife and I spent our honeymoon on the island of Cozumel and we’ve been back to the area a few times since, most recently to Playa del Carmen over the 2014 holidays.

What is next for you for the remainder of 2015?

The passion for storytelling continues to grow among clients and in the agency field because it’s the most successful communications approach in human history. It’s fun to be helping clients share their great untold stories and to working with our team to develop tools and techniques to unlock this timeless approach to communications and marketing success.


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