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Paul Furiga of WordWrite: “Don’t spend a single dollar on marketing unless you understand what your ROI will be”

Leverage synaptic shortcuts to cut through the clutter of 21st-century marketing and information overload to create marketing clarity (example: David v. Goliath, the underdog story, is understood by nearly every human being alive today — aligning your story with this kind of synaptic shortcut simplifies and improves your ability to brand and deliver results). Don’t spend a […]

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Leverage synaptic shortcuts to cut through the clutter of 21st-century marketing and information overload to create marketing clarity (example: David v. Goliath, the underdog story, is understood by nearly every human being alive today — aligning your story with this kind of synaptic shortcut simplifies and improves your ability to brand and deliver results).

Don’t spend a single dollar on marketing unless you understand what your ROI will be.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Furiga, president and chief storyteller of WordWrite.

Since its founding in 2002, WordWrite has grown into the Pittsburgh region’s largest independent public relations agency. A perennial top-ranked firm in the annual O’Dwyer’s national rankings, WordWrite posted the fourth-greatest growth among 123 ranked agencies in 2017. In 2019, the Pittsburgh Business Times named WordWrite one of the region’s 50 fastest growing companies.

WordWrite has become the region’s go-to crisis agency. In any given year, the firm handles 12 major crises, two that make the news and 10 that do not. Recent engagements have included major bridge fires, mold deaths in hospitals and rare book thefts.

In 2013, Paul was honored by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) with The Renaissance Hall of Fame Award. The chapter’s highest honor is presented to a veteran public relations professional who has made a substantial impact in the Pittsburgh region.

WordWrite has received numerous awards for its work, from PRSA, IABC and other professional organizations. Its work has also appeared in PR News books as case studies of excellence.

Paul’s passion for storytelling inspired him to form WordWrite and to write a book on the importance of storytelling in business, Finding Your Capital S Story, which publishes in fall 2020. An organization’s Capital S Story is the story above all others that explains why someone would buy from the organization, work for it, partner with it or invest in it. The book builds on WordWrite’s trademarked storytelling process, StoryCrafting®.

Before founding WordWrite, Paul was a vice president at Ketchum Public Relations, where he served clients including Alcoa, Bridgestone/Firestone and Rutgers University.

Previously, Paul spent two decades as a journalist. He edited the Pittsburgh Business Times from 1994 to 1998. Paul was an editor and correspondent for the Thomson Washington, D.C. bureau from 1988–1993, where he covered Congress, the White House and four presidential nominating conventions. He also was senior editor of OhioWeek and a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

As a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association in 1986–87, Paul was an aide to U.S. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois and later, issues director for Simon’s 1988 presidential run, leading a staff handling speechwriting, debate preparation and opposition research.

Paul graduated from Miami University in Ohio in 1980 with a degree in mass communication. He is an Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) through IABC and is active in the community, serving as vice chair of the River City Brass, and on the board of The Rivers Club. He has also served on boards for the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival, the IABC Pittsburgh Chapter and the Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I spent two decades in journalism before I entered agency work. I covered everything from murders and abuse investigations to investigative reporting, Congress and the White House. As a reporter, I wrote more than 10,000 stories. As an editor, I helped shape another 10,000. That career prepared me well to work with organizations who need to share their best story to drive results. I didn’t intend to become an agency person; I was networking at one point to stay in Pittsburgh and tapped the leader of the Ketchum office there (where the agency was founded). He called me up one day to say he couldn’t help me and after a long pause, he told me he couldn’t help me find a job somewhere else because he wanted me to come work for him. And the rest is history.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While journalistic experience is great training for marketing, it’s not a simple transition. Journalists can ask any question and get away with it because, well, they’re journalists. I remember leaving an early meeting with my new colleagues and everybody was quiet and then my colleagues had to explain to me that half the questions I asked our potential new client (who would be buying our services) were well, kind of rude, given the relationship between client and agency. I’ve never done that again, though that journalistic sensibility has helped me to ask the RIGHT questions with prospects and clients when needed.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Two decades in journalism, and another two decades in agencies has confirmed for me that when it comes to brand versus story, it’s story that wins every time. Story infuses everything we do at WordWrite. And a Capital S Story that’s successfully uncovered, developed and shared, leads to the best branding we could possibly imagine. An organization’s Capital S Story is its story above all others — the one that answers the question of why someone would buy from you, work for you, partner with you or invest in you.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My book, Finding Your Capital S Story, publishes late this year. It’s a distillation of four decades of storytelling lessons, the roadmap of storytelling success for business leaders who don’t understand why their marketing doesn’t reflect the true character of their company, who wonder why their marketing doesn’t get better results, and those who don’t understand how to get results from marketing. You can learn more here: https://www.wordwritepr.com/find-your-capital-s-story

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

To me, this is the wrong question really. Because before you had a brand, you had a story. Your Capital S Story should drive your brand. The Capital S Story answers the question of why someone should buy from you, work for you, partner with you or invest in you. I’ve never seen an organization that DID NOT have a story, long before it had a brand. It’s the passion of the founder, the genius of the invention, the commitment to solve the unsolvable problem. Whatever lies at the heart of an organization’s story should be driving the brand, and then that brand obviously drives product marketing. And let’s face it, in our business, creativity has become a table stake. I’m not saying it’s not important; I’m saying that it’s expected. What’s most important is that whatever creativity you apply at the brand or product level drives back to an overall narrative that your stakeholder audiences recognize as the true character and nature of your organization, your people, your services or products.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

If you don’t invest resources into uncovering, developing and sharing your Capital S Story first, your brand will suffer. And that means your marketing will fail. We can’t afford to be hammer salesmen in this industry. What’s a hammer salesman? If you do SEO or digital ads or PR or whatever, you become a hammer salesman when your answer to every client need is whatever you happen to do. That’s not the way the world (or marketing) really works. There is no universe in which no matter what problem the client has, they need the hammer that you just happen to sell. Yes, sometimes, the client needs a hammer. But maybe they need something else. The only way they will know what they truly need (and thus, where they should invest their resources in branding) is by uncovering and developing their Capital S Story. That story will drive their brand and ensure that when it comes to the most costly aspect of branding — execution — those resources are invested in the strategies and tactics that will deliver the best results. Don’t buy a hammer if you don’t need one. And us agency folks shouldn’t be selling hammers if that’s not what’s needed. This was a big reason we invested in developing our patented storytelling process, StoryCrafting. Uncover the story first, then figure out the best ways to share it with the audiences that matter most. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

The most important strategies to us are these:

  1. Uncover your Capital S Story.
  2. Align it with classic Jungian archetypes and story anchors.
  3. Leverage synaptic shortcuts to cut through the clutter of 21st-century marketing and information overload to create marketing clarity (example: David v. Goliath, the underdog story, is understood by nearly every human being alive today — aligning your story with this kind of synaptic shortcut simplifies and improves your ability to brand and deliver results).
  4. Tell a story that’s rooted in truth, delivered by fluent storytellers and continuously read your audiences to ensure they are engaged.
  5. Don’t spend a single dollar on marketing unless you understand what your ROI will be.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Here are three:

  1. Nike: Far more than the swoosh, it’s the legacy of track coach Bill Bowerman and one of his runners, former Nike CEO Phil Knight, who teamed up to make the pursuit of athletic achievement a story that weekend warriors could adapt as their own. Nike even employs its own storytellers to ensure its story is shared — EKINS (Nike spelled backwards).
  2. Southwest: A classic outlaw archetype from its roots, when competitors tried to crush it before its first plane took off. Everything from the reasons why it turns its planes around so quickly to its stock symbol (LUV) relates to its underdog status and story. In more recent years, the company has lived its outlaw archetype by positioning itself against competitors as the airline that doesn’t charge baggage fees or change fees.
  3. Blendtec: A lesser-known, originally B2B company, Blendtec leveraged its crazy-inventor CEO’s experiments of trying to blend iPhones in its powerful blenders with the emerging power of YouTube to create a storytelling franchise that rolls back to its Capital S Story visually — watch the YouTube videos for yourself, and see how powerful (and indestructible) the company’s blenders are.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

It’s overly simplistic to measure all brand-building by sales alone. Is that how nonprofits should measure their brands? Of course not. What about branding that must also reach employees? Investors? The real measure of branding success is how well you engage whatever target audience you are trying to reach. This is another major reason why we focus on story above brand. When you’re working to rebuild employee trust in a company that’s overcoming some internal problems, you can’t just slap a cute tagline, pretty logo and branding campaign on things and say done. You’ve got to get back to the Capital S Story, one rooted in truth, find the right people to share it, and then make sure you continuously read your audiences to ensure they’re engaged and that you’re sharing the best version of your Capital S Story with them.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is a great way to share your story and we employ many channels to do so (see links below). I devoted a whole chapter in Finding Your Capital S Story to the power of storytelling (and thus branding) in social media.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Be a lifelong learner. I’m of a certain age if I’ve spent four decades as a communicator and marketer, and I start each with enthusiasm for what’s new and what’s possible. And I thrive on sharing that with our team and our clients. What we do as marketers is a powerful effort to connect members of the human race with each other in positive, mutually beneficial ways. New tools, social channels, etc. are all fun. The true measure of happiness for me is connecting people through Story in ways that deliver the best outcomes — true happy endings.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In our field, I would encourage practitioners to strip away the BS and focus on the authentic stories at the heart of each individual’s journey and the journey of the organizations they choose to devote their time, effort and energy to support. Disinformation or fake news are terms we unfortunately must navigate too often these days. Why do certain films, books, bands, etc. stand the test of time? The authenticity of their story and their ability to make these kinds of connections. It’s my wish for humanity that we focus our energies in these areas rather than tearing each other down or scaring people to death all the time (and that is unfortunately what too many marketers choose to do, sadly).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Why was Solomon recognized as the wisest man in the world? Because he knew more stories than anyone else.”

— Alan Kay, The Walt Disney Co.

Alan Kay is not a storyteller by training — he’s a computer scientist. He’s an iconic leader in technological innovation who developed early computer networking innovations at the legendary Xerox PARC research institution, which led to taking a crucial role at the game maker Atari, then at Apple with Steve Jobs, and later, as one of the first Imagineering team members at Walt Disney. Far too often in marketing, “analytical” types will say that branding and marketing is all fluff. It’s affirming to me that a technological genius like Kay would say, “Stories matter, and the best storytellers matter most.”

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve seen Simon Sinek speak a few times and I’d really like to spend time with him to explore the intersection of his philosophy that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The ideas in his first book, Start With Why, track very closely with our firm’s development of the Capital S Story and our StoryCrafting process.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook (WordWrite): https://www.facebook.com/wordwritepr

Instagram (WordWrite): https://www.instagram.com/wordwritepr/

LinkedIn (Paul): https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulfuriga/

LinkedIn (WordWrite): https://www.linkedin.com/company/wordwritepr/

Twitter (Paul): https://twitter.com/paulfuriga

Twitter (WordWrite): https://twitter.com/WordWritePR

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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