Paul Furiga is chief storyteller of WordWrite Communications. He is writing a book on storytelling in business Why Your Story Trumps Your Brand, that builds on WordWrite’s storytelling process, StoryCrafting℠. Previously, Paul was a vice president at Ketchum Public Relations, working with Firestone, Delta and Rutgers University. He spent two decades in journalism, covering Congress and the White House and working for magazines, newspapers and newswires.
While a Congressional Fellow, he served U.S. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois and was issues director for Simon’s 1988 presidential campaign. Paul is a Miami University graduate and an Accredited Business Communicator through IABC.
How did you get into the industry?
I spent 20 years in journalism before I joined Ketchum Public Relations. Over my years covering Congress, the White House and glamorous beats like night cops, I interacted with enough PR types to know that I wanted to be a different kind of PR pro when I entered the business – an honest broker of information, if you will.
Any emerging industry trends?
The biggest trend is the melding of traditional public relations and related disciplines, especially content marketing or inbound marketing and social media. Great PR pros have always been skilled at two-way conversations and engagement, and that’s what success is all about in our 21st-century, Internet-driven world. Our client work is gravitating toward more of what many of us call the PESO model, for Paid, Earned, Social and Owned. That means we’re active in paid social or content, in more traditional earned media, including working with journalists, as well as the full gamut of social networks. Owned content begins with blogging and extends to the creation of videos, whitepapers and other intellectual capital that our clients create.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
There’s a tremendous dichotomy for traditional PR pros today: On one hand, the news media continues to evolve in ways that reduce the number of journalists and outlets available for engagement. At the same time, as the social media world becomes more “noisy” because Facebook and other leaders are monetizing their platforms, study after study shows that audiences are placing increasing value on earned media. So what PR has historically been good at – earned media – is still important. The competition and the opportunities have narrowed, at least for now. I’m confident our modern global society will always need journalists. It’s impossible right now to predict how many we’ll have in ten years, let alone where they will be working, how many media outlets will survive and what they will look like.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Even before I started WordWrite in 2002, I knew that I wanted to develop a distinctive service based on the power of storytelling. My two decades in journalism provided plenty of ideas as to why storytelling was important to public relations. I knew that as an agency product, I needed a structure to help clients understand the power of storytelling, to help them develop their own unique story, and then tell it. That led us to create our patented process for storytelling, StoryCrafting.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We’re excited about the next several years in WordWrite’s future. We’re in our 15th year and we’ve built a sustainable model for success. We’re looking to take it to the next level by adding complementary capabilities, such as a creative department, and by expanding in areas that are critical to the future of our profession, including content marketing and inbound marketing.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
We’ve developed a deep expertise in public affairs and have partnered with government affairs professionals on several client engagements. We’re finding this to be a very ripe area for growth. Digital advocacy is the new hot button in public affairs, and that’s what we do.
As well, our StoryCrafting process has lots of room to run. I’m in the midst of writing a book about storytelling, with the working title, Why Your Story Trumps Your Brand. This is the juice for all we do for our clients. We’re in the business of making our clients the heroes in their own stories. The ageless power of storytelling is the fuel that drives our success for clients.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Starting my own firm was a complete leap of faith. Entrepreneurship carries daily risks, big and small, that most PR pros never experience while working for someone else. In our early years, there were some lean times. The necessity of making payroll or paying the rent is a pretty sobering wake-up call that focused me on growing our business!
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
In the business world, there are stories and then there are “Stories,” those that stand the test of time, the ones that are repeated and remembered and taught in business schools. We call these capital “S” stories. They answer questions such as why would someone want to buy from you, work for you, invest in you or partner with you. Every organization owns a story with the answers to these questions. This is what we focus on at WordWrite – uncovering, developing and sharing these stories in ways that drive results. This is what our clients value most about our work for them.
How do you motivate others?
Motivation is all about opportunity. At WordWrite, we place no limits on what people can do, or on their creativity. I can’t think of the last time that someone came to me with a good idea and I said no. My typical response is, “how can we make this happen?” As a boutique firm, our team has broad exposure to nearly every aspect of what we do and they have a lot of autonomy to come up with great ideas and run with them. Actively participating in the direction of your team, your company and your clients’ success is the greatest motivator.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Three qualities are critical in those we hire: Curiosity, Humility and Impatience. If you’re not curious, if you think you know it all – you’re of no use to our clients or our team. Our business has changed so much in the last five years that a hunger for learning is essential. I don’t know how anyone can expect a long-term career in our business if they aren’t willing to learn something new every day.
By humility I mean a willingness to collaborate for success. Agencies are all about teams collaborating, and client relationships are all about collaborating. We need strong leaders. The best leaders know how to engage their colleagues and their clients through collaboration to deliver success. We have a lot of sayings at WordWrite. The one that describes this principle is: “PR is something we do WITH you, not TO you.”
Impatience is all about delivering results. Many of the most important measures of success in our business happen over time. I often joke that PR is not a one-night stand, it’s a long-term relationship.
For long-term success, we still have to demonstrate appropriate results every day, in ways that enable our clients to see long-term progress. The best pros in our business develop the skills to win the long game while delivering results along the way that provide value to our clients.