Introducing Deeper Context

*deep breath* OK.

The Origin Story

As many of you know, I spent most of 2011 searching for work, after my time at Waggener Edstrom came to an end.  After a lot of soul-searching (and even more job board searching), I realized that the perfect job for me was not out there, so in September I decided to create the job I wanted.

Deeper Context LogoAs my professional passion has been feeding people’s curiosity through well-told and passionate anecdotes, I decided to make that the core focus.  It just so happened that I’d conceived of and registered the perfect name and url for the project several years ago:

The most challenging part of getting Deeper Context up and running since my decision to start has been clarifying my vision in terms that actually describe what I find so rewarding about talking to people about the things they love, and explaining why I think its so valuable for potential clients to embrace this kind of conversation in their marketing efforts. I realize that I’ve blogged a lot about these issues right here, so I wont rehash them (you can click on the sidebar to read any of the posts I’m talking about), and I’m working toward having Deeper Context embody as many of them as possible.

Defining Terms: What is Deeper Context

To quote myself:

We produce mini-documentaries that reveal and explore the human themes within your brand.  These stories excite existing fans — and attract new ones.

DEEPER CONTEXT develops and produces non-fiction audio and video series for the web and portable devices.  Our focus is on the personal experiences of carefully selected interview subjects who are passionate about the world your brand inhabits. They are delivered in a personal, intimate and conversational tone, that resonate emotionally with people in a way that a list of features and benefits cannot.

The website includes a mission statement, some conversation about the value of my work to potential clients, and a portfolio of some of the work I’ve done in this vein (mostly as an employee of Sony Music, though I hope to have that remedied as the weeks and months go by), which I do hope you check out. I would greatly appreciate any feedback, advice or suggestions you may have to offer me as I begin this journey.


My Hope For Your Involvement

I have two things to ask of you, dear reader, dear friend.

  1. If my undertaking seems like it might be of value to your or your organization, or if what I’m working on trip some synapses in your head that lead to you having suggestions or recommendations for me, please do let me know.  I’m looking for a few “seed” projects to build up the portfolio and get some good practice in interacting with clients who I consider friends.  I’m also looking for people to partner with, and am quite open to value exchanges.
  2. From time to time, I will be stuck lost and confused about what to do next (okay, let’s be honest, it’s going to be a regular occurrence).  Starting a business is a tough process for which there is no foolproof method, as I’ve learned already.  If you’re in a similar position, don’t keep it to yourself.  Talk to me, blog about it, Skype with a friend, SHARE what you’re learning.  I will do my best to do the same.

What’s Next For My Writing

For those of you who are RSS subscribers (and I know there are a few), you may be interested in the fact that I’ve launched a redesign of, putting more posts front-and-center in a magazine-style format.  This stems from the fact that I am not the worlds most prolific blogger (choosing to post only when I feel I have something worthwhile to say), and the reverse-chronological layout I had previously did not really provide access to all the useful posts from the archives.  I’ve re-categorized 10 years worth of posts to consolidate the main topics down from 23 to 7, and I hope that it proves useful.

I plan to continue blogging here at, and will also be posting more tactical stuff about digital storytelling dos and don’ts over at the Deeper Context blog (which is a little barren at the moment, but I have big plans for it!)

The Thank You’s

The road ahead is exciting and scary, but a few people have helped me along through this process that I would be remiss in not mentioning by name.

  • Amanda Lee Anderson, who designed the Deeper Context logo, and has been supportive of me and the new project throughout.
  • Megan Elizabeth Morris, whose boundless enthusiasm, infectious energy and pragmatic advice kept me pushing forward when I was ready to start looking for digital strategy jobs.
  • Mynde Mayfield, who has given me invaluable feedback and helped me inject more heart into my writing.
  • All the friends, former coworkers and other folks who I’ve pestered to look at my site and give me feedback or help me with some design work, code or grammatical snafu, including but (definitely) not limited to Jason Moriber, David Patton, Melissa Pierce, Chris Melvin, Peter Ciccotto, Judy Lerner and Kristie Macris.
  • …and of course my awesome girlfriend Kate Farina, my eternal champion, without whom I would most certainly not have the courage to follow this dream. I love you a really disgustingly large amount, momo.


So, that’s what I’ve been up to, and what I will be up to for the foreseeable future.

Wish me luck!



Why the move to streaming movies scares me – Where have all the stories gone?

One of my favorite parts of the DVD experience are the bonus features.  Learning about the process behind how the movie got made, the people behind-the-scenes and their motivations, inspirations and skills, and (especially when it comes to older movies) reminiscences about the time spent woking together and the kind of family that forms when a group of people are working on a project together.

Turtles Interview: Behind the Scenes - 18Although I know we all love the convenience of the ‘select a movie and press play’  that things like Netflix and Hulu provide, as a nerd curious person (and as someone who is working on getting a job capturing these kind of stories), I’m scared that the shift away from physical media will also signal a shift away from things like creator commentaries.

This kind of story-behind-the-thing experiences have been so meaningful to me, from both a consumption standpoint and as a content creator.  In fact, often times these stories just as enjoyable as the movie itself  (Would Lord of the Rings be nearly as impressive without the multi-hour-long documentaries about just how much work went into its creation?  And if you haven’t listened to the commentary track on This Is Spinal Tap, where the main actors tear apart the movie in character, you’ve missed out on what is essentially an improvised sequel)

I just think that hearing people talk about their experiences creating a thing (be it on DVDs, in panels, on podcasts like the ones I made for things like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, or even amongst friends and loved ones) are such a core part of the human experience, and to phase that out for the sake of convenience seems a sad state of affairs.

I really really hope it doesn’t happen.  I want the stories to stay important, not just the finished product.  Let’s not have ‘bonus features’ become synonymous with ‘unnecessary content’

Would you miss them if they went away?

The difference between a message and a story

In communications, there are those who think strategically and those who think tactically.  At my job, we’ve even named our blog Thinkers and Doers to reflect both sides of the coin.  Ideally, both sides inform the other.  No tactic lives out there on its own (“We need to have a Twitter account because people are talking about twitter!”) without some kind of strategy (or valuable reason for existing behind it).  In the same way, having a clever strategy without any specific toolsets identified can languish in ‘thought leadership land’.

Historically, many companies have focused on a ‘message’ as the core unit of visibility.  “Just Do It” is a message. “Made From The Best Stuff On Earth” is a message.

Nike Project
Image by Jellymon via Flickr

Those are all well and good (and have had their time), but these days the opportunities for telling a story are vast.  “Just Do It” may not have any meaning on its own (aside from “I know that, thats the Nike tagline”), but pair it with images of Michael Jordan dunking from the free throw line with room to spare, or Tiger Woods—well, maybe that’s a bad example. I would argue that its the story behind the message that has caused “Just Do It” to remain in the cultural lexicon.

The great thing for business is that the internet has opened up an almost infinite opportunity to tell stories to deepen the experience that a person has with a brand. Through the use of video, podcasts, blogs, conversations, and especially by empowering and encouraging those who are already on board to be a part of the storytelling process on behalf of your brand, you have the opportunity to build a story ecosystem for very little cost beyond earning the trust of your customers online through real interactions.

Just imagine the possibilities, of what you could do with that kind of evangelical content, coming from people with no financial stake, just out of love for some aspect of what you do. Just imagine what message that would send to people who could potentially be interested in your product, service, campaign, charity, country.

Just do it.

Focus on the bridge: A framework for emotionally engaging storytelling.

In any exchange and especially in storytelling, there are two ‘islands’: the listener and the subject.  A great experience will put the focus in between them, creating a bridge by which the listener can cross to connect with the subject.

One of the examples I’m most proud of is the Thrillercast series I worked on with Joe V. for Sony last year. I don’t think we knew it at the time, but this became the perfect example of the bridge concept in action.

Identify the goal. Capture the long-standing affect that Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” and associated videos had on the world, through interviews with people who were a part and those who were influenced.

Define the lanes. Identify the areas where “Thriller” had a major influence – Music, Songwriting, Production, Choreography, Dance, Video, Radio.

Define the pillars: Identify the events or items common to each of the lanes that we want to make sure are touched upon throughout the stories.  In this case, the songs themselves became great pillars.

Place your pillars. Figure out how to arrange the stories so that the overall story arc is tight and compelling.  Whether it’s grouping episodes together by topic, walking the listener through chronologically, or some other organizational system, the grouping of the content will ensure that the listener is taken on a smooth journey.

Find your storytellers for each lane. Cast people who are passionate about telling their story and whose stories can serve as a bridge between the listener and Michael.  We new almost immediately whether someone had something to say or would just be going through the motions, and that informed whether we pursued them or not.

Capture bridge stories. When interviewing, keep the tone anecdotal rather than empirical. Anyone can sit there and list the various awards received and the number of copies sold.  Those are things about the subject, and do not belong on the bridge.  Remember, all those achievements happened because of the bridge elements.  We encouraged people talk about their experience with “Thriller” from within their area, the influence it had on them, and how it changed affected the landscape as a whole.

So, when telling a story (be it a bedtime story, a podcast, a twitter stream,  a presentation, a mix CD, anything), ask yourself: Does this experience build a bridge?  If not, you’re not done.