Nothing connects people with brands like stories do. Master storyteller and media brand strategist, Robin Fisher Roffer takes us into the power of storytelling to dominate your industry. Going into the talk of being able to specialize, she shows the difference between being a go-to business and one who is in the midst of multiple competitions. She talks about storytelling and where brand building takes place in that, learning how to position yourself to rise above from the rest. Robin also shares the key to success for the entrepreneurial consultants out there, what they can apply even with budget constraints for advertising, and why hire freelancers. Learn how to connect to your own personal story and find out why sometimes, it is more important to listen first than to talk.
I’m excited to have Robin Fisher Roffer joining us. Robin, welcome.
How are you?
I’m doing well, thank you. I’m excited to have you on. Robin, I’d love if you could share with everyone about who you are and what you do.
I’m a media brand strategist and a storyteller. I have been doing that for many years with my company, Big Fish. My clients are big television networks and media companies like Fox Sports, National Geographic Channel, all the Discovery Networks, including Food Network and HGTV. Most of your favorite brands that you’re watching on television or watching on your phone, we do that all different ways now. I’m writing their stories. I’m helping their salespeople to win billions of dollars out in the field through the storytelling, the narrative that we share with the advertisers. That is where all the boots hit the ground at the ad agency level. It’s a big deal.It's the mission plus the mythology that creates the success. Click To Tweet
Every year, we have this thing called the upfront where most of the advertising revenue is bought and sold. I’m in the midst of writing eighteen presentations simultaneously for these captains of industry and account executives to go out with and say, “This is why you should do by Discovery Channel this time around.” It’s a very specialized thing that I do. I also work on major brands helping to build them. I go out into the world doing workshops and seminars for people who own their own business, salespeople, and anybody who’s trying to build something. I help them to come up with what their greatest story is.
You talked about specialization and how you have specialized. Your work, a lot of it is with these major networks as you mentioned. How important has that been for you to maintain that focus in your business?
Exceptionally important because when I started out, there were so many people who did advertising campaigns. There are so many agencies, so many firms that could brand a product or advertise the product or service. What I’ve done over the years and how I’ve maintained my business for more than two decades is by specializing. I could brand anything from Band-Aids to toothpaste, but to be able to do it in the media space and for a distinct group of people within that space, which is the advertising community has put me in a very unique position. That’s so important because generalists are old news. It’s not going to get you anywhere to be a Jack or Jane of all trades. It’s when you specialize. If you think about doctors, it’s like who is making more money? The guy who’s replacing your knee because he’s the knee specialist or the general practitioner? You wouldn’t go to a general practitioner to have your knee replaced.
Robin, doesn’t the Band-Aid and the toothpaste need a story to be told about it?
They do. There’s so much competition to tell that story. Where I’m going and where I’ve seen for people that are entrepreneurs, that are building their own business, that our coaches even who is saying, “I am a specialist in this area. This is the area that I know. This is where I’m an expert.” Planting your flag and declaring who you are that makes the difference between businesses that are constantly competing, constantly auditioning for business, versus one that’s the go-to.
As you were building your business, you’ve been doing this for years, but especially in the early days when you were deciding whether you should continue focusing on TV networks or whether to get into Band-Aids, toothpaste, shoes and everything else that is available under the sun. Storytelling and brand building, the positioning is applicable, so literally every product and every service is out there. Did you ever question yourself? Did you ever face challenges around, “Why shouldn’t I go off and offer my services to other types of companies because I can help them too?”
I have asked myself that many times. That’s why I ended up writing four books on the subject of personal branding, reinventing yourself and your business, and being a fearless leader. Those tools are what I’ve offered the world for those people that own a product or a service that’s outside of my specialty of media and entertainment. I speak in front of large audiences of entrepreneurs, business owners and executives to give them what they need, their story for themselves and for their business. I knew that I had this storytelling skill and this gift, and I didn’t want to have it apply to media and entertainment. In the last years, our business has changed so much. As consumers watch entertainment on different devices, businesses changed. I’m like, “Is it still relevant? Am I still where it’s happening?” The fun thing about media and entertainment is it’s constantly evolving. It’s a proliferation now of ways that you can get content and it’s become more exciting than ever.
What lessons can the consultant reading this apply? The story for many people is understood that it has its role. You have this gift of applying story to brands, to businesses and to organizations. You’ve helped to popularize shows like South Park, Top Chef and Project Runway. Anyone that’s watching television probably has heard of those shows, if not watched them. What do you think is the key to success for the entrepreneurial consultants? What can they apply because they’re not a big media company? They don’t have necessarily millions of dollars to throw at advertising. What can they apply to themselves as a personal brand or to their small consulting firm that would be some best practices that you’ve seen play out?If you can be passionate about a person's business and excited to be with them, they're going to want you in the room every time. Click To Tweet
At the end of the day, I have a brand consultancy, a small business. The most important thing is to declare and to understand your personal mission. Why are you here? What is your purpose in this world? I invite everybody to close their eyes and to take a breath. Ask yourself, “Why are you here? What is your purpose in the world?” My purpose is to elevate executives to rockstar stature. That’s what I do. That’s probably what everyone ultimately does. They make people feel great if they’re a consultant. They make people feel focused, driven and give them the tools to get there. You figure out where is that place that I have expertise that no one else does? What do I do better than anyone else?
What do I bring to the table that no one else brings to the table? If they do, how can I story that in a way that creates a halo effect for myself? I tell the story about growing up. Being eleven years old and my dad teaching me advertising at the kitchen table, laying out ads, showing me how to put together a headline with the right visual, going into meetings, pitching and closing. I was raised by a single dad. My sister and I are both in the business. I was raised that way. People would say, “Tell me who you are.” I tell them the story of eleven years old. I don’t say I’m CEO of Big Fish Marketing. Who cares? What is that? I don’t even tell them I have an agency. All that stuff puts people off. I started out as an ad executive at eleven years old that grabs them. I want everybody reading to think of what your personal story is and to start building your own mythology. It’s the mission plus the mythology that creates the success.
That second part there is a ground as you climb the mythology, or your own story is so important because too often we read about or hear about the importance of mission and values. Sometimes we can go off and we can write those things down. A lot of people get stuck at that stage. It’s like, “Yes, I’ve written down what my mission is. It’s to do good. It’s to make this impact. It’s whatever.” What do you do with it? What I’m hearing from you is once you get clear on what jazzes you up, what your mission is, the impact that you want to have. Start thinking about how do you connect that to your own personal story? Why is that so important to you? What actions, experiences, or environments potentially led you to feel or believe that is so important? Is that correct? Is that going down the right path?
If you look at my LinkedIn page, I invite everybody to become my LinkedIn friend, you will see that story that I told you is in my bio. My mission is in there. I don’t put in my mission to elevate executives to rockstar statute. That’s something that I take with me into the world personally. I do talk about being a media brand strategist and storyteller, which is very specific. I say it in the first sentence of my bio. Declaring who you are, putting that specialty that is key and the origin story or the mythology. Who do you work for? In the beginning, you asked me what do I do? What I’m reeling off, Fox, all these great brands. What have you been honored with in your life? What have you built? Putting that in your story is so important. Those are the pieces of an outstanding narrative that is so important that every person reading has. We always put ourselves last. Especially for consultants, we’re building everyone else’s story. We’re making everybody else’s business soar. We’re not taking care of ourselves. If I was to say something, it will be like, “Put the attention on you.” It’s a new year coming up. Make it a brand-new year for you.
A lot of the advice these days for consultants and I certainly offer this to our clients on quite a regular basis, don’t think about yourself. Put yourself in the position of your ideal client. Don’t talk about yourself. Ask questions to better understand what they’re thinking about what they want so that you can then figure out how to best support them and add value. At what stage then is it appropriate to talk about yourself and tell your story? At what stage should you be focusing much more on the person across the table from you?
Everything I’m talking about is going on LinkedIn. It’s going on your website. It’s what you send in a cover letter or an email to the client to get their business. You’ve got the meeting because you’ve proven that you deserve to be in the room. I do one simple thing as soon as I get in the room. First of all, I have more energy and enthusiasm than you can contain. My father taught me that enthusiasm is the key to everybody wanting to work with you. If you can be passionate about a person’s business and excited to be with them, they’re going to want you in the room every time. Energy is so key.
What does that look like? I want to picture us sitting down. I’m a prospective client. You’re meeting me for the first time. I or someone in our company contacted you because we wanted to get your help to do some story with our network. What’s going on in your mind when you come into that room and how do you show that?
First, I empty my mind. I don’t have any expectations. I’m not about myself at all. I’m totally in service. My mantra is no one is a stranger. The person I’m meeting is not a stranger. I’m never intimidated. I’m excited. I think of them as somebody I’ve known forever. I almost start the conversation midstream. I’m smiling. I have great energy. My handshake is solid. I’m sitting down and I’m leaning forward. Clients lean back. The person selling or the consultant leans forward. You’re engaged with the eye contact. You’re belly to belly. Wherever they are in the room, you’re making your belly centered with theirs. That’s very powerful. You ask the simple question. What’s keeping you up at night? What do you get going on into this first quarter that is going to be a challenge? You listen. I have had entire lunches where the person talks and it’s answering that question. I don’t pitch, I don’t try to close. I listen. I feedback to them. What I heard you say is X, Y and Z. They usually say, “Can you help?” or I say, “Here’s what I have for you.” I have listened a very long time and I’ve let them spill it all because no one is listening to them. No one listens to anyone anymore. The job of the consultant is to listen and to have solutions.No one listens to anyone anymore. That is why the job of the consultant is to listen and to have solutions. Click To Tweet
How did you get to that place? Was this the mindset that you always had, or did you learn some lessons along the way where maybe you talk too much and didn’t listen enough? A lot of people struggle with having that level of energy or that level of confidence going into meetings or where they fake it until they make it? What advice would you have for them? What’s your story around that as well?
I have this great story. I was working with a non-media company. It was Aon, which is the largest insurance company in the world. Through a friend, I had met the president. He wanted me to create a campaign for him. I came in with three different executions like Don Draper on Mad Men. I’d like the easel set up around the room, “Here’s campaign number one, here’s campaign number two and here’s campaign number three.” I stood there silently, looked up at my client’s eyes I said, “Which one do you like, Peter?” He got so mad, his face turned red as a tomato. He stood up, he pounded his desk and he said, “I hired you to tell me what good work is. I’m an insurance guy. What do I know?” The story is so poignant. It changed my life because I thought that I was supposed to talk, tap dance, be the worker bee and let everybody else decide what’s good. That day I knew that my job was to share with people that I work with and be in service to them to create and to deliver the best solution. Go ahead, show the three ideas but then say, “This is the one you should go with if you want to build your brand and your business and be super confident.”
That resonates with me. I remember when I was in Japan running a consulting business that I had at that time. We were working with a graphic design and branding company that we partnered on this. Our client was a very large B2B manufacturer. We were doing a rebranding project for them. I remember sitting down at this boardroom table in this office in Osaka. Everyone from the branding design company laid out this beautiful large format, laser color prints of different logos, treatments, and applications. The president of the B2B company was there. I said, “Here you go, here’s what we’ve done.” They left it to him to decide. I heard like a deafening silence. It was like tumbleweeds going across. Nothing was happening.
I was the youngest person in the room. I was the foreigner. I said, “This one right here. I think this works well because it has this.” I talked about how from an international perspective, I thought this was the best choice to go with like a global mindset. He sat for a second. He goes, “Yes, let’s go with this one.” That stood out the same way with your experience and your story stood out for you. That stood to me as a point of learning and reflection around, “Yes, we’re being hired as experts and so we need to have confidence in what we’re doing.” We are there for a reason. We’re not there to put something on the table and let people mull over it.
I have a client who is very skeptical of consultants. A bunch of the McKinsey guys came in his office. They were leaving as I was going in. He said, “Those guys, all they do is they listen to what I say. They tell me back what I said. It goes round and round. This is all they do.” That’s not what you want to do. You want to listen. You want to take it in and come up with the solution. As you did, Michael, in that meeting in Osaka say, “This is the direction.” How do you create the competence to do that? For me, it’s been self-talk. I say, “I am power. I am possibilities. I am connection. I have the gifts that are going to make this business billions of dollars.” I’m psyching myself up like an athlete. It’s the only way.
If it comes from the outside, getting patted on the back. That doesn’t happen anymore. A pat is very rarely. You’re not going to have that coach in your ear going, “Go out to the field and get him.” You’re the coach. You’ve got to get yourself psyched. That confidence will reverberate across the entire organization that you’re working with. They can’t wait for you to come in to share with them what you think is good for their business and what you think will elevate their brand and their personal brand. You don’t have to be a brand strategist to do this work. It’s about energy. I tell everybody, “I’m reminding you why you got into this business. I’m reminding you why you love it.” A lot of these people who work at these companies that we go to are very unhappy. If we could be that spark of light in their day and that clarity, do we win?
Robin, when consultants are getting started, they’re often focused on marketing and getting their first few clients. Later as the business develops, they’re thinking about systems and scaling. That become top of mind for them. You’ve been in this for years. There have been evolution, optimization and improvements throughout. What are you focused on right now in your business?
I’ve built a stable of freelancers that I can go to. It’s too much work to do alone. Instead of trying to find people that are great at the task at hand, which is impossible to find because it’s so specialized. I’m finding people that are talented and eager, who can and will take my direction and deliver fantastic work. I’ve had stable people. I don’t have anybody full-time. That’s good.You never want to be shortchanging yourself. Otherwise, you'll be on the hamster wheel forever going round and round. Click To Tweet
Tell me more about that. Many consultants wonder, “I’ve heard an advice that I should build a team of full-time people and that way we’re all under one roof. There’s more control. They’re all dedicated to what I’m doing. Others are wanting to keep it very lean and use contractors and freelancers.” Why have you specifically chosen not to bring people in full-time and rather to work with contractors and freelancers?
I want the best people. The best people would cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars. I find people that are the top of their game, whether it’s the best headline writer or the best designer that money can buy because I always believed that the way to build a great business is to have the best surrounding you. The overhead would be so huge. My clients couldn’t afford our fees. What I do instead is have this lean machine, this stable of folks that are the best there is. I can call them on a dime and they’ll deliver. They’ll take great feedback and coaching on how to make the client happy. They’re very good at quickly assessing what a brand is, where it needs to go and how to language it.
Did you have any hesitation when you first started working with Grade A freelancers? They’re not cheap. You’re investing a significant amount of money into that. A lot of consultants look at that and go, “That’s a cost. That’s an expense. Why should I spend $50 an hour or $100 an hour or whatever it might be to get these people?” They look at that as a loss. What is your mindset around hiring and working with the best?
It’s not a loss if you have properly priced yourself and priced them. It’s never a loss. They’re generating money for you. You have to be very smart about how you bill out and how you sculpture contracts. You have to take into effect like every single thing that that client might need and make sure that it’s covered. There’s something we all know is scope creep where you’re like in the middle of a project, it gets bigger and bigger. You want to be able to say to the client, “This project is getting huge. We’re going to have to put in some more people. This is what it’s going to be.” For me, all my clients are friends. We go to dinner together. They come here to visit in Santa Fe where I live. They hang out. These are huge executives. I’ve built a relationship with them so that I could talk with them and say, “We’re partners on this and it’s gotten bigger.” They’re like, “Yes, it’s gotten crazy. Let’s see how we’re going to work together to finish the project.” It’s a win-win. Another thing that I would say that makes you successful is that building of relationships and that comes again from listening. “Tell me about yourself. What was it like growing up for you? How do you feel?” Listening and being a great friend.
You talked about pricing. I’m interested to know as your business has developed, as demand for your services has increased over time, have you made changes to your pricing, structure and approach to it? If so, what changes have you made?
It’s a combination of retainer and project fees. It depends on the client. A lot of clients can’t put you on a retainer. It’s against company policy. If I’m put on retainer, that’s the best scenario because they call you constantly. They can give you lots of projects. You are satisfying huge needs in them. They’re not thinking twice, “I’m going to call for a project and I’ve got to get an estimate.”
When you say that you’re on retainer, is that you’re doing a certain amount of specific work on a monthly basis?
Yes. Every month I bill, and I put in on those invoices every single thing I did. I’m keeping a running log of everything I’m doing. When they get the invoice, it’s like “She did so much work. Big Fish is awesome. Look at all that they did.” If I’m on retainer with other clients, it’s project-based. I give an estimate that is I’m never thinking how can I make this cheap for the client? I never think that. I think how can I add value so that the price that I give is going to land right? You never want to be shortchanging yourself. You’ll be on the hamster wheel forever going round and round. I know a lot of people who are reading that are on that hamster wheel.Make yourself into someone that's indispensable. Click To Tweet
What do you mean by that? Tell me more about what does it look like when someone is on the hamster wheel, especially you said shortchanging themselves?
If there’s anybody reading that is feeling like they’re not getting to bill out enough for or they may be even in their mind they’re saying, “My clients won’t pay that.” Underneath that is a lack of self-worth. You’re not seeing your true value. If you’re working in your passion and you are delivering excellent work, then the billing should be accordingly. You have to make yourself somebody that’s indispensable. That goes back to the beginning of the conversation, which is to be a specialist, to be somebody who is so knowledgeable about a certain field or type of business that you’re indispensable. What you charge is right on what’s right in line with your delivery.
Robin, I appreciate you coming on here and sharing your some of your journey with us. There are so many lessons in what you’ve offered. Around the value of the story, how to structure meetings with people, and ensure that you’re building relationships rather than looking at transactions. This is the kind of episode that people are going to want to read because there’s so much in here. I want to ask you two other questions. The first is what book are you reading or maybe you’ve read one that stands out for you that you’d like to recommend to others?
Mike, I’d love to tell you what book I’m reading, but I’m always in the middle of writing one. I have a book. It’s on Amazon. You’ll see a bunch of books I’ve written on Amazon, but there’s one called Your No Fear Career. Every single thing that I know about building a business and a brand and for consultants, it’s key, is in there. It’s about being fearless and about presenting your story to the world in a way that resonates and is uplifting. It’s got the step-by-step. I would love to tell you the book I’m reading, but I’d rather everybody go to that one. It’s so chockfull like you said. There’s so much and it covers all the things we’ve talked about but so much more.
The other question is where can people connect with you if they want to learn more? You mentioned LinkedIn. The best place for them to go to learn more about you and your work where would that be?
Definitely go to my website, BigFishMarketing.com. It’s fun because you’ll get to see a lot of the work that I do for these networks. You’ll get to read hundreds of blogs that I’ve written out all these topics. That would be great for everyone.
Robin, thank you again so much for coming on. I appreciate your time and your willingness to share your own experience. You’ve certainly given me a few things to think about. I hope others as well.
Thank you for inviting me. I had a lot of fun.