Eco-Minded Marketing with Park&Co’s Park Howell

August 19, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have my friend on today, Park Howell, the founder and President of Park & Co. Welcome to Green is Good. PARK HOWELL: Hi! Thanks, John. It’s great to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Park, you are the king of storytelling and before we even get into any Q and A about all the amazing work you’re doing at Park & Co, I want you to share your story, your journey with all our listeners out there to how you even founded this great company and how you became a part of the whole sustainability revolution. PARK HOWELL: Great. Thank you. I am here in hot Phoenix, Arizona, this summer, but I grew up in rainy Seattle, Washington. I was one of seven kids, up there nine years. My folks always had us outdoors because they couldn’t afford to do anything else with us. My dad was a Depression Era father and he had one rule at the dinner table and that was to keep one foot on the floor. That was his way. You gotta be industrious. You gotta get out there and you gotta do your thing but you gotta be fair in the process so we were always outdoors, John. We were skiing and hiking and camping and salmon fishing. We just had a great, great upbringing and I moved down here 1985. I only came down for some fun honestly. I was gonna play some golf and drink some beer and hang out for a month and then I decided well, this place is pretty good. It doesn’t rain on me every day, put a resume out, got a job, met my wife, had three kids, and half my life later, I’ve been here in Phoenix, Arizona, and launched our ad agency back in 1995 and I always had been in the business for 10 years leading up to that, but I wanted to use our skills in persuasion and marketing creativity for good and not evil and I couldn’t even tell you what that meant back then but all I knew was I wanted to help people move causes and so forth and sustainability found me more than I found it in that I was always in the outdoors but never a big tree hugger and not on the fringed, but very much of a bell curve green consumer and the City of Mesa came to us and they wanted a water conservation campaign. We created it for them back in 1998. It’s called Water; Use it Wisely and it had such a universal appeal to it we felt that we could take it out and repurpose it around the country and, John, the campaign is still running today and we have over 400 public and private entities that bought into the program and are co-branding it or have used it in one way, shape, or form. The campaign even took me over to the island of Cyprus and we worked with U.S. aid over there and the Turks and the Turk recipients to help them put together a water conservation campaign. Believe me, I had no idea I’d be going from the hills of Seattle to the island of Cyprus to help people with water conservation, but sustainability found us and I just loved it. It was the niche, the place that I wanted to be, so saving water went into clean air campaigns went into transportation work went into working with Coca-Cola and their fleet drivers in a big internal campaign there and it has just snowballed ever since so we now are a firm very much known for our success in sustainability, social and cause-marketing programs and it’s just been great. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, let’s talk about that. It’s a beautiful website. I want our listeners to go. I’m on it right now. It’s ParkHowell.com. It’s all about sustainability storytelling. Tell us now what you’re working on and the whole process because I’ve seen you present before and you’ve brilliantly laid out the whole process of branding and storytelling and sustainability storytelling but for our listeners, and given that we have a truncated time, share a little bit about what you do and how you do it. PARK HOWELL: Yeah. Well, you know, 2007 our son here graduated from high school, went to Hollywood. He went to Chapman University to study film and I asked him to start sending me his textbooks because I wanted to know what Hollywood knew that we could use as marketers and storytellers to be better and I started for the very first time to study story structure and Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey and how Spielberg studies scripts and I found this commonality that we were able to use in this 10-step process. I guess our kind of version of The Hero’s Journey and now we take clients through from high level brand strategy. We use this same 10-step process right down to the tactical pieces of communications, be they PSAs or brochures or websites or whatever. We have found that this natural pattern occurs in everybody’s lives so we all are innate storytellers and we simply apply it with intention to the brands that we work with so Coca-Cola, Resolution Copper Mining, a very large mining interest here in Arizona and people say, gee, what’s the sustainability guy doing dealing with a mining company? Well, the copper, of course, is key to our future in renewable energy and Resolution Copper is doing some amazing things. They’re working on a land swap right now to go after an amazing body of copper that will supply America with 20% of its copper for the next 60 years so we work with them on their environmental stories and water conservation stories and so forth. The great thing about that is — we tell them as well as we tell all of our clients — you have to do it with honesty and integrity, which they do from start to finish so we get to be kind of the keepers of that story and hold them to task on it, not that we need to hold them to task but that’s the power that a good, sustainable storytelling agency or campaign can have. It not only communicated to the world on your behalf, but it also keeps you focused on all the right things. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, for our listeners out there, you handle everything from somebody who started a mom-and-pop in sustainability and wants you to help them get local branding awareness to a big corporation like Coca-Cola. You work with them all? PARK HOWELL: Yeah. We do. Like I said, the Water; Use it Wisely campaign is a good example. We started right here in town and we grew it throughout North America. We’re doing a fun program right now at the Arizona Nursery Association called the Plant Something campaign and their goal was to have it spread around the country and I think we now have had eight states adopt that particular campaign so we’re used to starting with nothing and growing it into something. That’s kind of our niche, I guess. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, when I saw your brilliant presentation, and really, this is one of the few presentations where I just was just totally focused. Now, in this world of ADD, we all have out laptops or our iPads out and we’re doing other things while people are talking. It’s sort of just what’s happened but I was so fascinated in what you were talking about with regards to the hero persona and the mentor of the story. Can you share with our listeners how they interweave into your storytelling? PARK HOWELL: Yeah, certainly. The reason why storytelling has become so strong now and is in vogue is exactly what you said is we’re all inundated with data and communication, 140-character tweets and blogs and we just are inundated and our brains turn off but once we touch someone’s heart through the power of story, then you’ve got their attention. Then you’ve got the power of emotion and that’s what we all know. Everybody buys with their heart and then justifies that purchase with their brain so when we put together storytelling, the hero’s journey, we look at the hero in that as being not you, not the brands, not what you’re selling, but the hero is your customer or the person you’re trying to persuade. In sustainability, we talk about owning the boardroom, owning the break room, owning the living room. When you’re standing up in front of a big board of directors, you have to own that room like Robin Williams owns the comedy club. You have to touch the hearts of the CEOs and the sea-level swedes to see your passion and get them behind your movement. The same is true when you go into the break room. You have to understand your employees so well as the heroes on their own journey that what you are bringing to them is going to ignite their journey and make it better, not make it worse, but you gotta tell it from their standpoint, not yours, and the same is true with consumers. When you’re reaching into the home, into the living room, you gotta understand what your target market is going through. As Robert McKee, a famous screenwriter, says, “You need to know your characters in a god-like way.” That’s his way of saying you need to have a customer persona that you have got so dialed in that when you craft that story, it is pointed to their world view, not form your world view, so you the brand or you a person pushing that sustainability initiative, you become the mentor in their story. You become their Obi Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker. You’re Robin to their Batman. You’re about helping them along in their journey because they’re only going to get involved if what you have to offer actually makes a positive difference in their life. Otherwise, they’re gonna vote for stasis, no change, don’t want to do it, and I’m out of here and that’s, I think, the biggest challenge that marketers, branders, sustainability communicators do is first and foremost is they gotta get themselves out of the way and they have to focus on their target who is truly the hero of the story. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Park, when you and I were really young guys, the advertising world was truly the Mad Men and I know you were in that world. I grew up in that world but now, with your son going to Chapman and learning all about Hollywood and your appreciation of his knowledge and also him sharing it with you and you integrating that into your ad agency, talk a little bit about how you’ve evolved your ad agency, not only into sustainability, but how does the internet and social media play a role in that and how have you leveraged that to help your clients share their sustainability story? PARK HOWELL: We find that social media is extremely helpful in you get more active participants in your story but your story has gotta stand on its own first so we will work with clients, work through their challenges, put together the campaign, the brand, whatever it is about it, and say, for instance, we put together a great two minute piece on a local cause and it may run on whatever local stations or we have it on our website but what social media allows you to do if you do it right is you start pinging people with the story, not necessarily interrupting their lives, but nudging it, letting them know that you’re here and if that piece is done well, produces very well from a storytelling structural that it appeals to the hearts of your subject first and gets them involved, then they will start sharing that for you so they become your natural publishers, which in marketing terms, as you know, they become your brand evangelists. That’s where social media can play and we’ve had a lot of success in doing it with educational initiatives and we had people involved uploading their own videos to blood donation or organ donation. It was a small little app we had on Facebook. We actually beat Zuckermann to the donor app by four hours. It just so happened we launched hours when he was launching his big Facebook donor program but we beat him by four hours, which was pretty fun, which was a story in and of itself. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Park, we have three minutes left, and one thing we love to have our great guests give is solutions. Can you give a couple rules of thumb to our listeners who are already sustainably marketing in their brands and also some resources that you could recommend to them? PARK HOWELL: Okay. First and foremost, I would tell them to turn their data into drama and again, this is a great line I pulled from Robert McKee, the famous screenwriting coach. I had a chance to interview him two weeks ago in Connecticut and by the way, those podcasts are coming up on my blog next week but he makes a great point. You have to turn the data, which the data informs your story, into drama. Make it emotional so that people can understand it because if you just give them power points in data, they’re going to file it, throw it away, and not even know what you’ve hit them with. You’ve got to do it with drama. Number two: Take the focus off of you. Turn the focus on your hero. What we just spoke about, probably the most important thing. Understand where they’re coming from. Understand how you can make their life better and in turn, they’re going to make your initiative or your program or your brand better. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, got it. PARK HOWELL: Number three: I would say pull off that business shield that we all put up, that business mask and get back to being a human being. I don’t mean to be offensive about that but what I tell folks is listen, you are typically at the top of your game as a storyteller in kindergarten but unfortunately, our educational system educates it out of you. It’s coached out of you. Our business world doesn’t want you talking like storyteller and if you’ve got an M.B.A., it’s even worse because they really knock it out of you so what I tell people is take the business mask off. When you’re sitting in the office, put your humanity back into the world and tell a story from the heart and sometimes, it makes you feel kind of nervous, vulnerable, but those are the most powerful stories you can tell because your hero understands your being honest, authentic and they will get behind you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love that. Those are great suggestions and for our listeners out there, I want you to go to Park’s great blog and great website. There’s a lot of great information here and a lot of what his great company does. It’s ParkHowell.com. Park, there’s so much more to talk about and we’re going to have you back on. You’re doing great work. You’re a sustainability superstar and truly living proof that green is good.