Story First, Tools Last.
Our Operating Philosophy
In any communication or messaging work, there is a temptation to jump to specific tools and tactics. How often should we be posting on social? Should we write a press release? We need a video!
Years ago, when we did more website work, we got this question a lot: “I need a new website — can you make me one?”
Our standard answer was: “Yes … but why do you think you need a new website?”
Often, the people asking for website help didn’t actually have a problem with their website — they had a problem articulating their story. The website was something tangible they could fix — a problem they could easily solve (or so it seemed), and a budget line item that they could easily justify.
But fixing the website was never going to solve their real problem. It was just going to get them a prettier website.
So before we engaged in any website redesign, we set about uncovering what they were actually struggling with, and figuring out how to address the underlying cause of that struggle. Sometimes, a website was part of that solution, but in most cases, the underlying cause was a story that wasn’t being told clearly, consistently, or persuasively.
If you aren’t telling the right story to the right audience the right way, no tool in your toolkit is going to move your audience, or connect with them in a meaningful way: not the slickest website, the most beautiful video, or the most consistent Twitter posting schedule.
But every tool and every tactic will be more effective if used in the service of the right story.
That’s why true to our name, with us, story always comes first.
This means that before we dive in on any deliverables, we work to get the story right.
If you aren’t telling the right story to the right audience the right way, no tool in your toolkit is going to move your audience, or connect with them in a meaningful way
Now, we love making videos. We geek out over infographics. We are nerds for narrative strategy.
But whatever we might make, we understand that you’re hiring us because you want it to hit the mark, not just look cool. So for us to help you hit the mark you want to hit, it’s essential to figure out where the real challenge lies, to understand the underlying struggle, and to examine the story behind that struggle. And we want to know what success looks like, even if you’re not enjoying as much of it as you wish you were. Because understanding both sides of that equation — what’s working and what’s not — helps us get clarity around the story we need to tell to move your audience where you want them to go.
When you get your story right, you can make smarter, more informed, and more efficient choices about strategy, messaging, and deliverables. When you get your story right, you can spend your time and your money more wisely, because you spend it in the right places on the right things.
For us, getting your story right means taking the time and investing the energy to deeply listen, right from the start. We want to understand all of the audiences you need to reach, and the stories those audiences currently tell themselves about their needs, and about you. We want to understand how those audiences are currently responding to the messages you’ve been communicating — and what you feel those audience members currently aren’t quite getting — so we can identify opportunities for connection and influence. And we want to understand the story you want those audiences to embrace.
Once we understand your story, we can help you tell it more effectively, and tailor the tool(s) to best tell it, so your story can be an asset that helps you reach your goals and achieve maximum impact.
Our Story (The Short Version)
If you do (or sell) something simple, you’ve got a simple story to tell, and you’re probably already doing it well.
But if what you do is complicated and nuanced, the story gets more complicated and nuanced, and it gets more difficult to tell clearly, consistently, and persuasively.
That’s where we come in. Story First is a strategic storytelling firm that helps organizations get clear about their story and tell it more effectively.
We work with a wide range of corporate, non-profit, and political clients, including the City of St. Louis, Forward Through Ferguson, Newforma, DaVita Rx, Building Ventures, the St. Louis Integrated Health Network, Georgia Tech, Washington University in St. Louis, Stock Legal, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, Inventive Labs, and We Stories.
Eric Ratinoff is Story First’s founder and Chief Storyteller. For 15+ years, Eric has worked with a variety of organizations to help them get clear about their story and tell it more effectively. He brings to Story First deep experience as a writer, editor, director, strategist, teacher, and coach, and is motivated by the new challenges that come from working across different industries and in different media.
Eric has taught Technical Writing in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis; has trained and advised leaders as a facilitator, presenter, and organizational consultant; has been invited to speak about storytelling at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Plymouth State University, St. Anselm College, Southern New Hampshire University, and Fisher College; and was selected to present three times at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)/National Public Health Information Coalition National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media.
Eric is also a co-founder and principal in The Mouse and the Elephant, a diversity and inclusion training and consulting firm; he served as the Executive Editor for the Ferguson Commission report, Forward Through Ferguson; and he is a co-author of A Seat at the Table, an award-winning column on diversity and inclusion in the New Hampshire Business Review.
In addition, Eric is the lead organizer and a speaker coach for TEDxAmoskeagMillyard in Southern New Hampshire, and he delivered a talk on storytelling and organizational culture, titled “Once Upon a Time At The Office: How Stories Shape Culture At Work,” at TEDxCapeMay in New Jersey.
Before founding Story First in 2016, he was a principal in Act3, an applied storytelling firm. He has also served as a textbook ghostwriter, an online content writer (including episode summaries for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek for the WB’s website), the sports editor for a failed late-90s dot-com, a residence hall director, and a traveling fraternity consultant. But his favorite job was probably being assistant track and field coach at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also earned his Bachelor of Arts in English.
Bradley Fann is a multidisciplinary designer and editor with skills in a variety of design disciplines, including video editing, animation, information graphics, typography, logo design, web development, color grading, audio mixing, graphic design, and layout, make him an invaluable part of Story First’s storytelling team.
His video work as editor, animator, and colorist has earned him multiple Telly Awards, and his graphic design work has earned him recognition from AIGA St. Louis.
Brad earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and he has been collaborating with Eric since he was an intern at Act3 in 2009. In addition, Brad is seriously into the St. Louis Blues, classic horror movies, screen printed posters, and heavy metal bands you’ve probably never heard of.