By Stef Benrubi October 24, 2018

As our Content Strategist & Copywriter, Stef’s days in the office are spent thinking up smart strategies, brainstorming brand concepts, and creating engaging content. She loves using both the creative and analytical parts of her brain to empower brands through a blend of word-smithing and strategic thinking.

Although 20nine is headquartered in Philadelphia, many of our clientele are across the US, and some even span the globe. Naturally, we’ve got lots of local clients and unrepentantly love our gritty city. But after a whirlwind summer of growth, traveling, and meetings across the US, setting up a home base on the West Coast just made sense. So, in late September, 20nine opened up a new location in Los Angeles.

Yeah, it takes some cojones to put yourself out there with all the Hollywood bigwigs around. But from what we’ve seen and heard, the 20nine approach to strategic brand storytelling is unique, and we’ve already had the pleasure of working with a bevy of West Coast clients to date.

“We’ve been working with a growing number of West Coast clients in the past few years, providing strategic storytelling, brand strategy and identity direction, so establishing a larger presence here made sense for us,” said Greg Ricciardi, CEO. “Every brand needs a compelling core story to fuel everything else they do, and we’ve got a unique approach that puts us in a perfect position to help national brands tell smarter, more engaging stories.”

The West Coast office will be headed up by Len Jacobson, our new VP of Brand Strategy and Storytelling. Len’s a native Californian with a penchant for bringing out the human side of brands. He’s got a history of strategic storytelling, working with clients such as Astound Commerce, Taos Footwear, Giant Bicycles, SRAM, Noble House Hotels and Resorts, and many others in the tech, outdoor, professional, and fashion industries.

I decided to interview Len about how he ended up with us at 20nine, and found that he had a lot in common with us, from his beliefs on storytelling to the process of developing them. He offered some great insights on our methodology, what drew him to 20nine and why he’s excited to join the team.

A Match Made in Hard Rock

Obviously, we wouldn’t put just anybody in charge of our first West Coast office. We had to be sure that whoever was manning the ship would be someone who “gets it.” And Len was happy to find people who “get it,” too. When he met our SVP of Brand Strategy, Gary Kopervas, they clicked immediately.

“I met Gary, and from the minute we started talking, I realized that this was someone who spoke the exact same language as I do when it came to branding and about the importance of story,” said Len. “That was thrilling, because a lot of people talk about it, but not very many people do it.”

Their first encounter was during the 2018 Un-Conference held at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego. Len noticed Gary drafting and doodling from all the way across the room.

“So I’m up there, doing a 45-minute talk about the power of story to humanize brands, and I’ve got Gary standing at the back of the room with this massive board, and he’s drawing my speech into a kind of cartoon-caricature representation of it,” said Len. “And I was really skeptical. But when I walked back and saw what he did, I was really excited.”

Len said that he was blown away by how well Gary was able to reinterpret his thoughts in a new medium. But it makes perfect sense, since reinterpreting ideas into a full spectrum of concepts and media is basically business as usual around here.

Lenny From the Block

A few weeks later, Len met with CEO Greg Ricciardi for brunch…and again, they immediately clicked.

“So, this was the second 20niner that I met, and again, it was this weird realization that we were talking the same language, part of the same tribe,” said Len. “It’s rare to find people who are so clear about the value that this work holds for organizations and the power it has to help them  occupy their unique vision of the future.”

But it wasn’t simply about finding other storytellers. Len’s a big proponent of not just creating stories, but of the earnest research that goes into finding true stories that resonate. It takes a bluntness and a fearlessness to dig into what’s really there and leverage those raw truths to create something genuine and compelling. Maybe that’s a bit of our East Coast mentality shining through.

“Our job isn’t to go in there and say, ‘it’s ok, everything’s going to be ok.’ It’s actually to look at things as they truly are…and go through discovering what’s real, address that, and not just try to make people feel good, but help them move the needle on changing their culture for the better.

I think the sincerity of the immersions — that’s really great. So often, agencies go in and ‘listen to you’ when, really, they’ve already decided how to fix you, which does a disservice to the process. I love the honesty of going in there with great questions that really help people explore things that they didn’t even imagine looking into, and helping them see themselves clearly, maybe for the first time.”

Of course, uncovering deep truths in immersion & research is only the beginning. Placing a structure around those discoveries to translate our findings into something usable is another practice we and Len realized we have in common.

It takes a framework to make the game work.

Pretty much all humans love stories. It’s how we best remember things, how our culture is transferred from one generation to the next, how we make meaning from what would otherwise be a “meaningless” series of events.

As humans, we innately understand the concept of storytelling. But when it comes to brand storytelling, it’s a little more nuanced. Brand stories require utility and purpose. And that’s why we’ve developed a formula for reliably crafting brand stories that deliver. That’s where the 2×2 StoryCube™ comes in. It helps brands to understand their story’s setting and point of conflict, as well as how to position themselves as the hero of that story.

“There’s a big difference between brand storytelling and entertainment storytelling…. 20nine has the processes in place to actually address business needs. There aren’t a lot of CEOs around who want to listen to a bunch of fluff. They want to know, ‘how can you help me, and how can you help me today?’ And that’s what 20nine can do.”

So that’s how we create a story that brings clarity to a brand’s reason for being. But the full value can only be realized when we activate the story in usable ways.

“What are those moments of connection you have with people in your brand community? What are those ‘story moments’? And what do you need to make the most of that moment?

If you’re in sales…what do you need out of the story to push people through the pipeline? And in HR, what do you need when you come into contact with a potential candidate? How can the story serve those moments? I’m really interested in trying to amplify the thinking around that. Because if you just drop a story on a client, a lot of people don’t know what do with it. It’s all about the activation.”

Looking Ahead

The final months of 2018 and 2019 are shaping up to be exciting times. Now that we’ve got someone on the ground in LA, 20nine will be able to serve West Coast client needs more effectively — and with the quality of attentiveness that’s built into our process.

“We’re kind of therapists for C-suite leaders. To be able to hear how they’re doing and help them turn challenges and opportunities into actionable work that helps them achieve specific goals is really exciting. And that can only be done if you’re present in their lives… and being present in lives on the West Coast means you need someone out here like me.”

And it’s not just about being present for the business leaders we work with that’s got him amped up. It’s also about finding a community that he can dive deep into storytelling with.

“As someone who’s been fighting the good fight for 20 years, trying to help people see the value of brand story work, all of a sudden you discover this place, and there’s this whole community living around this beautiful oasis of story-fueled branding—it was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this place actually exists!’ And to have it filled with people who are really talented and coming at it from different angles…the prospect of not only participating in that, but being able to bring the goodness of 20nine to the West Coast… That’s really exciting.”