Collaborative Storytelling

Two great joys — collaboration and storytelling — recently came together on an Inkflow Communications project for Fit Kids, a non-profit client that provides structured fitness programs to underserved elementary school students. The challenge was to humanize Fit Kids’ impact, telling the story of one child to illustrate the organization’s broader value to the communities it serves.

Dramatizing a problem and its solution through the story of an archetypal individual is a go-to approach for many brands. This is especially true for non-profits that need compelling content to raise funds.

In theory, focus on a single face instead of mind-numbing numbers is the surer way to change hearts and minds. The story of one identifiable person is more moving than statistical statements about anonymous millions, which can overwhelm audiences to the point of turn-off and tune-out.

So, why doesn’t every brand take the individual storytelling approach? First, not everyone got the memo. Business leaders focused on the bottom line may fixate on figures. Also, telling an individual story in support of a brand is not an easy execution. That’s where the joy of collaboration comes in.

Telling the story of Briana in the video above took Fit Kids Founder Ashley Hunter’s commitment to this form of communications, Fit Kids Program Director Navita Wilson’s keen ear to the ground to identify Briana and her family as subjects, Inkflow’s work to bridge brand and journalism, and the extraordinary skill, emotional intelligence, storytelling instincts, and production chops of award-winning sports broadcaster Mindi Bach.

The video was a hit when it debuted at The Fit Kids Lunch fundraiser on April 30. Of course, collaboration also fueled that event’s success. But that’s a different story.

Sports Philanthropy Network Podcast with Roy Kessel

In addition to the joy of kickin’ it with Roy Kessel on his Sports Philanthropy Network podcast, we shared insights and examples that can help any non-profit or other social entrepreneurship do well by doing good. Just press play on the player embedded below, and see the timecodes for highlights by scrolling just below the player.

Start-1:55, the Inkflow Communications story

2:28, how Lesa Ukman and International Events Group set the stage for social impact in our industry

4:55, why non-profits should view sponsorships through sponsors’ eyes

7:35, how non-profits attract sponsors with story-telling and other content opportunities

10:31, the futility of playing the eyeball game

14:29, identifying sponsor prospects — Fit Kids example of protecting brand integrity

20:15, Wolf Pack Ninjas example of delivering value beyond cash

24:45, working with Saint Thomas Academy on content

26:03, how WeXL creates economic opportunity through content from diverse voices

28:39, helping entrepreneurial clients get out of their own way when it comes to marketing

31:40, clients viewing marketing communications as a long-term investment in the brand

33:37, story-telling lengthens attention span of target audiences…including executives.

Learn more about Sports Philanthropy Network and its upcoming
Sports Philanthropy World Congress!

Confirmation that Content Is King

Participating in a class last weekend with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (better known as and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks confirmed once again that content is king. The three-day class, Testing at Scale: The Sports Fan Experience, sought insights into what Sharks fans want.

The 10 of us in the class – including instructor and sports marketing maven Ward Bullard and Sharks marketers Whitney Hallock and Stacy McGranor – fanned out to meet fans in and around SAP Center. Armed with little more than Sharks trivia quiz cards, we engaged hundreds of fans, whose opinions varied widely:

“Of course, ticket prices matter.”

“Not so much. Bottom line is I need to be in the arena.”

 “More interactive TV would be great to help me understand the rules of hockey.”

“Nah, I’d rather just have my friend explain it to me.”

“Organized tailgating would be cool!”

“Maybe, as long as I am in my seat when the players skate out of the Shark’s mouth.”

Regardless of the opinions they shared on their cards and in conversation, fan behavior revealed an underlying, near-universal truth about what Sharks fans want: touch-points with Sharks content.

For example, before Friday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, some classmates set up shop at a table in the concourse. In less time than it takes to serve a cross-checking penalty, visitors could enter a drawing for a Sharks-logoed drink cooler/barbecue toolkit ($100 value) by filling out a trivia quiz card, complete with contact info and answers to market research questions.

We tried a few different hooks with passersby:

“Would you be willing to take a survey?” incited many departures at slapshot speed.

“Enter to win this Sharks cooler!” slowed some folks long enough to accept a card.

“Test your Sharks trivia skills” earned instant interest, cards grabbed, filled out on the spot, and conversations that could have continued until now.

Groups of Sharks bro’s launched into competition mode, while female fans collaborated with each other on the quiz. Seeing a past player’s name listed as a multiple-choice answer, complete strangers reminisced about whatever memory that name elicited and got people talking about the Sharks’ Cow Palace days.

To speed through-put and increase card completion, we reminded people that this was a random drawing and the accuracy of their answers would not affect their chance to win the prize. Nevertheless  they persisted pursuing the right answers, searching online and even using their phone for “lifeline” calls to their friends. Clearly, the chance to talk Sharks hockey mattered more than the $100 prize.

With all cards filled a half hour before puck drop, our class reconvened in our suite. We kept an eye on the game and the rest of our attention on outstanding presentations and conversations with Sharks President Jonathan Becher, VP Sales and Service John Castro, and Douglas Murray, a former Sharks player and co-founder of the Sharks Alumni Foundation. (Pro tip: In a Sharks suite, order the ice cream and churro dessert.)

All left the suite happy after a 4-3 Sharks win, and our class met on Saturday afternoon for a four-hour debrief of Friday’s work and to brainstorm ideas for “Testing at Scale” around Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

We decided to split into two squads. One studied the in-arena behavior and preferences of fans attending their first-ever Sharks game. The other, which blessedly included me, hit the neighborhood bars to assess appetites and attitudes around the out-of-arena pre-game experience. Questions concerned tailgating, interactive TV, where they liked to hang out in and around SAP Center…anything that could enhance their game-day engagement.

My bar was The Brit, where I was supposed to remain stationed through the first period so I could compare answers between patrons who left for the game and those who remained behind. This time, the ticket for admission to personal space was either the trivia card or a set of Sharks stickers and temporary tattoos. Again, the intangible of interacting with content proved more enticing than an actual gift.

Hustling among hundreds of fans to distribute and collect cards while also conversing, I had the sudden sensation of swimming in a sea of teal. But a half hour before puck drop, the crowd thinned out, and I was just about to do the same.

When the game started, four people, none in teal, remained at The Brit. Where I could not hear myself think 15 minutes earlier, now I could practically hear other people thinking. That sudden silence resounded with the reminder that for all the experiences available to a fan, the game is still the thing.

Back in the suite midway through the first period, I met up with Doug Bentz, the Sharks’ VP, Marketing and Digital, and summarized my observations: there is only minor interest in relatively major enhancements the Sharks could offer, but it may be better not to distract fans from consuming content.

Pre-Inkflow Work Samples

Links to David Jacobson’s work published elsewhere, starting with the most recent.

Wolfpack Ninja Tour 2.0 Recap
About: An incredible Ninja Warrior event
Published: Positive Coaching Alliance Blog, 12/4/17

NFL anthem controversy leads to a Sunday unlike any other
About: Taking a knee
Published:, 9/25/17

The country’s divided but we can all agree on football, right? Right?
Description: Satire on social issues playing out within the NFL, 9/7/17

Description: Soccer culture’s healing effect
Positive Coaching Alliance Blog, 5/24/17

A Visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture
Description: Review of museum visit
Sojourn to the Past (, 12/31/16

Life Lessons from the World Series
Description: Reflections on the Chicago Cubs, 2016 World Series Champions
Positive Coaching Alliance Blog, 11/8/16

Description: How Junior Giants coaches positively impact under-served youth
UpMetrics’ “Between the Lines” magazine, 10/19/16

Life Lessons from Muhammad Ali
Description: Observations on the life and death of The Greatest
Positive Coaching Alliance Blog, 6/6/16

Comment on Donald Sterling and Doc Rivers
Description: Opinion and memoir on race and sports
Positive Coaching Alliance Blog, 4/28/14

Podcast with Claudio Reyna
Description: Interview with US Soccer Legend
Positive Coaching Alliance Blog, April 2014