The Most Important Value in Storytelling and Creative Partnerships

Empathy matters more than you might think, and in unexpected places.

. 4 min read

Empathy matters more than you might think, and in unexpected places.

This post is about empathy. It’s also about client service, collaboration, and teamwork. Why a post about empathy? Empathy has become a defining value for me personally and it’s a key pillar in our best creative relationships and our best creative work.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” There are two ways media creators use empathy to find success all the time. And there is a third way that creates enormous value that is rarely discussed and yet, for our business anyway, is the most impactful of them all.

1. The Audience

Every great media producer knows this one inside out. Understand your audience. Know who they are, find out what they like and don’t like, what’s important in their lives, and anything that will help make content they will value greatly.

The audience is your customer and this show is your product. Figuring out how to super-serve your customer makes sense in every other business. Media is no different.

2. The Subjects of Your Story

Most great media producers know this one, too. If you’re telling non-fiction stories, which are the majority of the stories told in podcasts, how much better will your stories be if you truly seek to understand your subjects?

How much research can you do to understand them, their values, and the choices that have made them who they are? How can you write questions that will let them know you understand them and pull truly authentic and compelling answers and stories from them?

Stronger, more powerful stories that come from the hearts and minds of your subjects are always going to have a huge impact on your audience.

3. Your Creative Partners

Here’s the weird area, particularly for creatives, where empathy is undervalued: the relationships between the teams that come together to produce the series. Doubling down on empathy has been one of the most important factors in all our best work and our best partnerships at Pacific Content. Here’s why…

Every time we start a new project, we are creating a new team. The new team is a mix of people at Pacific Content and people at the company or agency we’re working with. When things go well, we quickly become one team. That’s our goal — one single team working together to make a great show. When things don’t go as well, we feel like two separate teams. The way to find success and truly become one team is, you guessed it… empathy.

When you look at the backgrounds of our team members, we all come from traditional media, often public broadcasting. When we started the company, we didn’t have any marketing experience. This could have been a blind spot that crippled our business.

Fortunately, we are a team of curious people. Every time we start working with a new client, we naturally want to learn as much as we can about the people we work with, their jobs inside the company, how the company works, how the company culture works, how their business model works, who their customers are, and anything else that will help us do our jobs better. (We also LOVE it when clients show deep curiosity about our team, our business, and in podcasting overall.)

We are lucky to have learned a lot about the lives of incredibly talented marketing and brand-building professionals in a variety of industries in a relatively short period of time. And as a result, we’ve been able to provide better and better client service.

There have been rare occasions where projects have not worked as well as expected, and not coincidentally, those are also the ones where the relationships between the two teams were more distant and where open communication was challenging. In hindsight, there was a lack of empathy and understanding on both sides of the equation. It always compromised the success of the show.

As we’ve become more aware of the enormous value of empathy, we’ve doubled down on it. When a client asks for something that doesn’t seem to make any sense to us, we don’t push back.

We get curious.

We ask questions and we listen. We try even harder to understand the business reason, the cultural reason, or the personal reason for the seemingly illogical request. And almost every time, there is a really solid, valid reason for that request. We just hadn’t put the time and empathy into understanding it.

Sometimes as creators, it’s easy to let your ego get in the way of excellent client service. If your entire career has been focused on telling great stories, understanding audiences, and earning huge amounts of time and attention, it’s easy to assume that when it comes to branded content or content marketing that you know better than your clients.

There are two big problems with assuming you know best. First, you probably don’t. If you don’t fully understand the business and the problem that your client is trying to solve through this creative project, you can’t solve it properly.

Second, the ‘we know best’ mentality creates two teams — us versus them. The win is always to create ONE team. One person’s problem is everyone’s problem. Everyone is on the same side, working towards the same goals.

When everyone values empathy and does their best to be curious about why others have differing points of view or alternate decisions, we can all learn from each other and make a better piece of creative work.

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