Based in Portland, Oregon, People of Story is a video marketing agency focused on brand storytelling through episodic and series-style content. They help businesses build deeper connections and affinity with their customers by uncovering their unique stories and transforming them into charismatic storytellers. Before the pandemic, the agency set out to produce a show to support their own brand — and that’s how their original docuseries Making Legacy came to be!
Making Legacy follows four different entrepreneurs — Mark Hellweg of Ratio Coffee, Lisa Jones of Pigeon Toe Ceramics, Mei Lin of Nightshade LA, and Stephen Kenn of SK Studio — as they pursue perfection in their craft and tackle hurdles from every direction, while also capturing the moments in their lives when they recharge. By sharing these stories, People of Story hopes to inspire and encourage other folks out there to turn their great ideas into a reality.
We had the chance to chat with People of Story’s Co-Founder and Lead Content Strategist, Ryan Donaldson, to learn more about the strategy and creative process behind the docuseries, their journey uncovering what it takes to make a legacy, how they’re getting the word out, and much more. Keep reading to dig into all the details about Making Legacy and get inspired in the full interview below!
Ryan: Starting out, this series had a very different direction from the current show. We initially set out to create an episodic series about what it takes to make an episodic series (very meta of us).
Right around the time period we were building out that initial concept, we met up with our friend Mark from Ratio coffee. In that meeting, we started brainstorming the concept that is now Making Legacy. We realized many of the small brands we admired in our community of makers shared a similar origin story — starting with a good idea and sticking with it to create something larger than themselves. The more we talked about this concept, the more excited we got about turning it into a show. That excitement is really important…it lets you know you’re onto something good. From there, we started reaching out to brands we wanted to work with, and outlining the big questions we wanted to answer with each episode of the series.
Ryan: Since we’re a small agency, there weren’t really any approval hoops we needed to jump through to create this series. However, we did need to make sure everyone involved with this project was on board and aligned on what we wanted to accomplish.
We ended up developing a really robust pitch deck for the series concept that we used to get sign-on from the entrepreneurs and makers we included in the show. This pitch process was also very helpful for our internal team to agree on the core themes and direction for the series.
Mid-January, we were putting the finishing touches on our concept when our Director and Co-Founder, Colin Cabalka, got a last-minute opportunity to attend the Sundance Film Festival. We knew we had to take some form of our concept to the festival. To pull this off, we got our first business owner on board (Mark from Ratio Coffee) and shot for three hours with him at their production facility. We then turned around a 20-second sizzle reel overnight and took it to the festival to drum up potential studio/distribution partners.
While at Sundance, a special meeting with Steve Gyllenhaal encouraged Colin to stop waiting for someone to give us permission to make this show. We decided to greenlight the show the next week, locking in all of our entrepreneurs within a few days and booking the shoot days for the first season.
Ryan: Our roots have always been in cinematic video production, so we didn’t need to outsource much to produce Making Legacy. However, we couldn’t have pulled this off without the help of some very talented and committed people. Our Director of Photography, Sean Conley, for instance really came through a lot on this series. He signed onto this project knowing we didn’t have much budget — he was really sold on the concept.
Ryan: The scouting process was pretty organic for each of our business owners. Going into this project we knew we wanted to authentically capture where each of our entrepreneurs creates and works.
For someone like Mei Lin, for instance, our primary shooting location was her restaurant Nightshade LA. From there, we captured the surrounding neighborhoods with a focus on textural elements and small details.
The other consideration for our visuals was to document how each of our makers finds rest and recharges their creativity. Being able to film at our makers’ homes and where they loved hanging out was crucial for telling this side of the story. We were lucky to work with people who have a deep appreciation for design, so their home spaces were all pretty stunning.
Ryan: We feel really lucky to have been able to work with these four entrepreneurs for Making Legacy. Each of them approaches their craft with a fearless and playful sense of experimentation. They each have these little rituals around designing and developing new concepts, and it’s fascinating to see them turn an idea around and around until it’s polished into a pearl. The obsessions to detail and process were key to our storytelling. At the same time, we also wanted to capture the down time and moments in their lives when they recharged. A strong sense of humor and a willingness to break from the seriousness of being an entrepreneur was very important.
“They each have these little rituals around designing and developing new concepts, and it’s fascinating to see them turn an idea around and around until it’s polished into a pearl.”
Ryan: At the beginning, we had a lot of conversations about shows we found inspiring and beautiful. These examples acted as our guideposts when we started down our creative path. We knew we wanted to create a show that felt like an inspiring and slightly playful documentary. Knowing which genre of brand show we were targeting really helped us envision our shotlist and made the editing process smoother when we started building our episodes.
Ryan: Our promotion plan for this show has had to morph and transform quite a bit. We started filming this series and working with our entrepreneurs prior to COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic. If only we could go back behind the veil of ignorance on this project. Our initial promotion plan was primarily focused on building an organic audience through social media and cross-promotion with our makers.
The uncertainty and crisis the pandemic caused for small businesses really affected each of our characters, and we didn’t think it was right to interject messaging about our show into the social feeds of makers who were each having to pivot and communicate these changes to their communities.
Fast-forward to late May, we started rolling out the trailer for the show and promo content on our social channels. The idea was that we would spend June generating organic buzz around the show and build up our subscriber list with short and engaging content like our Visionary Spotlights. Those plans were quickly dashed. Soon after we kicked off our organic promotion, the national conversation around police brutality and race erupted. Pausing promotion was a difficult choice, but ultimately we felt there were much more important conversations that needed to take place. We didn’t want to take up space with our messaging.
“Pausing promotion was a difficult choice, but ultimately we felt there were much more important conversations that needed to take place. We didn’t want to take up space with our messaging.”
In this downtime, we had to really examine our goals for the show and distill down our promotion plan. The revised approach was to continue with some organic social posts to keep up momentum, but rely on targeted paid social video ads to reach a receptive audience and drive traffic to our show. More scalpel and less hammer.
Ryan: We decided to release bi-weekly episodes for Making Legacy as a way to build momentum and interest in the show over a longer period of time. Dripping episodes out bi-weekly fits with our episodic content approach, essentially allowing us to turn one episode into many different social and snackable pieces of content. Once an episode launches, we promote it with pull quotes, short teasers, and fun snippets from the episode that drives traffic to that specific episode. After all the episodes are released, we’ll be able to change messaging and promote people being able to binge-watch the entire series.
Wistia: What’s the one thing you hope a viewer walks away with? What’s the message you’re conveying?
Ryan: With everything being so uncertain and unfamiliar these days, we really want people to find inspiration and hope in this show. We’ve had lots of conversations about how incredible it is that we started filming prior to a global pandemic, and we have been able to keep up with each entrepreneur and capture a bit of what their personal lives and businesses have gone through. It has really helped humanize this time period, and made us feel a little less alone in what we’ve experienced.
Hopefully, people watching our show feel a similar type of camaraderie with each of these entrepreneurs. Taking a leap and throwing yourself into a new challenge is incredibly daunting in normal times, let alone when the future is anything but predictable. We want people to be inspired from this show, and maybe even find encouragement to turn their great ideas into a reality.
We also designed this show to showcase our storytelling ability as a creative production agency. We don’t specifically spell it out in the messaging of the show, but the underlying message we’re hoping to convey to brands is that this show model can (and should) be applied to celebrate their heroes.
We’re super impressed by the experts in brand storytelling over at People of Story, and we can’t wait to get inspired by the first season of Making Legacy. Whether you’re an entrepreneur with your own great idea or a marketer wanting to build deeper connections with your audience, we highly recommend checking out this series!