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Success is Not a Perfect Story Arc

with Liz Armstrong of Story Producer
Dec 07, 2016
Back to Podcasts
Success is Not a Perfect Story Arc | 100 PM
Success is Not a Perfect Story Arc | 100 PM

Suzanne: Liz Armstrong.

Liz: Hi.

Suzanne: Esquire. This is why I want to keep calling you esquire, but you shake your head.

Liz: I do shake ... I don't know where that comes from.

Suzanne: What's the proper way to introduce you?

Liz: What is the proper way?

Suzanne: Just Miss Liz Armstrong?

Liz: Just Liz Armstrong. I've always been one of those people who is like a first and last name person. No one has ever just introduced me as Liz. It's always, "Here's Liz Armstrong," like the Z blends right into the A.

Suzanne: That's the opposite of Cher, basically? I go by two names.

Liz: Right.

Suzanne: All right. I'm really excited to have you on the show. First of all, thank you for being here with us. As you know, at 100PM, we're talking to product managers and you're not a product manager.

Liz: No.

Suzanne: This is anomalous, but the reason that I did invite you to be here and speak with us is because we're seeing increasingly this emergence or reemergence of content. Content strategy as being a really big part of customer acquisition, loyalty, brand building. Really almost to the point where the content, for many companies, is becoming part of the product ecosystem. I guess, what I want to talk about is content as product and while you're not a product manager, you are a content expert.

Liz: Correct.

Suzanne: Maybe tell us a little bit, first and foremost, about your background. How did you come to be a content expert?

Liz: Well, I'm going to take it back to 16 years old. I won tickets to go see a band. It was my favorite band, at the time. They were back stage tickets, like all-access backstage tickets. Anyway, I was there and the band came out and I got to sit with the guitarist. I just lied on the spot and I said, "Oh. I have a zine," which I didn't. I was in a journalism class in high school and I said, "Can I interview you?" He said, "Sure". I pulled out a pad of paper and I just started asking all these crazy questions like, "Did you mow the lawn as a kid?" "What's your favorite color?" I had no clue what I was doing, but I scored a huge interview with a major rock star at the time when I was a teenager. The newspaper that served the whole suburban area saw that and I got a job. I got a job as a columnist.

Suzanne: Really?

Liz: Yeah.

Suzanne: Where did you publish this interview?

Liz: In my high school newspaper.

Suzanne: You did. Your friends were jealous. I'm sure.

Liz: I don't know if I even had any friends. I was really obnoxious. Yeah. I got a weekly column as the "teen music reviewer" for a year, while I was still in high school. From there, I did all kinds of nerdy journalism things. I went to journalism camp. I was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. I started writing for all these zines. I got taken under the wings of a lot of music critics at the time. Big name music critics, at the time. That's really where I learned how to write. I went to college for one year. Went to a journalism school and I dropped out because I didn't want to learn that way. I had an internship after my freshman year of high school in New York for the Village Voice. I was so ill-equipped to be doing that. I really ruined the whole program for everybody.

Suzanne: Why? Did they kill it after you?

Liz: They changed all of the rules after me. I would go in, I stole the ... I was the music editor's assistant. I just stole all of his invitations because I open all of his mail. I stole all of his invitations to parties. I RSVPed, as Liz Armstrong from the Village Voice. I was 19 years old. I didn't wait in any lines. I showed my Village Voice ID instead of my driver's license. I got in everywhere. I caused a lot of trouble. I pissed off a lot of people and I ruined it for everyone, sorry. From there, I quickly got a job at a newspaper in Chicago where I stayed for seven years. That was with Chicago Reader and I worked my way up from typesetting. I was a typesetter and ended up as a, after a few years, as a staff writer with my own column. I just got tired of being there in Chicago.

I knew after spending a year, or I mean, three years running around and covering everybody, knowing everybody's business. You just get tired of it, so I left. I went to somewhere where I didn't know anybody. That was my goal, so I went to Las Vegas where I knew there'd be lots of stories and there were. I was a staff writer at a newspaper there. That was really crazy and dangerous for a young women by herself, but I did get a lot of good stories. I left Vegas. I went to New York because I figured, okay, it's rite of passage for every person who wants to work in media in any kind of meaningful way.

I ended up in New York. After a little bit of struggle there, I ended up as the online editor for VICE. That was right at the time when VICE, you know, it was a magazine and then they had VBS. That's what the TV, all of the television was called at the time. It was the only place you could go online for reliable 24 hours a day, as they call it. 24 hours a day video content. Whoa. That was mind blowing then. It was right when VICE and VBS were merging digitally and the magazine was turning more into, a little bit more into a news site. Moving away from the jokes, and the skater, and the drug, and the music, and the culture.

Suzanne: They moved away from that?

Liz: I mean ...

Suzanne: I'm kidding. They've moved away from it.

Liz: It used to be lot more focused on all that. I inherited a blank site and had to really learn on my feet. It was my first digital job. I did not even ... I barely know how to use the Internet. I don't know how the hell I got that job but I did. I'm so grateful for it because I had to just like learn really fast. I did not know what a CMS was. I did not know ... Oh, my God. How to use a blog, like nothing. I learned all of it doing it and I think I was really good because it gave me a sense of how to intuitively connect stories and digital experience. It was really invaluable and from there, I left and took a job at Ready-Made, RIP. I was their, what was my title? I was a digital director. Oh, yeah. I was a digital director there.

Suzanne: You're giving so much hope to people who want jobs but no experience and you're going, "Is there a way?" You're like, "Yeah. You just walk in. You get it and then, you figure it out once you're there."

Liz: Well, I mean, I've actually always ... I've never had a job that already existed. I have always made my jobs wherever I go because of the life experience that I have and maybe we'll get to that later. How important that is to have real life experience, if you want to be a storyteller or content maker in any kind of way.

Suzanne: You bring up the term content maker. It sounds like the background was skewed journalism, right?

Liz: Definitely.

Suzanne: Notwithstanding the fact that you dropped out of traditional journalism and said, "Fuck that." You were getting stories. You were getting stories in Chicago. You were getting stories in Vegas. When you arrived at VICE, that's when there was the sort of transition into less kind of journalism on the streets and more, how do we create content that's meaningful for our readers?

Liz: Correct, and it was ... I mean, there was still the writing and there was still journalism. I was one of the few people. I mean, maybe ... I don't want to say the only but definitely one of very few who had any kind of formal journalism background. Even though I don't have a formal education in journalism. Being at the newspapers for eight years, eight, nine years, I definitely got beat into me. I mean, whipped into me by my editors what proper journalism and reportage consisted of. No matter what you are writing about or what story you were telling. There were still ethics and methodologies that had to be in place.

Suzanne: How much of that is part of the landscape now? Because I think for so many of us, we're being assaulted all the time with content and this is part of why we're having this conversation. Every brand has content. Content is everywhere. So many different platforms. How much of it is journalism as sort of traditionally defined ... You're laughing.

Liz: I am laughing.

Suzanne: Like the answer is zero.

Liz: I'm scoffing. I am not just laughing.

Suzanne: How much of it ... How much journalism is truly alive and well versus how much of it is just content creation? What's the difference?

Liz: There is so much content creation going on, which is very profile-y. Which is very ... I will take you at your word for what your reality is and you'll explain it to me and I'm going to publish it, it's truth. Or when I say publish, I mean, disseminate in any format. There's a lot of ... I think that that is completely valid. That it's one way of storytelling as long as it's presented as such very profile-y. The only thing with stuff like that is that it's not lasting and it's pretty throwaway. I think that's a big issue that brands especially are understanding with the content and the money that they're pouring into creating content these days. Which is that they want it to last. They don't want it to just be something you click on and it's cute or it's cool or it's funny for a second and then, no one remembers it and no one remembers your brand. That's, yeah. That's how do you make it last.

The way that I think you make it last is by doing the research. Putting in the footwork. Figuring out what hasn't already been told about a subject. Filling out the entire landscape like every single project I have, I literally go to the library. I read. I pull all of the books off the shelf on the subject. Then, I also look at what Ricky is saying about it. I look at what psychology today says about it. I go through JSTOR. I go through site. I go through, yeah. I already said psychology today. I go through medical journals. Everything I can find in scientific journals, to find whatever you can about the subject. I think when you do that, then, you start to inch closer to creating something that will be more holistic, meaningful and last.

Suzanne: Let's talk about this a little bit. We're seeing more and more, and some executions are done well and some are poor. I think we'll talk about that hopefully a little later. You're seeing more and more things like a film and then, Vans is funding it. Which is different from a film and Vans is paying on the backend to have the actors wearing the shoes.

Liz: Very different.

Suzanne: This is part of this new paradigm. We're moving away from product placement. Of course, it still exists. We're moving into this, what seems like strategic alignment of here's a lifestyle, here are influencers or key ideas within a market. We're a product. There's alignment. How do we bring these pieces together? How do you bring those pieces together as a brand? In 50 words or less.

Liz: Well, it's different for different brands. I think in an ideal world, a brand lets the story speak for itself and they choose only stories that they think are in alignment naturally with the ethos of their company. What ends up happening more often is, the brand wants to interfere with the story and make it fit their ethos. When that happens, some of the magic gets a little lost. It can still look great. It can still be interesting. It can look great and it can still be interesting. I don't know. I just ... I don't think that's what ... I think people can sense when something has integrity.

Suzanne: Let's talk just a bit about the workflow. The chicken and the egg of this, right? In journalism, you got all of these sort of writers that they belong to a magazine. They belong to a paper and they're coming to the editor and saying, "I got a line on something. I think this could be interesting." Whatever the vertical, whatever the area of focus. For a brand, who might not be thinking journalistically, how do stories connect with them? Is it people like you who have stories that are saying, "You know, what would make this really interesting is tying it to X company." Or do they go out in search of a story and then if it fits that, how do they find it? I mean, how do you get connected to content with integrity to interesting stories?

Liz: Okay. I think this is going to make some stomachs turn but here you go. What ends happening is, the marketing department will surface some sort of trend, or ideal, or product, or whatever. They'll surface something or a combination of things that they know that they want to create something around. If they have their own internal team, great. They have their team, go chase it. If they work with a content studio, then, they feed that information to a content studio or production studio.

Suzanne: Just to be clear, let's put some specific around this. I'm just sitting around and I'm thinking right now, oh, God. Chris and I can think as a ... Right now, the hottest thing is blah. I'm like, "We need blah. We need to find a way to tell a story about blah. Be connected to blah."

Liz: Yes and also, here's our ideals. Here's what where our tonality. Now, go.

Suzanne: I've got ingredient A. I've got ingredient B. I think there might be a way to put them together. I don't know how. You figure it out.

Liz: Exactly.

Suzanne: Are you the people that brands hire to figure that out?

Liz: Yes.

Suzanne: That's what story producing is?

Liz: Well, that's what story development is, for sure, and I do that as well. Story producing, story development, story direction. They're all ... They mean different things depending on which part of filmmaking or content making you're involved in. I use them a little bit interchangeably when I'm doing branded content work. For sure, when they're just trying to surface out like who are we even talking about? What are these stories were even trying to tell? They'll give me the X and Y access and I give them the matrix.

Suzanne: You just hand out the matrix to whoever?

Liz: I do.

Suzanne: You have so many superpowers, Liz. Let's go back first step. Because we talk about content is hot and of course, for people who have worked in content for long time like yourself, you're thinking, "No. It's always been there," but there are these changes. You had said something to me before about really one of the differences being I think in some of the earlier days of content development, the idea was, let's create all of our own content and our own platform. Let's have all of our content live within our website, within our ecosystem and then, everyone will think it's amazing.

Liz: Right.

Suzanne: Then, I think audiences have rejected that, precisely for that sort of perceived inauthenticity. I think brands have also discovered, it takes a very different kind of strategy to create a content publishing business. It's different from having a newspaper. You have to find a way to get people there. You have to find a way to constantly keep them engaged. With that new insight into less microsites, less trying to own the platform and the content, and more just trying to be seeded on other content sites in a meaningful way.

Liz: Right. Integration.

Suzanne: Just talk about that process, how that's different. How that looks.

Liz: Well, I think that is a huge challenge for brands that want to make a content. Brands are products that want to make content today. Because there is so much competition for eyeballs and attention and you already know that there's an immediate ask when you are trying to get someone to buy into your product, your thing. That's an immediate ask. Then, you're also asking them to then spend their time with your story. I think the way that I've seen brands be successful is when they give. Instead of just constantly asking and taking, they're also offering something bigger than just themselves or their product. Yeah, the whole ... The integration and distribution is a really ...

It's what's plagued everybody who's made content in any format. That's why Amazon has gotten so huge because they are an enormous distribution platform. That's something that I started thinking about as a storyteller period. Is okay, how well the stories that I want to tell get to the most amount of people? What is really going to work this distribution as we've seen like media start to shutdown and magazines, as we used to know them, shut down. Websites change and the way we consume information has changed. What's the way to really get in there? I started thinking of product as distribution model. Because it ends up in people's homes and in their hands and on their bodies immediately.

Yeah, I started taking a more ... I mean, I used to be extremely stringent about my journalistic ethics and not "selling out" and not blending advertising with journalism. Because that is really dangerous. I think once I started realizing I could keep my ethics no matter what, and then just focus my work through different channels, it became a lot more interesting. I definitely did not change any games for anybody. I'm not going to say anything like that but I think it's refreshing when I do connect with the brands that I connect with. They're like, "Oh, that's exciting." This is an entirely different way to think about what we can do with our product and what we could do with our storytelling.

Suzanne: Let's talk about when this kind of approach makes sense. Where in the lifecycle of a product business in your opinion, should I be thinking about content. Is this an opportunity that really is great for ... You've worked with a lot of big labels. Is this an opportunity that makes a lot of sense when you've got hundreds of thousands of dollars. Maybe millions of dollars to produce really high quality one off, short miniseries. Or is there an opportunity to do it right from the ground up as part of an extension of your company culture and what you're trying to communicate with your product offering?

Liz: That's a good question. I think no matter what when you are starting up, you need to know your story. You need to know what you stand for and where you're coming from. Everything that you put out needs to reflect that. Every single post through whatever social media you're using and that's probably the baseline for the minimum that you're going to be doing when you're first starting out, is the free distribution channels. Of course, this will become more sophisticated as you grow. To start there and start with your story there, absolutely 100%. I think if I were to dream big, is that part of the question?

Suzanne: Dream big.

Liz: Dreaming big, you know, I've seen a couple of brands do this. I was hired recently to do this as well.

Suzanne: So secretive. Everybody can just Google Liz Armstrong and probably piece this together, but go on, Liz. Tell us.

Liz: It's a major athletics brand. I work with a lot of major women's athletics brands. To create feature films or at least longer pieces, 20, 30 minutes or more that are documentary in nature and are not to pushing product. Barely highlight it, if at all. Like I said earlier, let the story speak for themselves. You can have your XY. I need this and this and then, let the story be what it is.

I think about how incredible it was that Werner Herzog was hired to do Connected World by an Internet security company. Nowhere did you see that company's name but you have this incredible documentarian and filmmaker, create this film and it was gangbusters at the festivals. I think that's an incredible new model for funding an important, an interesting film, is to have a brand just put their money in but stay out of ... Kind of try to stay out of the process as much as possible. It doesn't need to be about your product directly. Because the company ethos will be found in the universe of the story that you're choosing to attach yourself to. I really think that's more of the future of what we're looking out because the consumers are, and the audiences are becoming incredibly and increasingly more savvy and don't want any more visual or commercial pollution in their lives. The more you can back out and give a story and make it great, the more they're going to love your brand and you have better ... loyalty.

Suzanne: Right. I guess, that does raise the question. The hypothesis in what you're saying is, if you as a brand align yourself with interesting, empowering, insert adjective here type of stories. You let the stories be their thing, that just by virtue of aligning with them, what you're tacitly communicating to the world is, this story, this sentiment is our story and it's our sentiment.

Liz: Exactly. That was very brilliantly ...

Suzanne: Very interview over, yeah. On a high note ...

Liz: Great. High five. High five.

Suzanne: I guess the question though is, how much of it is isn't the brand that needs to lead this discovery. I mean, if I'm sitting here and I'm listening in and I'm thinking, "This is an opportunity." Light bulbs are going off. How do I, as a product company, start to think about this kind of approach? I guess, that's the first question unit. How do I start to think about this approach? Is this a long game strategy? Because the reason a lot of brands just like to pay for ads is because, I want people to see that it's me and there's this belief that the short-term, the conversion will pay off. Sometimes it’s hard to sell “Just give us all of this money. We're going to make the story. Trust us. People are going to become loyal to you because of it.”

Liz: Yeah, and it's a very rare company that does actually sign off on all of you know, that entire budget. Like I said, I've been asked to create these things. We'll see yet if they get made. I think you have to play a short game and a long game. You play your short game through your advertising and your social media and you play your long game through your storytelling. As I keep saying, that's where you make the things that are more meaningful, that connect. That dig into the gut, or the brain, or the heart, or all three, and you make your mark. People don't forget that stuff.

Suzanne: What does it really take to build a content team? Let's say, I'm bought in. Liz Armstrong, this, what you're talking about, this is exciting and I do want to be part of ... Because what it ... I'm going to digress here for just a moment. I think what it reminds me of is like, one of the reasons that marketing departments love hiring advertising agencies is it, it sort of surfaces these nostalgic high school feelings of like, "I just want to hang out with the cool kids."

Liz: Advertising people are the cool kids?

Suzanne: Well, there may be a world of ...

Liz: Sorry. I love you all. Please hire me.

Suzanne: The point is, well no. I just mean, if you look at the advertising industry, it's historically, I know it's changing and it's headed toward more change. It was always like, you could go and work at the brand and it's corporate and it's stuffy. Or you could go and work at the agency and we have like Nerf guns and yellow walls and cool things going on. I guess, that's now what tech companies have just become. I think part of a ... Certainly, I've seen it in my career, a lot of the times, agencies got selected because the brand just wanted to feel cooler by proxy.

This feels a little bit reminiscent of that but maybe in a more altruistic way which is to say, I really want to fund the arts or I really want to fund a certain type of storytelling. Or I really, we just want to stand next to people that I think are doing amazing things. That is also an opportunity as a product company to say, "Look. Even if the thing that you're doing isn't directly that, this is a way that you can participate in that kind of giving back authentically. Like partnering with interesting storytellers and interesting story subjects.

Liz: It takes a lot of bandwidth to have a content team full-time on-site. If they're not full-time on-site, then, there's no guarantee that they're going to be available to do what you need to do, when you need to do them. It's kind of a Catch-22 I think for a brand that is heavily invested in content. I've seen some brands that are ... I mean, huge international brands that have many different content firms or production companies that they work with and have one doing social media. One doing their commercial. Some doing their print. Some doing film. They just farm it out to different teams then, I have seen a company. Another large North American company that does have an on-site full-time content team. It's hard because they have to wear a lot of hats.

You don't get the person who just gets to dive in and go to the library. Those people are expected to go to work every day and they are expected to be producers and storytellers. They're handling budget and they're handling creative at the same time. It tends to get everybody muddled at times. I think that in order to get a pure piece of content like that's ... When you're going bigger, you do want to go outside. Even the company that I'm mentioning, the North American Company. That's large and their films are great. Their work is really great for the product. Then, they also do stuff that's more meaningful. They still hire me to work on bigger, like bigger thinking bigger projects.

Suzanne: How important is it though in that model where you've got ... You know, and I get this. One of the things about The Development Factory for us as an outside technology firms. The value that we can create for clients is, we have multiple developers across a number of different technologies and skill set. If it's WordPress, yeah, we can do that. If it's Drupal, yeah, we can do that. If it's Node.js and it's not an out-of-the-box platform, yeah, we can do that. That's always been part of the benefit is, if you hire one or two or three developers in-house, they're going to become proficient in a very limited stream and that's it. It seems like that's the parallel. The contrast is, if you're hiring out all of these different firms, at what point does it matter, doesn't matter at all to be consistent with the storytelling. Because it seems to me like what can happen is, well, there's a Liz Armstrong over here that thinks this is a great story. There's a Liz Armstrong over here and now, you're just ... Your brand voice in all over the place.

Liz: Correct. That is the benefit of having an in-house content team. Because they understand your brand and they stay within those guidelines. Again, you could see the pros and cons of either side because you'll get something really fresh. You have the opportunity to get something really fresh when you go outside. When you stay inside, sometimes, no matter how creative they might be, they might do some self-defeating before an idea even gets off the ground or gets presented. Because we're like, "Oh, I already know. That doesn't fit within our prescribed realm of what we accept and what we're trying to put forth for ourselves. I'm not even going to bring it up." Whereas someone like me, I don't even get ... Oftentimes, I don't even get the briefs. I don't even get the marketing info. It comes later which can get a little ...

Suzanne: They just want you to intuit who they are and what's right for them?

Liz: Yeah. They'll give me like a little bit. Maybe they'll give me one report or something but they don't give me the whole lowdown on all the specs of who and what the brand is.

Suzanne: What is the difference between something well done and something not? You've talked a lot already about the opportunity to be part of a project that's interesting. The opportunity to create brand equity or foster loyalty through intelligent passive storytelling. Or passive sponsoring and storytelling. What is the opposite of that? When is it poor? What does that look like to you?

Liz: Do you mean like what does the end result look like? Or what is the process?

Suzanne: Yeah. Just like the difference between somebody ... I mean, maybe you can just illustrate with example. Are there any examples that you can share with us? Whether projects you've worked on or just projects you've seen. That you have thought that was a good partnership. That made a lot of sense. That was meaningful. You describe the Herzog project. Versus one where you thought, "Oh, they miss the mark on this big time."

Liz: Well, I think there is like one big question I ask as I'm watching something or reading something, and that is, do I care? Do I even give a shit about this? That's the way you know if you succeeded or failed. Does your audience care? If they do, great. You did a great job. If they don't, then, it was a mass. I think that the way that you make people care is by taking risks and I know like risk-taking is such a freakin', such a buzzy concept. Disruption and risk-taking but I mean really actually like gut-wrenching, risk-taking and doing things that feel very counter-intuitive. That person who you've hired is like, no seriously. Like this is going ... This is the hook. This is it and you just go for it. I mean, it's hardcore I think. I think it's hardcore to do that. When you don't, and people are just left looking being like, "Okay. I saw that. Or I don't even get through it because it's just some other fucking dumb ass with a paint palette and a beard talking about whatever, being an artist." I don't care. Who cares?

Suzanne: I'm going to put you on the spot here. Because one of the things we talk a lot about in lean methodology is about risk. Specifically, what we talk about is validated learning. Which is, you don't just drive forward to the end result. Spend all the money and then, hold it works out. No, but why this is interesting is, is there a way ... It's not about not trying things. Validated learning isn't about not trying things. It's just about mitigating risk by only ... By testing out the riskiest parts of the model. I guess, I'm curious. Is there a world where you could be risky? Because I know what you mean, it's like, the so many great ideas just die on the cutting room floor because too many people are like, "Oh, we can't say that. We can't do that." It gets watered down into nothing. You end up with this kind of risk-averse landscape. Is there a way that you can go after great content and also approach it in micro bits, as a way of testing the waters? Or do you have to just go all in? I mean, maybe you can.

Liz: I think you start to know like ... The way you test it is through your social media and you know what your audience response to and what the nuance of the humor is, if there's humor.

Suzanne: It sounds like what you're saying is, and this goes back to the starting with the baseline. You're tweeting and you're offering a joke. Maybe you're dropping in a meme. You're playing with micro formats that express tone, that express culturally relevant ideas. Whatever you think your audience might take you. Then, if they take to that, that could become the kernel of, "Hey, our audience seems really, really interested in hip-hop."

Liz: Right. That's the tonality. You already know what your point of view is and what your story is, as a brand. It starts to get granular, like how you approach that and what kind of tone you take about it. Are you more reverent towards yourself and towards others? Or do you not take it seriously? I mean, that's the stuff that you, how earnest are you versus how maybe a little flippant or less more carefree are you. That's the stuff, yeah. You start to test it and then, once you have a good idea, just go for it.

Suzanne: Let's talk about format. Because ...When 100PM started, when it was just a seedling of an idea, I thought it would be great to talk to a bunch of people, transcribe the interviews and make them available in text. Because for me personally, I only want to ingest content written form. Then, I realize, "Oh, maybe it would be good to share the audio." Then, it was, "No. It should be a podcast." Then, if you want to offer the transcript, you can. Which by the way, listeners we do offer the transcript on the website.

Liz: Wow. What a treat.

Suzanne: I know. Full long form. The reversal that happened was, recognizing that the majority of audiences are moving away from wanting written word. Packaging this as a podcast was a way of speaking to that. Is written word dead? Is video, everything, is audio already a thing of the past? What do you think are the formats right now that are the most compelling?

Liz: Well, I don't think the written word is dead. I think now more than ever, we need to be putting out writing that is important, and that actually says something, and that is well informed. We desperately need that as a public. Yeah. I mean, that's supposed to be the media's job. Not doing so great at that. Obviously, video people like to watch. I like to watch.

Suzanne: Do it doucement, do it slowly. We like to watch.

Liz: (laughing) I don't know. I think, we'll always be tactile. We'll always be visual, we'll always be audio, oral, we'll always be olfactory. Like all of it. It's not going to go away. It's just a matter of how you shift and where you put it. People are people read ... I don't even know this, but people reach it on Pinterest. It's just a matter of where you shift the attention. I think that is the biggest ... That's another really, really crucial thing is understanding how your audience is communicating. Now, it's something that media really missed when the Internet was becoming the Internet. Everyone was like, "No one's going to read on the Internet."

They were like very slow to put their ... Newspapers and media were very slow to put their work online and they're very slow to organize it in a way that made any sense. They also didn't charge for it, right from the beginning. They gave the ... They automatically made everybody assume that everything is supposed to be free. Everything that you consume informationally is supposed to be free. There are these crucial mistakes when really, it was just that, the way that people communicate has and always will be changing. You've got to stay on top of what people are doing and how they're doing it. You're going to stay successful with the storytelling the content that you make.

Suzanne: Ok. I haven't forgotten. You said at the beginning, you said, life experience matters. I think this is relevant, right?

Liz: Yes.

Suzanne: We talk about here on the show, get the job, learn the job, love the job. The question is, first and foremost, what advice can you offer to somebody listening in who wants to come up in the world of story? Whether through a specific kind of story, producing storytelling, creative path as you have and as you live. Or just somebody who is on the marketing side of a business but wants to really, really play in this space of building out content as product. What advice can you give to somebody who wants to get going?

Liz: First, you have to live your life for real.

Suzanne: Now, you're jamming it in. You're doing it. You're going to tell us.

Liz: No. I'm not jamming nothing. No. For real though, you have to live your life. You have got to have a life. You have got to have experience and a point of view that's your own. Otherwise, it just ... I can't tell you. I worked in the writers room on a new TV series. It comes out December 7th and everybody had these incredible stories. That is what gets fed into that experience. Gets fed into the creation of characters, the creation of the narration, the creation of the conflict and the resolutions. You don't get anything special unless you've lived. On top of that, you also have to be a very good observer and recorder. You've got to be able to translate the experience into a packaged, like a book ended digestible piece. Whether you practice telling it to your friends. Or I really suggest keeping a journal and just writing. Just writing for writing sake. It really helps you organize your thoughts and it helps you understand how to elevate and eliminate details.

Suzanne: Are there ... Your past has been very interesting to say the least. I have the benefit of having heard some of the stories off the record. What's been the hardest thing for you coming up in the space, learning in the space? This world of storytelling. Any kind of hard lessons where you really realize, "Oh, this is difficult." Or this is going to be a challenge.

Liz: Well, yeah. There's been a lot of difficulties. One was realizing that it's not a perfect arch where you just, your success just keeps you rising. There's times when nothing's going on and you can't lose your feelings of relevance, as a result of these dips or drops. I think also the big challenge is, as I said, live your life, live big, blah, whatever. It's some Katy Perry song. You have to also know that it's not just about you and your creative genius. Because that makes you a very difficult person to work with and I've learned that the hard way.

Suzanne: From being difficult?

Liz: From being difficult, yeah, for sure. I have, yeah. Not done in the past some jobs. I just haven't had the best relationships and you've got to have great relationships in order to continue, to keep getting work. Especially like this. People need to want to work with you. I've learned the hard way. When you go follow your passions and go live a big, crazy life. It's hard not to be ... Have an edge that's sharp sometimes. You've got to figure out how to be accessible. How to make all of that accessible.

Suzanne: This is a little bit off book but now, I'll jam something in. What about specifically as being female?

Liz: I mean, yeah. I've worked in some really macho environments and very male-dominated environments. It makes ... In those situations, I have had to adopt. More like swag and I was seen as difficult when I really wasn't. I was trying to have like integrity. I was seen as difficult for wanting to have my journalistic integrity and for wanting to be in an environment where I wasn't being insulted all the time.

That was just part of the bro culture. It's to "take a joke" but I think ... Here's the interesting thing is that, I have made part of my platform. I've made feminism part of my platform and my femaleness, part of my personal platform. People hire me specifically for that. If they don't want it, then, I'm not available. Right off the bat when they start talking about stuff, I'll just shape the conversation in such a way that I'll know right away, whether or not I'm a good fit. I have no problem saying no and I don't take it personally if they decide to go with somebody else.

Suzanne: My own experience of this has just been that, the clearer you get about what is or isn't inside of your personal roadmap, the easier it is just to say, "Mismatch. No, thanks." Move on. Early in my career with projects, with opportunities, being entrepreneurial wanting to touch everything. The instinct is, maybe I can do that. Maybe I can do that. Sometimes, you dive in more readily or you're compromising but having that really clear center, it's like, "Oh, this doesn't map. It's not a good fit."

Liz: Totally. It was such a revelation to be like, "Oh, I have my platform as feminism and integrity." Wow, easy. Also, it's quite unique in Los Angeles, you know?

Suzanne: Yeah.

Liz: To just be so clear about that in a town where everyone is hungry for anything. It's given me a sense of confidence and yeah, that center that you're talking about.

Suzanne: Hopefully, feminism and integrity will be something that more and more people are lined up to get behind.

Liz: Hey, there's already a line!

Suzanne: What's your favorite thing? Despite all of the challenges, despite the dips as you describe them. You're still doing this. It's been a lot of years.

Liz: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It has been a lot of years.

Suzanne: I don't want to date you.

Liz: Don't do it.

Suzanne: You must love it. What do you love about this job? What's so great about content?

Liz: Okay. I'm going to get a little spiritual.

Suzanne: Do it.

Liz: Okay. One of my biggest goals is to open minds to possibility, opportunity, positivity, light. We continue to expand our diversity and our culture and continue to think bigger. Does a single commercial or a single video piece to that. No, no, it doesn't really, but to make that my ... That's my mission, is to continue to expand. I have seen ... Once I started thinking about, okay, what's the biggest platform?

Oh, it's advertising. Oh, it's content. Oh, it's product to get messages out to the masses. Then, I realized that I had a huge opportunity and responsibility with the kinds of information that I was putting out there. It also made me feel really good about the work I'm doing. It's almost like a calling. One, I don't know how to do really much of anything else. Two, it has so much potential to do spell casting, quite honestly and to even just open up a point of view and open up the world just a little bit more.

Suzanne: It's your way of making it a better place.

Liz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suzanne: I love that. You read all the time, you're at the library all the time. Are there any resources out there? Be they books, be they podcast, blogs, that you think are either specifically in the world of learning about content and storytelling essential? Or just for opening up a heart and expanding the worldview. Just things that you think would be great to check out. Who do you read?

Liz: I read everything though. I really do. I read anything and everything. I've never been a favorite-most-best kind of person. I'm like a, give-me-everything-all-the-time person. It's like, I guess, I think the key is diversity. Whatever it is, just don't do that all the time and meditate.

Suzanne: Fair enough. You would actually advocate for the anti-reading list which is just like, don't get too caught up on one pundit, one voice.

Liz: You know what? I think for sure, though. You've got to read some science fiction.

Suzanne: Science fiction?

Liz: Yeah, for sure. Because that is like ultimate imagination and has a complete set, when it's good, it has complete set of logic. All of its logistics are in place and you're captivated. To be able to think ... If you think about your own world, your own product, the way that a science fiction writer treats their story. You're going to be pretty golden.

Suzanne: Any favorite science fiction?

Liz: Octavia Butler's pretty rad.

Suzanne: Okay. All right, cool. You're putting me on the spot because people who know me well know that I consistently reject science fiction period pieces. Basically, to making those stories, I want all of my stories to be like two people sitting at a coffee table talking to each other about regular stuff for 90 minutes.

Liz: You want a story about us right now?

Suzanne: Yeah. If there was a camera and then, we could just watch this later.

Liz: Oh, my God.

Suzanne: I would be captivated. My business partner is a big Star Trek fan. He keeps a book of Star Trek quotes in the desk. Things that every business circumstance, life circumstance can be linked back to an episode of Star Trek. I'm like, "Sorry, I fell asleep when you said Star Trek. What was that?" Okay, Octavia Butler. Fine. What about side of the mug quote? Something that when you move on as a celestial being to the next lifetime, those of us who are still here on the earth can remember Liz Armstrong and her words. Anything?

Liz: Rip it open.

Suzanne: What does that mean?

Liz: Just plunge and get to the heart of it. Tear it open and get in there.

Suzanne: I can't think of a better way to end. Thank you Liz Armstrong so much for being on the show. Really appreciate your perspective. How do we reach you, by the way? Do you have a website, or Twitter? Something that all the people who want a feminist point of view for their brand storytelling, where they can go to find you?

Liz: My website is

Suzanne: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Liz: Thank you.

Suzanne: We'll throw that in the show notes. Thank you everybody.

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Story Producer

More than a decade of formal journalism experience at newspapers and magazines informs Liz Armstrong’s storytelling for page and screen. A writer, producer, and story consultant in Los Angeles, she’s worked with VICE, Hulu, Rockefeller Foundation, Nike, Jaguar, Lululemon, and many more. Her observations on aesthetics and identity are part of a university curriculum on pop culture writing, and in her spare time she studies tarot and plays the sax.
About Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a sprawling Southern California city and the center of the nation’s film and television industry. Near its iconic Hollywood sign, studios such as Paramount Pictures, Universal and Warner Brothers offer behind-the-scenes tours. On Hollywood Boulevard, TCL Chinese Theatre displays celebrities’ hand- and footprints, the Walk of Fame honors thousands of luminaries and vendors sell maps to stars’ homes.