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The Power of Business Storytelling

In Focus
NAME:Vern Oakley
COMPANY:Tribe Pictures
Vern Oakley has been making corporate videos for some of the world’s biggest companies for over 35 years. He founded Tribe Pictures in Chatham, New Jersey to help businesses tell their stories and connect with investors, customers and employees. And while the technology has never stopped evolving, the principles that have driven Tribe to become an industry leader remain the same.

Vern Oakley founded Tribe Pictures in 1986 with a very simple belief: every company has a story that’s worth telling. It’s a belief he still holds dear, and one shared by the dozens of major corporations that have benefited from his insight and experience.

During an incredible career, he’s directed movies, documentaries, TV shows and commercials that, between them, have won over 500 industry awards. And he’s every bit as passionate and excited about the power of video to capture and communicate compulsive tales in the business world as he ever has been.

As Tribe celebrated its 35th anniversary, he sat down with The CEO Magazine to reveal the secrets behind his unrivaled track record.

You wanted to be a filmmaker from a young age. How did you come to specialize in corporate videos?

What prompted me to launch Tribe was my belief that corporate videos could be done better. I was freelancing as a director and doing a lot of business storytelling. And while the people I was working with were talented, I still felt there could be a lot more care around how the story was crafted to make the business proposition smarter and more entertaining.

I was directing theater in New York at the time, working with a group of actors and writers. We called ourselves Tribe, so that’s what I named the company.

But I never thought we’d still be going this many years on! I think the secret behind our success is that we’re having fun. I’m very proud that we’ve made 52 weekly payrolls for 35 years.

What makes a good company video?

It’s one that tells the story of a company or brand in a way that affects how people think and feel about it. It needs to be entertaining and purposeful, and really understands the needs of the audience. It also has to be articulate and crisp, by not trying to jam too many things in.

In over three decades, we’ve worked with over 30 companies in the Fortune 500, helping them to launch initial public offerings, grow their employee numbers, intrigue investors about the future and more. We fervently believe that every organization has a fascinating story waiting to be told.

How have all the travel restrictions, lockdowns and uncertainty around COVID-19 affected corporate messaging?

They’re becoming more humanized, more emotional and less formal. Authenticity is the rule of the day, whether you’re talking to employees or investors. We’re also suggesting that leaders come out from behind the desk. They can lead better by being more real, expressing their vulnerability. You can’t lead from fear and insecurity, but you can lead from an honest expression of working your way through it. We helped many of our clients pivot their messaging multiple times as the circumstances of the pandemic changed so they remained relevant and up to date.

What does a corporate video need more than anything?

Authenticity! And we urge people to remember that authenticity has two components. I address this in my book, Leadership in Focus: Bringing Out Your Best on Camera. Authenticity has the personal component, where it’s your body language and your intonation. It’s how you look on camera. The other aspect, of course, is the authentic nature of the actual words you’re saying.

We’re seeing people just not responding at all to ‘corporate speak’. People are now looking for a real message that’s empathetic, that’s forward-looking, that has a strong point of view and is driven by values.

We’ve always been big proponents of being with people in their environments and seeing their surroundings. It helps to create a feeling of a fully dimensional person, when you see the art on their wall, the way they’re dressed and how their office looks.

How can a corporate video cut through when people are bombarded with social media messaging, self-made YouTube clips and cheaply animated business reels?

Humans are attracted to watching video, as 50 per cent of the surface of our brains is dedicated to processing visual information. TikTok, YouTube and Facebook videos are meant to entertain and engage, keeping your eyeballs on your cell phone for as long as possible. That’s not what business videos are for. They’re meant to create a connection, make people feel something about a company, help them on their buyer’s journey or trust the company as a place they might want to work.

Many clients say, ‘We want our business video to go viral and have millions of views,’ but it’s not about the number of views – it’s about the right people watching it. After so many years, we know exactly how to achieve that.

What happens if a business leader isn’t confident in front of a camera?

It could really put a dent in your brand. Leaders need to express themselves authentically on camera, because that’s the way that the majority of people will actually meet them. They’ll either feel connected to them or not connected to them. The ability to convey that authentic, trustworthy persona on camera takes practice.

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