Interview by Christine Perkett
David Burn is a copywriter, content strategist and brand builder focused on helping companies reveal their deep story and truly connect with an audience. David worked in the conservation movement in Washington, DC, and San Francisco before moving to Portland in 1994 and discovering the copywriter within. Since that mid-90s pivot, David has worked on some of America’s best brands for agencies specializing in high tech B2B, retail/sales promotions, general market advertising, event marketing, digital and content marketing. Today, David advances the ball for his clients at Bonehook, the brand communications studio he formed in April 2009.
We caught up with David for our Masters in Marketing series:
Please tell us a little about Bonehook and what you offer.
Bonehook is a guide service and bait shop for brands. Our core specialty is finding, shaping, and sharing a company’s best brand stories. Sometimes clients do not realize how rich their own stories are, or which of their stories will best resonate with the desired audience. We apply a synthesis of traditional advertising strategy and creative development to the problem, and we add journalism principles and classic narrative storytelling techniques to the mix. Great stories, including great brand stories, rise, and fall with dramatic action. When you create an editorial calendar, the brand’s narrative arc is stretched not over 30 seconds on TV, or two hours in the cinema even. Active content and social media marketers are weaving brand narratives over a 365-day stretch on the web. We help them do that.
You have worked with amazing brands over the years. Which has been your favorite thus far and why?
That’s like asking me to name my favorite child. Even if I have one, I’m not supposed to say. What I can say is it is the most fun to work with a company that courts a rabid following. Sports brands and beer brands do this. It’s more fun when the fan base is present and engaged because it is no fun pitching into a vacuum. When you can interact with the audience and see people responding positively to the work, you’ve got something powerful. It’s exciting and I believe an active and interested audience also gives us more creative options.
You are passionate about reading. What are you reading now? What is your favorite book?
I used to read the business books, but I grew tired of all the well-meaning but self-serving advice. Plus, I was an English major in college, with a minor in American history. I love 20th-century American literature, especially the great satirist Kurt Vonnegut. I just finished reading an amazing new historical novel, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The book totally captured my attention. I care about the characters and couldn’t stop reading. It also reminded me of the depth of suffering that WWII wrought, and how fortunate we are today to be mostly free from oppressive, authoritarian rule.
Where does your creativity come from?
When I was growing up, my mom (who worked in marketing, by the way) used to say to me, “Go outside and play!” She also said, “Use your imagination!” Once you get the hang of it, creative thinking and doing becomes a compulsion. Artists and writers are called to create. They can’t help themselves., in other words. For me, once you realize that you are called and that you have a degree of talent to work with, you also begin to understand the responsibility that comes with it.
If you could write about your career, what would the title be?
Far Away From Madison Avenue: An Outsider’s Guide To Brand Building in the 21st Century
What technologies do you employ at your organization that makes things run more efficiently?
Software as a Service (SaaS) definitely plays a part in our staying organized and tapped into what we need to know to grow. I’m also a big fan of making lists and checking things off said lists. To do this across my various machines, I use Teuxdeux. I also use Dropbox for storage and file transfer. To help identify content and influencers by industry, I use LittleBird. I’ve been struggling to land on a CRM that I can fully commit to, and I’m also still searching for time management and automated billing solution, at present.
How do you measure success for a client campaign?
There’s that word again: Measurement. And its unspoken partner acronym: ROI. Measurement is not my sweet spot, although I recognize it’s importance. We cover the basics, like SEO-optimized content, Google Analytics, follower counts, and engagement levels. If a client needs more granular data like real-time data on conversions, we bring in an expert. Which is the Bonehook model. I provide account service, creative direction, copy, and brand planning. For design, art direction, web development, photography, and videography, I turn to colleagues who specialize in these fields.
What is next for you in 2015?
I’m optimistic about what Bonehook can accomplish for our clients this year. Thanks to a new partnership with Funnelbox in Oregon City, there’s a lot of video and TV in the works, which makes me happy. As a specialist in content marketing, it’s imperative that our video chops (and reel) improve each year. It’s definitely happening in 2015, and I’m excited about where it all leads.