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Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

Lessons on storytelling from Steve Sabol

Strategic communications is, in effect, storytelling. It’s the business of conveying information and the art of persuasive communication. As a strategic communications professional, each day I am challenged to help a client move the proverbial needle with one of its target audiences – tapping into education, training, experience, insight and creativity to do so effectively. To help keep on top of my game, I am always on the lookout for inspiration and thought-starters.

Steve SabolThis week, we lost Steve Sabol – filmmaker and co-founder of NFL Films. Sabol didn’t just film the game; he helped transform the way we view it and feel about it. He used slow-motion action, close-ups, behind-the-scenes footage, video montages, on-field microphones, orchestral music and iconic narrators to help tell a story – bringing the fierce emotion, competitiveness and drama of the game into view.

Sabol once said, “If someone were to ask me how would I define our job at NFL Films, I’d say it is to bring a new understanding to something that’s already been seen … to give a creative treatment to reality.”

As a strategic communications professional, I find inspiration in Sabol’s words and success, and I think that there are lessons from Sabol and NFL Films that can be applied to the practice of my profession:

• Selected detail – Focus on those details that matter. For Sabol, such details and imagery may have included the cleat marks on the turf, a player’s bloody knuckles or the way the light shone into the stadium. Paint a picture to communicate your message in a manner that will resonate with your audience and leave a lasting impression.

• Creative treatment – Find inspiration outside of the “usual” sources. Sabol applied techniques he learned from studying artists to his portrayal and interpretation of sport. Bring passion and creative elements into your work. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques or non-traditional vehicles to communicate your message in order to achieve the desired effect.

• Connect emotionally – Rather than just deliver information, seek to connect with and touch your audiences’ emotions. Tap into what makes your message important and why your audience should care. Sabol paired the raw imagery of the game with classical music scores and “The Voice of God” (the late John Facenda) to narrate his films. Video and imagery help tell stories and convey emotions when words cannot.

• Perspective matters – NFL Films put cameras and recorders in places other than just the sidelines. This different perspective heightened audiences’ connectedness with the game and its various figures. Consider providing your audience with a different point of view and connecting with them on a different level to engage with them.

• Tell a story – Through NFL Films, professional football was elevated to the nation’s most popular sport, generating leading television ratings and incredible revenue. Sports Illustrated even dubbed NFL Films “the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America.”

Sabol’s work and words encourage us all to be passionate about our work, to take risks, to view things differently and to tell a story. I find inspiration in Sabol’s passion for his subject and his creative vision to approach and interpret that subject in a way that had never been done before.

“I’ve always believed that if you tell me a fact, I’ll learn. Tell me the truth, and I’ll believe, but tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.” – Steve Sabol

Domus is a team of gifted and inspired storytellers. Who’s telling your story?

Amy Whilldin is an Account Director at Domus, Inc., a marketing communications agency based in Philadelphia. For more information, visit For new business inquiries, please contact CEO and founder of Domus, Inc. Betty Tuppeny at or 215-772-2805.

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