What the art of storytelling can learn from a whale called ‘Big Blue.’

A few months ago we made a beautiful short film telling the inspirational story of a big wave surfer from Maui. We spent months scouting the island for perfect locations, practicing with drones and underwater cameras and developing the narrative, storyboard, script and soundtrack. All this with a view to making not just a film but a ‘social content pack’ of main edits, making-ofs, YouTube trailers, Instagram teasers, Twitter posters, Facebook gifs and media editorial. The success of this ‘film’ would be defined by its social engagement, which these days means (infuriatingly un-ambitiously) how many people watched more than half of it on YouTube!

The production team decamped to Hawaii for the shoot with storyboard in one hand and camera in the other. On day one we shot out in the ocean, grabbing footage of our surf star paddling his board, silhouetted against the setting sun. Nice work if you can get it. And then, out of the blue, quite literally, a humpback whale rose majestically out of the water, ten feet from our man. She gave him the beady eye, shot a gentle ‘hello’ from her blowhole, rolled to the right…and went back down from whence she came.

Blimey. A massive whale. A real one.

It took us a while to take in what had happened. Our new surfer friend hadn’t experienced anything quite like it before – you can see his reaction on film. Our Director was frantically checking to see what we’d caught (it was good). Our client’s excitement blew their ‘this wasn’t on the storyboard’ concerns out of the water. ‘Big Blue’ – as she became known – had thrown us a bit of a curve ball.

Over the coming weeks, across the rest of the shoot and throughout the editing process, Big Blue had quite an effect on things. Fundamentally, we now had a ‘killer shot’ to play with that we hadn’t planned for! How should we use it? Old-fashioned storytelling suggests you might save it for a climactic moment. Today’s YouTube metrics tell us to stick the money shot up front and secure the eyeballs early on. But, more importantly than all this, Big Blue reminded us of three fundamentals of the art of storytelling:

1. Create stories that have room to breathe. Any story that only works if every shot is captured as sketched on the storyboard and every line of script is delivered word-perfect will never have the emotional depth of a story that can go it’s own way. Yes, we need the brand story to sit strong at the core. The trick is to keep the narrative big enough to allow some freedom.

2. Be creatively ambitious, not a slave to media metrics.
Story first, channel second. A great story, well told to a receptive audience will overpower all the cynical media metrics you can throw at it. We didn’t use Big Blue’s surprise appearance for our opening shot. We drew the viewer in with a subtle underwater sequence…then hit ‘em hard with the whale! From then on, you know you’re in for a ride.

3. Always be open-minded about where a story could go on set. True creativity doesn’t like rules. Yes, you need a core narrative to stay true to – and in the world of marketing this is quite rightly what the brand wants to get across. But, beware the storyboard written in stone. Keep your narrative tight enough to say what you want to say, but loose enough to allow different ways to say it.

Channel proliferation, cynical media metrics and ‘best practice’ techniques are leading the art of storytelling down a commoditised and formulaic path.

When Big Blue said hello that day, she didn’t just help us make a great film. She reminded us that we should always be ambitious and stay open to that little bit of magic that could come along at any moment. When hopefully the cameras will be rolling…

A Year To Remember: Synergy’s 2015

It’s been another year to remember for Synergy and our clients. So, with 2015 heading for the history books, in time-honoured fashion we’ve taken a little time to record and reflect some of our highlights – and there have been so many that we couldn’t quite whittle it down to ten, so eleven it is. We hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it!

1. Winning Sport Industry Agency of the Year

Where else to begin but Synergy winning Agency Of The Year for the second time at the BT Sport Industry Awards back in April. Acknowledged as the biggest and most prestigious award in UK sports marketing and sponsorship, the Sport Industry judges reserved particular praise for Synergy’s creativity and vibrant culture – the latter being clearly on display in the celebrations which lasted through the night and into the next day!


2. Front and Centre at Rugby World Cup 2015

We were proud to play our part in the biggest and best Rugby World Cup yet, working with four of the RWC tournament sponsors – Canterbury, Coca-Cola, Emirates and MasterCard – as well as ITV RWC broadcast sponsor SSE and England Rugby partner BMW. Roll on Japan 2019!


3. Helping SSE take the lead on women’s football

One of our proudest moments in 2015 was to support SSE in a landmark agreement to become the first ever major sponsor of the Women’s FA Cup and commit to grass-roots funding that will make a real difference to girls’ football. The visionary nature of the sponsorship and the success of our SSE #GirlsTakeover campaign has set the benchmark and hopefully paved the way for many more brands to get behind women’s sport.

4. Celebrating Capital One’s Little Legends

This year we re-imagined a showpiece Wembley football final for Capital One. To climax the 2014/15 Capital One Cup campaign, we used the final to showcase and celebrate football’s ‘Little Legends’, handing over 45 key roles at the final to kids between the ages of 6-14, including hanging up the kit, carrying flags, delivering the match ball, singing the national anthem, performing the half-time entertainment and delivering a match report for a national newspaper!

5. Taking SynergyLive To The Next Level

Back in 2013 we were the world’s first sports marketing agency to launch a real-time social media service, SynergyLive. This year we took it to a new level. Two examples. We helped rugby fans to #seebeyond with Accenture, producing fast-turnaround data-visualisations designed for sharing, such as this.

And for BT, we re-imagined wheelchair rugby for the connected era with a cutting-edge production of the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge at the iconic Copper Box, integrating wow-factor digital such as The Smashmeter into the viewer experience.

6. Filming Another Royal Salute Story of Power and Grace

Following the overwhelming success of our first Royal Salute film, which generated millions of views worldwide, we teamed up again with the brand this year for another iconic film, The Rider, featuring Nakoa Decoite, the big wave surfer and polo pro. Shot on location in Maui, the film tells the incredible story of one of the world’s most uniquely talented and intriguing personalities. Enjoy…

7. Making The MARTINI Terrazza The Talk Of The Town

We’ve proud to have once again helped bring MARTINI’s legendary style to F1, taking the now-legendary MARTINI Terrazas to six cities from Barcelona to Sao Paulo. The Terrazzas treated almost 50,000 beautiful people to each city’s very best music, art, fashion and food, making MARTINI F1′s coolest and most desired brand.

8. Keeping Sport On The Election Agenda

They say sport and politics shouldn’t mix, but we took a different view back in May during the UK General Election, spotlighting the surprising (or unsurprising, depending on your point of view) lack of sports strategy in the major parties’ manifestos. The result was one of our most-read blog posts of the year.

9. Discovering Different With Nikon

2015 saw Synergy work with Nikon for the first time, creating the #DiscoverDifferent campaign – unforgettable photographic experiences curated by Nikon experts, revealing the hidden delights of some of England’s most iconic cities.


10. Taking A Shirt Launch To New Heights

Another rugby highlight from 2015, and our biggest, most innovative and effective shirt launch ever. Our ‘Launched By The Loyal’ campaign for Canterbury enabled thousands of superfans to launch the England Rugby World Cup shirt simultaneously from their social media feeds, led by three who sky-dived a giant replica from 12,500 feet over Stonehenge with the Red Devils. The results: huge media coverage and record shirt sales.

11. And Finally…Opening Synergy Stateside

Our final highlight of another amazing year is of course the launch of Synergy in the US, which saw us welcome back Dom Curran as US CEO (once a Synergist, always a Synergist) and Ryder Cup Worldwide Partner Standard Life Investments as a founding client. Synergy US is go!