Storyfinding with Credo Nonfiction: Q&A with Partners Jesse & Jen Roesler
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
Credo Nonfiction is an Emmy and James Beard Award-winning content studio that creates influential visual and audio stories for brands, causes and content platforms. Founded in 2016 and now led by partners Jesse and Jen Roesler, the studio collaborates with cause marketing, public relations and communications professionals to craft content that reveals purpose with passion.
Credo's small core staff makes a point of approaching each project with a journalistic mindset, involving a roster of directors to ultimately execute on each individual story. Past clients have included the New York Times, TIME Magazine, Feeing America, Sleep Number, and Nature Valley. The team was recently named a Webby Award Honoree for their work with Morgan Stanley.
Brand Storytelling caught up with Jesse (Principal and Creative Director) and Jen Roesler (Creative Strategist and Writer) to discuss what it means to approach content creation with a journalistic mindset and pursue story first:
Have you two always been filmmakers? What is your background prior to Credo?
Jesse: I came out of journalism school wanting to tell stories, but not necessarily for traditional news media. So I immediately started creating my own short films and did well at a number of film festivals. At that time, I was also working both at the local PBS affiliate and then Thomson Reuters where I met my partner Jen and we’ve been working together ever since. First on the corporate side, then in a marketing and advertising role, and finally launching Credo Nonfiction together after our feature film The Starfish Throwers won the James Beard award in 2016.
Jen: Writing was always at the core of what I did, but coming out of college with a Pre-Law/History/Spanish degree, I first wrote grants and learned the ropes of communications at a nonprofit in North Minneapolis. I then moved to a Communications and PR role at Thomson Reuters, where I met Jesse and we had the freedom to write scripts and produce together. I enjoyed creative copywriting roles at Target and other grant writing roles at United Way, but building our own company is really where we’ve come back to our roots as co-creators together.
What about your journalistic experience sparked the idea to enter into this field?
Jesse: That first corporate role at Thomson Reuters opened our eyes to the tremendous opportunity before us to bring a documentary filmmaking ethos and style to the world of business communications. Content marketing and brand filmmaking was just emerging and we were starting to see this thrilling new space for brands to create stories in a manner very different to what we were seeing in the marketing and advertising of the day - back in late 2000s. So we started doing what we did for our own films, but with a specific mandate that delivered against brand purpose and values. This was when we really found our sweet spot and we’ve been developing and producing for our own slate as well as for the objectives of our brand and non-profit clients ever since.
What would you consider Credo’s values are as a company? Do those values influence what you look for and who you work with?
Jen: We believe with all of our heart and soul that creative nonfiction storytelling has the power to spark immense positive change. In fact, we have a responsibility to do just that.
Jesse: I always refer back to a quote from Rouben Mamoulian, “Art and cinema must do something about improving this one little globe that we have. This is the great purpose of films: to make life more decent, man more dignified, and this earth, the only one we have, more beautiful.” We absolutely bring that ethos to every single project - whether it’s one of ours or on behalf of a client.
In your opinion, what advantage does your combined experience give you when it comes to marrying the business of objective journalism with emotional storytelling?
Jen: Because of our varied backgrounds, we understand the business objectives and how to deliver against a mandate, but because we’ve also had success creating independent films, we intuitively understand how to craft content that people will want to opt into - that they’ll crave to watch. We create work that pulls, whereas traditional ads push.
Jesse: Another significant piece of our experience that helps inform the work we’re doing with brands is our Content That Moves Podcast. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve been able to interview and learn some really transformational best practices from 20 of the brightest minds in this industry. We bring those insights to bare on every new project we take on. BTW I hope your readers have had a chance to check out that podcast, now created in partnership with Brand Storytelling.
In your work, what comes to you first - stories or brands?
Jesse: The story hunting never stops over here and we love that. Our story chests are full but still we keep searching.
Jen: We love playing matchmaker with stories and brands we admire, but we also will go straight into production without waiting for sponsorship if the story compels us. Most often, brands come to us with a newly crafted vision/mission statement or a CSR initiative and ask us to find us a great story in the context of that specific world - so we love that kind of targeted story prospecting as well.
How do you find stories? How do you know what stories are right for what brand and vice versa?
Jesse: This is where the journalism training really shines. Google is great. But Google will only take you so far. It’s the phone calls to Cub Scout leaders, the attending of church fundraising dinners, the scouring of small town print-only newspapers that often offer up the best story diamonds - where you discover the ones no one else has heard of just yet.
What advice would you give brands looking to tell the kind of stories you produce?
Jen: Understand what makes your audience’s hearts beat faster. Celebrate their passions, yet recognize, show, and hold their vulnerabilities gently. Slow the narrative down enough to truly show empathy - both during the shoot and in the final piece. Respect their intelligence and their space. Don’t interrupt their own evolution process and try to tell a story to pull them toward you; instead, show them a shared, core truth to evoke a feeling they already do and will associate with your brand more so going forward. Then let the story and the story-creators do what comes naturally and organically.
Jesse: Oh, and don’t forget to budget appropriately for distribution!
What’s next for Credo nonfiction? Where can people view your work?
Jesse: We have a new Credo Nonfiction presents film that will premiere this fall that we couldn’t be more excited about. Very recently, we’ve been thrilled to be getting back into the field in ways we just couldn’t the past 15 months. Our remote production game is strong, but there’s really no substitute to being out in the field co-creating with your subjects.
Jen: The models for storytelling continue to evolve and we’re so excited for the new ways we are partnering with several new brands on multiple platforms. We’re also having a lot of fun developing a 10-part series for a new national network that will also be launching this fall. People can see what we’ve been up to in the five years since launching over at credononfiction.com.