Unearthing Powerful Stories To Success With Donna Loughlin
Everyone has a story to tell. Often, the best ones inspire. And our guest in this episode has a story that is nothing short of that. Donna Loughlin, President & Founder of LMGPR, is known for her work with leaders, futurists, and innovators. But there's more to learn from her than what we see in her bio. In this conversation, Donna goes way back to when she was eight and tells us her story of early entrepreneurship—selling her stories, working in her father's publishing company, traveling across the continents, working with different people and diverse cultures, and building a business focused on helping emerging companies take their businesses to the next level. So sit back, tune in, and get insights on how you can take your weaknesses and turn them into your strength, so you can start living your story as a market leader today!
Listen to the podcast here
Unearthing Powerful Stories To Success With Donna Loughlin
It is my honor to introduce you to my guest Donna Loughlin. She is the Founder of LMGPR and she'll explain what that stands for in a moment. She's best known for her work with futurists and innovators. She has launched more than 500 companies, taking them from stealth to market leaders since forming her agency in 2002. She's also the host of Before IT Happened, a leading narrative podcast featuring visionaries and the moments, events, and realizations that inspired them to change our lives for the better. She excels in the realm of storytelling and uses these skills to propel new companies into the mainstream. She lives in Silicon Valley but truly operates globally alongside two Wire Fox Terriers and her creative team. I am so honored to welcome you to the show, Donna.
Thank you so much for having me.
It's going to be so much fun to talk to another storyteller and someone who has worked with visionaries around the world. The fire is started and we are ready to get going. I’m thrilled.
I have my bit of the Blarney stone right here at my desk. This should be fun.
As we do on the show, we often share people's stories through flashpoints. These are points in your journey that have ignited your gifts into the world. What I want to do is give you the space to open up and start wherever you'd like to see where were the points that created the things that you are doing now. Where did they start? People don't show up automatically doing amazing things of the world. They evolve to that.
Curate over time. Overnight successes have a journey. I feel like I continuously evolve, refine, adapt, and learn from so many people. My storytelling and career ultimately started when I was eight years old, with pen and pad running behind my uncle and father. My father owned a publishing printing company. For those who only lived in the digital era, that means the newspapers and things that have ink.
Lavender and ink are two things that still have a lot of fond memories for me. My daycare was in the back of the printing company, and so I was able to see how type is set, and I learned to spell using lug type and proofing and perfecting my spelling. I would go out on assignments with my uncle where he would go interview local color, whether it was the latest caper of the day or interesting shopkeeper story.
I was quite shy but precocious, and my grandmother, being from Scotland, had a very thick brogue and I had a very interesting lisp and my own accent, even though I was in California. Listening was one of the key attributes that I clinged onto in the early years. When I started building the confidence of wanting to ask questions myself on these interviews, I ended up also going into speech therapy.
Communication is not all about talking. It's about listening.
One doesn't think you make a career in communications if you have a speech impediment or something that's going to hinder you. For me, that was a huge hurdle because I was able to act in some ways being a junior reporter. To me, it was coming over the fear that many people can't speak in large audiences or do a TED Talk. Those are easy things to do because I already overcame that fear years ago. That was my first onset.
I would write little books and I would write stories. I would take them to school and I would share them, and then I would also start selling these little books for a nickel. $0.10, $0.25, or whatever I could get. My father caught on that I was making a little bit of a side hustle, so he put me to work and literally, I was working in the production team of the printing by the time I was ten and making money. I was a Girl Scout, so I would take a lot of that craftiness and put it into earning badges.
I love what you've shared so far because there's something about that. Taking the weaknesses or the things that are perceived weaknesses and then flipping around and saying, “If I focus in on those things and see how I can explore this deeper, it becomes a strength.” Also, seeing that communication is not all about talking. It's about listening.
I was listening and tuning in. I tell people all the time, “When was the last time you looked up?” In our digital world, we are always looking down. We are looking waist-high. I'm a pilot and I love looking up because the fair-weather skies are the best skies to fly in. When you are a pilot, you see the world through a different lens and view. To me, I always have to look up. I had to have my situational awareness needs to be left or right behind me. There's no rearview mirror on an airplane.
Taking that same awareness into conversations with people, whether they be someone you met at a farmer's market or at a counter at a restaurant, or perhaps on the airplane, is that everyone has a story. It's been able to be in tune and listening to what that story is something that I could consider a lifelong advocation.
Everyone has a story and oftentimes, they don't understand their own story until someone helps them to record or gets it out of them. That's the beauty of the work that someone like you does. It allows them to spend some time and unearth their story, which is powerful.
Do you remember when you were a child in your parents, grandparents, or whoever would read to you or the reading session in an elementary school, how powerful that moment was? It’s bringing that type of oral history or discussion. Family stories are intriguing to me. I was going through my garage and I have family documented history and photographs that go all the way back to the 1700s.
Unfortunately, I only know the past three generations. I'm happy that one of my aunts spent many years documenting and writing facts that haven't necessarily been passed down to everybody. I'm taking it upon myself to go back and learn and what was my great, great grandfather doing? My legacy that's connected to some royals that I'm like, “I didn't know about that. Is that even possible?” I have family that lives in other parts of the United States that I wasn't aware of.
Stories: There's something about taking the weaknesses or the things that are perceived weaknesses and flipping it around, saying, "if I focus on those things and see how I can explore this deeper, it actually becomes a strength."
There are stories there and there are stories that if we don't pass things down, and this is why Aesop's fables, nursery rhymes and books that are near and dear to us as children continue to stay with us because there's a connection, moment, there's an authentic quality about that. That's one of the things as humans. I love the Humans of New York series as an example of a happy accident, how the creator of that decided to go out unemployed and start talking to people.
If you ever find yourself out of work, try the experiment of 100 conversations. Have 100 conversations and find out what you can find out through 100 different people. You'd be surprised if you approach it from a very open lens. It's powerful.
As humans, we want to connect. We want to be able to have that connection and I think that's been one of the biggest challenges in the digital world and the metaverse that's coming our way. As human nature, we want to make a connection. There are a lot of great ways to escape, like virtual reality, games, sports, and other outlets.
I work with a lot of robotics companies and robotics still needs us humans, and us humans need the robots because they are not replacing us. In the exchange in the dialogue that we have as humans, the number one thing I see with the robotics company I work with is that children and adults will go up and hug the robot. It's a crime-fighting robot, so the robot has a very important job to work with law enforcement, but the fact that humans want to go hug a big piece of metal shows and validates that we want that connection. The campfire moments that you create here, going back to when I was a Girl Scout, thinking about those campfire stories and being able to pass the can.
There's something about what we are getting into here and I want to get more into your story and find out if there are more moments that were transformational. I think we have tapped into something interesting. I want to know from your perspective, what is it that creates that moment of connection? Especially because you are working with a lot of people who are trying to tell their stories, and there's a moment of connection that makes it powerful. In your mind, what is the connection that gets people to say, “I want to lean in? I want to hear more.” It's almost like the element of the story that is calling people in.
The lean-in moment is you helping people go back to the discovery phase of going back to that moment in which they were a child. Was there an incident that happened? The fresh smell of grandma's cookies. Was it an intolerable moment or a reflective moment in time where somebody said, “I decided I'm going to be a vegetarian and this is going to be my life's advocacy. I decided that I'm going to drive cars 250 miles an hour, and now I'm going to design cars or planes.” There's something that people originally committed connection within their career or that was a pivot in their life, but they often forget about it because it gets so involved in the execution of the journey.
They forget the authentic reason and the relevant reason why they started it to begin with. You oftentimes see those with very large successful companies with high-profile individuals, particularly in the tech space. Elon Musk is a little bit of a mystery. He is a very complex person and has done many things, but I saw a documentary on space on Netflix.
What I loved about it is whoever was doing the filming, the producer captured a moment at a glance where he was totally in awe looking at a space shuttle go off. It was total silence and no words were spoken, but it was the liberation and the celebration you saw on his face. I'm going, “That's the person that I want to know because that person is making a connection with something that was important and deeply innate to him.” That's the same thing in collecting stories is that oftentimes people don't realize that their story could be echoed or celebrated.
One of the biggest challenges in the digital world and the metaverse that's coming our way is that, as human nature, we want to make a connection.
We look at sports heroes. We look at company leaders and political champions, people or champions and agents of change. Not everybody can light up the room like some of these personas can, but I think what we can't do as individuals is light up the room in the conversation of whether you are going to a business mixer or the county fair. You are going to a school meet-up if you are in college. I use those opportunities as means not to find things that are like you or similar, but find the unlike and the dissimilar to push you out of your element.
I use an example of someone years ago who told me he's a 5’4. When I met his wife, she was over 6 feet tall. I thought, “How did you two meet?” She's very educated. She went to Harvard and he went to Stanford and he says, “I walked into the room at this mixer and I knew who's the least likely to talk to me and that nobody else was talking to because she was such a supermodel.” He had the moxie and the confidence to go over and talk to a total stranger.
Years later, married with kids now probably on their way to college. I thought that was such an amazing example of being fearless and being able to build the confidence of being able to start that conversation. Language sometimes could be limiting. Food is a great equalizer and laughter is too. I think that talking to a total stranger takes a lot of courage and it takes a lot of confidence, but as my father said, “If you don't ask, you don't know.” If you don't ask the questions, you might never find out that those are probably going to be something more similar than dissimilar.
I love what you shared. This is powerful and I wanted to take a few moments to talk about it. It's almost like having the courage to follow the sparks that are out there. When you find the spark of a new idea or something that could be a potential passion that you'd follow for the rest of your life, and that spark comes from this place of connection. It’s where you are connected to something that you could talk about for days on end and people see it.
The minute you start talking about a particular thing that lights you up personally, it's noticeable. You become engaged in the conversation. It's almost like an inner child. I will only get too psychological about it, but the inner child becomes innocently alive and says, “This is the thing that I would do without any outside influence to sway me.”
I agree and it's interesting because years ago, I hired somebody merely on efforts that it wasn't because of where he had gone to college or the internships that he'd done. I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the resumé and two things that stood out. One, he was an Eagle Scout, and I thought, “That took a lot of dedication.” Two, he worked the swing shift at 7/11 during college.
I thought, “He's going to have stories. He's going to have some character. He's probably going to have a lot of grit as well.” He ended up being one of the best interns and then later employees that I ever had. I was looking at the non-obvious. Everything else on his resumé was obvious and I think that's one of the things that I'm happy about in the workplace culture and the hybrid world that we are working in. We are looking at things differently. We are looking at inclusion, equity, and people based on the merits of their character and contributions, not the checklist items from which one would typically hire.
That's good because that's what a lot of us need to be mindful of. It's like the old saying, “You don't hire for the skills. You don't hire for the knowledge.” It's more about the attitude. It's about what they are going to bring to the table that's going to drive them forward. It's hard to see that in a resumé.
Stories: The fact that humans want to go and hug a big piece of metal just shows and validates that we want that connection.
You don't see authenticity and ethics. I say in business, the things that carry me the most are authentic relationships and engagement. To be able to be transparent and to be able to have a two-way dialogue. After the discovery process and that curiosity, I do think showing the authenticity of what makes your story authentic? Is it because you spent twenty years in a particular career or is it because prior to doing the career that you have or you were a law enforcement officer or perhaps you were a school teacher?
I spoke to a total stranger at a local restaurant. She was grading papers while eating and I thought, “I have to ask her what she's grading. It was the end of the school year.” She told me her story that she was in finance and she worked for a major bank. She was a banker. Her two kids were in school and she saw how hard it was for them during the pandemic. She decided to go and get her teaching credentials and become a teacher herself.
She left a huge amount of income on the table and created a whole new journey, but she was so excited and ignited about what she was doing. The value of what she was doing, the value that she was bringing into the classroom and to the kids and to the parents, outweighed anything that she would have been making financially. That's the hero story that we look for often. There are David and Goliath types of stories. There are the hero stories. There are the Lone Wolf-type stories. There are so many different types of stories that we can talk about. All of us have maybe a little bit of one of these types of stories in us.
I love that you shared that because I can imagine that's part of your work, too, trying to figure out who's in front of me and what story is it that this person's connected to. How do I intuitively figure out what it is that's coming out of this person?
When I'm working with tech innovators, which is a big portion of what I do with LMGPR, they are all bright. They are all educated. Whether they completed or didn't complete their degree is irrelevant. It's what they are doing and bringing to market to not a product but the experience and the impact that they are making is their vision and goals, sustainability and the better humanity.
Is it workplace inclusion? Is it agricultural-based? Is it transportation-based? What is driving and leading that movement? Being able to look at things not how they work but why they work and the impact that we can make, all of us as humans can impact something, and it's what we end up choosing as being like our banner or flags that you want to accentuate.
I want to get back into your story and learn more about the journey that you've taken. You've made a huge impact in the world. From what you described early on, you started with this journey of writing stories and seeing that there's a desire to want to be in this space. What was the process you took to create this company, LMG?
I retired my little notebook and went to college and studied Communications and Economics because I needed something to write about. I figured the very least I would understand world culture and business and economics would give me something to maybe write about. I traveled solo extensively by the time I was sixteen. I have gone to all the continents by now. There are some states in the United States I need to visit still, but that was an educational part.
Oftentimes, people don't realize that their story could be echoed or celebrated.
When I was in college, I did internships at the Washington Post and with Reuters, which is now Thomson Reuters. That literally threw me into the runway of seeing did I have what it takes. I would be in the newsroom taking 911 calls of a Boeing had crashed or a bear had escaped or royalty was coming into town. There were never two days alike.
On a regular basis, I would write and contribute to stories that were related to world news and economic type things. Oftentimes I'm interviewing CEOs and executives of companies. I did all that fairly young and I would say by the time I was 21, that had all been discovered that I had what it took. I then took a job with the BBC that took me out of the country.
That took me to other places that put me out of my comfort zone where I hadn't spent much time. Being a non-English speaking woman in the Middle East and working primarily in the Middle East and parts of Africa, that was a whole new world to navigate and explore and very exciting. There were a lot of new market opportunities.
In each one of those places where I worked, I learned different things along the way from very skilled people. Mentorship is so important. By learning from very seasoned editors, writers and reporters. I was joking and say, “Anderson Cooper made it look so easy.” I would show up in my little knapsack and I literally see Anderson Cooper 500 feet away with an entire crew of people.
There I was with my little knapsack and my little tape recorder and I was like, “Why?” That was ultimately what brought me back to tour around the world. I say my tour duty and then came back to California, where I got my master's at UC Berkeley, and they have a great Journalism school and it's a working professional school.
You have to have proven that you are a working professional and then you continue to work while you are in the profession. I didn't think I would ever leave that world, but I was wooed one day by a tech company. In the interview process, they saw that I had the instincts content-wise to help create stories about their founders, and that's pretty much my pivot.
I crossed the fence, I would say, but I was working with amazing former journalists because most of the people that were in the PR department came from editorial and broadcast communications background. That's when I felt that was a huge transition. After working with several publicly traded companies and a couple of IPOs, I had a cocktail napkin discussion with a venture capitalist, and he says, “You should be doing this on your own.” I thought it was interesting that I'm just going to have to be extremely bold and brave to go out on my own.
I carried that napkin in my purse, folded up in my wallet for about three years. Smack in the middle of the dot-com bubble before everything started to crash, I couldn't have timed it better, I said, “Now's the time. I'm going to create my own agency, but it's going to be different. It's going to be for smaller emerging companies and technology companies and work with them.” The dot-com crash swung open a new door for me because a lot of the big agencies pulled out of the Silicon Valley and reduced the size of their agency practices. That was an unfortunate scenario for some became a gold rush for me.
Stories: There is something that people originally committed, but they often forget about it because it gets so involved in the execution of the journey. They forget the authentic and relevant reason why they started to begin with.
I love what you shared because this is quite an amazing journey. One of the things that come to mind, the first question is, were there any dangerous situations, especially on your world tour, that had you saying, “What am I doing?”
A few. I was in a bunker. I was chased by some wild animals in the Africa, places that Western world people don't go to. I survived. It's like that the moment you are doing things like that. I had conversations with people I thought were in one profession but ended up being on the other side of being arms dealers. It’s interesting, but your instincts and your ability to be agile. Curiosity is one thing. It's to be nimble and quick and not leave a trail. With the PR side of those types of stories, the most dangerous thing that's ever happened to me as I got stuck in the elevator or I got stuck in a taxi in New York City. When you are stuck in an elevator with a prominent innovator and ultimately when the elevator got stuck, I had a new business lead.
It ended up becoming one of my first clients, and they were with me for years. Being stuck in a taxi cab isn’t so bad when the person that you stuck with is a major news reporter, which is a happy accident. You've been trying to get the editor to engage and have a conversation in a much more casual setting. Being able to have that conversation and turn it into a cover story. Things like that happen for a reason.
The moral of the story is if you are going to get stuck, get stuck with somebody you want to talk to.
I don't know. Being stranded on an island, I would probably have to learn some other native animal language or something to survive.
As you talk about these different scenarios coming from, first of all, the world tour, and then coming back and then working with the tech companies and what have you, what was the level of stress? Has it gotten easier along the way or has it gotten different?
It has made me very nimble because I have had so much experience working in adverse situations. Corporate boardroom CEO discussions, to me, aren't the scary things in life. Random acts of kindness, hopefully, I can continue to contribute to how we live and work. I have been fortunate in my professional career in the tech world and working companies in my agency not to have anything that's adverse. As a news reporter, the things that I was exposed to needed to be quick and agile. Those gave me the ability to have a strong backbone and to know that anything is possible and it's real and it's happening and you will get to the other side.
One of my favorite books in the world is Great Expectations, and the reason why it's such a great book by Charles Dickens is because of that anticipation and that thrill that one gets when you are discovering and looking at the world through a different lens. I always looked at it as I'm on assignment and I'm going to do whatever it takes to be an assignment.
In conversations, we have to come from a place of acceptance and expectance. So if we're having a conversation with a total stranger, we shouldn't go into that conversation expecting anything.
I might have multiple passports and they might be a little bit of a one-part Nancy Drew, and one part out of a scene of a James Bond movie, but I'm doing a job. Over the years, I have seen some escalated scenarios with editors and I'm thinking, “I'm glad that wasn't me. I'm glad I wasn't that person on that assignment that is held up in some other situation or country.” The instincts for that type of reporting have prepared me for what I have been doing.
This is a good jump-off point for us to talk about something I'd like to learn about your journey that is important. I'd love to know what are some lessons you've learned about yourself that you haven't already shared as you look back and you say, “What have I learned through my journey that is important for me to share with people?”
A daily one. Patience. I think patience and sometimes I want things to happen faster than they do. Writing a book is something that I'm having a journey on, and that takes great patience. Creating the podcast I host was a whole new level of patience because I couldn't get any technology pieces to work together. I tried pretty much everything that people promoted in affiliate marketing.
The other is to trust your instincts and the instincts or your gut feeling is still something that I feel is intrinsically who I am. I feel I have good instincts. I don't know if that comes from being raised as the youngest of four. Both of my parents had careers but family time and dinner time were like something that brought us all back to the table and having that unique discussion.
My father, the orator of the family, is daily news recaps and being able to know something great that happened and something that wasn't so great and what could we possibly do tomorrow. That was a lens of my father's philosophy and being the head of the household. I sat strictly across from him at the table, the same seat every night as the youngest, so I knew what was expected of me. I knew the values of the importance of education, honor, trust, respect, and loyalty, and those are things that are deeply instilled.
In conversation, we have to come from a place of acceptance and not expectance. If we are having a conversation with a total stranger and we don't know, we shouldn't go into that conversation expecting anything. In that flow, we learn to be much more accepting, understanding and learning. As I have gotten older, it's interesting to say how intrinsically important those values were established in who I am as a person. Maybe we grow up in our teens and want to forget them, and then we get into adulthood. We’re like, “I'm going to try some new things.” We go into a professional career and you realize, “These things that we were taught at a very young age become very valuable.”
The one you started with patience as being the foundation of this all. It takes patience to learn and to foster those lessons, and to use them every day.
Patience in ourselves is so important. We live in such a connected, high-octane society. Sometimes I feel like I need two of me, and then I realize, “It's okay to say no.” It's harder to say no than it is to say yes. Being able to patiently know that I'm going to do three amazing things. Anything else that doesn't make my list maybe will fall into tomorrow.
Stories: Talking to a total stranger takes a lot of courage and confidence. But if you don't ask the questions, you might never know. You'll never find out that there will probably be something more similar than dissimilar.
Three amazing things. I like that. I love that. I'm going to use that. It's the amazing part because I could say, “I'm going to do three things,” but it's the three amazing things that make it different. I have enjoyed this conversation. I could talk to you for hours, but I have one last question for you, and that is what are 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?
I mentioned one, Great Expectations. Another book that I'm going to say and my selections will probably be so obscure. Ray Bradbury, R Is for Rocket, only because the discovery, science and exploration. A lot of the work that I do brings me back to that interesting era of the early-‘50s when people were already talking about autonomous cars and artificial intelligence and things that we are now celebrating as being part of our normal 21st-century life. It goes way back into it. I find books like that that are very futuristic. It’s interesting because there's a parallel in my life if it is still a little futuristic and full of hope, but going back to the roots of discovering one man's view of what the world could be is interesting.
The other book that I try to practice and I will say it's not easy to practice, but it's The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. We have today. Yesterday has gone. We might have tomorrow. I think if we always live in that moment and the power of now, and knowing that you might regret what you are about to say. You might want to rethink what you are about to say in a business meeting, in the grocery store, at the dog park, or wherever you may be. Knowing that could impact and affect the next thing that's going to happen in your career, your personal life or your life's journey.
It's a hard read. I don't know if you've read the book, but I don't think it's an easy read. It is excavation and it goes in and out. I remember reading it and I got a little impatient and I had to go forward and skip chapters. “Where is this book going?” I went all the way to the end and I read the book jacket, and then I'm like, “I think I get it.” I then went back and read the book again, and I was like, “It was so much easier.” I liked the message that it sends.
One more book is the Pocket Pal, the book that my father gave me as a child. That companion, I still have it and it is basically the printers and creatives guide to everything. Other than pagination colors and the fact that we are in the digital world, the common sense and wisdom that's in that little book is a creative encyclopedia of everything you need to know when it comes to creating ads, websites and contents. The knowledge doesn't go away at all.
That's something that's been near and dear in my career. I got to give you four. The last one is The Associated Press Style Handbook. I could not live without that. I had to master that and I also had to master and keep up with it. I had to master The Chicago Manual of Style, which is very different. As I prepare to write a book, it's going to test my patience and my focus. I'm going to use some of these books as chronicles to help me realize what does it take to keep somebody listening and engaging when you write a book.
It's very interesting what you talked about. When you write your book, it's going to be stellar. I can't wait to pick up your copy. Now that you've said it, it has to happen.
I declared it and I have an amazing book coach. I hate to say that I'm a little bit of a delinquent, but it's going to get there. Visualizing and manifesting it is so important. It's on my vision board. I know what it looks like. I know what it smells like. It's something that is going to be a great tool for people, and that's ultimately why I'm doing it. It's being able to help others achieve their career business journey and help them have a lot of confidence and patience.
It's harder to say no than it is to say yes.
I can't thank you enough for coming on the show. This has been enjoyable. Your stories and everything you brought into the space, I just enjoy it. I want to thank you.
Thank you so much for having me. I should've brought s’mores, though.
When I have you on the second time, we’ll have you bring some s’mores. I also want to make sure I give you a chance to share a little about where people can find you and I'd love to hear a little about your podcast.
Before IT Happened is the podcast and it's designed about visionaries and the future they imagine. It was a passion project that came out of having so many great stories that I could share and people that aren't necessarily my clients but to people that I meet at conferences or connected with on LinkedIn.During the pandemic, what can I do with these stories?
I thought about sitting down and writing a book, and then I realized, “I’m going to be isolated. I want to talk to people.” That's where the whole Before IT Happened started. It's on all the major podcast platforms, and you can find @BeforeITHappenedShow on Instagram and I'm on LinkedIn at Donna Loughlin because I love connecting with people. Those are the best places to join me on my journey. Hopefully, you will share some stories with me.
Thank you so much again, and thanks to the readers for coming on the journey. I know you are leaving with so many great insights and stay tuned to what Donna's up to. That's a wrap. Take care.
- Before IT Happened
- Great Expectations
- R Is for Rocket
- The Power of Now
- Pocket Pal
- The Associated Press Style Handbook
- @BeforeITHappenedShow - Instagram
- Donna Loughlin - LinkedIn
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and
Leave a commentPlease log in or register to post a comment