Happy anniversary to us! We are celebrating 20 years of helping people deepen their relationships with those who matter most to them. That’s been the core of ECHO since the beginning, though a lot has changed over the decades. As projects and people have come and gone, we’ve learned lessons, shifted what we do, and earned our stripes as true storytelling experts.
1. Granny’s Legacy – 1999
ECHO Storytelling Agency (then Echo Memoirs) was founded because of a tragic incident in Samantha Reynolds’ life. Sam’s granny went into the hospital for a routine hip operation and came out of the operating room with a new hip but no memories. It was like a delete button had been pressed on her past. She lived another 10 years but in a deep state of dementia. It was the only grandparent Sam had ever known and she had always meant to document those stories, so losing them was a crushing blow. She knew she had to help others capture their personal histories before it was too late. Our mission — to help people deepen relationships with the people who matter most — is not an empty corporate slogan. It’s the very essence of why we exist, to make sure that our clients don’t miss out on their chance to share their stories and connect meaningfully to their family, customers and employees now and for generations to come.
2. Moving On Up – 2003
ECHO Storytelling Agency’s home for its first four years was in an old farmhouse in an area of Vancouver called Southlands, where Samantha Reynolds was living. While having a gentle white mare, Haze, keep Sam company in the stable behind the house in those early years, ECHO was growing and Sam needed a bigger space to set up her own bindery. An old highschool friend of Sam’s, Noah Freeman, was working for Colliers and helped Sam secure a gorgeous New York-style 2200-square-foot loft in an industrial area of town that would later become the city’s busy Olympic Village (on an aside, the builder’s owner commissioned a memoir about his parents that first year after ECHO moved in). ECHO’s current art director, Cathy Smith, still reminisces about the dehydrated broccoli smells that wafted up from the raw food commissary downstairs. Ahh, the smell of success!
3. Business Books Tell a New Story – 2004
We took on our first corporate project with a commemorative book for St. Vincent’s Hospital as they celebrated 65 years of service. In expanding our scope beyond personal memoirs, we opened ourselves up to a new world of storytelling that would later lead to corporate culture books, storytelling training, and brand story work.
4. We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Desk – 2004-2009
As we took on more and more projects, we needed the right people to help us tell great stories. In our new loft space on Second Avenue, we expanded by adding a graphic designer (Erin Anderson), story director (John Wellwood), a studio manager (Norma Larson), a project manager (Monica Murray), and many others!
5. Be the Best in the World – 2005
Video game industry pioneer, Don Mattrick, mentored Sam for a few years after his wife commissioned a surprise 40th birthday book for him. One of the best pieces of advice Don gave her was to focus on a few services rather than to try to do everything at once. At the time, ECHO produced books celebrating pets, weddings, high school graduations … and about 27 other things.
“Don asked me what I loved most. My answer was immediate: personal memoirs and company history books. ‘So be the best in the world at those,’ he said.”As it turned out, his advice came right as DIY publishing was exploding onto the market, giving anyone with a digital camera and a computer the ability to easily design their own book and send it cheaply to print. If we had tried to stay in the world of small personal books about weddings and pets and babies, we would have been sunk.
While we were working on the 100th anniversary book for Canada’s second-largest confectioner, Purdy’s Chocolates, they asked us if we could team up with the national Raise-A-Reader literacy campaign to create a second book for kids. This project marked the first time that we made a book that was intended for public sale, and we’re extremely proud that 20,000 copies helped Purdy’s raise over $50,000 to support literacy initiatives.
7. Mea Culpa – 2006
Sometimes, we make mistakes. Here’s a story from founder Samantha Reynolds about one such error, and what it meant to her to be forgiven for it.“We did a personal memoir in 2006 for a lovely man named Duncan May, patriarch of the largest cranberry growing family in the world. The project went beautifully, and the May family loved the book. They ordered additional copies for the extended family. But then we got super busy and our bindery was slammed; back then we hand-bound most of our books in our studio. The May family had paid in advance for these additional copies, and we promised them by a certain date. Months went by.
Finally, I got a call from Duncan’s daughter-in-law, Joy May, who was understandably disappointed and angry. I felt terrible. I realized I had been avoiding calling her because I was so stressed that we were so late. But not calling her had obviously made it worse. I apologized profusely and then sent a HUGE bouquet of flowers with a handwritten note. As soon as they arrived, Joy called back and what had been very tense on the earlier call became a warm and moving conversation.
She was touched that I had taken her concerns so seriously. She could tell how stressed how I was and she told me to take a deep breath and take care of myself, and that we could get her the books whenever they were ready. It was a great lesson that a tough moment can actually deepen a bond, even between a business and a client.”
8. Know Your Value – 2007
ECHO’s founder, Samantha Reynolds, would be the first to tell you that she has benefitted from mentorship throughout her career. A pivotal moment in ECHO’s history came when Hugh Magee, a client turned mentor and friend, said it loud and clear: you need to charge more for your work. Sam was extremely nervous to raise her prices but she knew Hugh was right – to be sustainable, she needed to pay all the talented people who poured their hearts into each book a fair wage for their efforts. To her great relief, the phones kept ringing.
9. Around the World in 3 Days – 2011
Business travel was not on Sam’s radar in ECHO’s early days. All of ECHO’s clients were in Vancouver. But it soon became evident that there was a huge demand for storytelling services across North America, and if ECHO acted quickly, it could be first-to-market. So in the spring of 2011, Sam decided to embark on an 11-city-tour in 18 days. The catch was that she had an 8-month-old son that needed to come along for the ride. So Sam, story director John Wellwood, Sam’s baby boy and her husband, Pete, took flight on a business development trip that spanned multiple cities, including Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Lansing, San Francisco, Edmonton, and Toronto. It was a huge success and that year marked their highest revenues ever. Now, multi-city trips packed with meetings are the norm.
10. All in the Family – 2013
Over the past 20 years, Sam’s life has been profoundly changed by the work ECHO has done for our clients. If you engage with people’s stories in a deep way, those stories find a way into your heart and affect who you are. Sam’s evolving personal journey has also changed ECHO. As she became a mom to two kids, her relationship to family storytelling took on a whole new level of meaning and shifted how the company approached legacy storytelling.
11. Holy Smokes – 2012
It’s heart-stopping to hear these words: “There’s been a fire.” A torch-on roof repair started a fire that destroyed our offices on Second Avenue, and we honestly didn’t know if we could recover. As we donned respirator masks the next morning and combed through the remnants of our beloved studio that looked like it had been bombed, we held onto three pieces of good news: first, no one was hurt; second, our clients’ cherished, irreplaceable photos and mementos were safe in our waterproof, protective inventory bins; and third, all of our past and current work was stored in the cloud so we didn’t lose any project work. The bad news was that every single computer, piece of furniture, office supply and all our paperwork and library of books was destroyed. Oh, and we were homeless too. It’s a testament to the grit of the ECHO team (and the power of community) that we found temporary shared office space right away with a friend of Sam’s, ordered new computers, and were operational a week later. Not one single deadline was missed that year so we retained our 100% on-time project delivery record.
12. Fifty Shades of Greyscale – 2013
When ECHO started making books, we did it by hand, and we took great pride in the quality of bookbinding that we produced for clients. As the scale of our projects has grown, most of our clients want more than 20 copies of their book so we rarely hand-bind our books anymore. But our commitment to delivering a luxury product to our clients remains the same. That means that we have spent countless hours working with all our printing partners and obsessing over tiny details like the subtlest difference in colour or the way an end sheet is aligned.
13. A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words – 2014
Given ECHO’s roots as a memoir publisher, lengthy manuscripts cataloguing clients’ lives were the norm for a long time. As we shifted toward corporate storytelling with projects like Rocky Mountaineer’s 25th anniversary book, we also moved toward image-driven books that tell great stories in multiple ways. We even crafted our manifesto, 10 Things We Believe About Storytelling to be bold about our new approach with #5: “It’s not easier to be brief, but for your busy audience it’s almost always the right thing to do.” With amazing images like these at our fingertips, we no longer needed to be wordy to be wonderful.
14. Storytelling 2.0 – 2015
In 2015, we rebranded. Goodbye, Echo Memoirs. Hello, ECHO Storytelling Agency. This rebrand reflected a major expansion from focusing only on print book publishing to include much broader applications of storytelling on different media. Shannon Emmerson joined the team and brought her whip-smart digital expertise. One of our first new media clients was London Drugs, where we provided story-driven content strategy and social media marketing. In our first month working for them, we doubled organic reach and tripled organic engagement on their targeted social channels. Go team!
15. On the Road Again – 2016
Travel often produces great stories, and Sam has more than a few to share. One memorable trip saw Sam and chief strategist Kim Peacock travelling to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to pitch a book to MMR Group, the largest privately owned electrical and instrumentation contractor in the USA. They heard on the news that there was a tornado in the area but they drove their little red rental sedan across Baton Rouge determined to make the meeting. The duo arrived without incident but later learned that cars twice their size had been flung off that highway, one landing on the roof of a Gold’s Gym. Yikes!
16. We Always Break Bread, Even with Carnivores – 2016
Breaking bread with clients is really, really important to us. It helps us build the meaningful relationships that enable us to tell great, authentic stories about the people and companies we are profiling. As some of our staff are vegans and vegetarians, this can prove tricky. At a new project launch in Chicago, we joined our new clients in a private room at River Roast, a beautiful restaurant on the river famous for carving racks of pork tableside for their guests. Ever graceful under pressure, Sam and John kept up happy chat around the table as they went for the house salad.
17. Pushing John Burns Off a Cliff – 2017
Sam has what we might call “blind” faith in the people she works with. Maybe it’s because they always seem to deliver. When a new service opportunity presented itself, in the form of engaging leaders through storytelling training, she trusted our story director, John Burns, to deliver an outstanding product to the client. As a brand famously once said: Never let them see you sweat.
18. Operationalize the Yes – 2018
With services expanding again, ECHO needed help managing workflows, staff, and processes. Enter Graham Dover, our director of agency operations. Graham’s immense insight into best practices for business was matched by his compassion and ability to listen. He came to ECHO at a very busy time and helped us re-prioritize the values that had taken us this far.
19. Deliver This at 3:02 p.m. – 2018
Our relationships with our clients are incredibly important to us. When Sam met with a potential new client in Philadelphia, he took her for lunch and told her a great story about how a hotel concierge asked him after he had won a huge court case and his team was all out celebrating at the finest restaurant in the city, why he hadn’t gone with them. He explained to the concierge that a real celebratory meal for him would just be a peanut butter and jam sandwich on fresh white bread and a diet coke. Half an hour later, room service knocked on his door and unveiled a silver platter with a PB&J sandwich and a diet coke. Naturally, Sam knew what her thank you note would be. Studio manager Norma Larson was tasked the next day with figuring out how to arrange delivery of a very specific order at a very specific time to an address on the other side of the continent. She tracked down fresh white bread (from a bakery, not a grocery store) and made sure this potential client was delivered his special sandwich and diet Coke at the exact moment he needed it. The handwritten card he sent back brought our whole team to tears.
20. End of an Era – 2019
The biggest change at ECHO in recent years is the retirement of our long-time studio manager, Norma Larson. For 13 years, Norm was the welcoming face that greeted clients and couriers alike at the front desk, and her keen understanding of client and staff needs made her the heart of ECHO. We’re still adjusting to life without her, and trying to fill the hole she left. As we tackle new challenges, we ask ourselves, “What Would Norm Do?” The answer always steers us in the right direction. (Plus, she still drops by with chocolate — all relationships are two-way streets!)