Author Shelby Oppel Wood

Growing up in North Carolina, I don’t remember listening to much country music. Now that I live on the opposite coast, I can’t get enough of it.

That’s partly because, as much as I love Portland and the Northwest, I miss the touchstones of home: Southern accents, properly-fried okra, four distinct seasons (as opposed to our two: The Rainy Season and Summer).

But country music has a stronger grip on me these days because it speaks also to my professional side. As senior writer at Coates Kokes, I work on advertising campaigns and other communication tools for clients. The details change but the heart of the work is often the same: We help companies and causes tell their stories.

This is me in the boots—with my college roommate Sarah Koch and a couple of new friends—in 2014 at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, considered “country music’s most famous stage.”

This is me in the boots—with my college roommate Sarah Koch and a couple of new friends—in 2014 at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, considered “country music’s most famous stage.”

And nobody is better at telling a story than a country singer.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the bros in ballcaps who dominate country radio,with their tired stories about beer and bikinis at the ol’ swimmin’ hole. I save my concert-ticket budget for the rootsier singer-songwriters coming out of Nashville, like Brandy Clark, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, all of whom played recently to packed Portland-area crowds.

These are artists with the capacity to tell a whole life’s story—maybe even your story—with a handful of vivid images, without resorting to cliché. Their words can surprise you, delight you, or crush you, all in three minutes or less.

I was riding on my mother’s hip

She was shorter than the corn

All the years I took from her

Just by being born

—Jason Isbell, “Children of Children,” from “Something More Than Free” (2015)

See what I mean?

Our work at Coates Kokes is not all that different from a country singer’s—minus the glamour, the tour buses, and the fancy cowboy boots.

We usually have limited time to convey a client’s story in an original, engaging way. We want to make a genuine connection to our audience and the values they hold. Often, we need to motivate them to take action. And we have to do all of it quickly, before our audience turns their attention to the next ad, Instagram post or text message on their screens.

In short, our job is to move people. Just like a good country song.