The Ninja Communications Story
Ninja Communications came into being more out of demand than design.
NinjaComs’ three founders—Dan Agan, Joe Schreiber, and author/journalist Chris Mooney were already busy. (Chris left NinjaComs shortly after its founding, when the Washington Post presented him with a “bucket-list” opportunity to ply his formidable communications prowess as a full-time journalist.) Chris was a best-selling author, a blogger, and podcast producer. Joe’s production companies were turning out award-winning programs and videos. And Dan was consulting on TV programs and cable channel development, as well as counseling a broad portfolio of clients on strategic communications, branding, and marketing.
That’s when the National Science Foundation (NSF) stepped in. The NSF recruited the trio as independent consultants to develop and implement a learning, coaching, and mentoring program that would empower NSF-funded scientists, engineers, educators, and researchers to communicate the impact and value of their research and initiatives more broadly and effectively. It’s not that these professionals were inept communicators. Not at all. It’s unlikely they could have achieved what they’d achieved without knowing a thing or two about communicating. Instead, NSF wanted to supersize their skills. The simple fact was, most of these professionals, through no fault of their own, had been left to learn communications on their own. They’d never had any meaningful exposure to professional development in communication, especially in communicating for impact and influence.
Dan had laid the foundation for the effort through an earlier, more limited in scope, training engagement for NSF. The charge now was for Joe, Dan and Chris to join forces in designing and implementing a bigger, more comprehensive, and road-ready, multi-day workshop that would bring to light virtually every dimension of professional, strategic communication—from message creation and distillation to delivery through interviews, presentations, videos, and social media—and equip participants with proven, and entirely portable, communication techniques and skills.
The result was Becoming the Messenger, a multimedia-rich, engagingly interactive, and thoroughly transformative plunge into the communication techniques, discipline, and skills that professionals use to influence attitudes, sway thinking, and affect behaviors. Over the ensuing three years, thousands of scientists, researchers, engineers and educators flocked to the workshops, and came away with knowledge, tools, and resources they will use for a lifetime. But as much as participants took away, they also gave. Their constant evaluation and feedback led to Becoming the Messenger undergoing more than 1,200 hours of tweaks, enhancements, and re-calibration to hone the curriculum, refine the tools and guides, and reshape each content module.
Along the way, something truly unexpected happened.
Becoming the Messenger alumni voluntarily talked up “The Ninja Way” and praised their workshop experiences to colleagues, to associates, in articles, and at conferences. Suddenly, professional groups, associations, government agencies, academic institutions, research centers, start-up companies and more—all of which had little to do with NSF—caught wind of Becoming the Messenger and clamored to schedule their own workshops.
They started calling NSF. NSF, of course, couldn’t help them. These weren’t their constituents. And Chris, Dan and Joe, as independents, had only the clumsy structure of three separate companies to offer. Enter Ninja Communications, founded in 2013 for the expressed purpose of establishing a one-stop shop that virtually any organization could call upon to advance its, and its constituents’, strategic communications prowess.
Since its founding, Ninja has spread its wings. Workshops remain a bulwark of Ninja’s offerings, of course, but now with more modules (on branding and pitching, for example) and “advanced” trainings added to the portfolio. In 2014 we introduced Ninja’s Strategic Communication eLearning Centers—video-based, interactive online learning portals that organizations can co-brand and deploy to put Ninja’s unique blend of strategic communication learning, coaching, worksheets, tools, and guides just a mouse-click away for their internet-connected employees, associates, constituents, and members, irrespective of how large the group, where individuals are located, or what time of day or night. Ninja now provides strategy and message development consulting. It performs in-depth, one-on-one communications and media training for organizational leaders and key spokespeople. It helps organizations discover compelling brands, and creates attention-grabbing, traction-building videos. Through its rich network of expert partners, Ninja helps define and design eye-popping identities, architect digital content strategies, and produce compelling content for the web.
In short, it’s been an amazing, energizing, and enormously gratifying ride.
Oh, one more thing. The name. You might wonder what led to “Ninja Communications.” The name stems from the early days of the NSF workshops when Chris Mooney would urge participants to become “ninjas of communication”—agile, expert, crafty, skillful masters of creating, distilling and delivering messages. Without fail, the phrase stuck with participants, becoming the most Tweeted quote from the workshop, so when it came time to name the company, there was but one clear choice: Ninja Communications.