MF 128 : Andrew O’Brien on Why Sharing Your Story is the Ultimate Gift and a Huge Responsibili
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
Andrew O’Brien has been featured in over 70 media outlets and teaches entrepreneurs how to take ownership of their story and use it as a force for change.
Successes at a glance:
Army veteran who bravely served in Iraq.
Entrepreneur and founder, The Publicity Guy, which helps entrepreneurs and business leaders grow their businesses thru increased media exposure.
Update: as of Friday, July 28th, Andrew has stepped down as CEO to devote his life to working with veterans, full-time.
Featured in over 70 media outlets.
Andrew’s big why:
Andrew doesn’t shy away from sharing his story. By age 23, his story had four words that no one should ever have to experience: prostitution, war, suicide, and murder. Andrew was raised by a mother who was a prostitute in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. Needless to say, Andrew’s childhood was traumatic. This led Andrew to join the military to escape his upbringing; serving a year in Iraq as a lead gunner. Following his stint in the military, Andrew came home and nearly took his own life but didn’t go thru with it. That’s when Andrew woke up. He had a newfound appreciation for life, got out of the army but things were not easy. A year after he came home, Andrew’s mother took the life of her husband and then asked Andrew to help frame someone else for the murder. Andrew ended up testifying against her in court and she was sentenced to life in prison. While any of those experiences might have caused someone else to give up on life, Andrew took charge of his destiny; becoming a public speaker. For three years, Andrew traveled all around the world, sharing his story. The media became Andrew’s “stereo” so to speak. As a result, Andrew ended up on over 70 global media outlets and spoke on some of the biggest stages in the world, including The White House and The Pentagon. The coolest part: Andrew had no agenda. He wasn’t selling anything, he wasn’t trying to teach anything. All he did was share his story, the story of Andrew O’Brien. This alone was enough to impact and save the lives of many people around the world, including 200 veterans. As Andrew discovered, his big why is to impact as many people as possible thru the power of story and to help entrepreneurs, veterans and business leaders do the exact same thing.
The “spark” that led Andrew to become a public speaker and share his story:
Going thru any kind of trauma can cause one of two reactions: 1) hiding and retreating or 2) sharing your story and finding strength from it. What caused Andrew to choose the later after experiencing not one, but many traumas in his life? As Andrew explains, he learned to “stop being so selfish” with his story. For Andrew, sharing his story isn’t simply about him. It’s the ultimate gift and a huge responsibility. At first, Andrew was embarrassed by his life. He felt ashamed and didn’t want anyone to know what he went thru. This all changed in February 2013, when Andrew turned on the news and saw a report about 22 veterans taking their own lives. For the first time in his life, Andrew felt like he wasn’t alone; he wasn’t the only person in the world who had experienced or felt the things he felt. Andrew also had a moment of clarity. He could change that number. He could make a difference, not just for business or publicity sake but a difference that could save lives. That’s when Andrew decided to share his story with the world. In doing so, he could connect with fellow men and women who had also served and let them know that they were not alone.
The “aha” moment that sparked a pivot:
Andrew’s big “aha moment” came while he was touring and sharing his story for three years. Andrew impacted many lives, including veterans who like himself, had experienced the trauma of war and the difficult transition of coming home. Andrew realized that story is a powerful mechanism for change and helping others. Moreover, Andrew discovered that the most powerful way to scale the impact of story was thru media exposure.
Growing up, Andrew never imagined this would lead to a business or calling. In his youth, Andrew was the “quiet kid in the corner,” a self-described “observer.” Flash forward to 2015. Andrew is completing his third year as a public speaker, sharing his story on stage and to media outlets. As the government had been cutting back on mental health services, this directly impacted Andrew’s ability to make a living as a touring public speaker. Andrew was at a crossroads. He had to decide whether he was meant to go work for someone else or take what he had started as a storyteller and grow it into something more. After finding his passion; impacting the lives of so many people, the choice was obvious: there was no way Andrew could settle for a 9-5, M-F life, working for someone else. Andrew started finding his way as an entrepreneur, beginning with small companies, doing everything from auto detailing to other local services. The problem was, “the passion wasn’t there.” Andrew, then decided to take time and “reverse engineer” the past three years as a public speaker and storyteller. The one thing that kept coming back to him was the power of story and media. Another common factor was the fellow entrepreneurs Andrew met during his three-year speaking tour. They were all passionate about what they did, their mission and their story. This is where the big “aha” moment came to him of starting a business based on the foundation of 1) a passion for telling your story and 2) publicity as a mechanism to reach as many people as possible with that story.
Andrew wasn’t sure if he could make a go of this. At first, his goal was modest: get a few clients just so he could pay the bills and take care of his family. He never imagined that it could turn into a highly successful business with scalable growth. So what was that moment when the lightbulb went off for Andrew? As Andrew shares, it was coming home to his kids. Every day he would come home from work, look at his son and think that he wanted to leave him with something. Every day he would look at him and think “what can I do for him,” “what can I leave him,” and not just money. Andrew wanted to give him something he never had growing up, a legacy to build on, something he could be proud of. Today, Andrew isn’t simply in business for himself, he is creating a story of moving forward that he can pass on to his children.
Update: since our interview, Andrew has further developed his big why into his ultimate goal – helping veterans. Despite all of the success he has built as CEO of The Publicity Guy, Andrew feels it’s time to put his efforts into helping his fellow men and women who have served and sacrificed. Andrew is following his big why to the next iteration. It started when he shared his story for three years around the world, then took on an entrepreneurial form with The Publicity Guy and now, he is directing his gifts towards working with veterans. Andrew is moving forward.
Andrew’s tip to pitch your story to the media, to get it out there:
Press releases and blanket messages (“spray and pray method”) are a waste of time. Do direct contact, applying a “sniper target” method. It takes a little more time but it’s important to do your homework: identify those reporters or journalists that have a beat that matches your niche. In other words, find someone who is reporting on your industry, your specialty or service and talk about them. Andrew uses a dating analogy. If you approach a beautiful woman in a bar and only talk about yourself, you’re not going to get very far. Make sure you are present and showing genuine interest in that person. The same applies when reaching out to someone in the media. Treat it as if you’re “flirting with someone you’ve never talked to before.” The steps are:
Research: do your homework on the media source or reporter.
Compliment: show that you’ve done your homework.
Ask: for the opportunity.
Humble brag: close with a 1-2 sentence pitch for why you’re a good match.
Favorite app / website / resource or productivity hack:
Ontraport: a great knowledge management, productivity, and organizational tool. You can set up tasks and notifications, reminders. It’s also a CRM tool that helps you keep track of your customer information.
Andrew’s hack: be consistent with it. Keep use it regularly, it will help run your business that much more smoothly.
How Andrew recharges when facing a roadblock or challenge:
Andrew loves to unplug with two movies, usually a stupid comedy like Dumb and Dumber. This is Andrew’s way of decompressing after being in the entrepreneurial grind all day long. Andrew admits that this is a practice most fellow entrepreneurs would advise against but for him, it’s just the perfect way to recharge, reboot, and reset.
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Advice to past self while going thru a difficult time:
Andrew shares a time that most people would not admit to. There was a period in his past when Andrew was disrespectful to his wife; a dark time filled with emotional abuse. Although there was never any physical abuse, Andrew shares that this was worse. At the time, he thought he was an amazing guy and that she should simply appreciate and respect everything he has done as this was during the height of his speaking career. Andrew was sharing a story, fixing other people’s problems; when he hadn’t addressed the ones he had at home. Andrew would tell his past self “to stop running from the past because you’re never going to get away from it. It’s time to face it, face it head on, go in and forgive … and move forward.” Andrew did eventually face his past; going to the prison and forgiving his mother for everything that had happened. This changed everything, including his relationship with his wife. In retrospect, Andrew would have loved to have done this much sooner. Moving Forward listeners, we get one shot at this thing called life. We all have a story, a story filled with hopes, dreams, joy, pain, and loss. Andrew has been thru more than most of us can even imagine. And yet, he has found the strength and courage to own his story, to share it with the world and in the process, he has saved lives. Imagine what your story can do. Imagine what gifts and knowledge you have that can make a difference. Isn’t it time you moved forward?
Parting wisdom (in a few words):
“It’s time to change the world.”