Too often initiatives are planned, products are launched and campaigns kicked off without a clear story to support them, and the results, predictably, are forgettable.
The good news is that more and more, communications planners are developing storylines around events to provide some semblance of narrative grounding. The bad news is that the storyline generally remains a poorly understood communications buzzword with the result that many of these are so focused on corporate spin that they read like works of fiction.
Developing the narrative around an event, product, or initiative should be much more than just a writing exercise—it should be an exercise in strategic communications. And it should result in a communication product that is clear, crisp and most important, credible.
Our approach to storyline development revolves around working with our clients through a facilitated process to ensure that their narrative will resonate with all of their key audiences and support their strategic objectives.
In order to convey purpose and direction clearly and credibly, a storyline must be grounded in the strategic considerations behind a particular initiative. And while it should highlight the strengths and value of the initiative, it should also address any important challenges it faces.
Sugarcoating or overlooking fundamental communication challenges when developing a storyline is like a doctor lying to their patient to spare their feelings–noble intentions perhaps, but with potentially catastrophic results.
We see our role much like that of a print reporter. In developing the storyline we work with our client to answer the five Ws of journalistic writing (Who, What, Where, When and Why) and tease out positive storyline elements as well as address potential problem areas head on.
In all instances, but most importantly in the case of public events, we start by getting to and understanding the real story behind an initiative–which may not necessarily be the one our client wants to tell–and then framing our client’s story in the most positive and newsworthy fashion.
The outcome we strive for is a one page CP-style story that frames the initiative clearly and succinctly while highlighting key messages and addressing concerns.
This type of storyline can be readily adapted to produce core communications products such as key messages and media lines, while providing the outline and narrative structure for everything from op-eds to speaking notes and speech modules.
In addition to generating a compelling external narrative, an additional benefit of our approach to storyline development is that it helps organizations to clarify strategic and tactical priorities.
By taking what is often an abstract writing exercise and translating it into a hard news story, this approach helps reveal potential opportunities and challenges that might otherwise have been overlooked in the communication planning process.