Posts Tagged ‘Storyline development’

STORYTELLING AS STRATEGIC PLANNING

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Every day, in organizations of all types and sizes,  programs are designed, products launched and campaigns kicked-off without a clear story to support them–and predictably, the results are often forgettable.

The good news is that more and more communications and marketing departments are developing storylines to provide some narrative grounding to key corporate activities.

The bad news is not only that the storyline remains a poorly understood communications concept with the result that many of these are so focused on corporate spin that they read like works of fiction, but that organizations will often mistake their own PR for reality.

Developing the narrative around an event, product, or initiative is more than a writing exercise—it should be seen as an exercise not just in strategic communications, but in strategic planning.

At InterChange Public Affairs, our approach to storyline development revolves around working through a facilitated process to ensure that our clients’ narrative will not only resonate with all of their key audiences, but that their project will meet their strategic goals.

Our approach to storyline development is part SWOT  (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, part journalism and part PR.

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, and then framing our client’s narrative in the most objective and newsworthy fashion.

Depending on the complexity of the project, we typically develop two or more storylines. The first version–what we call the inside story–is rarely seen outside the boardroom.

When working on the inside story, we see our role much like that of a hard-nosed print reporter. We work with our client to answer the five Ws of journalistic writing (Who, What, Where, When and Why) to tease out positive storyline elements, and ask the tough questions to get at the problem areas. Our goal is to give our clients an advance look at how their story is going to read in the morning paper.

While this can make for uncomfortable conversations with the client,  it also results in a better appreciation of the communications and other challenges that may exist with their project and provides them with an opportunity to make the tactical and strategic adjustments needed for a successful announcement or campaign launch.

For a final product, we strive for a one page journalistic-style story that highlights the newsworthy and fresh, while framing in the most positive light any issues that could not be worked out through the earlier process.

This type of storyline can be readily adapted to produce core communications products such as news releases, 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 this approach to storyline development is that it helps organizations clarify and address strategic and tactical problems and priorities.

We have had cases where clients decided to re-think and re-design a campaign because they realized that it just wasn’t ready for prime time. Or conversely, what had been seen as a negative corporate  announcement morphed into a good news story after working through its various (and sometimes subtle) storyline elements.

By taking what is most often viewed as an abstract writing exercise and translating it into a strategic communications effort, this approach to storyline development helps reveal potential opportunities and challenges that might otherwise have been overlooked in the initial planning process.

WHAT’S THE STORY?

Friday, November 18th, 2011

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.