Storytelling in business: Takeaways from CommsCon18

This week marks National Storytelling Week and storytelling continues to be a favoured theme in the communications industry, as well as for businesses in general.

It was storytelling that turned out to be a key theme at CommsCon18. The one-day London event organised by Cision, was a chance to catch up on the latest insights on earned media from a number of big consumer brands and senior figures within the industry.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the CommsCon18 on how businesses can tell great stories: 

“Tell your own story or it will be told for you”

In the keynote, Sir Craig Oliver, who is David Cameron’s former director of politics and communications, shared that the world is changing at an alarming pace and businesses must get ahead by telling their own story. 

While there is a lot of fear from businesses about sharing their stories, particularly on social media, it is time to be bold and join the conversation. Organisations must listen closely to their audience and understand where they are. 

There is no magic bullet and change doesn’t happen overnight or with one campaign. Therefore, businesses must repeat their stories over several years to effect change. He encouraged the audience that it is up to the comms people to help make this change by delivering coherent messages in what is often an incoherent world.

Sir Oliver shared the following four questions that companies can use to help them figure out their business story and values:

  1. What is our story?
  2. What are our values – and do we share them frequently with our customers or clients?
  3. Are we telling our own story well?
  4. Or are we just trying to defend ourselves to glory?

“Stay away from vanilla stories”

In the panel discussion, senior communications professionals shared the following tips:

  • What are you fighting for or against? There is no good story without a good plot. Businesses can figure this out by considering who the bad guy is and/or what their purpose is. (Gabriela Lungu, Wings Creative Leadership Lab)
  • Be authentic and honest about who your company is. Build campaigns in line with your key values. (Kelly Bergl, Adobe)
  • Consider your goal and how you want your audience to react. Consistently story tell across repeat campaigns. (Natasha Plowman, HSBC)
  • Find your great storytellers internally or outsource to a skilled freelancer. (Tamara Bennett, Virgin and Natasha Plowman, HSBC)

“Unlearn and evolve. We need to rethink how we storytell”

Peter Heneghan, head of communications at LADbible, reminded us that companies need to think carefully about what we share on social media. An easy way to determine whether a story idea could work on social media is to imagine talking about it in a pub with a group of mates. If this is unlikely, then businesses probably need to rethink the content. Content should be created with social media in mind, rather than simply using an article’s headline as a post.

Much of what Heneghan said was about remaining focussed on who a company’s audience is and what drives them. LADbible creates content for its purpose-driven young audience, as shown by the highly successful The Trash Isles campaign.

Heneghan also stressed that content creators should aim to stay neutral and positive, as people want something that will make them happy. An example included how when the Manchester Arena bombing took place in May 2017, LADbible concentrated on positive stories that included taxi drivers helping people who couldn’t otherwise get home.

Image: Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash