The other day I attended an event on the Future of Mobility and Transport in Europe and a quote from an MEP, who was on one of the panels, got me thinking about ‘storytelling’ in public affairs. While discussing Intelligent Transport Systems, the MEP asked fellow participants whether they have ever thought – while having breakfast – where each of the items on the breakfast table comes from, and what journey they have made. What’s the supply chain of a jar of marmelade, where has it been and by which modes of transport? Were there any regulatory barriers on the way or were its travels facilitated by the existing legislative framework? Such a simple example or story can bring a discussion on transport to life, as it links the world of the audience to the issue.
In fact, one of the many challenges we face as public affairs consultants is talking about inherently technical (and dare I say, sometimes unexciting) topics to policy-makers. However, usually they have anything on their mind but the very detailed requirements of products A, B and C that can potentially have far-reaching effects on a client’s business – and ultimately, citizens. And when you’re looking for someone to advocate on your behalf, there are certain issues that will always gain support and others that, well, don’t. As an MEP, would you, for example, want to be the champion of a ‘single administrative electronic document for the im- and export of goods to/from the EU?’ Not a very imaginative topic perhaps, but incredibly important for anyone who supports the completion of the single market.
Following up to James’ post regarding the use of position papers (see: Time to throw away the trusty old position paper?) and the need to tailor material to what your audience cares about, rather than drafting everything from your organization’s perspective – I’d like to add the need to tell more stories. (Note: stories, not fairytales ;)). There has been a lot of buzz on this particular point in the PR realm and it is equally applicable to PA, see some excellent posts on this topic by our colleague Steffen on his personal blog (Get off your high horse – tell a decent story and Develop a content strategy to succeed in public affairs). Some of the perks of storytelling include:
- It’s an easy way to avoid using overly technical or business jargon .
- The exercise will force your organization to think out of the box.
- Stories can create emotional involvement in an issue.
- Stories provide the opportunity for a more personal and targeted approach.
- The method is refreshing and allows you to be creative – and your material will be more appealing as it stands out from the crowd.
Obviously with the usual caveat that on most occassions – straight up technical information, facts and figures are still desirable, but it is worth bearing in mind that real-life examples and stories can make your ‘characters’ come alive.