Consider your average employees — each day before that first cup of coffee is poured, they are likely inundated with messages from a variety of sources. Daycare sends a note that tomorrow is pajama day. Netflix needs to tell you there is a new season of that show you were binge-watching. And it’s time to update apps on your phone. The average American consumes nearly 13 hours of media each day, according to 2022 industry research firm Insider Intelligence.
In this landscape, corporate communications is at risk of being part of the “background noise” of daily life. This puts more pressure on corporate communicators to make their messages more engaging.
Storytelling can be an effective way to create messages that can reach your employees and build a stronger connection to your brand. Using stories ignites both the left and right brain of the reader, providing key information in a way that’s often more compelling.
Here are some ways to weave more stories into your corporate messages to build engagement across your organization:
Build the human element.
Your content will almost always benefit from featuring real people, who will provide the best, most relatable stories. So, talk to people. When writing about the annual United Way kickoff, talk to someone who donates each year or who volunteers at an organization United Way supports. This will be much more compelling than an article quoting the CEO asking people to donate.
And for times when you do feature an executive, try to show the human side of the individual.
“Showing the human side of our executives is something we do often to share less about their corporate side and more about getting to know them as people inside and outside of the work environment,” said Amy Purcell, corporate storyteller for Fifth Third Bank.
Find the story behind the news.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an anecdote is worth at least 500. With that in mind, are there any stories behind a corporate news item that can provide dimension and context for the reader?
For example, can you take the reader into the room when the executive team arrived at a decision? Can you build a narrative arc that takes your audience on a journey that leads to the information you are conveying?
Build a story arc.
When you put together your content, consider ways that you can use a story arc or narrative arc to make the piece more approachable for readers. For example, can you identify a “hero” in your story? This person could see a problem and solve it. If you ever took a drama class, then you know that stories have five parts: exposition, which would frame the story background; rising action, where we see tension develop; climax, where conflict peaks and we begin to see what happens to the characters; falling action, where we learn about the aftermath of the conflict; and resolution, where we see how the narrative ends.
Find employee voices.
There are times that hearing from employees directly in their own voices helps build engagement. Earlier in my career, I developed content for a corporate intranet that reached 50,000 employees.
One of the most popular items was a “question of the week” feature where we went to the company cafeteria and asked random employees a question, which may or may not have been related to company news.
“We’re seeing movement toward allowing all employees to be the storytellers, whether it’s on LinkedIn or social media,” Purcell said. “Getting employees involved in being communicators naturally leads to engagement.”
Show don’t tell.
It’s a tried-and-true bit of writing advice, one I remember from college journalism classes, and it applies here: Find ways to engage all the reader’s senses in your writing. Here’s an example:
- Telling: The Acme Company Cafeteria is excited to offer a new menu with updated items for employees to enjoy during their lunch hour.
- Showing: Deli sandwiches on fresh-baked, chewy French bread; a salad bar with fresh, cool, crisp lettuce and vegetables; fresh-out-of-the-oven, gooey warm chocolate chip cookies; and a variety of steaming hot coffee drinks are all part of the new menu starting this week at the Acme Company Cafeteria.
In the example above, you can see that adding sensory details to a story about the company cafeteria makes it much more compelling (and appetizing). Challenge yourself to do more “showing” in even the most basic story. Perhaps you describe the thrill of reaching into one’s mailbox to find this year’s W2 form when letting employees know they are on the way. Just an idea!
Tell a story with numbers.
Corporate communicators often must share numbers — from sales figures to profitability estimates — which can make for some very dry copy.
You can combat this in two ways. First, find ways to make those figures relatable to the reader. For example, if you want to celebrate the completion of a corporate roadshow, then you can put the mileage the group traveled in context by writing something like, “the team racked up enough miles to go from Boston to California three times.”
The second way to make numbers more relatable is to display them as infographics. Technology makes this easier to do, and readers are used to seeing numbers displayed this way.
“The simpler, the better; and the more visual, the better,” Purcell said.
As corporate communicators, we will continue to face a workforce that is pulled in many directions and, with increased remote work, has less of a connection to “the office.” Looking at the tips above and other ways to keep your employees connected will continue to be crucial.
“As a communicator who is just like every employee juggling those multiple priorities and deadlines, it can be easy to get into the groove of doing the same thing, especially on cyclical communications,” Purcell said. “But I believe we owe it to employees to continue looking for innovative ways to communicate.”
Rob Pasquinucci, APR, is the content manager at Maxim Crane Works, one of the country’s provider of comprehensive lifting services, including crane rental. He is a past president of PRSA’s Cincinnati Chapter past and holds an M.A. in communication from Northern Kentucky University. He also is an adjunct instructor at Xavier University in Cincinnati.[Photo credit: dc studio]
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