Video: the world’s favourite form of storytelling

Video: the world’s favourite form of storytelling

No other area of comms has developed faster in recent years than video production. Video is a powerful tool that can connect with audiences on a deep emotional level, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to produce with the ongoing evolution of phone cameras, editing apps and social media platforms.

Let’s start off with some stats. You’ll have heard all of these before, but they demonstrate why video is completely essential to any serious PR strategy:

I could go on – but I won’t, because you don’t need me to tell you that video is a big deal. All the major platforms are scrambling to double down on their video offering. Video is the world’s favourite form of storytelling, and telling a story is what good PR is all about.

Producing video content in the 2020s is like having a website in the 2010s.

If you don’t, it’s just a bit weird. People expect it. That said, please don’t start creating video simply because you feel like you need to.

Hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this, you’ll understand why video content is a valuable comms channel, what sort of video content you could be making, and how you can get started with producing it.

Trends in video marketing

During the COVID pandemic, the video content industry (like most industries) has undergone fairly seismic changes. Here are three big trends you need to be aware of:

Cause marketing

This can be a really hard sell sometimes, but the content you put out shouldn’t always be about the product you’re trying to sell. In times like this, consumers want to invest in brands that care about the things they care about. In fact, two out of three people say they would “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about”.

It’s little wonder, then, that throughout the pandemic we have seen countless examples of brands posting video content about what they believe in, not necessarily about the wares they sell.

Democratisation

With the rise of platforms like TikTok, and with existing channels like YouTube and Instagram providing sophisticated video editing tools, everyone is a creator now. Everyone is a camera operator, an editor, a journalist and a presenter. Is there a way you can harness that desire to create content and make it work for your organisation?

On platforms like LinkedIn, business owners and C-suite members are increasingly finding the confidence to put themselves out there in video form. Some of the most successful posts have been relatively personal and vulnerable in nature, challenging the idea that LinkedIn content must always be ‘professional’.

Unsurprisingly, these days we expect in-house comms and marketing teams to have an enormous skillset. They’re somehow meant to be Hollywood directors as well as knowing their traditional PR and marketing onions. Thankfully, the restrictions brought about by the pandemic have meant that consumers are much more forgiving of content with lower production values. We’ve seen several TV ads shot on phones, and even a feature film made on Zoom – and yet I’ve heard nobody complain about the poor resolution, the wobbly shots, or the mixture of portrait and landscape. Professional quality video production still has a huge impact, but self-shot material can too as long as it feels authentic and tells an engaging story.

Live

With so many ‘real life’ events forced to take a back seat, huge numbers of people have turned to streaming to try and replicate the buzz of a live experience. According to Restream, across the main three streaming platforms, “viewership increased from 3.89 billion hours in Q3 2019 to 7.46 billion hours in Q3 2020.”

One the on hand, people are more accepting of virtual events than ever before – just as they are with those self-shot TV ads. At the same time, though, there’s a growing sense of fatigue with online life. This appetite for live streaming might not continue for long once we’re all vaccinated and able to mingle in person again.

Video content strategy

Before diving into creating video content, it’s essential to think about why you’re doing it, what sort of content you’re going to produce and who’s going to watch it. You should be thinking about these five questions every time you put out a piece of video, as well as when devising your overall content strategy.

Why are you using video?

This gets overlooked surprisingly often, but it’s a really basic question that should inform every stage of the production process. Think about the end goal, and work backwards from there. For example, a charity might be looking to spark debate, drum up donations or raise awareness. Whatever the objective is, everything from the tone of voice to the visual style should serve that goal.

Who will the audience be?

In the same way as you produce video content with the end goal in mind, you should also have the target audience in mind. That could be existing customers, prospects, staff, or someone else. In 2020 I created a series of six videos for St Ann’s Hospice to promote their Manchester Midnight Walk, and the tone of each video was tailored to a specific audience. Compare this video aimed at existing supporters, with this one aimed at people wanting to keep fit. Just as a side note, the Manchester Midnight Walk inevitably didn’t go ahead due to the pandemic, but I was able to reversion the existing content to help promote their Virtual Walk instead.

How do you want people to feel?

Provoking a strong emotional reaction is a proven way to get people to engage with and act on your video. Despite what we might want to believe, most decisions are driven by feelings rather than logic. At the start of the production process, decide what emotional response you’re aiming for, and go all-in on it. Humour, sadness, anger, surprise – all of these and a thousand others are powerful tools for making your content stick in the viewer’s mind.

What will set your content apart?

Standing out from the crowd can feel like an impossible task. Especially in the days when 500 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube every single minute. But it’s well worth thinking about how your video content will be heard amongst the noise. It might be that your brand has a really specific tone of voice that you can apply to your videos. Maybe you give people a clear incentive to watch, like in this brilliant boohooMAN competition devised by Social Chain. One simple way to stand out is to target a very specific niche, or appeal to an audience in a single locality.

Back in 2019 I was building my own brand – trying to build a reputation out of thin air, having previously been comfortably employed by the BBC. I wanted to put some content out there that would show off my skills, make a big impact and give my social channels a boost.

Using Google Earth Studio, I created a series of four videos showing stunning aerial views of different northern cities. There were two main things that set these videos apart. As the technology was new, I knew people wouldn’t have seen anything like it before. I also knew that targeting a specific local area is a surefire way to gain traction, simply because there’s less competition than if you’re going up against the entire internet. The result? Each video received hundreds of thousands across Facebook and Twitter, I gained hundreds of followers (from next to zero) and the Manchester video was shared by Manchester Evening News.

When/where will you publish it?

There are lots of things to consider here: how frequently you want to publish video, how frequently you want to publish non-video content, how much you want to spend, whether there’s a topical event you can peg your content to. Will you be making it yourself or will it be professionally shot and edited? There’s often a balance to strike here: could you upload DIY content on a regular basis, and more polished pieces less frequently?

Remember that not every piece of video content will work on every platform. Each social network has its own quirks in terms of what content performs best, what format your video should be in, and the demographics of the user base.

Practical tips for content creation and publishing

We live in a world where most of us have a video production studio nestled in our pocket. Phone cameras are still no match for professional sound and video recording equipment, but they can work brilliantly for everyday social media content. Here are a few simple ways to get the most out of your phone. Some of these tips will also apply to DSLRs and other digital cameras, but I will focus on phones because you can also use them to edit and publish your content.

5 tips for filming yourself or other people

  1. Set up in an area with plenty of natural light. You (or the subject) should be facing the light or at a slight angle. If the sun is so bright that your face is overexposed, move away from the window or use the curtains. Be intentional about what time of day you film, thinking about how much sun there will be and from what direction.
  2. Consider whether you/the subject should be looking straight at the lens, or off to one side at an interviewer. Keep this consistent.
  3. If you’re filming yourself, still try to use the back camera (not the selfie camera) if you can. Not only is this probably a better camera, it also takes away the distraction of the screen and helps you focus on the lens. You will need to make sure the shot is framed right first – e.g. by taking some test footage.
  4. Minimise all background noise. Before you start, be quiet. Listen for any noise, even if it’s just a low background hum, and see if you can identify it and eliminate it.
  5. Think about your framing. Should your phone be landscape or portrait? There’s no right or wrong answer, it mainly comes down to what platform/s you’re using. Get a tripod or find some other way to get the camera to head height; low angles rarely look good!

5 tips for filming other subjects (B-roll footage)

  1. Always shoot more than you need.
  2. Experiment with slow motion. It will smooth out your shots and give them an arty quality.
  3. Time lapses can be incredibly effective and incredibly easy, either on your native phone camera or using third-party apps. Think about what would make an engaging relevant time lapse for your brand – from sunsets to setting up for events.
  4. If you need to stitch lots of shots together (e.g. for an event highlights film) make sure you get a mixture of different types of shot. Close-ups, wide shots, and maybe some slow motion or time lapse.
  5. Don’t feel like you need to move the camera unless there’s a specific reason to do so. Static shots, framed and edited well, will look dynamic and professional. Random wobbly panning will not!

5 tips for publishing video content

  1. Take your time at the upload stage! Otherwise you’re wasting all the time and money you’ve spent on producing the content itself.
  2. Consider creating different versions of the video for different platforms.
  3. Choose a suitable thumbnail, title and description that grabs people’s attention and accurately reflects what the video is about.
  4. Consider whether you need to add subtitles – I’ve linked to a couple of great tools for that below.
  5. If your video is going on a website, add plenty of supporting copy to give search engines a fighting chance of taking notice.

5 apps I recommend for video

  1. Adobe Spark Video – online and on iOS. A really intuitive way of pulling footage and photos together into a video, with the ability to add text, music and stock assets.
  2. Lumen5 – online, iOS, Android. This is perfect if you generate a lot of blogs, press releases or other written content. It turns your text into a really nice-looking video automatically. You can tweak it to your heart’s content, but honestly you’ll be amazed by what it does on its own.
  3. Rev – online. Upload a video and a human transcriber will create subtitles for you. I use this service all the time – staggeringly cheap and generally very accurate.
  4. MixCaptions – iOS and Mac. Like Rev but automatic, so it’s quicker and cheaper but less accurate.
  5. FiLMiC Pro – iOS and Android. If you’re serious about filming with a phone, this app is essential. It gives you manual control over all the things your native camera does automatically, which means you can fine tune things like focus, exposure, white balance and audio.

Over the past year, we have seen massive changes in the way video is made and consumed. The power and prominence of video is only going to grow over the coming decade. Just in the start of the year we’ve seen once again how even the simplest, most amateurish video content can take pop culture by storm.

It’s important to remember, though, that video isn’t the be all and end all. It’s just one method of communication. It’s arguably the one with the most potential impact, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Your PR and marketing strategy should involve several different touchpoints, which all complement each other and have a consistent tone of voice. And one of those touchpoints, of course, should be video.

Ben Horrigan,  Studio 91

Read more about the new partnership between Hough Bellis and Studio 91 here

 


Hough Bellis and Studio 91 announce new partnership

New partnership

Hough Bellis Communications has formed a new partnership with video production agency Studio 91.

The partnership is part of the company’s plans to expand the services it offers to clients as the demand for film production and editing continues to grow.

Studio 91 is based in Stockport and Manchester and led by Ben Horrigan who previously spent six years producing digital video content for the BBC for flagship brands such as Blue Peter and BBC News.

It is a social video production agency driven by purpose and impact and works with clients with inspiring and sharable stories to help tell them.

Bobbie Hough, managing director at Hough Bellis, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Studio 91, an agency which shares our values of working with clients with a social purpose.

“The demand for film content continues to grow and with Ben’s talent and experience, this partnership will enable us to offer our clients new and creative ways to share their stories.”

Ben added: “Hough Bellis have an amazing track record not just in terms of the great work they do, but in the way they do it. We’re so excited to be working alongside them and their clients, towards our goal of making content that is good for people, good for platforms and good for the planet.”

You can see the latest showreel from Hough Bellis and Studio 91 here:

Bobbie Hough


Are you Re-flex or Low-flex?

Are you Re-flex or Low-flex?

How will our businesses look by the end of 2021?

One of the silver linings of the Covid age has been its role as a change agent. It has forced us to challenge traditional beliefs on how we run and structure our organisations.

We have long argued the case for a more flexible approach to work – and the need to ensure a (peaceful) transfer of power away from business owners and leaders and back towards employees.

In short, give people freedom and choice – so long as they can meet the needs of their roles and the business – and you should get happier staff and better outcomes.

Over the past 10 months we’ve been privileged to speak to dozens of leaders about this topic. For some reform was already on the horizon, for others Covid has been a catalyst for reimagining what their businesses might look like once we return to some kind of normality.

2021 will be the year that the outcomes of those soul-searching conversations become apparent, where freshly polished transformation programmes turn vision into reality.

Some change will happen very quickly, but most will take a significant amount of time.

Internal comms and a focus on re-evaluating the stories we tell about our companies will be high on the agenda. Those who have engaged and empowered their teams early in the conversation will be best placed to deal with the challenges ahead.

As new business models start to take shape, we have identified four main categories that – in the broadest possible sense – typify the approaches businesses seem to be taking. They are:

 Re-flex ·       A switch to fully remote working with all offices closed – or repurposed

·       An emphasis on high levels of flexibility for staff. Where possible teams will be given the freedom to work where, when and how they choose as long as aligned with business needs and organisational culture

·       A focus on implementing a high trust culture

·       Organisations will be outcomes focused

·       Technological innovation focused on staff wellbeing and collaboration

·       More flexible services will drive new and more accessible offers for customers

 

Hy-flex ·       A hybrid approach of both office and remote working. Offices will take on the role of an ‘innovation hub’

·       An emphasis on high levels of flexibility for staff. Where possible teams will be given the freedom to work where, when and how they choose as long as aligned with business needs and organisational culture

·       Staff given freedom and choice to attend the office when they need to – recognising individual circumstances – providing business and cultural needs are met

·       A focus on implementing a high trust culture

·       Organisations will be outcomes focused

·       Technological innovation focused on staff wellbeing and collaboration

·       More flexible services will drive new and more accessible offers for customers

 

Low-flex ·       A hybrid approach of both office and remote working

·       Limited levels of flexibility – such as a designated number of days working in the office each week, or traditional ‘flexi-time’ with core hours. Terms are dictated by the organisation, with limited staff input

·       Technological innovation focused on staff outputs – for example monitoring login and logout times

 

No-flex ·       An immediate return to traditional working practices

·       Exclusively office based

 

 

I wonder how many leaders recognise where their organisation might fit?

Of course, the above is not meant to offer any definitive answer on where companies may or may not end up over the coming years.

We are in a rapidly evolving environment – there is no rule book for the set of circumstances we find ourselves in.  This is merely a snapshot in time based on conversations in lockdown with a wide variety of businesses, and an attempt to offer up a first draft of a framework based on months of debate.

It is a provocation – there for people to muse upon, challenge and dissect.

Nobody is certain what the future will look like. But what is clear is there are plenty of good people having meaningful conversations to ensure their businesses are kinder, greener and fairer places to work after the pandemic.

And that, for once, is good news.

Bobbie Hough


Transparency is nothing to fear

Transparency is nothing to fear

 

The Government’s white paper on Social Housing mentions transparency nearly 30 times.

If you managed to miss it, take another look: it talks about transparency in relation to culture, regulation, accountability, performance, information provision, charges, decision making, tenant engagement and accessibility.

Transparency is already at the heart of many housing associations, who strive to be as openly accountable as possible.

To many organisations it is old news: the Freedom of Information Act is a teenager, launched 15 years ago. Many public sector bodies have become used to publishing information and responding to requests as a matter of routine.

While the white paper stops short of making the social housing sector subject to the Act, it does propose that transparency will be regulated through a new access to information scheme.

Housing associations will adapt – and it’s worth learning a few lessons from those who’ve gone before.

As usual with these things, it starts with culture – Boards and leaders must be genuinely supportive of openness or it will be a struggle throughout the business.

It can be tough – but it’s easier to learn to love it than try to dodge it.

And now is the time to know and own your organisation’s problems and weak points. Know the story behind them and what is being done to put them right.

Your communications team is your friend when it comes to providing clear, consistent information in a transparent way.

It’s what many of us are trained to do.

So it’s worth colleagues getting together now to work out how your organisation is going to open up, what you need to do to prepare and to learn to love this new regulation on transparency.

 

Susan Fox is the author of “Freedom of Information: is it changing the way we do PR?” in Chartered Public Relations: Lessons from Expert Practitioners, published by Kogan Page.

Would you like some help understanding what the access to information scheme might mean for your organisation? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us hello@houghbellis.co.uk.

Sue Fox


Liverpool charity launches first ever Merseyside Mental Health Week

Liverpool charity launches first ever Merseyside Mental Health Week

Liverpool mental health organisation, Imagine Independence has teamed up with Hough Bellis Communications to launch the first ever Merseyside Mental Health Week.

Imagine Independence is bringing together people and organisations from across the region to support thousands of people experiencing poor mental health and to raise awareness of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental wellbeing in the city region.

Taking place from 2nd November to 6th November, Merseyside Mental Health Week will deliver a week-long programme of online events and community activities.

This includes working with local people on Imagine’s Building Up Stronger project which is trialling a new approach to providing mental health services, improving digital skills and reducing loneliness and isolation.

The week is backed by The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Liverpool City Council, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, Professional Liverpool, The Federation of Small Business, Knowsley Chamber of Commerce, LFC Foundation and Everton in the Community.

Hough Bellis has worked with Imagine since 2018, overseeing the organisation’s major rebrand, together with the development of an effective social media presence.

Margaret Hanson, Chief Executive of Imagine Independence, said: “Merseyside Mental Health Week couldn’t have come at a more important time for our region as we move into increased lockdown restrictions. We hope that through Merseyside Mental Health Week we will encourage more people to seek out help.”

Bobbie Hough, Managing Director at Hough Bellis added: “We’re proud to be supporting Imagine Independence in launching this campaign. It fits perfectly with our vision of working with great people to deliver great work on projects that improve people’s lives.”

For more information contact Bobbie Hough on bobbie@houghbellis.co.uk or call 07794204268.

Bobbie Hough


Do we need a Human Translate app?

Do we need a Human Translate app?

My latest phone update came with a translate app – could be handy, I thought.

Playing around with it threw up some weird autocorrects until I learned how it worked (“Gluten morgen wine list veg tea” being the memorable one). Yes, I could have read the instructions, but does anyone do that any more? And that got me wondering – what if we had a human translation app?

We’re in the midst of – well, you know, weird / unprecedented / strange times (delete as applicable to you). Faced with extreme and frequent changes of rules for social interaction, work, travel and even doing the shopping, an understanding of human behaviour and attitudes has never been so important.

There are times when bringing people along with you is the best way to get the results you need, and this is surely one of them.

Building trust with your communities, creating clear and consistent messages and knowing how to convey them effectively is something every professional communicator will happily bend your ear about, if you’ll let us.

The ability of the human being to rationalise our beliefs and behaviours can be astounding (Barnard Castle eye tests, anyone?).

And our inability to understand the attitudes of others can create tension, waste time and risk lives. Now is a great time to increase our understanding of other people – and of ourselves.

In the words of the evergreen Jane Austen “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”. Or the prejudices.

While we’re not at the stage of having a “Human Translate” app, taking time to understand ourselves – maybe through training, coaching or mentoring – not only helps to clarify our own motives and behaviours, it can also shine a light on why other people behave as they do.

Those of us who work in communications know that it can take a very long time to change behaviours and attitudes, and we need all the help we can get.

I think now is the time for us all to take the first step in building our own internal “Human Translate” app.

If you’d like to improve your communications skills or build your confidence through coaching and mentoring, contact Hough Bellis – we’d love to hear from you Hello@houghbellis.co.uk  

Sue Fox


A winning smile

A winning smile

We’re feeling warm and happy at Hough Bellis right now. The reason? We’re super-proud to have won the PRCA Dare Award for Small Consultancy of the Year.

We were also shortlisted for the Prolific North PR Agency of the Year award.

I’m so pleased the work of the Hough Bellis team has been spotted and recognised.

They’re a good group of people doing great things – and they’re a lovely bunch to work with.

A huge thankyou to everyone who we work with and to our amazing team.

Bobbie

Bobbie Hough


Photo of hands using a “touch to give” card reader

How can our charities bounce back?

How can our charities bounce back?

The corona-coaster hasn’t been a fun ride for any of us, and we suddenly find ourselves in July. For many of us, the whole year seems to have been a blur.

Almost every sector has been affected in some way. We’ve heard a lot about the collapse of retailers and restaurants and a swift change of direction for many others.

One sector we perhaps hear less about is the charity sector. Possibly because charities operate in such wide-ranging areas in our communities.

But charities have been hit incredibly hard. People have had less money to give and fundraising events have been cancelled or dramatically scaled back.

Yet, in many cases, it has been those charities which have supported our communities through the COVID-19 crisis.

Large national charities have a huge presence, levels of awareness are high and marketing budgets are large. I’m sure we can all name several national charities who have been able to continue with their high-profile advertising campaigns, swiftly updating them in reaction to the changing situation.

They are undoubtedly doing amazing work.

But what about those that are regionally or locally based? The ones providing food parcels to hungry families, or breast-feeding support to new mums, or money advice to those in debt, or help for elderly people unable to leave their homes?

Those charities have helped many people survive the last few months but are now struggling to survive themselves.

For small charities relying on donations and grants to continue providing their service, their financial situation is always uncertain. But for many, the crisis has had a bigger impact than they’ve experienced before.

So what can we do about it?

We can choose to support them of course, whether that’s financially, by volunteering our time or helping to raise awareness.

But what will have a greater, more lasting impact, will be charities telling their stories to the Government. Highlighting the impact that the pandemic has had on them, and the often vital services that may disappear without support.

Charities need to do that now and do it consistently. Those small organisations may not have a big voice when they stand alone. But standing together to campaign for additional funding and support could really have an impact.

We need funding and financial support to be targeted in a way that lets the regions decide how they can best support charitable organisations.

This week there were some big announcements from the Government, pledging support to people out of work, the hospitality sector and home buyers. They are looking to get the economy moving again after the lockdown.

Now is the time for charities to make their voice heard. And the louder we can all shout in support of them the better.

Anna Ross


Vintage photo of a man carrying bricks in a street

Let's build something new

Why not rushing back to outdated working practices matters

 

For about five years I couldn’t walk. I could barely get myself dressed.

I’d been crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritis.

It was a condition I’d had since a teenager. The doctors said it would catch up with me as I got older. I ignored them. They were right.

By my mid-20s I had to use walking sticks to get around. I was depressed. In a horrible place. One that I’m sure lots of people reading this have been to at some point.

Keeping going

Thankfully – with the help of our wonderful NHS – I got better. Physically and mentally.

One of the things that kept me going during tough times was work.

Like many people with a long-term health condition, work provided a counterpoint to other problems. It was something I could control.

When work doesn’t work

The problem was that work wasn’t working. Not for me. And not for many people in a similar position.

Unplanned bouts of fatigue and pain were hidden. Long commutes sapped already depleted energy. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

15%!!!

A quick scan on my diary from that time shows around 35 hospital appointments each year. For context, there were 253 working days in 2019. Add in annual leave and that accounts to 15% of working time at hospital.

I’ve always had supportive bosses. But for businesses of any size these are tough numbers to digest.

There will be countless people in your organisations going through similar challenges. Circumstances that make work and home life incompatible.

Last year 4.2 million Brits who reported they had a disability were in employment. 70% of the 1.8 million single parents in the UK are in work, up from just 44% in 1996.

Almost 5 million workers are juggling work with caring responsibilities for a family member or friend. That’s one in every seven of your staff.

Flexibility

All the Government reviews, research papers and reports on this issue could be boiled down to one word. Flexibility.

That’s all people really want and need. The freedom to make work work for them.

At Hough Bellis we wanted to give people as much flexibility as possible. No office, no commute (thought we meet up regularly) and, where possible, the freedom to choose hours that fit your circumstances.

More freedom – when handled properly – means better performance and happier staff. That’s always been our experience.

In the UK, 77% of employees feel flexible working makes them more productive. Only 17% of people who work from home feel regularly affected by workplace stress, compared to 37% who work in office-based cubicles.

Over 39% of the people who work flexibly see a noticeable improvement in their mental health.

The future

We are already hearing of companies reporting a spike in productivity and a fall in sickness for large sections of the workforce – including those with long term health challenges – since lockdown.

As we wrestle with what the future of our organisations should look like my ask is that we take time to think about how we can unlock the hidden talent in our organisations.

The dozens or hundreds or thousands of people who have never been able to thrive because their work life and home life were not compatible.

We have a chance to change that.

The old way was great for those who already had it good. It’s no wonder some are desperate to rush back to it.

For those who believe in people’s potential, let’s build something new!

Bobbie Hough


Image of a postcard of Runcorn, the book The Gruffalo and the book On the Road

If you’re a leader, then you’re a storyteller

If you’re a leader, then you’re a storyteller

 

All great stories start with change.

Whether it’s the inquisitive mouse setting off on a journey through the forest in Julia Donaldson’s  classic – and my son’s favourite book – The Gruffalo, or Sal Paradise heading west across America in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a story that inspired a generation of beatniks (and one angsty teen from Runcorn), there’s a common theme in the stories that define us.

Think of the books you love. The songs that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The newspaper articles that boil your blood, or academic papers that make you pause for thought.

The catalyst for all of them? They all start with a moment of change!*

Over the last few months we have had to reinvent our businesses, our society and how we see the world as individuals.

We are standing on extremely fertile storytelling ground.

A plot twist

Right now, whether we recognise it or not, we are all writing a new chapter in the stories of our ourselves, our communities and our organisations.

In the face of monumental change, how we respond will reshape how the world sees us. It’s a plot twist. A chance to take the story in a new direction.

Or, for those who don’t like the story so far, an opportunity to start afresh.

How we go about this will impact our businesses and careers for years.

Organisations who get it right – the local shop that delivers to its vulnerable customers, the pub that cooks for the homeless – will earn trust and be repaid with loyalty.

For those who get it wrong – the organisations which put profit before people or abuse the trust of the public – huge investment will be needed to repair the reputational damage. Some will never recover.

Storytelling takes time 

The stories of our organisations – and the people who lead them – take time to tell and need to be crafted so they fit with our values and aspirations. They need a narrative arc. They need a strategy.

‘Quick win’ newspaper articles are not storytelling – nor is spamming key messages out on Twitter.

Like a conductor standing in front of an orchestra, leaders must set the direction for thousands of individual actions choreographed to create a symphony that an audience (be it our colleagues, customers or stakeholders) can understand, believe in and celebrate.

Those promising otherwise are selling snake oil.

It’s a noisy world

The world is a noisy place – as Sarah Harvey wrote about in her last blog.

An overwhelming 6,000 tweets go out every second and this blog is one of nearly four million being posted as I write.

We hear communicators talk about achieving the fabled ‘cut through.’ But cut through only gets you so far. It needs to be backed up by trust. And an understanding that a brand or person belongs to the same tribe as you.

Stretch your hand out in front of you and give a thumbs up (don’t worry, you’re probably WFH so no one is watching).

The area of your thumbnail – that’s what you see in HD. It’s about 2° of our field of vision. The rest is more blurred. A bit fuzzy. It’s there. But it’s never quite as sharp. The more we move to the periphery of our vision, the less we can focus.

Our eyes are constantly scanning the horizon for things we should focus on. For signs of change.

We digest information in a similar way. There is plenty of it out there. But a tiny fraction of it commands our undivided attention each day.

Often these are the things that are relevant to our own lives right now – conversations with friends, family and work colleagues and information from causes that we already know align to our belief systems.

If we want people’s attention, then we have to earn it.

Fancy sports cars

One off campaigns that blast into public consciousness for a moment are like a fancy sports car zooming past us on the motorway.

We hold them in our gaze for a second – we may even stop to admire them – but we rarely dwell on them for long.

By telling our story clearly and consistently over time, by being authentic and sticking to our values, and by being brave enough to allow people and organisations to show character and vulnerability we will register more regularly in people’s vision.

This is how we tell our stories. This is how we build trust. And this is how – when we do get opportunities to cut through, and we do hold people’s gaze – our message not only lands but sticks.

We all have the chance to write our own story. Now is the time to consider whether you are happy with yours.

* Will Storr’s book The Science of Storytelling is excellent on this topic.

Bobbie Hough