Long Run Works – using storytelling to create your corporate narrative

For private sector communications agency Long Run Works, an engaging story isn’t just an important outcome, it’s also key to the process of actually writing your corporate narrative. Founder and creative director Will Hill outlines how his agency’s Communication Canvas, complete with heroes, villains and adventures, is helping organisations think more creatively about the story they want to tell. This case study forms part of our corporate narrative resource.

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As a creative agency, our purpose is to help our clients create stories that win hearts and minds so that they can grow their ideas and achieve even greater success. Recently, we were contacted by Digitalme - a new City & Guilds Group business - to help them create a new corporate narrative. Digitalme was created to help employers see all the skills that someone could bring to an organisation, from professional qualifications to personal attributes, by digitising them rather than relying on paper copies or hearsay. We needed to create a story that would help the organisation explain that purpose to current and prospective stakeholders and encourage them to adopt digital credentials in their own businesses. As Digitalme is made up of people from a range of different organisations, we also needed to create a story that would unite all those different people under one common purpose.

The solution

We ran a series of corporate narrative workshops to help craft the Digitalme story. We used our Communications Canvas as the framework to shape our group discussions and ultimately, develop the end story. We’ve developed our Communications Canvas to help organisations break down the story they’re trying to tell into a series of smaller, more easily-digestible chunks. It uses themes that are commonly used in fictional stories, myths or dramas to help organisations shape their own corporate narrative. The individual themes are:

  • The hero: here we encourage organisations to think about the reasons why people should believe in the organisation or the person delivering the corporate narrative. This helps organisations to think about their positive attributes and skills and consider what factors might be most attractive to potential stakeholders and audiences. In the case of Digitalme, their hero was the range of professional bodies, employers and sector partners and educators who already supported digital credentials.
  • Ordinary world: this looks at what business as usual is like and encourages organisations to think about why the current way of doing things is frustrating or not fit for purpose. For Digitalme, business as usual is a passion for inclusion, diversity and social mobility, but frustration at high unemployment, stagnating productivity and high recruitments costs.
  • Return with the elixir: here we focus on what vision an organisation is trying to sell. How will the way your organisation wants to do things make the world better or positively change the way you deliver services for your stakeholders? For Digitalme, their approach to digitisation will give organisations and individuals more control and will help people to showcase every skill they have.
  • Compelling villain: This is about looking at the biggest danger to moving from your ordinary world frustrations into your return with the elixir vision. Although we use villain imagery it’s important that you don’t actually vilify any of your stakeholders when identifying threats or dangers. For Digitalme, their compelling villain was traditions, systems and protocols, standing in the way of allowing employers to see all the skills that someone can bring.
  • Call to adventure: Here we go beyond a call to action and encourage organisations to think about the personal stories that will help your audiences get behind your story and want to come along with you. For Digitalme that was about helping stakeholders optimise an under-utilised workforce, which is an exciting opportunity.
  • Crossing the threshold: This is the part of your corporate narrative where you tell people what you have already done to make change happen or improve things. Examples of actions that have already happened are much more compelling for getting people engaged than the prospect of more discussion. For Digitalme’s stakeholders, their story needed to articulate that Digitalme already had design, technology and accreditation consultancy services in place to help bring their vision to life.
  • Three challenges: Here we looked at how to honestly articulate the barriers Digitalme faced. Struggles are a key part of effective stories and make success even sweeter, so it’s important to be transparent about what those are for your organisation. For Digitalme that was balancing supply and demand, how digitisation would sync with other HR platforms and how future proof the technology would be.
  • Allies, mentors and gifts: This is the part where we focus on who an organisation has in their corner to help achieve the ambitions set out in their narrative and who is providing knowledge or wisdom. For Digitalme that was case studies from those already digitising credentials, as well as the wider City & Guilds Group

The impact

Developing a narrative through the steps in the Communications Canvas not only helped a group of people from different backgrounds to collaborate on a single story, it was also highly valued by the client. Digitalme’s managing director Chris Kirk said the process “enabled Digitalme to tell our story […] imaginatively and with integrity” and “helped us stop getting bogged down in educating people about a technical concept”. Some of Digitalme’s stakeholders have also said that the story has helped them to understand the opportunity that digital credentials could bring to businesses.

Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it

The Digitalme story, developed out of the framework has been translated into a simple strapline: making the invisible, visible. This isn’t only simple and easy for staff and stakeholders to remember, it’s also helped the organisation to focus its strategy, product and service development, marketing and culture around making sure that strapline is at the heart of all activities.

Lessons learned

The biggest lessons of developing a corporate narrative in this way are that is can be an effective way of unifying a team, even in challenging circumstances. It also needs to align with the motivations of stakeholders so it’s important to keep them in mind when developing your story. It also need to a be a living thing that can help guide operational and strategic decision making across an organisation. It’s more than just a story, it’s a business tool.

Want to know more?

For more information please contact Will Hill, founder and creative director at Long Run Works.