Corporate narrative toolkit

In today’s complex and sometimes chaotic world telling your council’s story simply, effectively and truthfully has never been more important. A good story – your corporate narrative – allows you to share your vision, key messages and plans with employees, residents and partners in a powerful and compelling way. This toolkit aims to give you some ideas and practical tips that can help you develop, launch and deliver a corporate narrative for your organisation.

There’s no one perfect way of doing this work and every organisation will have different challenges around developing a corporate narrative, but the toolkit outlines some of the most common issues you’ll need to think about. Case studies from councils who are doing this work successfully provide a great insight into how it’s done – and the rewards when it’s done well.

What is a corporate narrative?

It’s simply a great story, told well and truthfully, about your organisation and the place it serves. A good corporate narrative helps people understand what you stand for, why you’re important and your plans for the future.

Like all good stories it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. It should capture what you are doing, where you are going, what’s important to you and why, using simple, clear everyday language. It should include your strengths and your weaknesses, your values and your vision. It should be human and focused on the people the council serves and the people delivering the council’s services. It’s hard to remember facts – however impressive they are – it’s easy to remember good stories and your corporate narrative should reflect this.

It doesn’t need to be long and, once drafted, you should be able to boil your main corporate narrative text down into a couple of sentences that you can use as a shorter version of your story. It may also provide you with a strapline – a phrase describing your organisation in words that ring true.

Your corporate narrative is not the same as a place brand, although place branding will also involve the development of a compelling story about the area your council serves, so your council’s narrative should work alongside any story of place, complimenting and supporting it. If your story of place and your council’s story contradict each other one of them will be wrong – and people will notice. Further information on how to develop a place brand can be found here.

A corporate narrative isn’t about branding, or design or a logo; it’s simply a good story. And as all the best communicators are great storytellers, it’s right that developing a corporate narrative should be led by the communications team – and owned by the whole organisation.

Why is it important?

Any organisation delivering more than 700 different services to people could be forgiven for not having a clear story to tell about what it does; actually the very complexity of what a council does makes it even more important to tell a simple story that works for every service. Councils deliver services that make a difference to the everyday lives of people; a good narrative tells a story about the people who deliver the services and the people who receive them.

The employee engagement movement, Engage for Success has a useful section on strategic narrative, focusing on why it’s important for employees. It says a strong corporate narrative:

  • unites people behind a common purpose and direction
  • creates a context for change
  • links together and makes sense of multiple initiatives
  • aligns leaders to demonstrate a unified organisation
  • inspires people and creates pride
  • helps employees make sense of their roles in the organisation
  • challenges and changes employees’ behaviour

Above all, it’s a key tool for building consensus across an organisation – telling the tale of a past and present that everyone recognises, explaining current challenges and issues and outlining a future that people want to make happen.

A successful corporate narrative will see everyone – members, managers and employees at all levels – telling the same story about the council to anyone who asks.  If the story rings true across the whole organisation it’s less likely a team will go off and do its own thing. And, pragmatically, it can help save time and energy; your corporate narrative can be used repeatedly across all your marketing and PR and be used to help guide your strategic decision making.