Developing your corporate narrative

It is important to balance the need for consensus – a story that all the right key people feel they have influenced – against a narrative that’s written by committee, feeling stodgy and jargon-filled as a result.

The role of the communications team is important here; the team should be holding the ring on this work – particularly on drafting and finalising text so it stays crisp, written in plain English and keeps its story arc (its beginning, middle and end) without lapsing into detail and too much explanation of the nuances of what you’re saying.

Who should be involved?

You can’t involve the whole organisation in the drafting of the narrative, but it’s important to get the right people involved.

Involve key members (from all political parties on the council if that’s possible), from the start, alongside senior managers and the service managers who you know will have a strong (and helpful) view about the real world of frontline service delivery. Include people who have been at the council for a long time alongside some newer employees or members; a mix of old and new faces helps give a more balanced view of the organisation. At Oxfordshire County Council the feedback from residents’ focus groups played a key role in reshaping the council’s narrative so it is important to make sure that communities are actively involved wherever possible.

What does good look like?

A strong narrative won’t look or feel like anyone else’s; the whole point of developing a story is to create something that’s unique to your organisation. But it’s likely to include:

  • a purpose and a vision – what the organisation does and what it wants to do to make lives better for its residents
  • the reality of how it is now for the organisation, its employees and residents
  • a clear strategic argument – a golden thread running through the story
  • a human focus – using language that’s emotional and passionate about the organisation and the place and people it serves

The case studies in this toolkit come from very different councils, all at different stages of developing, embedding and adapting their corporate narrative and we’ve also included a case study from a creative agency specialising in developing stories for private sector organisations.

Despite the differences across these organisations, they all share some common themes; the importance of using plain and simple language, the need to listen to and understand what staff, residents and partners think about you and the value of embedding your story across your organisation.