Three Effective Ways to Use Storytelling for Public Affairs

10 Apr, 2018

Three Effective Ways to Use Storytelling for Public Affairs

Many organizations struggle with communicating policy positions to the public, media, policymakers and even their own advocates and supporters. Storytelling is an important tool for distilling complex issues and relating them back to a person’s interests, values or experience. Professionals in advocacy and public affairs can use stories to humanize less exciting issues to improve the success of their lobbying or advocacy campaigns and boost their organization’s reputation. What are the best ways to use storytelling for your public affairs program?

Train Your Grassroots Advocates to be Storytellers

Organizations commonly use employees, members or other supporters as advocates. However, these advocates are not trained lobbyists, and successful grassroots advocates can tell policymakers their story without focusing on policy minutiae. Advocacy professionals usually need to train their grassroots advocates to be successful storytellers. This might involve helping advocates identify an authentic story that relates to the policy issue at hand. Advocates may also need to role play and practice sharing their story to distill it down to the most important – and impactful – elements. This grassroots advocacy approach takes time, but it can be highly effective in ensuring your policy message resonates with key audiences.

Use Video to Explain Complex Issues

Even the simplest policy issue can quickly become complex when trying to explain it to an audience unfamiliar with your industry or field. Videos are a great way for organizations to quickly educate the concerned public or even supporters. Organizations (even those with limited budget) can use animated “explainer videos” like this one created by the Consumer Technology Association to explain how patent trolls affect small technology businesses. The media is also using visual storytelling to examine complex issues. Vox Media has created an entire news section devoted to explainer articles and videos and TheNew York Times recently launched a visualization lab. Organizations looking to improve their public affairs efforts can now combine the power of storytelling with one of the most effective tools to compel audiences: online video.

The Public Affairs Council recently launched a Public Affairs Trend Lab, which is focused on examples of visual storytelling. Website visitors can look at great public affairs storytelling examples and gain ideas on how to improve their own organization’s storytelling.

Leverage Sponsored Content for More than an Op-Ed

Recently, news organizations have begun selling sponsored content or native advertising spots on their websites. These advertisements typically look like an op-ed, and traditionally, the organizations purchasing them have treated them like such. However, these sponsored posts can be used to share an interesting perspective through a story, and they often incorporate visual elements, like infographics or charts. For example, when the American Chemistry Council wanted to explain the benefits of chlorine in fighting the Ebola epidemic, they told a story using compelling visuals and calling out important points from the narrative. They shared it via Politico’s sponsored content ads. It is important for organizations to see beyond routine relationship building with policymakers and focus on sharing their story and trying to shape the narrative around their issue.