3 new roles communicators must embrace

Storyteller. Content gatherer. Alchemist. Are you able to handle all three? Kleenex, Stantec and Roche turned corporate lead into gold when they took on these challenges.

It’s high time for some good news out there in CommunicatorLand.

BREAKING: You’re looking great in the storytelling department, folks, says Steve Crescenzo of Crescenzo Communications.

“Everybody is getting better at this,” the popular consultant says. “Everybody. Organizations are finally figuring out that in order to tell their stories and get people to pay attention to them, they’ve got to do a better job.”

That’s because if you’re boring, you’re sunk in this age of instant online gratification. Crescenzo levels his assessment in a new Ragan Training video, “7 ways to make sure you’re relevant five years from now.”

“In a content-saturated culture, we’ve got to define new roles for ourselves,” he says.

[Get $300 off attending a live internal communications master class with Steve and Cindy Crescenzo in New York on Aug. 9 or Boston on Nov. 17.]

Here are three of the seven roles he says communicators must assume in their organizations:

1. Storyteller

This is where Crescenzo sees huge improvements. Organizations are figuring out that where there are human beings, there is drama.

Still, you might protest, that’s fine for Disney or Red Bull. What about our outfit making boring old aluminum shelving or cardboard accordion files? The secret is people. Consider the example of Kleenex.

“Where’s the drama in Kleenex?” Crescenzo says. “You blow your nose in Kleenex. How can you tell a story about Kleenex?”

Yet Kleenex communicators asked themselves, Why do people reach for a tissue? At least some of the time, it’s because they’re teary-eyed. This means emotion—human drama. So the company developed a “Messages of Care” campaign of emotional videos that make viewers reach for a tissue.

One of them is about a Chicago school chorus teacher who came back to work after beating cancer, only to find herself welcomed by choir alums singing “Amazing Grace.”

“Get your Kleenex ready,” Crescenzo says as he plays the clip.

The video doesn’t even mention Kleenex until the end, he notes.

“It’s not about Kleenex,” he says. The company “pulls people to their content rather than pushing it at people. Only works if the content is superb—which it is.”

The video also scored Kleenex all kinds of positive coverage—the kind few press releases would ever get secure. The video sparked stories in news media outlets as far-flung as Chicago’s WGN TV and the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

2. Content gatherer

Not everyone has the time or budget to produce professional videos. User-generated content, though, involves getting your employees and customers to tell their stories.

At Stantec, an urban planning company, they took inspiration from Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”). Stantec told employees, “I want you to tell me a six-word story about your experience in this company.”

The company made it a contest , asking employees to encapsulate their work experience and the organization’s mission and values. They thought they might get 50 or 60 to post on the intranet; they got 1,500.

“That’s how hungry people are to contribute,” Crescenzo says. “They want to generate content. They want to be heard.”

One staffer wrote, “My projects make my community better,” while another offered, “Driven by community, creativity, and passion!” The winner was, “Needed a job. Found a home.”

Stantec posted it all on the internet, along with portraits of the people, and it has become the company’s biggest recruiting tool, Crescenzo says. It kept going from there. iPhone videos. Walls in the conference rooms. Bigwigs giving six-word reports each from their annual shindig. The CEO relates the best stories in his presentations to investors. Marketers use them in trade-show booths.

“You can’t just dump stuff on the intranet,” Crescenzo says. “You can’t just push out press releases. … We need to be able to find the content people will talk about.”

3. Alchemist

You recall the alchemists of yore, who claimed to be able to turn lead into gold.

It’s worse than that in corporate comms on some days. How often do you feel, Crescenzo asks, that you “have to turn corporate crap into gold”? Have you ever been bored by something you’re writing—while you’re writing it? Bad sign.

Much of what communicators find themselves doing, however, is making the important interesting. Safety is certainly important; so are marketing and values. But interesting? Less so.

“No child will ever ask you to read them a press release at bedtime,” Crescenzo says, quoting a poster from Shift Communications. “They want you to tell them a story. So do your customers.”

“So do your employees,” he adds. ” So does the media. So does anybody you’re communicating with right now.”

Roche, the pharmaceutical giant, offers an example. You might think that accountants—however terrific they might be as individuals—wouldn’t make the most exciting employee profiles. Roche proves otherwise.

Communicators started out video-recording an accountant in the green room. He was nervous, red-faced, stammering. So they got a brown bag lunch, settled him down, and interviewed him at his workplace. He relaxed.

Turned out he had a story. His father died at an early age of an aggressive cancer, he says in a video Crescenzo played. His mother has been suffering from multiple sclerosis and uses a walker to get around. This focuses the accountant on what’s important. He said that when he comes to work every day, he keeps that patient in the center of his mind, even though he works in finance.

“It allows me to take on my skills and interests and abilities in finance and analytics, and apply that to something that makes a difference in people’s lives,” the accountant says.

You have to keep digging for the gold, Crescenzo says. Your subject might be shy at first. Next, they’ll talk in corporate platitudes. Then finally, they start to open up, and you hit pay dirt.

“That’s the beauty of being an alchemist,” Crescenzo says. “It’s finding those stories.”

@byworking

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