Kristin Hansen, executive director of the Civic Health Project, believes that communicators can play a critical role in crafting brand stories that unite audiences with wildly divergent beliefs and values.. “You have a really important role to play in telling better stories,” she said in her fireside chat at Ragan and PR Daily’s Brand Storytelling Conference on April 13, “Bridging the divide with brand storytelling.”
While often communicators’ goal is aimed toward inspiring people to buy things, Hansen believes that we can widen the range of stories we tell while still making our businesses “wildly successful.”
Hansen’s work at The Civic Health Project seeks to address the problem of severe polarization in society by taking the temperature down and being hyper-aware of the unintentional biases that colors the stories we tell. Hansen shared “jarring” statistics to make it clear why this project is needed:
- 54% of people say other Americans pose the greatest risk to our country
- 57% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats say the other party are “the enemy” and not just opponents
- 20% of Americans say people on “the other side” lack the traits to be considered fully human
Perpetuating a narrative that people not like us are boogeymen can make us feel enraged, Hansen says. This approach often manifests when some default to language that the other side is overrun by communists or fascists, suggesting that a new civil war is coming and the other side is to blame. Hansen calls the people who intentionally perpetuate these narratives ”conflict entrepreneurs,” claiming that they intentionally craft stories that elicit fear and anxiety to profit from making audiences feel divided. This can mean getting people to vote in a certain way, give their attention to something or buy something. She refers to the fear and anxiety as “toxic sludge.”
Why should communicators help?
Hansen acknowledges that you might be thinking this isn’t your job, or you don’t know how you can help in these big problems. But here’s why communicators are so well positioned to help:
- Comms pros are experts in storytelling
- Communicators have platforms, internally and externally
- According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, businesses and business leaders have more trust than many other societal institutions
As for why you should care, Hansen says socially cohesive messages about how and why we are connected instead of how and why we’re different have wide appeal across the spectrum and can lead to the broadest possible audience, rather than fracturing it by taking on political hues.
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