• Caroline Ridgway

Communications and storytelling; AKA, not traditional marketing

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

On the phone with a client recently we were engaged in a mutual appreciation session. Those are the best, and I really recommend them, if possible. During the conversation, she was saying how much they liked my work (swoon!), and commented, “What you do isn’t traditional marketing.” I wanted to stop right there and shout it from on high! No, it’s not traditional marketing. Nor is it meant to be.

All respect to the marketers, ad experts, and PR gurus in the audience. What you all do is nuanced, and requires plenty of skill, creativity, and doggedness. What I like best is getting to know people and organizations and circumstances and telling the stories that define them. This has taken different forms during my career.

After I finished law school, when I was working as a policy and communications director for a healthcare trade association, my job was to tell the story of why these little primary care clinics, mostly run by nurse practitioners, were important. It was getting to know the providers, and the patients, and understanding why access to this kind of care mattered in a person’s life. Then it was about convincing the traditional medical system, along with government regulators and legislators, why they should be sanctioned.

Representing my family’s restaurant business, it’s a different tale we tell. In a world where anyone can go to a chain restaurant and pay moderate bucks for, dare I say it, moderately good food, why is it worth it to pay a premium to dine locally? For one, trust in quality. Two, the notion of family becomes expansive. It is our immediate family that owns and operates the restaurants. But the people who walk through our doors—including three and four generations of the same families—are equally cherished. Three, keep your dollars local. You can easily look up what a difference that makes across a community.

One of the most challenging but gratifying professional engagements I had was helping the local chamber of commerce on an initiative to pass a temporary sales tax in the county. We worked collaboratively to devise messaging to help the public understand the necessity of the measure. It needed to be about the community as a whole, and taking care of current needs to keep future even more drastic measures at bay. We needed to help convey to the voting public that many of the benefits of the sales tax may not be immediately seen, but their positive impact would be long felt.

There is always a story to tell. Whatever your sector, corporate tax status, company size, business model, or mission, there are stories of who you are, how you got where you are, and why your contributions have value. Think about why people do like to shop locally—back to the restaurants above—doesn’t it mean something to you as a consumer to know who you’re doing business with?

Also true, it’s hard to get at the heart of the stories when you’re the main character. Bringing in someone adept at parsing out the who, what, where, when, and why can help even you more thoroughly understand the value of your work. Maybe it feels obvious to you, but assess whether you have the right written words to help someone new understand.

The thing with stories. They can change over time. The reason you started your business or organization may have shifted. Maybe your mission statement and values need to be refined. Maybe your scope has grown, or maybe it has gotten smaller. Both of those scenarios can be good, in context.

Regardless, what are you doing to tell the world about it?

#words #writing #communication #storytelling

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