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“Corporate Storytelling” was one of the events that caught my eye this October. A great defender of milestones, timelines and company histories in my PR campaigns, I was eager to hear other inspiring stories: those told by CEOs and sales reps (prodded or not by their agencies), then naively repeated by corporate spouses to all and sundry.

Last Thursday’s lunchtime debate was organised by the Belgian “Corporate Communications Community” (3C, ex-BPRC) at CBR/Heidelberg’s Brussels headquarters. After squeezing my car into their narrow driveway, I was welcomed with a snappy, personalised book on storytelling from Bemore, and a very necessary cup of coffee.

Participants hailed from real estate agencies, banks, the Belgian federal administration, universities, big pharma, recycling, temping, automotive OEM, retail and technology--as well as the usual PR/comms agencies. I was happy to find Jo from Duval Guillaume, and share a bit of client gossip.

Raf Stevens of Bemore launched the debate with a refreshingly short and visual presentation, which covered the essence of what makes a good story, why to prefer archetypes to metaphors (with the latter you run the risk of oversimplification), and all about the complex “hidden” bit which is happening in people’s emotional space when they listen to a story. Nancy Nackaerts, ex-journalist now with UCB (pharma), impressed me with her understanding of how a company’s story is not static but in constant evolution. She described how UCB are collecting sub-stories throughout the company, selecting them and designating ambassadors for their external use. Rachel de Rudder of Durabrik, with her focus on listening, painted a picture of a very democratic process within a company which is first focussing on internal storytelling.

Geert Degrande, journalist (with CFO magazine, among others), raised a few eyebrows when he pointed out that storytelling has become so mainstream that guests at a Hyatt hotel in London are now offered a story as part of the turn down service when they check in. Needless to say, the service has proven very successful. He drew the audience’s attention to the “storytelling” behind well-known green/eco initiatives and companies—and how such companies’ stories are much more likely to be picked up by the media. (PR hacks take notice.)

After exploring what to do about a corporate story when management consensus is absent (or worse, there is no alignment between form and content), the debate took a few detours by way of “brand” storytelling, irritating some of the participants. The discussion ended on the issue of global (headquarters) stories that aren’t adapted to local audiences, and won’t “sell” to the local press. Nancy Nackaerts’ advice was to use the global stories as building blocks, and to ensure that there is harmony between local and global stories.

The moderator, Johan Ral, was so good at prompting the panel members with incisive topics that some of the audience shuffled off to their buffet lunch still peckish with unanswered questions. Proof it’s a subject with long-lasting buzz. Quick test: can you give a one-minute “elevator pitch” on your company’s story ?

Bemore made short videos summarising the speakers' key tips:

NB: Only two questions were asked in French, so make sure to attend 3C events with a good Dutch interpreter! 3C emails a regular newsletter, complete with upcoming event announcements in FR/NL: http://www.3c.be/index.php?page=mailing-list&hl=nl_NL

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