Storytelling: Bring Campaign Communications to Life

by Joe Fuld

Girl in front of pink brick wall with colorful chalk lines drawn -storytelling for campaign communications.

Storytelling Tips to Strengthen Your Campaign Communications

Storytelling in campaign communications can have a powerful impact on your advocacy campaign, member outreach or political communications. There are many ways to bolster your message, from numbers and statistics to expert testimony to eye-catching visuals, but one tactic that sometimes gets overlooked is storytelling. 

An effective advocacy campaign communications program will work to foster its supporters who have personal connections to issues and organizations into storytellers. Real people have the ability to bring an issue to life because they have lived experience. As campaign people, we may be great communicators, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we all have compelling, personal accounts of how a cause has changed our lives that we can share with the public to gain support for our cause. A supporter with a moving story can be an impactful messenger and act as a catalyst for success. 

Real Stories Matter
We believe storytelling is a powerful way to communicate with others and enhance your campaign communications. When we read about an abstract issue, it can be hard for us to wrap our brains around it. It feels immaterial or distant from our day-to-day lives. Human brains are wired for stories. They evoke emotion, and that is an invaluable asset when driving a point home. While data and numbers are an important piece of your message, stories are what make them come alive. We can relate to them better than statistics or canned statements because we have the ability to empathize with our fellow humans. We see ourselves in them. Someone’s personal account of an issue will cut through the noise much clearer than a policy white paper. 

Putting stories to work

There are plenty of ways to make stories work for your campaign communications program. Sharing user-generated content, tweeting, and having a supporter present at a community meeting are just a few opportunities to utilize storytelling. Remember, someone can have the most compelling story about your issue, but without the platform of your campaign, it may be lost. If a tree falls in the forest but no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? If one of your supporters has a compelling story but it doesn’t get told, does it impact your campaign communications? This is where you come in: helping people hone their stories to bolster your campaign’s message.

One example of storytelling in action is a simple ad we did for the Wisconsin Education Association Council. The WEA asked a teacher who had formerly won teacher of the year to deliver a very clear message on education. While he is not a professional spokesperson, Roger King makes his point with clarity and heart. Roger has been a teacher for a long time, but it wasn’t until WEA helped him put his story in the context of their cause that he was able to connect with educators and education advocates across the state. 
Finding Storytellers

How do you find the right stories to use in your campaign communications?  Ask, ask, and keep asking.  It’s not uncommon for supporters to share their stories with a campaign, and these stories have potential to really connect with the public. Listen! Consider which stories (and storytellers) best align with your campaign and message. Be sure to think about the coalition you want not necessarily the coalition you have now. Adding new voices to your cause can help build constituencies. 

Developing stories and storytellers into strong assets for your campaign communications program is not a one-person job. You need a team of people committed to recruiting and fostering a storytelling culture. Keep a spreadsheet with each storyteller’s name, their topic, and their contact information to stay organized, and be sure to track which stories are resonating most with different segments of your audience.

Make sure to be transparent with the supporters who volunteer to share their stories about the pros and cons. They will be telling their personal stories to the world; you don’t want anyone to be surprised when a reporter calls with follow-up questions. It’s also important that the recruitment process is not done solely over email. Call them on the phone, go meet them. Building strong rapport with your storytellers in turn builds trust and makes them even better advocates for your cause.

Keep these tips in mind when utilizing storytelling for your cause:

  • Develop a relationship with the people who are telling their stories. Make sure they understand how their story ties into to your cause and that they’re comfortable sharing.
  • Help them practice! While these stories shouldn’t sound fake or overly rehearsed, going over them a few times will give the storytellers more confidence.
  • Keep it concise. You don’t want your message to get lost in the weeds of needless details. A story doesn’t need to be long to make an impact.
  • Don’t forget the logistical pieces: signed releases, scripts, cameras, etc. are all necessary, and you can’t move forward without them. 
  • Remember, the stories and storytellers you use are an extension of your organization. Make sure the stories they tell extend outward and engage new coalition partners. 
  • Remember your goals. Make sure the story is tying back into your cause and campaign message.

Want to read more about campaign communications, storytelling and advocacy strategies? Check out our blog here