We are all in the business of telling stories. It doesn’t matter if you’re a politician, business executive, community organizer, member of the media or communications strategist. Our most basic interactions depend upon our ability to tell stories. It’s how we communicate, learn, change and improve ourselves.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help tell some complex and important stories. Stories that have helped improve our communities. Stories that have moved people to change. And stories that have changed perceptions.
In 1994, the Beacon Journal won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its year-long series, “A Question of Color,” which explored the role of race relations in the city of Akron. Our team conceived a groundbreaking examination of how black and white people live and interact in Akron. Years later, Dana Canedy of The New York Times wrote a story about the effort and asked me why we initiated the series. It had been our hope that telling stories of how people of different races struggled and succeeded to interact would help open eyes and improve both communications and our community.
During this experience, hundreds of people gathered at community forums to explore relationships in Akron; 20,000 made a New Year’s resolution to improve race relations in Akron. In 1997, then-President Clinton came to Akron to initiate his national conversation on race relations.
In another highly effective team effort, Dix & Eaton collaborated with a number of clients, including Cleveland Plus and Destination Cleveland, as well as professionals from organizations across Cleveland, to tell the world the story of a city and a region on the rise. Our goal was to leverage the opportunity of the 2016 Republican National Convention to articulate the re-energized spirit of a region formerly known as the Rust Belt.
In a previous blog post, I outlined the numerous headlines that appeared in national and international media describing Cleveland’s improvements.
The communications strategy, which was more than two years in the making, just won a Bronze Anvil for media relations (“From Cleveland to Believeland: Leveraging the RNC to Change a City's Narrative,”) and two Silver Anvils (Changing a City's Narrative: How Cleveland Leveraged the 2016 RNC to Shift Perceptions from Rust Belt to Revitalization) for integrated communications strategy.
In a 30-year career, one hopefully learns a few things. The signature efforts that earned Akron and Cleveland national recognition share a number of characteristics worth considering. Here are a few:
- Be thankful for the expertise and passion of coworkers. Colleagues make the contributions that translate good plans into exceptional results.
- The opportunity to make a difference motivates talented people. None of the key people in the Pulitzer and Anvil efforts was motivated by national awards. Each wanted to produce the best work possible and benefit their communities.
- An innovative communications strategy can be a powerful thing. It was energizing to consider what was possible in our communications – focus groups, fact sheets, a social media command center, videos, online newsrooms, to name a few – and see the amount of information that was conveyed.
- The group dynamic of working on a project greater than any one individual or department can be a remarkable experience.
- Realize that at the end of the day, you are not selling widgets! It doesn’t matter if you are trying to improve race relations or a community’s image or sell a product. Focus on what your organization does and how it is unique. Even if you provide a commodity, your organization’s culture and its ties to various communities are special. Tell that story, daily!
Some people say journalists are the enemy. Others say those in public relations lack credibility. But the best among both professions tell stories with power, candor and credibility. They don’t communicate as if they sell widgets.
I look forward to working with my colleagues and clients in the coming years to tell more stories that matter.