Tell me a story

From Enid Blyton to The Hungry Caterpillar; Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, most of us have a favourite childhood book – one that our parents read to us (or we read to ourselves) over and over again, until its pages became thumbed and thinned with use. What was it that so drew us to these tales? The very same things that encourage us to read great corporate materials as adults: a strong structure, engaging characters, and a narrative that is easy to follow.

More than just the sum of its parts

That through-line – otherwise known as “the story” – is more important than you might think. If there is one common mistake in producing communications for clients and investors, it is creating an unfiltered mass of information that is so dense as to be unreadable. Partly, this is down to an unwieldy amount of source content and a large number of unconnected contributors. Nonetheless, some key guidelines may be helpful:

  • Decide in advance what your key messages are, and how these can best be illustrated with the material you have to work with. Those messages are like the plot points of a novel – try not to veer away from them, or readers will get confused.

  • Determine what focusing elements – be it the personal story of an employee or eye-catching photos – might help draw your audiences in.

  • For larger reports, hold meetings with all contributors at regular intervals, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that each department has equally strong content.

  • If it’s not absolutely essential, don’t say it. It’s usually the case that less is more.

A triumph of both content and form

Just as the layout of a book is matched to its likely readership, business communications content is at its best when it’s fit for purpose. If it’s a new website, make sure the information on each page stands on its own. For CSR reporting, if you’re sharing the benefits of a new programme, use lots of tangible examples of how people on the ground have benefited – the human element is always compelling. And if you’re writing a press release, consider the most intriguing part of your message. That’s the one that editors will pay attention to.


Remember, if you can get someone thinking about your work long after they’ve put it down, chances are, you’ve already won a new fan.