The Importance of Defining a Clear Narrative BEFORE Crisis Hits

Turn on the news, open the paper, or scroll your social feed of choice and you’ll see seemingly endless examples of organizations that have lost control of their narrative. Columbia University, The Royal Family, the entire electric vehicle industry – all scrambling to get their image and the public’s perception of them back in line.

Narrative is the “story” that an organization tells its publics through statements and actions over time. Narrative is built over months, years, and decades, not within a day or two.

The importance of narrative management for organizations cannot be overstated. Particularly in times of crisis, the ability to control the story becomes paramount. However, what’s often overlooked is the necessity of working on one’s narrative well before a crisis strikes.

The royal family’s handling of Kate Middleton’s health crisis offers a compelling case study. For months, rumors circulated about the Duchess of Cambridge’s health, with speculation mounting as to the nature of her illness. Throughout this period, the royal family remained silent, allowing others to shape the narrative. As a result, the media and public filled the information void with speculation and conjecture, painting a picture that may not have accurately reflected reality.

When the situation reached a tipping point and the rumors became too loud to ignore, the royal family was forced to intervene. In a statement released to the press, they confirmed that Kate Middleton had indeed been battling cancer and had undergone treatment. By then, the narrative had spiraled out of control, and the royal family found themselves in a position of damage control rather than proactive communication.

This scenario serves as a cautionary tale, underscoring the importance of proactive narrative management long before a crisis unfolds. Here’s why organizations should prioritize this preemptive approach:

Building Resilience and Preparedness: Just as organizations invest in contingency plans for other aspects of operations, they must develop proactive narrative management strategies. By anticipating potential crises and crafting preemptive communication plans, organizations can respond swiftly and decisively when faced with challenges.

Establishing Trust and Credibility: Consistent and transparent communication forms the foundation of trust between organizations and their stakeholders. By actively engaging with their audiences and shaping their narrative over time, organizations can foster goodwill and credibility, which becomes invaluable during times of crisis.

Staying Ahead of the Curve: In today’s interconnected world, news travels fast, and public opinion can shift rapidly. Organizations that neglect to manage their narrative proactively risk falling behind and losing control of the conversation. By staying ahead of emerging issues and trends, organizations can position themselves as leaders rather than followers in the narrative landscape.

Demonstrating Leadership and Responsibility: Proactive narrative management is not just about protecting reputation; it’s also about demonstrating leadership and responsibility. Organizations that take ownership of their narrative and communicate with authenticity and empathy inspire confidence and respect from their stakeholders.

There are many examples of organizations that have benefited from a proactive approach to narrative management. Take Starbucks, which has consistently prioritized social responsibility and ethical sourcing practices. By proactively communicating their values and initiatives, Starbucks has built a loyal customer base and weathered crises such as the 2018 incident in Philadelphia involving the arrest of two black men at one of its stores.

Another example is outdoor apparel company Patagonia, which has built a narrative around environmental activism and corporate responsibility. This narrative has resonated with environmentally conscious consumers, who view the company as a trusted ally in the fight against climate change. When the company faced backlash for its decision to sue the Trump administration over the reduction of protected lands in Utah, its established narrative as a champion of environmental causes helped it weather the controversy and maintain support from its loyal customer base.

Proactive narrative management is not just a crisis management tool; it’s a strategic imperative for organizations seeking to thrive in an unpredictable world. By investing in building and shaping their narrative well before a crisis hits, organizations can cultivate resilience, earn trust, and lead with authenticity and integrity. As the adage goes, the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the second best time is now. Similarly, the best time to manage your narrative was before a crisis; the second best time is today.

If you’re looking for help building your organization’s narrative, we’re here for you.

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