Inspiring Action: Public-Sector Communicators and Telling Stories That Matter

February 4, 2019

[ikon images]
[ikon images]

As newsrooms continue to shrink, it isn’t a surprise that public-sector communicators are looking for ways to tell their stories directly to audiences.

The good news is that with social media and other digital platforms, we have more avenues for telling our stories than ever before. Such tools are essential for communicating simplified translations of information that would otherwise be too complex and bureaucratic for the average citizen to comprehend.

What role does storytelling play in the way you communicate with the public and how can it help your PR efforts? Storytelling can engage the public you serve by humanizing the services your agency provides, getting your stakeholders more involved and inspiring community leaders to champion your causes and projects. When done right, storytelling carries your core messages further.

Showcase your agency’s value.

Press releases from public-sector agencies are often based solely on numbers about budget items or programs. In all likelihood, a story about the community served could be told instead, with those numbers woven in, making the information more memorable and meaningful.

A story about the public you serve should have a compelling beginning, a strong middle and a satisfying end. To make people stop and listen, the story should be one in which everyone can participate.

When strategizing your communications plans, think about the human elements of the stories you wish to tell. Every press release is an opportunity to share a story that will help the public better understand your organization’s benefits and teach them something new about the services your agency provides. Storytelling can easily help you humanize your efforts and bring them to life by providing people with an immediate understanding of the impact it will have on them.

When formulating public relations and marketing plans, go beyond sharing data and statistics to include stories of the people and communities who will be helped. They can be voices for your cause. Telling their stories will also help you create the right narrative about your agency or department. Storytelling lets you explain the value of the services your agency provides in simple, relatable ways that show members of the public how the government is working for them.

As a public servant, you can find endless stories about the communities you serve. Keep your eyes and ears open to the people you meet and how they might align with your efforts. Collect anecdotes about their experiences that will amplify your message and make it more relatable.

Tell stories that spur action.

When people hear moving human stories, they’re more likely to remember the information and take action as a result. What is it about your agency’s efforts that you hope will motivate people to take action? By incorporating storytelling into your calls to action, you can inspire the public you serve to change their behavior and champion your cause. Stories can be found in everything your agency does — whether it’s promoting a greener city, making health services more accessible or improving street safety.

Storytelling also helps you gain legitimacy and support from community leaders who can, in turn, speak persuasively on your behalf. When you create compelling stories about your agency’s efforts, others are more likely to repeat those narratives to wider audiences.

Reporters are drawn to good stories too, so this strategy for spreading your message further also helps you garner more press coverage in an era when newspaper space and TV-news time have become limited. Offer local journalists the opportunity to tell your stories from your perspective and inspire the people you serve.

Use all storytelling vehicles.

In today’s digital world, a vast number of vehicles are available for telling your stories. For example, two-thirds of U.S. adults now get news and information from social media, according to the Pew Research Center.

People turn to platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to find news about their communities and the world. Information on these social media networks is often packaged with images and short videos, allowing you to build your narrative and communicate your message more effectively than you could with a press release or media advisory alone.

If your PR efforts include social media, use these vehicles to tell your agency’s story and take advantage of all the ways you can build content around your message. Good content tells a story and draws people in, expanding their knowledge about the work your agency does and how it adds value to their lives.

Social media can also move people to take action. Looking to drive traffic to your website? Offer the link. Want to keep the public abreast on the latest wildfire-relief efforts? Post a short video with updates.

Social media is also a great way to inform people about your public-sector agency’s services and employees. It’s not every day that the public gets a behind-the-scenes look at how government really works.

Stories about the history of your agency or department showcase its role in the community over the years. Telling stories about your agency’s past can get more people interested in its efforts for the future.

The public sector is unique in that we are not selling products for profit, but rather working on initiatives and services that will improve the lives of millions. With new media allowing us to reach more people than ever before, there’s no better way to communicate than through the power of storytelling. Always keep it in your toolbox as a public-sector communicator.

Throughout history, storytelling has shaped who we are as a society and as individuals. Communicate your most important messages by telling stories that matter.

Brenda Duran

Brenda Duran is communications director for the LA County Registrar-Recorder County Clerk, in Los Angeles. Contact her at


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