"Today can everything be a story?"
1. August 2019
Live on Stage: Rod Cartwright – heute im Plot-Interview
For the opening session of Plot19, Rod Cartwright, a Thought Leader to the PR-Industry since more than 25 years, will set out to answer the seemingly simple question: „Today, can everything be a story?“. Drawing on storytelling examples from across corporate & brand communication, politics, crisis management and film & entertainment, he will provide a provocative model designed to take on this critical question of our times. Expect to be challenged, stimulated and potentially even surprised!
Rod is a specialist in corporate & brand reputation, issues & crisis management, integrated marketing communication and stakeholder & influencer engagement. He has helped major corporations and organisations to tell their story – from Nissan, IBM, IATA and Bridgestone to Accenture, Dell, Western Union and Malaysia Airlines.
Interview by Petra Sammer
Rod, the beginning of this century may be remembered as the „Era of Storytelling“. Stories seem to be everywhere. How do you explain this huge hunger for narratives?
The second decade of the 21st Century has been characterised by ever-greater information overload and digital saturation. Add to that the rise of political populism, nationalism and polarisation, and you see a world that leaves many people feeling confused, disorientated and out-of-control. In that environment, I believe we crave the familiarity and comfort of storytelling, which helps us make structured sense of the whirlwind life we now live.
Jonathan Gottschall, the author of the book „The Storytelling Animal“, points out that stories make us human. The ability to tell stories distinguishes us from animals and is proof point that we are real social creatures. How important is humanity in business today? And is professional communication such as marketing or corporate coms too rational and lacking humanity?
I have long believed that in a world were change is the only constant, the breakthrough brands of tomorrow will be those who place fundamental needs, wants and values at the heart of their approach. As exciting – and potentially frightening – as the Fourth Industrial Revolution may be, technology has only ever facilitated human needs and wants that existed already. Be it the printing press, celluloid and the Worldwide Web. So as we consider how best to manage that emerging revolution, corporations and brands alike would be well advised to move beyond rational product attributes alone and focus on the alignment of their corporate mission and purpose with core human beliefs.
„Storyfying“ seems like a virus. Everything is turned into a story now. Core messages are stories, news are stories, data is turned into stories, brands obviously. There are Insta- and Facebook-stories, design tells a story and even shops are now called experiential stories. How much story can we stand? Or will we soon – fed up from too much narrative – swing back to rational, dry facts and figures?
For me, the solution to story overload is simplicity and true human engagement. If you think of your favourite campaign or advert, it is not the brilliance of the channel strategy or even the creative execution that moves you. It is the simplicity of the core human insight that drives those strategic and activation choices. With saturation only set to increase, less will definitely be more as corporations and brands compete to create simple, authentic and deeply human connections.
Rod, you’ve been in the eye of the storm of many huge crisis projects. You´ve helped managing crisis communication on situations such as the disappearance of Malaysian Airline flight MH370 and many other difficult moments for organisations, companies and brands. What´s your opinion on storytelling as a technique when it comes to an extreme domain such as crisis communication. How do you see “stories” or “narrative” here?
I think we have to be very careful in viewing narrative and storytelling as any kind of panacea in crisis situations. Research I led a few years ago found that as important as empathy and clear communication are in the eye of a crisis, it is the ‚operationalisation‘ of that empathy which satisfies the core human need for decency, clarity and action. So while a clear narrative is certainly all-important, it is the alignment of words and corporate behaviour that marks out the best crisis responses.
The Plot-Team is honored to have you at Plot19 for the opening speech. Will you please provide some insights about your keynote and urge our guests to buy their ticket now.
As a colleague (misguidedly) once said of me, I am quite ‚high-compliance‘, so I will obediently be setting out to answer the seemingly simple question posed to me: „Today, can everything be a story?“. To do that, I will be laying out an intentionally provocative storytelling model, drawing on concrete storytelling examples from across corporate & brand communication, politics, crisis management and film & entertainment. However, I may also be a little naughty and answer a question I haven’t been asked, so expect to be challenged, stimulated and potentially even surprised!
>> Rod´s own story started with a bachelor´s degree from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in modern languages and an M.A. with distinction in international political economics. His career gained momentum with leadership positions managing the U.K. public affairs teams at Hill & Knowlton and GCI London. He served as a member of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s staff at Labour Party headquarters during the 1997 general election. As Global Corporate Practice Director at Ketchum, a major PR-network, he focused on the importance of leadership and introduced the Leadership Communications Monitor, a survey to detect necessities and realities of effective leadership styles worldwide. With his international background Rod became EMEA Regional Director at Archetype, a global communications agency and today he is a senior communications strategist and thought leader to the industry – consulting corporations, organisations and brands to tell their story more effective, real and humane. We are looking forward to his talk at Plot19. Buy your ticket now: www.whattheplot.com