The Power of Narrative

October 31, 2016

United Airlines made a strategic hire recently—Chief Storyteller. 

Dana Brooks Reinglass, a former producer at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios, will fill the new position at the airline and manage a staff of about 20.

"In this digital age of immersion and participation, I still feel that sharing your story inspires the most powerful emotions and moves people to action," Reinglass said in a statement.

I conduct storytelling workshops for many of my clients. Narratives are powerful, and they make a much deeper impression than press releases. They are especially valuable in crisis communications.

When people encounter a crisis they want to interpret the situation in terms of archetypal roles—Who is the villain, the victim, the hero? What is the moral of the story? I ask my clients, in which of these roles will your organization be cast? How will external audiences view your role in the crisis? The answers can help shape strategy. I’ve found that the narrative arc that you envision, if it is truly informed by your core values and your actions, can help you navigate a crisis. But it has to be authentic. You can’t just make it up.

Dana Reinglass will oversee the United’s internal and external social media and digital communications. She and her team will try to craft messages that are more authentic and engaging to tell the story of United as it adapts to new leadership at the top.

Microsoft, IBM and Verizon have similar storytelling positions. Research shows that millennials are especially distrustful of authority and the corporate voice. This increased emphasis on storytelling is a response to the need for communicators to create more compelling content. Amidst all the content options offered in our digital environment, it’s the only way to compete for a busy and distracted audience. 

Narratives are especially valuable in crisis communications.

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United is determined to craft a more authentic story.

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