This week the Story Network came together. It’s a regular meeting for those working in charity storytelling. It’s not a general interest group (although we love people who appreciate good stories!), it’s a professional network where we discuss everything from building relationships with services teams and frontline staff – they are your best researchers! – to the ins and outs of permission forms.
We kick off each session with an inspiration session where we share examples of amazing storytelling that’s caught our eye in the previous two months. There are usually quite a few examples, but this week it was all about Children in Need. Happily, they attend the Story Network and so Jo Porter gave us a bit of an insight into everything that goes into planning their storytelling.
Children in Need funds more than 2700 projects across the UK and while we ‘only’ see 12 films on the night, some 200 stories are captured to support the whole campaign, which includes everything from programming across the national and regional BBC network to assembly packs for schools, and, of course, lots of content for social networks.
Work on the following year begins not long after the last appeal has closed. The process starts with a huge UK-wide mapping exercise which plots out the main issues and themes that need to be covered. It then becomes a complex exercise of ensuring all regions have enough stories to access and that there is an even spread of topics covered. Things to consider include whether a project will still be a grant beneficiary by the time the following appeal rolls around.
When I set up the story-gathering team at VSO back in January 2006 I used to do a similar mapping exercise. I’d consult colleagues to find out what the themes of their forthcoming appeals and campaigns were and what they thought the hot topics would be for their audiences over the next year. I was only planning four or five overseas visits a year to capture 30 or 40 stories, though! I found the achievements of Jo’s small but nimble team mindboggling.
But what is true of both those examples is that strategy drives the story gathering; it’s about starting with a bird’s eye view of what a campaign or organisation needs to achieve and then zooming into the detail to choose the right story. Before any question is asked or any lens focused there is already a real understanding of what the story needs to deliver. A massive £31,124,896 was raised on the night for Children in Need and much of this was down to the power of the personal stories told in the lead up and on the night.
Many organisations happen upon a good story and then think about what it can do for them. That’s OK, sometimes this works, but often it doesn’t and you end up trying to crowbar key messages into a story that doesn’t quite match. I think one of the tricks of story gathering that delivers results is to know exactly what you need a story to do for you before you have even started looking for it.