Rachel Savage was a speaker at an Online Event in May; “Tell Sustainability Stories which Win Hearts & Minds”. Founder of Brand New Story, Rachel has been immersed in stories since the mid 1990s when she was Deputy Editor for The Big Issue (South West). Since then she’s been a writer for Orange (UK and Global), The Environment Agency and Ecotricity.
We caught up with Rachel to talk about her career so far, starting conversations about climate change, and how branding and sustainability need to pair up!
1. Tell us a little about what you do and how you came to be doing this work.
I started working with stories in the 90’s when I was Deputy Editor for The Big Issue South West. When I left I transferred my skills in-house to Orange (Global & UK), Environment Agency and, finally, Ecotricity.
When I left what felt like to me the cosy 9-5 to become a freelance copywriter, I struggled to write for smaller ‘brandless’ organisations (including my own) and went in search of an answer. That search led me to discover and further develop the missing start of the branding process, the brand story.
Then, when my first storytelling client ended up on the shelves of Waitrose and Harvey Nic’s within 18 months, because they had a Brand New Story, I realised how potent this work is. Now I help leadership teams create their organisation’s story. But it’s no longer confined to the realms of branding or marketing. The Brand New Story process is a complete strategic story-led narrative that can literally evolve, align and transform any organisation, from the inside out.
2. What common mistakes do people make when trying to start conversations around the climate crisis/sustainability?
We forget to make it all about the person we are trying to connect with. In terms of storytelling, they are the hero of the story, not us. Our role is to mentor them and do everything we can to support them on their journey.
I once had a client who really struggled with this part of their Brand New Story. They felt people simply didn’t care about the planet and this made it really hard for them and their team to communicate with a wider audience.
As soon as they stood in their hero’s shoes they realised that people do care. They’re just too bloody busy and most of them are feeling so utterly helpless and sh*t about the climate emergency. As soon as they got that, the way they communicated transformed.
3. How can we create a story around sustainability that will appeal to a wider audience?
Again, make them your hero (you have more than one hero BTW) and connect with them in their world, not yours.
When I watched the XR Rebellion film with Emma Thompson it felt like such a missed opportunity and a huge disappointment.
Many of XR’s wider audience don’t tend to think of themselves as activists. So the film didn’t connect with them at all, it just alienated them.
Imagine if XR had filmed Emma Thompson and lots of other everyday folk – from as many backgrounds as possible. Each saying either ‘I am an activist’ or ‘I am not an activist’. And then them all saying ‘I AM Extinction Rebellion!’
That, along with their core ‘tell the truth’ and ‘demands’ messaging would have been all they needed and been far more powerful and inclusive.
4. We get told that ‘branding is not just for organisations – it’s also for individuals, that we should be aware of, and cultivate our own ‘personal branding’. Whilst this isn’t a focus for your work, do you have any tips from working with organisations that might be useful from a personal perspective as well?
1. Find and share your purpose. The more you share your purpose the more people will connect with you. If you’ve not yet watched Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ TED Talk, do!
Your purpose is simply a story you are seeking to change out there in the world. Picture what it could be then share it with others, in your organisation, business and out into the wider world.
2. You are not the hero here. Never put yourself (or your founder/CEO) at the heart of your company’s brand. This is not personal branding. Do that and you’ll fall into the ‘brand as hero’ trap. Your customer/ client/ beneficiary should always be your hero.
3. Align your people. Once you have your story, make sure everyone in your company/ business knows it, loves it and fully aligns with it fully.
You, your people and your story are your greatest source of connection with the outside world.
There may be so many great people in your company who share your overarching purpose right now. But do you know who they are? I wrote this blog about how companies like Specsavers are missing out on us getting to know their people who share their passion and purpose.
5. What key communication tips would you give to someone who wants to influence others around climate change?
Always put your audience first. They are your hero. Take some time to step into their shoes and breathe in their ‘ordinary world’.
Think about what type of Mentor you’d like to be. Have a look at archetypes and consider what type of Mentor your organisation is. Are you the magician, the rebel, the alchemist or someone else?
Choose values and a purpose that you can authentically share with your audience.
Know your story and use it to inspire people.
6. What is the question you wish people would ask you, and what would your answer be?
Our company is doing some great work – especially around sustainability. We are really proud of what we’re doing and want to tell people about it. The only problem is that some parts of our business are less ‘good’ than others. So when we try to speak about the good things we are doing the naysayers and media take us to task. So we’ve stopped.
Is it right of us to keep refraining from telling our story?
By not telling out on your story you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to connect with more people – and change the world.
Your story tells people why you exist, what you stand for, who your customers are, why they need you, how you can connect with them and how they can connect with you.
Creating and telling a new story takes courage. And naturally leads to a revision of the way you’re doing things. Some you may choose to stop. Others you may choose to evolve.
But the two most important things are: be honest about where you are and where you’re headed and be prepared to make some difficult decisions and follow them through.
Because the riches on the other side of doing this are a thousand-fold compared to ‘business as usual’.
Society and everyone in it are crying out for good businesses who have looked at the shadow aspects of their operations and have either made or are making those changes.
You’re gonna have to make them sometime soon anyway, right?