Using the Three Stories – Case Study

In How to Win Campaigns, I promote the idea that every campaign needs the Three Stories.  These don’t usually win the campaign for you but are an explanation of why you are doing it.  Useful in your ‘elevator pitch’ situations.  Each has a test.  (I think I originally got this from Ed Gyde).

The Popular story – understandable (test it out) by your relatives, neighbours etc.. The default story to use if in any doubt, and the only one to use with ‘the public’.  No jargon.

The Professional story – the way the policy community see it.  Jargon usually required here.  This is the default internal campaign language but must not be allowed into the general public or media domain except maybe with trade/ professional press or policy community blogs etc.

The Political story – what’s in it for me as a politician (or CEO etc).  This is not to be confused with the Professional story.  Top decision makers are not interested in your campaign goals (that only annoys them), they are interested in the benefits to them and their organisation in terms of profits, career prospects, gaining advantage, being popular, not losing their job, and so on.  These are your ‘benefit’ selling points.  See also Bryceson’s Political Checklist.

Below is a case study in this, contributed by Nikki Williams at the UK charity The Woodland Trust, which combines practical conservation with campaigning.   Thanks Nikki.

Dear Danny – a case study from the Woodland Trust

Early in 2013 the Woodland Trust decided to break out of its mould. Instead of the usual ancient woodland threat or woodland policy campaigning, we decided to hit the big guys at the Treasury. We knew that with a Spending Review looming and all the noise that would build up around it, we needed to remind the Treasury of the huge value for money, trees and woods provide.

Having been able to share the idea with Chris at the E Campaigning Forum, he had given me a top tip that we had never really put in place before – write 3 stories for the campaign: a public, a political and a professional one.

Now, the Woodland Trust places itself as a conservation charity first, with a campaigning ‘arm’ rather than calling itself a campaigning organisation. As a result we usually have a bit of a bun fight when everyone tries to get their audience’s point into the single narrative, each trying not to undercut the other. This, quite frankly just forced compromise that often reduced the strength of our message.

Using the 3 stories approach created a much more productive way of working across the teams. People felt they could place their key issues for their audience better, rather than trying to make a ‘one size delivers for all’ narrative. The 3 narratives positively influenced across each final draft and tweak, keeping them relevant to their audience starting point but clearly showing the golden thread of our issue running through all three. I don’t think we have achieved quite such clarity before.

As a result, our energy was able to be put into the creative interpretation of the campaign which resulted in us producing a play on our iconic banknote for supporters to send to the Treasury.

On the side of the note designed to engage the public was their narrative, aimed to inspire them to be the voice for woods and trees during the spending review. It worked a treat! The public responded fantastically by posting over 5,500 Bank of Woodland notes with Danny Alexander’s face on, to the Treasury in 2 weeks.

The message they sent reminded Government that woods contribute £4.7 billion to the English economy every year and that if every household in Britain had access to quality green space it could save £2.1 billion in health care costs – or in other words, the political narrative!

And on the back of the campaign we got a thirty minute meeting with George Osborne’s Special Adviser at the Treasury and Danny Alexander recorded a message to Woodland Trust supporters from one of our woods in Scotland.

But our favorite anecdote was the Treasury advisor who told us he loved the campaign so much, he’d taken hard copies home for his mother in law to send back in to the Treasury!

Links –

Original call to action with full messaging



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