The Power of the Founding Story

Ever wondered where you came from? I recently joined over 50 family members for a heritage tour throughout NW Oklahoma to see where my great-great grandfather and other ancestors homesteaded in the late 1880s. We visited gravesites, old homes, museums, churches and more. We shared stories passed down through the generations and common themes emerged such as a pioneering spirit and commitment to public service.

Just as family history defines my personal brand, the same is true for organizations. Looking back into a brand’s history often best explains its mission, culture and values. Here are four reasons organizations should share their founding story.

It Humanizes a Brand 

Throughout the heritage tour, I heard stories about my great-great grandpa, who brought my family to Oklahoma and was the first elected sheriff in Kingfisher County. The stories truly came alive when I saw his picture, held his old handcuffs and heard a tape recording describing his arrest of famous bank robbers. Sharing a brand’s past makes it more personable. For example, use pictures from when a company’s founder still had to get their hands dirty to get the job done. Reflecting on an organization’s roots with photos or video will help the audience to form a more personal connection with your brand.


It Provides Context, Which Helps Paint a More Complete Picture of Your Organization

Our heritage tour focused on where our ancestors homesteaded in Oklahoma. While my great-great grandparents’ home is no longer standing, the local museum had paintings of them! This painting shows the dugout where they lived during the first four winters in Oklahoma and describes the hauling of the wood and brick to build the larger home, which finally had concrete added in 1910. The painting helped me picture what life was like back in the early 1890s and the challenges my ancestors faced. When sharing an organization’s founding story, be sure to explain the time period to provide context. Did your company create opportunities during the Great Depression or the oil boom? How has your organization adapted through the years? Understanding where an organization came from provides an indication of where it is headed and what consumers can expect.


Founding Stories Establish Values 

Culture and values are critical to building a business, hiring and retaining employees and reaching target audiences.

My great grandfather, Lloyd Long, always shared a poem which still hangs in every family member’s home. I was raised reading and hearing what we dubbed “The Long Philosophy.” It describes my ancestors’ optimism and servant-oriented hearts. The Long Philosophy became part of my core value system and after gaining context from my family’s founding story, these words took on new meaning.

How do you communicate about your organization’s values? While posting a list of values around a workplace or on a website can be a good reminder, a Booz Allen Hamilton/Aspen Institute survey on corporate values found 77 percent of respondents said explicit CEO support is one of the “most effective” practices for reinforcing the company’s values. Ask leadership to explain the story behind the organization’s values to provide context. Reinforce the values during hiring, training and performance reviews. Ensuring these values are ingrained into an organization’s culture helps differentiate its brand.


Sharing Your Founding Story Creates Loyalty 

Recent research from Harvard Business Review shows brand loyalty is built on shared values. Now over 50 of my family members know the story of our ancestors who homesteaded in Oklahoma… and we’re passing it along! I live tweeted the heritage tour and other family members posted pictures and memories on Facebook. You could say we’ve become brand advocates.  Help your audience understand your value system in a new way that will make them feel a part of your brand and build a lasting connection by sharing your founding story.


8 Proven Tips to Working with the Media: Political Edition

While everyone may recall the catchy tune from Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill,” most people are not intimately familiar with the legislative process. Storytelling is different in the political arena. Whether advocating for federal, state or local policy – there are some time-proven tips and tricks to working with the media.

  1. Focus on the big picture. Lobbyists and policy wonks are too close to policy changes to summarize a 287 page bill into a headline. Take a step back to evaluate the impact of the policy from the outside looking in. A PR practitioner can help you determine why the media and average citizen at home should care.

  2. Use real people to humanize policy. If you’re advocating against education cuts, an economist talking about budget deficits is likely to fall on deaf ears. A child willing to talk to a reporter about losing their art class will generate more interest. Plus, your lobbying team can take these spokespersons to the Capitol to drive the message home with legislators.

  3. Include visuals. Infographics help the general public and reporters digest complicated statistics and sell key messages. It is important to tie these numbers back to who is impacted by the policy change. The elderly? Babies? Veterans? A picture of constituencies will tug on heartstrings, garner attention and build support.

  4. Educate reporters. Parliamentary procedure and legislative rules are not easily understood. While a reporter might know there’s an upcoming vote, explain the significance of each stage in the process and where your bill is headed next.

  5. Find third-party advocates. After the first several rounds of media stories, reporters will tire of the same spokesperson and messaging. Work to provide fresh angles and new voices. For example, if you’re advocating for a health care policy, limit use of hospital administrators and activate patient advocacy groups. See tip #2!

  6. Know your audience. Messages are often targeted to the general public to contact all of their legislators, but other times the message is focused on changing one representative’s mind.

  7. Pro-actively comment. Toward the end of a legislative session or during a political campaign season, reporters struggle to cover it all. Providing a quote and context immediately after a vote makes the story easier to write and might bump your news up on a reporter’s priority list.

  8. Leverage earned media coverage. Share stories found on TV and in the newspaper on social media. Print copies to take to the Capitol or share with influencers and advocates. Keep a running list of news coverage on the organization’s website. These media stories can be repurposed throughout the campaign, especially compelling quotes and headlines.