Helping companies tell what they're doing – visually

employee engagement through visual storytelling

What the heck is corporate storytelling anyway?

Our last post touched on what visual storytelling isn’t. [Find that post here]

Now the much-harder question of what it is. In the 1960s, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to describe his threshold test for obscenity. He said: I can’t describe what it is, “but I know it when it see it.” Perhaps the same thing can be said for storytelling photography.

In many ways, visual storytelling can be defined not for what appears within the photo, but rather for the feelings and emotions the photo evokes. Does the photo make you stop and pause to figure out what’s going on? Or do you quickly click through to get to the other items on your must-do list?

Stories get told when photographers make images that go beyond what’s obvious and expected. Like here, instead of the expected people-at-table-making-announcement photo, this wide-angle shot puts the event in context. Notice all of the corporate branding.

Or this side angle, which carefully includes the stacked-up boxes to make readers wonder what might be inside. (They’re stuffed with donated school supplies).

And who wouldn’t look twice at the employee newsletter to see which of their co-workers dressed up like superheroes to race Red Radio Flyer tricycles for a good cause.

Next blog: What makes one storytelling photo better than another? Hint… think branding.


How to engage with corporate storytelling

Lately, every time I turn around, my corporate clients are talking about corporate storytelling. It seems their bosses — and their bosses’ bosses — heard somewhere that storytelling is a great way to engage employees. It’s true, I say. And then we all nod our heads in agreement.

But then the other day, a new-ish corporate communications professional pulled me aside and asked, “But what exactly is corporate storytelling?” Trying to figure out what her peers were talking about, this young internal communications manager had searched the Web for examples and explanations of how to leverage storytelling in the business environment… but she had found very little.

Looks like storytelling is one of those things that everybody secretly thinks they are really good at. Unfortunately, the ability to tell stories is also one of those things that few people are really good at.

So let me take a moment (and maybe a few blog posts) to explain what corporate storytelling is — and what it isn’t. Later, in another blog post, I’ll give my 2 cents on how to find a storytelling writer, photographer, multimedia developer or whatnot and make the most of his/her talents.

First the easy part: What corporate storytelling photography ISN’T. It’s not the:
~ Execution at dawn photo, with team members lined up against a wall and “shot.”
~ Grape leaves photo. Similar to the execution at dawn photo, but here the team members have their hands clasped together in front of their groins in Adam-and-Eve-grape-leaf fashion.
~ Important person with oversized check photo.
~ Employee at work photo, where the obviously posed worker looks self conscious as he/she avoids looking at the camera.
~ Giant-scissor-yielding executive about to cut the giant ribbon photo.

Boring, right? But damaging too. A corporate Webpage, newsletter or annual report with a boring photo is worse than not having a photo at all. Why? Because the reader’s eye is drawn to the photo first. Therefore, a boring photo = boring story = boring event. Yawn.

Now the hard part… defining what a storytelling photo is. I’ll tackle that one in another posting.

P.S.: Are you wondering what’s going on in the image at the top of the post? Excellent! That’s a piece of storytelling photography. A photo should make readers look twice and study what’s going on. In this case, musicians perform among museum statues during the Wells Fargo Community Celebration event held in downtown Charlotte, NC.

You can check out the photos from this and other corporate-sponsored events at