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Cohn & Wolfe corporate affairs chief: Brands misunderstand point of storytelling, should focus more on being honest

Geoff BeattieThe global head of corporate affairs for PR agency Cohn & Wolfe has said that most brands misunderstand the point of storytelling, and should focus less on selling “a fiction” and more on being honest.

In an interview with Mumbrella about his agency’s recently launched study on brand authenticity, Geoff Beattie, global practice leader for corporate affairs at the WPP PR agency and a former journalist, said that the challenge for brand storytelling is that “a story is a fiction most of the time.”

“I get the sense that companies completely misunderstand what storytelling is really about. Rather than tell me a story, I want a brand to treat me with respect. I want an honest, open relationship,” he said.

On whether PR agencies should be more authentic in how they tell stories on behalf of their clients, Beattie also said that the age of spin was over.

“Spinning doesn’t work in this age anymore. A conversation about a company dominates the brand. You can’t spin. What you say immediately becomes respun in social media. You need to listen to the world and change based on what people are telling you,” he said.

However, Beattie said that when facing a crisis, it goes against the nature of corporations to tell the truth.

“It goes against the instinct of most companies to be transparent when there’s a problem,” he said. “But the companies will be rewarded who say ‘we got this wrong and need a rethink what we’re doing’. But not many have the courage to do that. Usually the approach is to batten down the hatches and defend, defend, defend.

Beattie said that the CEO of Apple’s recent decision to reveal his sexual orientation was a good example of how brands should behave.

Tim Cook “did what any good brand should do,” Beattie said. “He took something that was a potentially uncomfortable truth, and aired it.”

Source: Cohn & Wolfe

Source: Cohn & Wolfe

“In the process, he has turned his public persona from being someone who was faceless to someone who matches up to his predecessor. Now he has become something of an icon. And he can really build on that,” he said.

McDonald’s was ranked as the most authentic brand globally in Cohn & Wolfe’s study.

In the survey for China, KFC came out on top of the list of 20 brands, followed by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, McDonald’s and Samsung. Domestic brands China Mobile, Lenovo, Huawei, China Unicom and three other banks featured.

Samsung was the top ranked brand in India, followed by Indian brands Tata and Reliance.

Domestic telco Telkomsel was deemed the most authentic brand in Indonesia, followed by BCA, Mandiri and PLN.

 

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