Ragan Communications is holding a "Strategic Communications and Storytelling Summit," this fall in Dallas. I'm sure it's going to be a great event; Ragan puts them on reliably. But I'm not nuts about that title.
First, there's "Summit." I've been to lots of communication conferences. None were held at Yalta, and at no time did we discuss nuclear disarmament treaties. We bitched about our bosses, and drank liquor.
But it's the rest of the title that itches my anus. Does it mean half the sessions will be on strategic communications, and the other half on storytelling? Or will half the sessions be on strategic communications and the other half on strategic storytelling? Or will all the sessions will be on communications and storytelling that are strategic?
It doesn't matter, of course, because every story ever told, and every communication ever attempted, could be described as strategic. Via stories and other means, just about all communication is done for a reason: in order to impress girls, bamboozle prime ministers, fend off accusations, order a beer, or hug or punch a person without having to get up.
One of the worst things that can be said about a person is—and I should know, because I'm sure it's been rightly said of me—"He just likes to hear himself talk." ("Someone is boring me," said Dylan Thomas one night, in his cups and rambling, at the White Horse Tavern. "I think it's me.")
Talking just to talk is a lesser strategy, but a strategy nevertheless. Another lesser purpose for storytelling is merely to pass the time. But we don't really think anybody's doing that in corporate communications, do we?
Then why do we so endlessly protest that our communication, and our communication conferences, are "strategic"? As opposed to whose?
I think what Ragan is trying to promise—and what I try to promise, with many of my own marketing promotions—and really, what all professional communicators are trying to promise when they claim their communications are "strategic"—is this: What we do is worth the money you spend.
If we wanted to be just slightly more straight-up about this, we'd replace "strategic" with more specific words, like, "worthwhile," "disciplined," "effective," "thoughtful" and "smart."
So we'd all be striving to make our communications not more strategic, exactly. Maybe just more worthy of the expense and the time they consume, and the risks they impose. And where would we learn how to do it? Of course, at the "Gathering for Worthwhile Communications and Thoughtful Storytelling."
Doesn't that sound like a more convivial and candid event? But your boss wouldn't send you, because it sounds like too much fun.