Rove’s Scheherazade Strategy: The Art of Political Storytelling

Rove

And what if the mother of political communication were the Princess Scheherazade, who understood that telling make-believe stories and making people dream allows one to influence them profoundly?

Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s spin doctor, once defined a great principle of political communication, one of its key tenets – even its very basis – as storytelling, which he himself called Scheherazade’s strategy: “When policy dooms you, start telling stories – stories so fabulous, so gripping, so spellbinding that the king (or, in this case, the American citizen who theoretically rules our country) forgets all about a lethal policy.”

Also See: Responding to the Crisis With Communication

This Scheherazade strategy contains all the art of telling the stories people will want to hear, when they want to hear them, and which they want to believe.

Why Scheherazade? One finds the explanation on the “Culture de l’image” blog: “one must transpose oneself to the Eighth Century, to the kingdom of Persian Sultan Shâriar, who, to take revenge for the wife who left him, adopted the bad habit of killing each morning the virgin he had married the previous evening. To bring this massacre to an end, Scheherazade, the Vizier’s daughter, married the sultan and, when evening came, told him a story without completing it. Her husband, who wanted to know what happened next, kept her alive another day. The stratagem lasted a thousand and one nights, at the end of which, an appeased Shâriar definitively renounced killing his wife.”

From Shâriar to George Bush, in the end, the world has changed but little and princes follow one another, whether the stories are told by a Scheherazade or a Karl Rove.

To read or reread: the [French] interview of Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell: part one and part two.

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher

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Responding to the Crisis With Communication
Pierre Labasse and Jean-Marie Charpentier, Les Echos
Wednesday 30 December 2009

Tensions within society and within companies are rising as the crisis continues. That which one sees expressed on internet social network sites, the radicalization of conflicts and suicides at work herald cracks and ruptures. While world political leaders must urgently find new financial regulations, company management must urgently find new social regulations, even as exclusively financial rationales lead to forms of management without people.

It’s time once again to highlight a practice that is no longer even discussed, so tarnished has it become: communication. Never have we needed comprehension and explanation more, but also, and perhaps above all, we need connection, exchange, dialogue. Instead of that, “spin” in the company and elsewhere too often confines itself to pursuit of image, with concern for reputation and for how word choice will be interpreted. Social issues are the great missing element. There is communication of changes; but no communication in order to change. Many big companies, by favoring the “governance of things,” run into a dead end in “governance of people” and “de-socialize” at high speed. Several years ago, some were forecasting companies without factories. What are appearing today are companies without men and women! Apart from the question of employment – which is contracting under the impact of the crisis – there is also that of organization which distances employees from one another and provokes isolation. The very notion of the team is frequently repudiated, or in any case, badly managed.

The problem is profound. Dramatic situations call for immediate action, but it is also necessary to think through the future of relations within the enterprise. Twenty or thirty years after the creation of communications management, the time has come to refocus communication, to give communicators a social role of intermediation, of facilitation of the connections and exchanges with employees – a role alongside line managers in collaboration with human resources. If we agree not to limit ourselves to “spin,” communication becomes a more critical issue than ever, one that affects the heart of the matter, the place of the other, and social connection.

Pierre Labasse is honorary president of the Association Française de Communication Interne [French Association for Internal Communication] (AFCI) and Jean-Marie Charpentier is AFCI’s director.

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher