Telling the story of the firm: Ethical implications on both demand and supply sides

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    Telling the story of the firm: Ethical implications on both demand and supply sides.
    As an economist I like telling stories; it makes economic theory palatable to students who aren’t too keen on maths and models, and it works to convey complexity, nuance, and interconnectedness in a way that simple formal models can’t. However, as Chair of a company (BCW) I have argued against telling the story of the firm for reasons derived directly from economic theory, since -unlike other aspects of marketing- telling a story inevitably implies subjectivity. For example, while we could market candles (the firm’s main product line) in terms of value for money by reference to facts such as price and burn times, we can’t do the same reduction to a story without losing the very essence of what it means to tell a story. This matters since economic theory tells us that interpretations are distortions that reduce the common good. A firm can of course select facts to make other forms of marketing unethical too, but a story is intrinsically distorting in a way that other forms of marketing need not be since even the telling of a ‘warts and all’ story by virtue of its very honesty could make potential purchasers form some kind of emotional attachment to the firm and its story, and thereby undermine the primacy of product in the purchasing decision. This has a clear implication -there is an ethical dimension to the very act of telling the story of the firm regardless of how honestly it is done. Indeed, I would go further and argue that it can never be done objectively any more than any other interpretation of historical events and the very act of referring to the story of the firm rather than the history of the firm risks making a virtue out of a vice.
    In practice what happened when we decided a couple of years ago to start telling the story of the firm (as a means of keeping up with this bandwagon), was that the biggest effect was on staff morale (supply rather than demand). Since many of the staff knew the story anyway it came as something of a surprise to find that staff were so positive and enthusiastic about telling the firm’s story (which we did in the press and on TV), and it seems to me that this pride effect is less of a distortion since workers are likely to know more about the truth of the story and the emotional response it warrants. With this in mind we decided to tell our Covid story, even though it includes the tragedy of losing a member of staff, since it also underlines our role as a part of our community’s struggle as it encompasses our giving away of free soap through our retail outlets and via local medical centres, as well as our provision of take-away food to isolating individuals on a non-profit basis (at the direction of the county council).

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2021
    EventTelling the Story of Business 2021: Stories of Survival Symposium. - online
    Duration: 13 Jan 202113 Jan 2021


    ConferenceTelling the Story of Business 2021: Stories of Survival Symposium.


    • Business storytelling


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