Anyone working in communications has learned that storytelling is a vital element of influence. (An old Indian proverb proclaims, “Tell me a fact and I will learn, tell me the truth and I will believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”) There is a wealth of literature and research that supports the value of a narrative approach to reinforcing or changing behaviors and for building support for an initiative or point of view.
Does it always work? In one case, in one study, it did not. In fact, using a narrative strategy in the argument presented in this study actually led some in the audience to move even further away from the desired position than they already were.
In this FIR Interview, Shel Holtz speaks with Dr. Liana Winett and Dr. Jeff Niederdeppe, co-authors of “When ‘Tried and True’ Advocacy Strategies Backfire.” There are clear lessons from this study for public relations and public advocacy professionals.
About our Conversation Partners
Jeff Niederdeppe is a Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. He is Director of Cornell’s Health Communication Research Initiative (HCRI) and Co-Directs the Cornell Center for Health Equity (CCHEq). His research examines the mechanisms and effects of mass media campaigns, strategic messages, and news coverage in shaping health behavior and social policy. He is committed to producing, supporting, and disseminating innovative and rigorous research to support efforts to achieve health equity. He has published over 175 peer-reviewed articles in communication, public health, health policy, and medicine journals, and his work has been funded in recent years by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
He received the CALS Research and Extension Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Science and Public Policy in 2019, the Early Career Award in 2016 from the Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section of the American Public Health Association, and the Lewis Donohew Outstanding Scholar in Health Communication Award in 2014 from the Kentucky Conference on Health Communication. He serves on the editorial boards for eight journals in communication and public health. More information
Liana Winett is Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Community Engagement in the Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health. Dr. Winett is interested in how we, as communities and as a society, discuss the many complex and controversial social issues that affect the public’s health. In particular, she explores how we can support broad participation in these important debates while also in a shifting communication landscape that often seems to resist deep consideration of complexity or controversy.
Dr. Winett teaches graduate-level courses in media advocacy and mass communication. She earned a doctorate in Public Health from UC Berkeley where she focused on the roles of message framing and media advocacy in advancing public health and policy. She also earned a Master of Public Health with an emphasis in Behavioral Science and Health Education from UCLA. Prior to joining PSU, Dr. Winett was Research Coordinator for the Berkeley Media Studies Group, where she developed and honed skills in distilling the ways that arguments can best be framed for broad public dialogue. More information