Communication Breakthrough #10 with Steve Seager

We all experience lightbulb moments of insight or inspiration that shape how we think and work. Sometimes they are defining moments in our careers. In the IABC EMENA Communication Breakthrough series, our members share their stories in the hope they will inspire your own journey. Welcome to our tenth issue!

Introducing Steve Seager

SteveAn Englishman in Amsterdam, and IABC member for four years, Steve served two terms both as IABC Netherlands chapter President, and as director on the EMENA board. He is the designer of EMENA Communication Breakthrough series.

With 20+ years experience across disciplines, Steve consults on digital and strategic communication for clients ranging from startups and SMEs, to global brands such as Vodafone, T-Mobile, McKinsey & Company and Exact Software.

Below, he shares his breakthrough on the power of story and integrated communication to help reposition the world’s most valuable company in socially and politically charged times.

Steve, what was the background of your breakthrough moment?

Back in 2004 I was working as corporate communications specialist for Aramco Overseas (a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company) where I had established the function a few years earlier. I must add that this happened through a series of lucky coincidences, rather then being a planned career move!

9/11 was still fresh in people’s minds. The invasion of Iraq was one year in. The media was full of ‘dirty oil’ and anti-Arab sentiment was riding high. ‘The End of Oil’ had just been published, and a global discussion was in full swing on the drive for alternative energies. Saudi Aramco was almost universally positioned as the ‘bad guy’.

It was Aramco’s turn to host the OPEC International Seminar in Vienna. The theme was ‘Petroleum in an Interdependent World’. I was seconded to lead the event design and management.

Around 300 global leaders would be attending — from international media to Ministers and Ambassadors, CEOs, and analysts. With PR dangerously low, we urgently needed a way to broker constructive dialogue between all parties.

Thats quite a challenge! So what was your breakthrough? (300)

Pooling the messaging requirements from all our internal stakeholders, it seemed impossible to reconcile them all — talk about a laundry list! We agreed in our team that the only way to tackle this was to find one strong overarching story that would resonate with all, and then design several supporting messages that would tackle the issues most important for each stakeholder group. We needed a storyline.

After quite some research, we discovered that many of the world’s breakthroughs in Chemistry, Geology, Physics, Mathematics, Algebra and more, came from a long history of knowledge being captured, and built upon, from civilisation to civilisation.

steve 2These breakthroughs often started with ancient Greek, Chinese and Indian civilisation, and were built upon in the Islamic Golden Age, passed on to Europe through the Middle Ages and into the modern day.

This became the overarching story and the focal point of a pre-event exhibition. The key message was essentially (albeit in sexier wording), ’Don’t forget how we got here, and remember: we need to build on each other’s knowledge to get where we need to go.’

From there, we then looked at every possible medium available to us, and aligned everything around that story. That included the choice of venue, to the CEO and Ministry speeches, press releases, invitations, welcome packages, brochures, even the choice of venue, art, menus and music.

steve 3Having such a strong core story, we were then able to find the right supporting messages that would resonate with each major stakeholder group. By the time we were finished designing the event, it pulled together beautifully.

That bigger story helped reframe fractious discussions into something resembling productive dialogue. There was no arguing with the logic. It emotionally appealed to everyone. And it gave everyone their own talking point. Everyone could make it their own.

Do you have any lessons to share?

Sure, I am thankful for such a great learning experience. And I still hold fast to my learnings in that event today:

  • Make sure your overarching story is driven by clear goals
  • Make sure that the overarching story you tell is your audience’s, not just yours
  • Supporting your story with credible proof
  • Integrate your storytelling across every medium and channel at your disposal.


Connect with Steve
LinkedIn: Steve Seager
Twitter: @steveseager

Want to share your own story?
Drop us a line on [email protected] 
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Posted in Communication breakthrough.