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Tales of tragedy and triumph: storytelling with It's A Penalty

Jade Tipping

This blog is the second in our two-part series on ‘storytelling.’ In part one we discussed how effective communicators are increasingly using storytelling to get their messages across and marking themselves out as leaders.  In this blog we explore a real-life example of a storytelling workshop that Sysdoc recently led.

Most companies explicitly value ‘hard’ knowledge that can be classified, categorised, calculated, and analysed. In contrast storytelling employs ancient means of passing wisdom and culture through informal stories. Storytelling is a key ingredient to make ideas and complex information stick. It’s a critical element in helping people to think differently, feel differently and most importantly behave differently.’ (1)

At Sysdoc, we believe in the power of storytelling to enhance communications – we are ambassadors for storytelling with our clients and partners.

Most recently, Sysdoc has been working with a leading charity to develop key messages using storytelling.

It’s a Penalty (IAP)

IAP exists to end abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking on a global scale. 

Our work contributes to creating a world where abuse, exploitation and human trafficking are no longer acceptable through education, awareness-raising, and advocacy.

Through collaboration and partnership with strategic stakeholders, such as high-profile sporting athletes, and the travel and tourism industry, we have been able to achieve significant results.

To see human trafficking eradicated and maximise our impact, we also join forces with sporting governing bodies/hosting committees, local and international NGOs, governments, corporations, and law enforcement.

We believe that collaboration is key to achieving our goals.’ (2)

Sysdoc is proud to be a partner of It’s a Penalty and were thrilled to work with them on developing their storytelling.

IAP and the benefits of storytelling

In 2022, Sysdoc approached IAP to show how storytelling could help increase effectiveness in engaging shareholders and to get their messages across to multiple audiences involved.


Two online storytelling workshops were held with the IAP team, to introduce the principles of storytelling and to apply them practically to real life situations.

Workshop 1 – theory

Firstly, we explored for any common or variant interpretations of the charity’s ‘why, how and what’ to provide a strong foundation for the development of stories – the most important part of creating compelling stories is the common understanding of purpose and beliefs.

Participants then reflected at a high level on the type of business stories that could be told by IAP:

  • Stories of triumph. Achievement of goals, and good work completed.
  • Stories of tension. Conflicts of values, loyalties, or obligations.
  • Stories of tragedy. Events leading to unfortunate or inescapable endings.
  • Stories of transition. ‘Coming of age’ style stories about the life of the business. (4)

Using the Storytelling framework, stories started to evolve and come to life.

The Organisational Storytelling Framework


Workshop 2 – practical application

As a group we chose to focus on their awareness campaign for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

IAP’s campaign for this sports event aims to encourage millions of people to help prevent modern slavery and protect potential victims throughout the West Midlands, the UK and worldwide. 

  • There are an estimated 100,000 victims of modern slavery across the UK.
  • The economic and social cost of modern slavery is believed to be between £3.3 billion and £4.3 billion.
  • West Midlands Police report that there are up to 4,200 victims of modern slavery in the region.
  • 70% of known cases of modern slavery in the West Midlands involve children.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified socio-economic inequalities, increasing the pool of potential people who may be exploited in modern slavery.
  • In the pandemic's wake, we know that the vulnerable will be even more susceptible to human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. (3)

 Participants started to develop stories in more detail – thinking about real life typical examples of survivors and victims of human trafficking that drove home the key messages. There were two types of stories thought to be most effective:

  • A story of tragedy – that trafficking is happening, and people are trapped in those situations, potentially without a way out.
  • A story of triumph – people escaping situations of exploitation or helping someone to do so – making a difference.

We also considered the emotional hooks required to help drive the campaign including:

  • Audience – consisting of numerous people that need to hear the stories, either directly or indirectly - the intention being to give different emotional hooks depending on the audience type. For example:
    • Corporate partners - more likely to be hooked by stories told in quantitative terms –safeguarding, numbers of victims and survivors.
    • Local journalists – more likely to be hooked by local interest stories.
    • Event attendees – looking for a good day out where they see great performances and world records broken. IAP’s Sports Ambassadors as the storytellers to recite key stories at gatherings of fans are effective.
    • Global media – need a powerful story they feel compelled to share.

It was important to describe the emotion each audience should feel after hearing the stories as well as ‘the lasting message’: if the audience or storyteller remembers nothing else, what should they be able to walk away with?

Benefits to IAP

The practical exercise of creating a story with IAP led to several reflections by the client during the workshops:

  • ‘It's amazing to see on screen just how much we're doing to engage with the local community.’
  • ‘It's important to really consider the different types of story and hooks for the specific audience/stakeholders.’
  • ‘There are so many potential applications of organisational storytelling for fundraising.’

What it means for Sysdoc

  • We love helping organisations tell their worthwhile stories.
  • This collaboration demonstrates organisational storytelling as an innovative approach to excellent communication – and has further helped Sysdoc develop our storytelling toolkit and expertise.


1.     Robin Ridgley, Capability Lead Sysdoc People and Culture, LinkedIn

2.     From It’s A Penalty website

3.     From It’s A Penalty website


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