There are two stories in the media today that catch the eye. One about nutella and the other about gerbils. If you haven’t read them, the gist is: a nutella jar full of loom bands started a fire that burnt down a family home along with their dog; and some boffins have discovered gerbils may have been responsible for the spread of the Black Death, not rats as we’ve been taught for many years.
So what do these tales of woe and mistaken identity tell us about the media and what comms practitioners need to think of when influencing the agenda?
And I don’t mean the how do you write a good story. Of course, a strong headline, a good opening sentence, a clear flow, often with short clear sentences – these are all important.
Fundamentally, though, a news story must have a strong heart. Journalists will often call this an angle. It’s the heart of the matter that connects with something personal for the reader and makes them want to stay with the story to the end. An emotional connection or series of connections.
Let’s consider first of all the unfortunate dog and the nutella jar. Nutella is a staple in thousands of homes across the country – if we don’t have family members who eat it now, we may well have eaten it in our childhood. The man who invented it, died only last week making the story even more current and engaging. And even if we don’t have a particular connection to nutella, half (or so) of the UK population are dog lovers, who hate the idea of a dog going up in smoke. So, as we read, the story pulls at our heartstrings and we have the recognition that it could be us and and our pooch. Perfect ingredients for a cracking story.
Now the gerbil story. Here we have the creature with a poor reputation, the rat, who has been lambasted for years because they live in squalor, spread disease and there are so many of them, they simply must have spread the plague. And we have the much cuter and cuddlier (in many a small child’s eyes), gerbil who now becomes the real villain. We’re also reminded in the piece that the plague hasn’t been totally eradicated. So, although the Black Death seems like ancient history to us, we’re reminded it could affect us and it’s those once loved and now wretched gerbils that might be the harbingers of doom. As borne out by the number of tweets by concerned gerbil owners.
In both cases: strong connection, evoking emotional reaction.
So, why does this matter to the B2B technology or engineering marketer? It provides an insight into the heart of what matters to journalists and how to approach a story for your audience. Clearly stories of the Black Death and fires caused by nutella jars might not be appropriate for you, but no matter what your product or service offering, there’s always a story in there that’ll make that emotional connection with your audience. It’s a case of looking hard and being open-minded. First and foremost it’s not about you and your product, it’s about the reader and what matters to them.