I had a couple of days of work and thought I’d return to this exercise. This time I’ve put together a lockdown focused series of ads. I had about nine in the end. These four were the ones that felt like they got somewhere.
Man bites dog. Early on in their career, everyone who works in comms will have been told by a seasoned pro that, “Dog bites man isn’t a story. Man bites dog, now that’s a story.”
So we spend our lives looking for stories that are a little contrary. Stories that make people say, “That’s interesting!”
By happy coincidence, That’s Interesting! happens to be the title of a research paper published in 1971 by a sociologist named Murray Davis. In it Davis argues that theorists whose ideas are considered interesting are vaunted, whereas those whose theories are found to be true but uninteresting are quietly forgotten.
But that’s not the interesting bit.
The interesting bit is that Davis proceeds to list out the factors that make something interesting. There are 12 in total. And they’re an incredibly useful guide to assessing your content or story. I won’t list them all out here but let’s take a look at a couple.
One factor is Evaluation. It’s described as either something bad actually being good for you or vice versa. I think we’ve all seen enough tabloid stories about food or technology that supposedly poses a health risk to know that this factor is a useful indicator for a story being interesting.
Another factor is Abstraction, here the idea is that something that seems to be an individual, discrete phenomenon is actually part of a broader constellation of things. The opposite also holds true, namely that something that seems part of a broad sequence is actually standalone.
I discovered Davis’s work while reading Think Again, the new book by organisational psychologist Adam Grant. I found it so interesting, I briefly stopped reading the book to look up the paper. Although it wasn’t written to make comms people create better content. I think it provides a good point of reference against which to evaluate your stories because if you want people to engage with them, they need to be interesting.
2020 was a marathon. 2021 feels no less difficult. But it brings with it a certainty: that our lives will be more digital than before. We’ll continue to buy, learn and share online more than we did before.
That certainty brings with it an urgency because however much we accomplished last year, there is more to do. Moreover, the speed with which we deliver it will be a key differentiator in terms of performance.
You will have seen the stats on digital adoption in 2020. If not, Benedict Evans has a thorough set here. I don’t need to make the case for a more digital future. What I’d like to do here is share some thoughts on how to get there more quickly.
Last year, we were all caught on the hop. This year, we’re all exhausted so how to deliver with urgency?
This should be obvious but it doesn’t feel like it is. If you have a long list of things that you need to do. It will take a long time. If you shorten the list. It should take less time. Ruthlessly prioritise. Deliver less, but do so quickly.
From experience, prioritisation is something we all know we should do and yet are very bad at. It’s hard to tell someone that you won’t help with their project because it’s not as important as xyz.
Equally, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve discussed priorities and someone’s told me that everything’s important. I’m sure it is, but somethings are more important than others and choices have to be made.
There’s also a cult of busyness out there. Everyone’s incredibly busy all the time. But really they’re not. They’re just not prioritising correctly. You’re doing it. I’m doing it too. We just need to break this negative cycle.
Get beyond the urgent
We all have a massive to-do list, whether it’s written down or held in our heads. It never ends; it only gets longer. The urgent stuff gets done. But it keeps piling up. The important stuff, the things that need thought, where progress really lies remain untouched. So how do we get beyond the urgent?
The first step is to question the urgency. Just because something has a quick turnaround time, is it really urgent? Sometimes, when presented with a last minute deadline, you shouldn’t make a coffee and settle in for an evening of work, you should just say, “no.”
Some random report needs to be sent by the end of Friday? Why? Who’s looking at it over the weekend? Why can it wait until Monday afternoon? Don’t write off your Friday afternoon – a golden spot for working on things without being disturbed – for some random request. Keep it for the important things that really make a difference.
Does it really take that long?
How long does a task take? Do you really know? How much time are you really spending doing something and, crucially, is it worth it? If you’re honest with yourself, you’re probably spending some time doing things that don’t help you make progress. If you really analyse it, it will likely surprise you. I’ve seen comms folk spend too much time editing/reviewing things. I’ve seen marketers spend a disproportionate amount of time on things that deliver little or no performance uplift. I’ve done both of these things myself far too much.
We know this is a defining year. The gains made now will pay off for years to come. So how are you going to deliver with urgency? Let me know on Twitter @kchadda.
Some things never change
Like the way PRs drone on about PESO
Some things stay the same
Like the way no one else cares
Apologies to the good people at Disney for massacring this classic from Frozen 2, but it’s a fitting example of popular culture helping to capture a truth.
Comms folk have talked about PESO, and their place in it, for a very long time. Arguably, it’s important to know what you do, where your specialism is, and your place in the wider marketing and PR mix. But it’s not all about you, at least not in the eyes of customers or stakeholders or whoever it is your work is seeking to engage.
Moreover, it’s a pointless conversation. Pick a spot and own it. Pick lots of spots and own them all. The act of doing is more important than the act of stating.
What matters, like really really matters, is your contribution to achieving whatever it is you’re supposed to be helping to achieve.
Consumer campaign? Sell the widgets. Not your job to be selling the widgets? Then move people along the widget purchasing funnel. Move them from unaware to aware. Or from “I might buy it one day” to “I might buy it one day soon”. However marginal the shuffle, shuffle them along.
Lobbyist? Can you move stakeholders from thinking your issue is kind of important to really quite important indeed?
The media you use isn’t the important thing. It’s just the tool you use to deliver outcomes. Organise your toolbox however you want. But let’s all agree to stop talking about it.
An SEO FAQ focused Christmas message. Wishing you all the joys and blessings of the season.