ITL #535 In praise of newsprint: newspapers help you understand people1 month, 3 weeks ago
If you want to learn about nuanced storytelling and idea generation, read the newspapers! By Graham Goodkind.
I'm fortunate that I get invited to be the guest paper reviewer on the James Max show on TalkTV every month. It is a little bit of an early start though. The alarm goes off at 04:00, a taxi gets me to the studio in London Bridge for make-up, then I've got 45 minutes or so to find five news stories of my choice to talk about for the next half an hour. I love doing that TV slot as it always re-affirms to me why I love PR so much.
When I was a kid, I managed to persuade my parents to get The Sun delivered for me every day, alongside their Daily Express. At the time, The Sun was particularly brilliant for football news, which being an Arsenal-obsessed teenager was why I wanted it with my breakfast. But it also did investigative journalism superbly, from everyday 'kiss and tells' to exposing dodgy business people, cheating celebrities, and corrupt, and corruptible, politicians. It had loads of fun news stories and finished it all off with sensationalist headlines that made you laugh, smile or sit up and take notice.
It made me realise how newspapers – like The Sun in those days – got people talking. Round the water-cooler in the office, whilst making a cuppa in the staff canteen, down the pub after work or round the dinner table with friends.
When I stumbled into PR back in the late 80s, I couldn't believe that you could start your day reading the newspapers for half an hour or more and that was classified as actual work. I devoured all of them, every day, with Mondays a great start to the week as I caught up with all the weekend papers and their supplements too.
Doing that really helped me to generate the right sort ideas for clients that, via the conduit of the newspapers (or TV/radio), would get people talking. Understanding the news agenda, what makes a story, what sort of angle would fit where and with which journalist, is something that I got better and better at the more I read the papers. I also managed to develop a real depth to my creativity; red top tabloids required a different type of idea, or nuance, to the broadsheets.
As I progressed in my career, I used my media savviness to develop a methodology for my agency to use in idea generation. Understanding the key levers needed for a story (to be published) became a vital component of creative sessions. Stories with one or more of a tinge of controversy, humanity, purpose, surprise ('man bites dog'), implausibility, humour, celebrity, reality, sex, make the news. Without any of these they don't.
Even though the way media is consumed has massively changed since then, and newspaper readership everywhere is on the decline at the expense of social and online channels, the art of storytelling is just as important for PR people to grasp as it always has been.
Newcomers may not learn the art
And I'm a bit concerned that people coming into the PR industry won't learn, or learn to love, that art if they get all their news from their phones. There's just something about the papers that is different in that learning process.
One could also argue that papers now are more important than ever, not because they break news (mostly) in the way they once did but because they are a digest of what our audiences around the country want to read, want to learn about and what is important to them. Scrolling through your own curated news feeds doesn't give you the same overview.
If you want to understand people, flick through the papers. In any case, your own news feed or social media is not a news source, it’s an algorithm that does not care about what you need to know.
I was talking recently to a PR lecturer at a UK university, and he was telling me that just about the only thing he couldn't teach on a PR course was, as he described it, "news sense". He described it as "an instinct instilled by the habit of bathing in newsprint and gaining a sense of what makes news". He also defined newspapers as "the best creativity catalogues going".
Which is part of the reason why every morning at Frank HQ you'll see a dozen or so execs, junior staff, sometimes even an old timer like me, on the big table in the middle of the office flicking through the newspapers, pointing out stories of interest that have sparked fresh ideas, bouncing them around with each other to be shared with clients by mid-morning or presented in the next planning meeting or pitch document. We're bathing.
And I'm already looking forward to that next 04:00 alarm call…
Graham Goodkind is chairman of Frank, which he founded in 2000. GG, as he is commonly known, learnt his trade at legendary agency Lynne Franks PR, where he worked his way up through the ranks from trainee to MD.mail the author
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