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Five things… that make news

Updated: Apr 22

By Patrick Southwell:

News. There’s loads of it about these days. But that doesn’t always mean people are wise to what makes a good story. In fact, all too often, brands think what’s important to them is the same as what a journalist and the eventual audience care about.

It happens in consumer and B2B comms alike. A retailer launches a new website – and expects journalists to give a toss. A software firm releases the latest version of its platform – and waits expectantly for headlines.

It may well have taken blood, sweat and tears to get the product to market. And there may be a huge sales target. But it isn’t news.

So, what is news?

Simple, it’s anything with heaps of drama. Look at any news site and it’s all about war, leaders being toppled, people getting ill, services under pressure and heatwaves. As the rather distasteful old newsroom saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Police officer giving water to a Buckingham Palace guard
Police officer giving water to a Buckingham Palace guard on duty during a heatwave, Credit: Matt Dunham/AP

As communicators, we need to know where to find our own drama to tell compelling stories. Let’s look at five simple techniques:

1. Talk about the problem

Every product or service ever created was done so to solve a problem. Drinks quench thirst. Housing beats homelessness. Doctors cure illness. If you tell a story about the problem your audience faces, it will have drama and you can be positioned as the solution.

2. Do something counter-intuitive

Another newsroom quote is, “When a dog bites a man, it’s not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that’s news.” If you’re a brand known for one thing, do something totally different. A cyber security company launching a perfume that smells of fear. A fast-food chain selling candles that smell of fried chicken. You get the idea.

3. Turn it up to 11

If you have a single message you want to shout out loud, take it to the logical extreme. If you promise to make workers happy with your products, open a shop selling nothing but happiness.

4. Change the conversation

Sometimes, your brand message just isn’t going to cut it. So, tell a different story. If you think your message about climate change is falling on deaf ears, open a hotel that guarantees a sleepless night to hammer home how worried you should be.

5. Find a perfect match

Consumer brands have the luxury of piggybacking on the notoriety of others. They can team with a well-chosen celebrity to get themselves heard. To turn up the drama, pair with an unlikely celeb. I once pitched the idea of a sensible camping brand sending a hapless Joey Essex to the wilds to watch the carnage unfold. It would have been full of theatre... and look who finally made it into 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here' to all our enjoyment?

Joey Essex
Joey Essex in the Jungle. Credit: ITV

All of these techniques can blend into each other, but they’re good as separate methods for thinking about news generation. And there’s a Venn diagram to be drawn where they all cross over. At the point where they meet will be the word drama.

The trick is to use it to your advantage. To ensure the story you tell is both newsworthy and has purpose.

If you’d like to find a simple story that drives action, give us a shout.


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