I love a good story. You’ve probably heard over and over again how important it is, as a marketer, to tell stories. It’s essential. Stories are the oldest form of education. They are the ultimate weapon!
Stories bring a new level of depth to whatever topic you’re discussing. Stories humanize facts. Done right, they can also humanize brands.
That’s why so many brands like Coca-Cola (Journey), General Mills (Tablespoon), and Adobe (CMO.com), to name a few, have turned to publishing as part of their content marketing strategies. You want to authentically connect with your audience by talking about things that are important to them.
If you’re Red Bull, which publishes The Red Bulletin, you want to write about sports, culture, and lifestyle primarily aimed at a male audience under the age of 30. That’s your audience.
But what if you’re tasked with writing news for your brand’s publication? What if you want to stand out from the crowd of publications that simply piggyback on today’s hottest topic, regurgitating the same facts in a slightly different way or in a slightly different order.
Not all brands can break news. Some brands just don’t have the budget, time, or staff needed to run a “proper” newsroom.
Can you stand out somehow if you can’t break news? If so, how?
The secret is storytelling.
You might be surprised to learn that you can learn a few things about storytelling for the web from the host of a television news and opinion show.
Tell Better & More Interesting Stories
For those who might not know, Rachel Maddow hosts her eponymous news and opinion show weeknights on MSNBC, during which she wraps up a few of the day’s biggest stories.
Though I don’t agree with everything she has to say, and I haven’t been a religious viewer of her 8-year-old program, I generally like her. But a recent episode really won me over as a viewer. Since then, I’ve made a point to watch quite a few of her shows when time allows.
What was it about this episode that won me over? It was the way she reported on a big story. In this case, it was the health of the Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on the anniversary of Sept. 11.
You know the story (if not, here’s the story from NBC). On Sept. 12, 2016, everybody who tuned in to Rachel Maddow’s show already knew the story.
How to you turn a story that everyone knows into something unique? Turns out there are (at least) five ways to do it. Let’s dig in.
(Although I couldn’t find a clip of this segment online, you can read the full transcript here.)
1. Start With a Unique Angle
Maddow didn’t begin by showing the video of a wobbly Clinton. She didn’t lead by talking about pneumonia or how health had become an issue for Clinton again.
She started with a story. About how, in 1996, Bill Richardson was in the midst of what was a huge personal moment – being nominated by then-president Bill Clinton to be the new American ambassador to the United Nations.
Just seconds after being introduced to the world, Richardson was in the midst of giving a heartfelt speech, thanking his wife and family. Then, wham! Suddenly somebody passed out.
In this case, it was Bill Daley, who was nominated as the new secretary of commerce. Nobody caught him – he plummeted off the stage into the front row of reporters. It was a shocking political moment caught on camera.
Because this fainting episode happened nearly 20 years ago, many people in her audience probably didn’t remember or even know about this moment (I sure didn’t).
So much of “breaking news” today is rushing to share what’s new and now. But there are always new and unique connections just waiting to be made.
Insight for Brands
If you’re going to write about news that is known, and has been known for a day or longer, you need to find a fresh spin. Exploring the history of a topic is one path to take, but you could go in other directions, such as providing new data or insights, questioning the wisdom of the crowd, or curating a wide range of the best reactions to the event.
2. Incorporate History for Context
When you’re writing about news, sometimes there simply isn’t a clear beginning, middle, and end. History tends to repeat itself.
A story from six months ago or even a couple of years ago could suddenly become relevant. In this case, fainting incidents from months, five years ago, or even 20 years ago suddenly became relevant again.
For instance, Maddow referenced an article from Salon, Why do people keep fainting around Bill Clinton? This was published in 2011.
She also connected Clinton’s episode with other fainting episodes from people who attended Bernie Sanders events earlier this year and people who fainted around Barack Obama.
Further highlighting the importance of health throughout history, Maddow referenced an extensive interview Bill Clinton did with the New York Times around his health.
Insight for Brands
This is the TV version of linking to your sources, right? If you haven’t written about a topic before, then you’ll want to link your audience to helpful external resources if they want to learn more. If you have written about the topic before, link to those articles.
3. Provide Examples
I could use 1,000 words describing the Daley incident. But sometimes words aren’t enough. You have to see it for yourself.
And that’s just what Maddow did. She showed the clip:
But that wasn’t the only clip. She also showed several other clips and news footage about fainting incidents, including:
- George W. Bush passing out after a pretzel “went down the wrong pipe”.
- George H.W. Bush vomiting and passing out during a state dinner in Japan.
Because, as it turns out, people faint. Politicians faint. People near politicians faint. I just witnessed multiple people faint before and during a political rally near me in South Florida.
Heck, I fainted once about 13 years ago and I was nowhere near a politician at the time. Maybe you have fainted as well? It happens.
Examples make your story more impactful. It gives much more depth.
Insight for Brands
Actual examples, whether it’s images, videos, or direct quotes, can be even more important than your words. It’s showing vs. telling. Reality vs. theory. Show your reader what you want to tell them.
4. Go “All-in” On Your Topic
Now, Maddow could have stopped there. But her segment actually turned into an ultimate guide of sorts to health issues in politics and the lengths some presidents went to conceal those issues.
- Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack and Crohn’s disease.
- John F. Kennedy had Addison’s disease.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt had polio and was a paraplegic.
- Woodrow Wilson had a stroke.
Insight for Brands
News content is great. It’s important. But you might actually find more success from going in-depth on a topic and making it more evergreen. Longer pieces, when done well, tend to attract lots of traffic, pageviews, links, and shares, which in turn leads to better organic search visibility.
5. Add Original Commentary or Insights
In this particular segment, Maddow sprinkled in her insights and opinions. It became part of the narrative – it was how she viewed these jarring events and put them into perspective. Here are three powerful examples that caught my attention:
- Commentary Example 1: “It is sort of an occupational hazard of either being president or running for president that sometimes people collapse around you. And, you know, it may be not totally random. It may be a product of Secret Service protocols. I don’t know. By the time you’re actually standing behind a president or a presidential candidate who is speaking at an official event, you’ve gone through all the layers of security and all the time that takes, maybe you haven’t eaten and you’ve been on your feet for a long time and dehydrated and the lights are hot. Maybe it’s a little situational about security and being that near to people who get to that high level of presidential politics.”
- Commentary Example 2: “Presidents are human. They got afflicted with passing health issues. Sometimes, presidents get afflicted with serious not passing health issues. Even when they are serious, though, that’s generally not what defines them or their presidency.”
- Commentary Example 3: “We have evolved dramatically over time in terms of what we expect to know about the bodily health of our presidents and our presidential candidates, and it is – it’s awkward and probably unnerving to them but also important. And we’re now at a point in terms of our traditions and our experience and our expectations as a country where I think – I think the principle that applies is that the more cause there is for concern, the more reasonable concerns there are about a candidate’s health or president’s health, the more disclosure is warranted to alleviate those concerns.”
Often on these types of news shows, you’ll see a segment end with the host interviewing an authority, pundit, or panel of “experts” to get their thoughts and opinions on the story. Although that didn’t happen in this case, it is a popular format.
Insight for Brands
Commentary is one way to separate your site from all those others that simply are regurgitating the same facts. This commentary can be from you, quotes by internal experts from your company, or quotes from external experts on a topic or in an industry/niche.
Bottom line: it’s all about storytelling. Are you telling interesting stories? Are you bringing something unique to the conversation?
What’s your story?
Image Credits: Depositphotos