Sometime in the 1950s a rabbi at a Brooklyn yeshiva heard a great commotion coming from one of the classrooms, so he walked in to investigate. All of the kids were shouting and jumping up and down.
“What’s going on?” he inquired.
“The Dodgers just won the pennant!” a little boy exclaimed.
“So, is it good for the Jews?” the rabbi asked. *
The rabbi was probably well aware of what was happening in the sports world, but it mattered little to him. He looked at events through the filter of how they would affect his people. That is not surprising given the amount of persecution Jews have suffered over the centuries.
Our stakeholders, i.e. the constituencies we, as communicators, are trying to reach are of the same mindset. They look at news and information through the filter of how it affects their lives or how they could use the information to gain an advantage. For example, a new treatment for a health condition, a new CEO at a company they hold stock in.
When I was a journalist, one of my editors taught me to include in my stories, immediately after the lead paragraph, a “so what” paragraph. This would answer the questions that help readers decide whether to continue reading: “So what? Who cares? What’s in it for me?” It’s a simple principle: write from the point of view of your audience so that it matters to them, be it a prospective donor on your email list, a journalist receiving a story pitch or members of social media groups.
If you visit the news section of typical college website, you are likely to find lots of stories about events, honors and awards, books by faculty, etc. At some institutions, teams of writers churn out dozens of such articles each month. Reports on how the institution’s community engagement, impacts of faculty research, innovative pedagogies that give graduates a leg up in the workplace are scarcer.
No doubt the former matters to members of the college community, but how much interest will they generate beyond campus? Think of how the education writer who gets bombarded with this fare from dozens of the institutions in his or her market will respond. The open rate for your news release emails will clue you in on his or her thinking. You can post the stories on your social media feeds, but how many likes, shares, clicks and comments will they generate?
One of my early successes at City College of New York, where I was director of public relations for more than a decade, came from a story pitch about a chemistry professor who was working with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection on novel ways to counter sewage treatment plant odors. It earned feature stories in both the New York Times and Daily News. The pitch worked because the professor was applying her research to solve a problem that affected many New Yorkers.
I devised my own filter question to decide which stories to prioritize: Why would someone south of 130th Street (campus boundary) care about it? If there wasn’t a good answer, it would fall to the bottom of the list.
Since our staff was small, we had to choose our stories strategically. We still wrote prolifically and were successful at generating placements, clicks and “likes.” Further, we were able to convey our marketing messages and relate the content to our mission.
Regardless of whether your communications priority is your internal or external audience, you must make your story relevant to the reader. You need an effective strategy to produce and distribute content that delivers your message and is on target with your audience. Unless it matters to them, like the Brooklyn rabbi they will tune you out.
(*) It depends on your point of view. A few years later the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Many Jews living in Brooklyn bought homes on Long Island and became Mets fans. #lgm
Photo: Matanya via Wikimedia Commons.
Remember: Know for Whom you Write