We’ve discussed News as Entertainment and News as a Narrative, all illustrated by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and its obsession with readership and clickbait in the brave new world of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok – they keep on coming.
But news always was entertainment, and had a narrative. When I first became a journalist, I remember my publisher pointing out that people don’t read newspapers to find out what has happened, they read it to confirm their prejudices, hopes and fears. On my first job as a humble hack, my managing editor, an ardent left winger, read the right-wing Daily Telegraph every day so he could sneer at the editorial bias on strikes and taxes. The editor, a strong right winger, did the reverse and read the left-leaning Guardian so he could shout ‘rubbish’ across the editorial office.
So let’s swing away from there and over to our much beloved Trade & Tech media serving B2B organizations worldwide who during the pandemic, have been fighting to keep their businesses afloat, their employees in work and their profits in place, to provide a sustainable environment for us all to live in – yes, that too.
How to own the narrative in Trade and Tech media
IBA categorizes three types of news stories, all of which mirror consumer news: the one-off news story, the exploitative story, and the hitchhiker or running story. All can be identified in the MSM or B2B media, and all can be newsjacked as we say, for greater coverage. All have a limited shelf life, although some have a habit of recurring like dangerous dogs attacking people.
- The One-Off News story
These are the equivalent to the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ in local and national newspapers. In MSM, Bill and Melinda Gates get divorced, Larry King dies, Naomi Campbell has a baby – all one-off news stories though the Bill Gates story looks as if it might run. In Trade & Tech if your CEO gets divorced – it’s not a story. But new product launches, partnership announcements, major contracts – remember here, high value or big name, you don’t need both – are the equivalent to Births, Deaths and Marriages announcements. Although, big name is actually more important than high value.
Not exciting but very useful, and if patterned carefully as part of a campaign they tell a narrative about your company’s ongoing success that will get coverage, and build trust in your organization and its products with existing and prospective clients as well as editors.
In Trade & Tech most of us won’t come across many big ‘shock horror’ stories – most of our companies are not famous or important enough for their misdemeanors to warrant national coverage, but I did notice widespread national and top technology coverage when SAP admitted thousands of illegal exports to Iran to the U.S. Justice Department. This followed a voluntary disclosure, so the damage limitation was nicely handled by SAP.
If the occasion arises and you have bad news coming that could turn into the ‘shock horror’ story, IBA has evolved very careful strategies for damage limitation – either for MSM or the Trade & Tech press. You need a process in place before the emergency.
- Then the Exploitative story
We tipped our hat to the B2B Trade & Tech media last year as they got their head above the MSM crowd who were busy weaponizing the pandemic to attack institutions, governments, and epidemiologists alike, and foolishly fuelling mistrust of the MSM themselves. A good example was the coverage of the Executive Order invoking the US Defense Production Act – yep, a Trump order. Regardless of personal opinions about Trump, T&T media carried the news about companies turning their hand to making ventilators, producing hand sanitizers instead of gin, and machining material for industry to manufacture PPE.
IBA was keen to help its clients promote their contributions which was a perfect fit for the Trade & Tech narrative and developed a further narrative around remote working for employees and remote service to keep businesses operating. T&T media also ran stories about contact centers developing solutions to provide essential customer support and keep the phones answered. The Trade & Tech press did full justice to these stories.
- Finally the Hitchhiker or Running story
This is where we take a topic the MSM and/or the Trade & Tech media are both following and hitch on to the back of it. For example, the boat stuck in the Suez canal, frozen wind turbines in Texas, vaccine passports and pop-up vaccine centers, or the huge global shortage of chip manufacturing were and are all across the MSM and can be used by B2B businesses to talk about solutions to problems with the global supply chain. They make great pegs for opinion pieces and if you have a contract story that can connect, it can increase the coverage.
Important footnote – the danger of ‘me too’
But remember, if you’re hijacking and newsjacking, never pick on a negative story even if you think you can solve the problem. Once negative they almost always remain negative – you will not turn the tide – it’s what we in the trade call the ‘Canute factor’. You’re just digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole with someone else – and damaging your company’s brand.
Take advantage of positive and neutral stories, and keep feeding them for as long as they last. But keep a watching brief because events can turn – AI, AR and VR in business were much heralded as a savior, solving skills shortages, getting jobs done accurately, and providing smarter operations. But more negative moves are afoot – bias in AI and EU regulations against certain AI uses all mean that monitoring the situation is required.
Of course, all these stories that are news based also have a shelf life that is much shorter than those valuable thought leadership stories!
Judith Ingleton-Beer is CEO of IBA International.