If you open any national newspaper, switch on the TV, listen to the radio or power up your preferred news site, you'd be justified in thinking that you're probably going to DIE. RIGHT NOW.
Disease, disaster, murder and mayhem. Bird flu, pig flu, dog flu, man flu – or maybe just your bog-standard killer flu. And if it’s not significant or terminal injury that’s about to befall you, then your daily news agenda will ensure you’re fully up to date with the fact that your colleagues are getting paid more than you, your politicians are using your money to buy their ducks helipads, and Piers Morgan has just called you a twit on Twatter. And it’s just gone viral. Like that killer flu.
News, as we know, is overwhelmingly driven by a negative agenda – and it’s one to which people have become totally anaesthetised. It’s not a modern phenomenon. The first edition of The London Gazette published in 1665 splashed on the so-called Bill of Mortality, reporting the latest deaths from the Great Plague that was sweeping through Europe. That was day one of the British newspaper industry. It’s in the DNA of the business.
Yes, negative news can play an important part in warning, informing and alerting people to impending danger and dirty deceits. But the balance we embrace today remains, well, unbalanced. The important question for PR professionals operating in this environment is what place does positivity have in this negative news agenda?
I believe that big brands can use the negativity that pervades the news agenda actively to drive a proactive, powerful, positive one – a negative news inversion, if you will. For instance, when I tweeted that my brother-in-law Chris had left his nine-to-five job to start up his own baking business, and posted a picture of his resignation letter creatively piped on to a cake, it caused a proper media stir (pun intended). Why? Because it had all the ingredients (sorry) of a great story. The journalists were as excited about speaking to Chris (aka Mr Cake) as the readers were reading about it and the tweeters retweeting it.
I also firmly believe that Mr Cake’s success was, unintentionally in this case, down to timing. The story fell at quite a sombre moment in the news agenda, sandwiched between the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon and Mrs Thatcher’s highly divisive funeral.
So, what can big brand PR professionals learn from this?
1 The story: it’s all about the story – to engage readers, you’ve got to engage the journalist first.
2 Simplicity: be careful how hard you work your brand into a story - hacks can smell a corporate stinker a mile off and it doesn’t do you or your business any favours.
3 Timing: grasp the flow of the negative news agenda to find a point where the media and readers crave something positive.
Hidden within the corridors of every big brand’s story are those positive tales just waiting to emerge. Hunt them down. Build that story. Come up and see us, and make us smile.
Stuart Jackson is the former comms director of EE, and now runs the company’s CEO office