A strong campaign is like a great murder mystery – and we’re the detectives

People are often surprised I also write novels. Well, OK, just one complete novel so far… but it makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Are you a campaign super-sleuth? asks comms professional and novelist Holly Greenland
Are you a campaign super-sleuth? asks comms professional and novelist Holly Greenland

There is a lot to compare between developing the plot of a mystery and designing a great comms campaign.

Here are just a few, for starters:

The problem

All mysteries have a problem to solve, whether it’s where the jewels are hidden, why the husband lied, or who left the body. The problem is laid out to the reader as a question that begs to be answered. It’s why you buy the book, right? It’s the same with a campaign. Whether it’s how to do your part to save the planet, or finding out why your whites aren’t really white; a campaign begins by surfacing a problem and hinting at an answer to come.

The suspense

From page one, a good murder mystery has to grab you, and leave you wanting – no, needing – to find out more. Again, it’s just the same for a great campaign. Whether it’s the lead image or the fantastic tagline, it must draw you in, leaving you craning back as the train leaves the platform, or clicking on the ‘find out more’ link when you wouldn’t usually.

The twist

Here’s the fun bit. This is the chapter where your mouth falls open. The narrator is exposed as a liar, or the butler is revealed to be the long-lost brother. It’s not always possible to find the twist in a campaign, but when you can – phew! The wording that flips a phrase on its head, the image that blends into another or the typeface that recalls a past era; the great twist is often what makes a good campaign into a great one.

The solution

Following the twist comes the solution. When all the suspects are in the room and 380 pages culminates in the big pay-off. It’s when all you’ve seen is tied up with a bow. The best solution for me means that as well as discovering how the woman was killed and why, you get to learn something about yourself, too. And whether it’s a change in behaviour to save energy or finding a new washing tablet that makes your shirts gleam, the solution offered to you in a campaign needs to give you that warm, positive ending, too. It needs to be clear, believable, satisfying.

I know what you are thinking: how does the detective fit into all this?

The closest I can get is that the detective is us, the comms strategist.

We're unpicking the clues – from audience profiles to complex objectives or engagement data – to tell that compelling story that fits all the evidence.

Holly Greenland is planning and comms strategy director at Social & Local

Thumbnail credit: Getty Images

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