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July 29, 2020

Isentia Conversations with Shirish Kulkarni from Monnow Media

This month, we chat to Shirish Kulkarni, Director of Monnow Media about effective storytelling. He shares his research about why the way we tell stories needs to change to make news more engaging, inclusive and informative. 

Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends we’re seeing across social and traditional media, and how we’re seeing the notion of ‘effective’ storytelling change for our clients.

Ngaire Crawford talks about the storytelling trends across social and traditional media

3:41 – Mainstream media is talking about:

  1. Back to end-to-end COVID coverage with a regular cadence of updates
  2. Anti-maskers are in the spotlight and the phrase “Bunnings Karen” has returned over 6000 media items
  3. A slight increase in global coverage related to second waves of the virus.
  4. Considerable reduction in racial inequality discussions
  5. Across New Zealand where COVID isn’t quite the main focus, there is a lot of coverage about elections and electioneering.

 

5:12 – Across social media, there is a lot of division:

  • Between openly calling out misinformation, and perpetuating misinformation.
  • Between those ‘doing the right thing’ and those who are not. This is more about calling out individuals rather than organisations.

6:12  – On Google Trends, people across Australia and New Zealand are looking for search terms:

  1. Kerry Nash (Bunnings Karen)
  2. A lot of TV shows and celebrity content (Kanye West etc)
  3. Sports (NZ)

 

7:06 – In terms of storytelling, it’s important to understand the context in which you are communicating. The things to consider:

  • Impact of video – divisiveness can breed “recipients” or “evidence” based culture. Video is the easiest way for messages to spread quickly and for media to lift the story. Consider this from a risk perspective (media and customer service training) as well as your content – it might not the time for beautifully produced videos just yet.
  •  
  • Echo chambers heightened emotional states can mean that audiences seek out information that confirms information they want to believe. Keep an eye on misformation that’s relevant to you and your organisation.
  •  
  • Media as a moral highground: Anti-maskers, “fake news” etc can cause a really visceral reaction from the public, and from news media. Unfortunately, this misunderstands the context of those arguments.

9:37 – The narratives to watch at the moment:

  • Rules fatigue: People are getting tired of being told what to do, it’s a natural reaction (psychological reactance) but it’s something to be really mindful of when communicating right now. There is a heightened emotional state, especially for those who are entering a second lockdown.

Shirish Kulkarni talks effective storytelling

10:26 – Over the past year I’ve conducted research on how we can better tell news stories, and my findings can be applied across the communications industry. We are all storytellers in one way or another.

11:00 – We’re hardwired for stories, at an anthropological and neuroscientific level, stories help orientate us within the world. They are a virtual reality simulator helping us practice for real life.

11:53 – Typically, news stories do the opposite of traditional storytelling (i.e have a beginning and an end to the story). Instead, we (journalists) use the inverted pyramid structure where the top line is the conclusion and then filters down to the least interesting or least important information. 

12:39 – The concept of the inverted pyramid structure dates back to the days of the telegraph, the original newswire. It was expensive, unreliable and it made sense to put the most important information at the beginning, just in case you lost the end of it. Although we don’t use the technology of the telegraph anymore, we still use the habits formed by that technology which continue to define journalism and communications.

13:03  – We conducted research with 1300 participants and the results showed users prefer stories that work in a straightforward and linear structure, much like traditional stories.  More information was picked up as it fits with how we are hard-wired to navigate the world.

13:28 – Journalists are failing because they are ignoring what users need from the news. In an attempt to reverse that, I came up with six key principles that should be at the forefront of our minds when telling our stories.

  1. Content – is it useful or relevant and does it help us understand the world better?
  2. Context – are we providing enough context? News largely focuses on breaking or moving news but that’s often to the detriment of context, analysis and understanding. 
  3. Users have agency – they are not just passive victims of the news, they can be part of creating solutions and want the opportunity to choose how to engage with the news.
  4. Tone – we need to consider the tone we are using. We tend to fall back on journalist language which is old fashioned and formulae.
  5. Diversity and inclusion  – are crucial when storytelling. It’s about telling different stories, ones that reflect the richness of our societies. This is very important.
  6. Inverted pyramid – is this the best structure to tell a narrative? What are the alternatives? What we are doing isn’t working so we’ve got nothing to lose by trying something different.

 

17:24 – Based on these principles, I created a number of prototypes and tested them with users. When compared with a BBC news article, users overwhelmingly preferred our prototype. They picked up more information in less time and found it easier to navigate. This proves there is a better way of telling stories, we just need to be prepared to think differently and put users at the centre of our thinking.

Q&A

18:40 – How do you think the media coverage of COVID-19 applies to your research?

Media has a crucial role. The only justification to have journalism is to provide reliable and useful information. There’s a big thing about news being about entertainment and there’s a focus on the drama of news rather than the information of news. What do we need to know? We are users as well as the audience and this should be taken into consideration when wanting to drive engagement.

23:46 – Do you have any tips for making the linear narrative structure more effective especially through face to face presentations rather than emails?

What really worked for us was using a “narrative accordion”. We had 5 questions, and the answers could be expanded and read based on the user’s interest. It didn’t matter whether the question was at the beginning or end as it was up to the interest of the user. Simplify what you’re saying, and question whether it’s useful to your users.  

28:15 – What have you learned about younger generations and their behaviours?

People have an incorrect characterisation of young people and get their needs completely wrong. There is a perception you can’t make a video longer than two minutes for the younger generation because they have a short attention span and are unable to comprehend what is being said. This generation is the most emotionally and culturally intelligent generation we have ever had. Young people aren’t put off by complexity or depth, they are craving it. Don’t underestimate them.

If you would like to view other Webinar Isentia Conversations: Communicating through Change:

Isentia Conversations: with Katherine Newton at RU OK?

Isentia Conversations: with Bec Brown at The Comms Department

Isentia Conversations: with Rochelle Courtenay at Share the Dignity

Isentia Conversations: with Rachel Clements at Centre for Corporate Health

Isentia Conversations: with Helen McMurdo at MTV

Isentia Conversations: with Daniel Flynn at Thank You

Isentia Conversations: with Campbell Fuller at Insurance Council of Australia

Isentia Conversations: with Craig Dowling from Mercury 

Isentia Conversations: with Stella Fuller from Bright Sunday

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking to experts about the best ways of working and communicating through a time of unprecedented change. 

In this episode, we talk to Rachel Clements, the Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health. Rachel shares some practical tips on how organisations can mitigate psychosocial risks in a time of heightened anxiety - and some advice on maintaining your own mental fitness. Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends across social and traditional media.

https://youtu.be/58dIl6BOdys

What mainstream media is saying, with Ngaire Crawford

3:30 - Over the past week, data from mainstream media suggests we’re starting to get a bit restless. Across Australia and New Zealand we’re talking about:

  1. Lockdown restrictions
  2. Business and Economic Impact
  3. When will life be normal again?

Google searches have largely been about restriction levels and what people are and aren’t allowed to do. People are starting to unpack misinformation and search about interesting theories such as 5G towers causing coronavirus.

5:08 - On social media, people continue to reach out and be creative with memes, but there is still an undercurrent of stress and uncertainty.

5.28 - People are starting to shift their mentality from ‘what i need to care about right now’ to ‘ what i need to start caring about in the future’.

People have specifically been worried about:

⇒ Bills/rent/mortgages - specific items that need to be paid.

⇒ Superannuation - the increasing worry is reflective of the long term view - when will this be over?

⇒ Mental Health - still a concern for people

⇒ Job losses - more so about individual bill payments and reduced personal income as opposed to job losses or business strategies.

6:28 - Having context is incredibly important. As communicators, everyone wants to provide genuine and authentic information. It’s important to:

⇒ Understand who you’re communicating to and what they’re feeling.

⇒ Listen. Add additional sources into your information bubble. Look at what’s trending on Google, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Look at specific hashtags to get an understanding of what people are talking about and are interested in.  

Seek feedback from audiences, but be aware that patience is starting to wane.

Keep curious, consider your own media consumption habits and who you are supporting and why.

Continue to watch what drives emotional responses online such as cancel culture and conspiracy theories, which are usually indicative of wider audience feelings and outrage.

Audiences and businesses are starting to get antsy about normality and what the future looks like - they want to know what will the new normal look like?

Rachel Clements addresses the psychosocial risks during COVID-19

9:08 - Rachel tells us there are many psychosocial risks impacting people around the world in relation to COVID-19. In particular, people are experiencing an emotional journey and a wellbeing journey. She says you need to understand what's happening emotionally with people, so you can tailor communication according to the stage that they’re in.

10:00 - To understand the psychosocial risks for COVID-19, a framework has been developed that outlines its 3 stages.

Stage 1 - we were (and some of us still are) operating in flight or fight, operating in panic, fear and anxiety and not taking in much information. We were just trying to survive.

We were adjusting to working from home, adjusting to new technology and having to do pivots within our business. There was a need to look at the media and be drawn into the fear contaigum. 

People in this stage don’t take in much information, so we have to be careful with how tailored messages were communicated. 

There are many people still in this stage, but there is a shift of people moving into stage 2.

11:15 - Stage 2 - is thought to be more psychologically challenging than stage 1. This is because there is a realisation social isolation and social distancing is our reality and its duration is unknown. Things are unpredictable and this can be mentally tough for people.

11:47 - At the moment, there’s an increase in disengagement, an increase in dissatisfaction, anger, irritability, frustration and languishing - which is akin to depression. If people are sitting in the stage of languishing, they are suddenly feeling unmotivated and not satisfied, a languishing mindset can start to take a toll on their mental wellbeing. 

People are starting to transition into ‘i’m tired’, ‘i’m sick of this’ and begin to break the rules or behave in a way that is opposite to what they are asked to do.

12:22 - Stage 3 -  People start to adjust to the new normal and have a bit of optimism for the future. People begin to become creative again and feel a sense of hope

It’s important to understand the different stages in order to communicate. The success of your communication is based on the stage of a person’s emotional journey and their readiness to take in information.

13:10 - There are some psychosocial risk factors currently seen in our workplace environments:

⇒ Pre-existing mental health conditions. Those who were already in an anxious or depressive state, who’ve been forced into social isolation and self distancing, puts them at risk of exacerbation. Drugs and alcohol are being used as a coping mechanism to deal with the increased fear and anxiety people are feeling. 

⇒ Pre-existing circumstances within our lives such as relationship break-ups, issues with children, financial stressors, don’t stop and people’s capacity and ability to deal with these external stressors have eroded.

⇒ Family dynamics - although our situations have changed, our expectations have not. There are increased feelings of failure, guilt and burn-out as we try to keep up with family life and work life. The inability to change our mindset and expectations to our current circumstance are leading to excessive stress.

⇒ Family and domestic violence - there are increased levels of hostility and an increase in domestic violence during social isolation

17:19 - Employment risks have also increased, some of these include:

⇒ Financial pressure caused by the economic downturn. People are concerned about their job security and their financial position.

⇒ Workload challenges. People are trying to balance their personal life, professional life and their associated workloads. 

⇒ Loss of direction from social isolation. It can also make people feel demotivated and we need to ensure our teams are kept motivated to prevent languishing and dissatisfaction.

18:45 - During these times, people are struggling with their wellbeing. Trends are already being noticed, these include:

Heightened levels of anxiety

Exacerbation of pre-existing mental health conditions

Presentation of new mental health conditions

Increase in social withdrawal

Increase in drug and alcohol use as a coping mechanism

Increase in incidences of intolerance, aggression and conflict. Humans don’t like to be contained and this is why there is an increase in these behaviours. 

Increase in incidences of domestic violence

Increase levels of suicidality

21:05 - Wellbeing needs to be on the radar and there has never been a better time for organisations to communicate and discuss strategies to prevent people’s wellbeing diminishing. These include: 

Equip HR and leaders to lead remotely and equip all employees to work remotely

Identify unique workplace psychosocial stressors - is someone in the team going through a stressful time personally? Is a family member unwell or is someone experiencing a mental health issue?

Maintain connectivity - seeing someone's eyes can be beneficial for feeling connected

Maintain a balance between work and other commitments whilst working remotely

Develop and maintain a ‘new business as usual’ - find new routines and effective ways to work. People respond well to routine.

Supportive and visible leadership

Recognise early warning signs of poor mental health

⇒ Manage anxiety and maintain resilience

Have R U OK? Conversations

Promote employment assistance programs and virtual onsite support

If you would like to view other Webinar Isentia Conversations: Communicating through Change:

Isentia Conversations: with Katherine Newton at RU OK?

Isentia Conversations: with Bec Brown at The Comms Department

Isentia Conversations: with Rochelle Courtenay at Share the Dignity

Isentia Conversations: with Helen McMurdo at MTV

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Blog
Isentia Conversations with Rachel Clements from the Centre for Corporate Health

In this episode, we talk to Rachel Clements, the Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health. Rachel shares some practical tips on how organisations can mitigate psychosocial risks in a time of heightened anxiety – and some advice on maintaining your own mental fitness. Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends across social and traditional media.

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From multi-national corporations to local government bodies, a media release is the bread and butter of any organisation.

It's the primary vehicle for delivering to the myriad journalists scanning both the digital and paper world for tidbits of information they can sculpt into newsworthy articles.

A media release that stands out from the crowd is much more likely to gain traction and, if you have accurate media tracking tools in place, can reveal a lot about your target demographic and its awareness of your brand. Of course nailing the perfect media release is no easy feat, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. 

While a good writer will gradually hone their skills over years of practising their craft, there are a few things you can do to instantly improve the quality - and open rates - of your releases. Boost your chances of exposure and consequent brand recognition by avoiding these seven deadly sins of media release writing:

1. Lust - your uncontrolled desire for wordy headlines

Conciseness is the hallmark of any good media release writer, and this extends to your headlines, too. While your headline should convey an idea of what the media release contains, making it too long turns audiences off and discourages them from reading on. Copyblogger reported that 80 per cent of people may read a headline, but only 20 per cent will read the rest.

Keep your headlines, short, snappy and creative. Incorporating meaty or surprising statistics into the headline will improve your press releases' chances of getting opened, as it immediately indicates what the rest of the text will be about.

2. Gluttony - your appetite for lengthy intros knows no limits

Journalists are busy people and don't have time to spend dissecting lengthy discussions on the latest and greatest developments at your organisation, regardless of how well it's written. A reader should be able to get the gist of your media release within the first paragraph or two at most.

Media monitoring analytics may be able to reveal successful patterns in your media release structures, allowing you to cut the filler, condense your writing and get to the crux of the issue as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence and convoluted media releases are unlikely to ever see the light of the day. 

3. Greed - you overindulge in promotional phrasing

Media releases are a balancing act between news and promotion, though many PR managers are guilty of leaning too heavily towards the latter. A media release is not an opportunity to sell a product or service and the language you use should reflect this.

Steer well away from salesy sentencing and avoid hyping up your organisation too much. Instead, present the facts in an objective and impartial manner, discuss the role your organisation played in the topic at hand, and let readers form their own opinion.

4. Sloth - you recycle information and use it in your media releases

Media releases feature a distinct style of language and structure and each one you write should be treated as an opportunity to teach consumers about your organisation. Even with deadlines looming over you, avoid copying text from internal documents and including it in your media releases.

Similar to how you would tailor a resume to get a specific job, media releases should be crafted to target a specific magazine, newspaper or website. Write each one from scratch and create unique content that will really hit the mark with your chosen demographic.

5. Wrath - you use excessive exclamation marks

Exclamation marks, most commonly associated with anger (wrath) or loudness, are one of the most ill-used punctuation marks in media releases. You may be excited about developments within your organisation, but using exclamation marks (or worse, multiple exclamation marks) to highlight your point makes the media release look spammy, overly promotional and untrustworthy.

Limit your use of this punctuation mark. Unless someone in your media release feels particularly strongly about a certain subject, it's unlikely that you'll need one whatsoever.

6. Envy - you try to copy other press releases

It can be frustrating to see another media release gain serious traction in your market, especially when you feel as though yours are just as well crafted. However, do not begin mimicking the media releases of other organisations in hopes of achieving similar success.

Be confident in your skills to create a winning media release and feel free to experiment with structures that are a little bit different. As noted in the slothful sin, a media release should be unique in style and content, and copying another's will not reap sustainable results in the long run. 

7. Pride - you write about events that are not newsworthy

You're proud of your company and you want the world to know about every little development that takes place behind its doors - we understand. However, remember that media releases essentially help journalists report on the news. If it's not timely, local, new, extreme, unusual or high-impact, you may need to reconsider how newsworthy your media release really is. 

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Blog
The 7 Deadly Sins Of Writing A Media Release

From multi-national corporations to local government bodies, a media release is the bread and butter of any organisation.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has published anti-greenwashing guidelines for businesses making environmental and sustainability claims. Despite these efforts, media coverage of greenwashing, particularly focusing on senate inquiries and regulatory court cases against major offenders, continues to expose brands and industries stretching the truth in their sustainability messaging. This exposure is causing a growing disconnect between consumers and corporations, as audiences increasingly call out misleading practices and question the authenticity of corporate sustainability claims.Isentia’s sister brand, Pulsar conducted recent research exploring media and public discourse around sustainability. Part of this report examines how greenwashing is covered in the news and on social media, particularly in relation to the broader sustainability discourse. Let’s investigate those themes in more depth here.

Social media data is decreasing while online news activity re-engages, indicating incident-led conversations. Regulatory bodies like the ACCC, and state and federal governments are tackling greenwashing by identifying major corporate offenders and their misleading actions, such as 'recyclable' packaging, carbon credit misuse, lack of transparency in fossil fuel investments, and exploitation of government climate programs. Audience conversations often align with news coverage on these matters.
The term in Australia particularly gained traction among social audiences around November 2022 when the UN called out the Australian government for allowing the use of carbon offsets in corporate emissions reduction strategies. News of the apparent collusion between the government and large corporations has caused public faith and trust in both to dwindle. As these stories emerge, Australia's positive sustainability impact on the international stage is significantly undermined.

https://twitter.com/janegarcia/status/1591662729664004099

When we look at which sectors are most discussed within the greenwashing topic, energy, finance, and food take the lead.

Much of the discussion regarding the energy and finance sectors emphasises their interconnectedness, particularly the investment by financial institutions, including super funds, in environmentally harmful industries. Despite some super funds claiming to offer options that avoid unsustainable investments, reports have revealed that they collectively hold millions of shares in the fossil fuel industry. 

Many industries are being criticised for using carbon credits, such as REDD+ offsets, to appear more sustainable. Advertising, marketing, and public relations also play a significant role in promoting misleading sustainability initiatives, thereby contributing to greenwashing. However, stakeholders are aware that the advertising and communications industries have a huge impact on the profitability and success of an industry or product. The European Union’s Product Environmental Footprint classification system, for example, has been criticised by Australia’s wool industry for being unfair to wool products and for greenwashing. This, they argue, not only undermines the pursuit of a green transition within fashion but also damages a vital industry.

Mercer stands out as a most mentioned brand within the topic of greenwashing. This is due to ASIC pursuing a civic penalty case against them which alleged they misled members about its sustainability investments. This is groundbreaking for audiences to witness as it would be the first time the consumer watchdog has taken a company to court for alleged greenwashing.

https://twitter.com/BillHareClimate/status/1630404986130808833

Much of the conversation focuses on misinformation and lack of transparency in communication and marketing. Certifications like Fair Trade are being questioned, particularly for products like chocolate, and eco-certification for farmed salmon. It particularly muddies the waters for political figures when they get entangled with brands coming under scrutiny for such greenwashing.

https://twitter.com/JosieMcskimming/status/1750987402691362858

Furthermore, some companies feature in the media conversation due to their involvement in a senate enquiry initiated in March 2023, with a report expected by June 28th this year. 

Analysis of the ANZ reveals a shift in mindset, with consumers emphasising individual actions for solutions like composting or guerilla campaigns on mislabelled environmentally friendly salmon products. Grassroots and individual activism leading to actions like divestment from conflicting companies. Community groups like uni student clubs showcase how groups with shared values and experiences can make noise and incite change with how universities invest. However, there are ongoing debates as to whether it’s the role of sectors like higher education or Super Funds to prioritise the environmental implications of their decisions.

The rise in curiosity around greenwashing highlights the growing consumer demand for transparency and genuine sustainability from brands. As regulatory scrutiny and public awareness increase, brands must ensure their sustainability claims are genuine or face reputation damage.

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The Eco-Spin Cycle: how brand’s sustainability claims come out in the wash

Regulators are cracking down on corporate greenwashing, but what does media discussion reveal about its impact on brand-consumer relations?

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As the spotlight on sustainability intensifies year by year, it has become a focal point for legislators, media entities, and audiences worldwide.

This dynamic environment demands that brands and institutions elevate their standards in messaging and actions, holding them accountable like never before. For professionals in the PR & Comms realm, it is imperative to grasp not only how sustainability is being discussed but also the potential pitfalls, such as greenwashing, and gain a profound understanding of the diverse audiences receiving these messages.

Explore over 20 beautifully crafted pages of data visualisation that illuminate audience insights sourced from social media, news outlets, and search engines. Gain valuable perspectives on how one of the defining issues of our time is being discussed and understood.

Our exploration of this crucial topic delves deep into uncovering insights that are indispensable for crafting effective strategies, both tactical and long-term:

-Unraveling trends in the sustainability conversation

-Assessing brand & industry reputations

-Navigating greenwashing & misinformation

-Understanding the diverse audiences of sustainability

To access these insights, simply fill in the form

Download now

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Blog
Sustainability: Mapping the Media & Public Conversations

From accusations of greenwashing to the role of misinformation, we explore the comms landscape around sustainability.

Ready to get started?

Get in touch or request a demo.