Blog post
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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