Are PRs in the entertainment business?

Are PRs in the entertainment business?

Charlotte Stoel

Charlotte Stoel

My name’s Charlotte and I’m an addict. Addicted to podcasts that is!

One of my absolute favourite podcasts is Freakonomics – which looks at "the hidden side of everything". The latest Freakonomics episode is one of particular interest to people in public relations as it explores our motivations for following the news.

It follows a previous podcast about how to create suspense; again, an interesting one for PRs who are in the business of storytelling. Economist Jeffrey Ely said, “We view the construction and the development of suspense and surprise and other aspects of entertainment as basically optimally and economizing on a scarce resource, which is the ability to change someone’s beliefs.”

That scarce resource of changing of belief is what all PR folk thrive for; whether it’s buying that new tablet over others because it performs better, or buying software because it will generate more business, or hiring that agency to boost sales. We look to change belief and prompt action – plain and simple.

[caption id="attachment_9541" align="alignright" width="300"]Media consumption "This could do with a pinch of salt"[/caption]

The surprise and suspense feeds the public’s appetite for a narrative. Making news entertaining, right? The podcast’s author Stephen Dubner explores the idea that we don’t just necessarily consume the news to be informed, we consume it to be entertained. He also adds the additional motivation of personal utility. The economical term ‘utility’ equals satisfaction/benefit. So in this scenario, personal utility is the rationale benefit of news consumption – i.e. making you better at your job, strengthening your relationships due to being better informed.

My colleague, Phil Szomszor (also a podcast addict), brings up the important point that we consume different channels for different reasons. He compares the internet to an all-you-can-eat buffet – where the FT would be the salad (good for you, but not exciting) and YouTube is the fried chicken (addictive and moreish). It's no surprise that consumers gorge on fast food media, rather than the healthy stuff.

Unfortunately, it seems there isn’t always a strong enough pull for people to consume 'quality' news (the Daily Mail 'sidebar of shame' being another example of fast food media). Society doesn’t reward us for bettering our knowledge and understanding.

How does this insight help public relations professionals?

It re-enforces the importance of storytelling skills and a good narrative. Competing for people’s attention against sites like Buzzfeed and Facebook, news outlets are hungry for stories that offer entertainment value. We need to appeal to human's innate curiosity and survival instincts, so negative angles will also win over positive news.

If we are appealing to people's need to increase personal economic utility, then we need to make it easy for people to do this, by offering content in a variety of formats and on the consumer's terms. The one thing that the podcast teaches us is that people's news preferences are anything but straightforward and these days consumers like to engage and be part of the news, in a way never seen before.

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