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Can your content compete with sleep? Five ways you can win that battle

Ian Cohen

Be authentic in your storytelling. This has never been more important. Know your brand voice and be true to it in your execution. You will go so much further if your content expresses what you do and what you stand for

Ian Cohen, Weber Shandwick


You want to know what keeps me up at night – literally? Well, in complete transparency, it’s a quote from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings reflecting on the nature of competitiveness in the streaming world: “We’re competing with sleep, on the margin.”

Consider this: Your content has to be so good that someone would give up a basic need, sleep, to watch it. Don’t think about it as your content versus someone else’s, á la Netflix vs. Amazon. The real battle is you versus the pillow.

So how do I battle my insomnia and thus create sleeplessness for others? During the hours I’m not lying awake on my pillow thinking about Hastings (that sounds weirder than it actually is), I aim to preach that this new PR world, where digital and traditional media have converged, is actually simpler: Everything starts with content. And this content, that’s your new currency online, is your way to the top.

Just when we thought we had finalized the playbook on content creation, a funny thing happened: We have, in some capacity, reached “peak” content – there is simply too much of it.

This dilemma creates an opportunity for us PR people. With so much to choose from and watch, there is now, more than ever, a real desire, appetite, and need for high-quality, editorial-driven video. Video that people can watch on mobile, both short and long format. You might be thinking, “Long? Who has time for that?” It’s those long videos, though, that oftentimes touch people on the most emotional level.

So clearly it’s a new day for content. As we continue to adjust the playbook, here are some steadfast tips for creating video that will guarantee people hit the play button instead of the pillow.

1: Add value

All else cascades from this. By creating value, you are actually creating awareness, not the other way around. Start every piece of work with a human-based insight – something that is inarguably true about the world – in order to build a story that matters to your audience. And it doesn’t have to be something serious. It can be funny or just entertaining, but the reason this video exists should be abundantly clear to the viewer. Ask yourself: What is my video contributing to the viewer’s life? You’ve done it right when the answer comes without thinking.

2: High quality

Today, when you post a video to YouTube you’re no longer competing with your neighbor who makes cat videos in his basement. You’re actually battling Hollywood and the scores of movie-production companies and music artists leveraging the platform. Unlike your feline-loving neighbor, they have the resources to make amazing videos – editorially speaking.

So what can you do? Put in the effort and put down your phone. While phone cameras can work wonders in photography, video requires great audio and lighting to make an impact. Explore options for renting simple tools and learning how to operate audio and lighting yourself, or hire professionals to ensure the highest quality. If your video is a high-quality production, its chances of remaining relevant over time are much higher.

3: Trustworthy

Be authentic in your storytelling. This has never been more important. Know your brand voice and be true to it in your execution. You will go much further if your content expresses what you do and what you stand for. At the same time, we’re in an unprecedented age of distrust in online content, so make sure everything you create is accurate and trustworthy. It will serve you well in the long run.

4: Be inside the news cycle

As in get back to being agile. I’m sure you often ask how can you get a ton of views. I say, it’s easy. If you’re creating content that is relevant in a news cycle, people will share it. Advertising is created on a schedule, outside of the news cycle, to try and sell product. In PR, we must create content in real-time that people want to watch because it is relevant.

There are big moments happening all the time. Figure out how you can be part of those moments and create content that enhances the online conversation.

You want an example? The next solar eclipse in North America is in 2024 – start thinking of ideas now. Not sure where you’ll be in 2024? Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Who doesn’t love love?

5: Don’t just put your video on your website

Well, you can, but don’t forget to also put it on as many channels as possible. Omnichannel storytelling wins the day and the best storytelling is amplified across channels. When was the last time you found a video on a website? Right? But how many videos popped up last time you checked your Facebook? Right?

Think of your website as a sort of “home base,” but your video (or shorter versions of it) should live everywhere else. What about paid? Good question. I always say put dollars into paid, but put your energy outside of paid. Don’t use paid to get views. Use it to get earned shares.

I show my clients this tweet when discussing why it is important to make content.

People are glued to their mobile devices – think about those poor phone-addicted kids that Apple has to save. This means we must produce content or perish. Remember, literally every moment is a moment to engage.

Ian Cohen is global executive producer and president of content creation and innovation at Weber Shandwick. And for the third year in a row, he is on the jury for the PRWeek Brand Film Festival.


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