In conference rooms and Zoom calls worldwide, PR pros are telling clients the same thing: content is not what it used to be.
It only takes a brief stroll online to find out content is getting shorter, snappier, and more disposable. Quick reads abound, as do listicles, explainers and short-form comments. Gone are the days of the thousand-word article – in fact, only a few in-depth publications still go for the 700-800 word byline. Granted, this is still fairly common in the B2B tech space, where complex technologies with profound effects still demand a granular explanation, but as they are fast disappearing from everywhere else, the writing is on the wall.
This is due to two key factors
The attention economy
The constant search for engagement and views means the online space is extremely crowded, with publications, vendors, websites and blogs creating masses of content in search of that win that will really stick with visitors. This means readers are snowed under unprecedented amounts of stuff to read, a lot of it interesting, appropriate and relevant. The law of supply and demand rules that there will be therefore less time to devote to each piece; attention starts to fray towards the end of the first third. This means the bottom half of any given long-form piece risks going unread and unnoticed
Editorial departments are getting depleted, fast.
The pandemic wreaked havoc from which editorial departments have not yet recovered entirely. On the one hand, the strained situation pushed the media to shrink staff in order to survive in extreme circumstances, and on the other drove journalists to other careers (many into PR) to secure better pay. The result: fewer journalists are doing more work than ever. Many cover multiple beats and most are under pressure to publish as many as five or six stories per week. In these circumstances, they demand pitches they can quickly digest to grasp the story’s value and where they can fit it. They simply don’t have time for long-winded narrations: the only thing that’s going to snag their attention is snappy and clickable stories which prove how they will jump out to the reader
For this purpose, the PR’s best friend continues to be its oldest: the headline. After all, the main duty of a headline is to make the reader read on, and it continues its vital role even as the rest of the content changes from a long article to a couple of paragraphs and a listicle
As the content wars intensify, the skill of writing enticing, multiform content needs to be kept fresh and honed for the demands of the age, as well as of the recipient. For example, if we know Journalist A at the Financial Times prefers to get the story told in the subject line, we must be ready to meet this, or if Journalist B needs a sentence, an expert quote, and some data in bullet points, we need to be prepared to give them what they want, how they want it
Let’s not forget that all content is in a fight to the death with social media content – and make the tension work for our clients and us. Learning the lessons of social media to make long-form more attractive, but also to filter down what really needs to be there and what is dispensable, is a crucial skill in the new age of content
Here are some golden rules:
- Make everything 30% shorter
- Never use a five-dollar word when a one-dollar word will do
- Locate and delete words that don’t work hard enough in a sentence
- Beware of repeating a concept with different words
- Get someone else to proofread your content