A Bad Joke About Marketing and Communications

A marketer and a communications professional walk into a bar.

“You have any new stories?” asks the communications professional, harkening back to his days as a journalist and imagining breaking news.

“I’ve got this story,” replies the marketer. “And this other one and a third one.”

The communications professional shakes his head and sighs. “Not new!” he barks. “How many times do we need to go over this? We already wrote about all of those. Don’t you understand? We need NEW stories to tell, to keep our audience engaged.”

The marketer looks down, chastened.

And then she takes a deep breath, musters her courage, and says, “But…even though we’ve told those sorts of stories already, our audience isn’t behaving differently. Not yet. Some of them are, just a few. I think we should keep at it.”

“Keep at what?”

“Keep pushing to make a change – in their actions, in their perception, in the conversation they’re having. That’s what matters, isn’t it?”

 

It’s not a great joke. It’s a pretty terrible joke, actually.

But, if you’re a producer of content, or working in a nonprofit or a business that has a story to tell, you see these two characters have this conversation every day (even if just in your head).

The died-in-the-wool communications professional, properly trained as a journalist or an editor, thinks about phrases like “exclusive” and “this just in!” He imagines big stories with new angles, things that have the chance to break through all the noise and get everyone’s attention.

The marketer, on the other hand, is thinking on a different level. She’s more interested in speaking to a very specific audience and chipping away, day by day, with a consistent message designed to drive a specific set of actions with that audience. She doesn’t care much about “everyone.”

Both the communicator and the marketer trade in stories, and both of them have important roles to play. The risk is that the hunt for the ‘next big story’ brings with it lots of places to hide, since 99% of stories (no matter how good they are) don’t break through, and since even breakthroughs are often like fireworks—beautiful, but ephemeral.

In the end, it’s really really hard to let yourself off the hook if your metric is demonstrable change in the attitudes and behaviors of the people who matter most to you.

And that’s no joke.

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