The real reason why nobody ever wants the good news first

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND: “We feel it’s a bit negative. We prefer to put this in a positive light.” This was the response we received from a client when we submitted an article press release to them for approval recently. It’s not an unusual position, it’s perfectly understandable, and it’s wrong.

Problems are at the heart of news, they’re at the heart of public relations and they’re at the heart of good content marketing. Problems – specifically solving problems – are also the reason why most of us have a business. Bad news sells, and so do problems.

Nobody wants the good news because most of us are more motivated by solving our problems. Pain is a greater motivator than pleasure. Pleasure can be delayed, postponed, savoured… pain on the other hand, “man we want that gone soon as”.

We are more interested in bad news because we want to get the pain over and done with, or simply to contemplate somebody else’s discomfort (unfortunately) – in order to remind ourselves of how good we have it.

Some headlines we’ve written recently, that have had really good traction, speak for themselves:

  • Man can’t get mortgage approval because he works too many hours
  • Negative attitudes to Chinese visitors could derail tourism boom
  • Call for law reform to help families step in when elders get scammed online

If you want media attention, if you want to engage an audience and if you want to be accepted as a thought leader, you have to begin by pointing out a negative in order to highlight a positive, or else the positive is meaningless because it lacks context.

Identifying your customer or audience’s problem, or potential problems, is not being negative. It’s being relevant. In order to show us how to fix something, you have to point out what’s broken.

For good engaging content that gets media attention, as well as audience engagement if you’re content marketing, try this:

  • What is a current problem, or potential problem, that your customers face?
  • Why is this a problem?
  • What three or four tips can you provide that will enable and empower your audience to solve or prevent this problem?

It’s preferable if you give your audience a number of solutions – some, maybe most, of those tips need to be independent of your product or service.

If you try to sell your audience a solution, without viable alternatives, without education and without helpful information, it is advertising. There’s nothing wrong with advertising (it still has its place), but it’s not content marketing and it’s not great public relations either.

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