Examine this description of how private equity firms work. It comes from a recent editorial in the Financial Times commenting on the abortive attempt by Tesla’s Elon Musk to take his company off the New York stock market:
“Heavy investment or restructuring can be easier to carry out in private. That is one reason why private equity firms work as they do, conducting unpleasant but essential surgery behind a blood-caked curtain rather than in open theatre before an audience of fractious shareholders, each offering opinions about the procedure. Once the buyout specialists have tidied up and restored consistent profitability, they draw back the curtain and discharge the patient onto the public markets or to another private owner who has less appetite for mess.”
Notwithstanding any view you hold about private equity, the imagery, language and compelling copy stands out.
This is what journalists do. And it is why we at Electric Airwaves use working journalists to conduct our media training.
Our approach is grounded in building trust with audiences by helping our clients identify and tell an engaging and compelling story about who they are and why (rather than just broadcasting key messages at audiences about what they do and how well, hoping that some will stick).
Audiences today are more concerned with how they ‘feel’ about something than analysing empirical data. Your key messages are not absorbed in the abstract; rather they are filtered through the audiences’ emotional response to you.
This is rooted in the very biology of our brains. The old Chimpanzee bit of our brains – the limbic brain – controls emotion (fight or flight) and responds four time more rapidly to stimulus and inputs than the rational and language-orientated neo-cortex that is our homo-sapien brain. To engage your audience’s rational brain, you must first engage their emotional brain.
This is what a compelling story does. It generates an instinctive feeling that I should trust you. Your emotionally-resonant story becomes the pillar around which you weave your rational key messages. Language and imagery lie at the heart of this as the above FT copy demonstrates.
Audiences associate positive feelings with doctors and surgeons and this is called to mind by the writing. We inherently understand (called ‘heuristics’ in the language of psychologists and behavioural economics, a ‘rule-of-thumb’ in more everyday language) that the pain and the cutting is necessary to save the patient. Instinctively the analogy makes sense. The reader is transported from a dry analysis of (or the key messages about) the merits of private equity to creating their own positive picture and feelings about the ‘who and the why’ of private equity. The messages of course need to back this up but the starting point for the conversation is now more positive.
It is this that we should be striving for in our corporate communications in order to build trust with our audiences.