Joseph Chaney | April 24th, 2020

n/n’s Managing Editor Arjun Kashyap recently suggested a few topic ideas for the COVID-19 era — from central bank crises to trends in COVID-linked technology – to help companies address the most pressing issues at this uncertain time.

I thought it’d be useful to talk briefly about the other side of the equation – not topics, but publishing motivations – especially the ones you want to avoid.

It goes without saying that one immediate effect of a global pandemic is that it makes almost everything else seem trivial in comparison. Perhaps last November you felt down because that long-promised promotion didn’t materialise. Whereas now, the bitterness has faded and you’re just grateful to have a job, and that your family is healthy.

Well, the same perspective shift is happening among your readers. What was once compelling and eyeball-grabbing content in the pre-COVID-19 world, is now ignored as people turn their attention to more pressing concerns.

That means, in addition to covering the most relevant topics at this time, having the right motivations is also key. Remember: motivations are often implied in the corporate content you produce. They are felt, but not seen. Like the American author Ernest Hemingway once said: Think of writing (or in this instance, content marketing efforts) like an iceberg. We only see the part that’s above water, but no doubt sense the weight – unspoken themes or sly motivations — lurking underneath.

With that said, here are a few motivations for publishing that we think you should avoid at this difficult time.

“We want our readers to know we’re ready for the world to get back to normal.”
On the surface this seems harmless. But really, if you’ve been reading the news you know things are unlikely to return to ‘normal’ anytime soon. Weaving this implied message throughout your content will communicate that your organisation doesn’t grasp the severity of the situation. Plus, it’s obvious isn’t it? No one likes pandemics and everyone wants things to get back to normal — so this goes without saying.

“We want our readers to know nothing will take us off course! We will publish what we planned no matter what!”
Truth be told, this makes n/n happy: we love those who love to publish. But in all seriousness, this is not a good long-term strategy. Stubbornly sticking to old plans, or hoping what succeeded previously will succeed now is doomed to fail. Think of those Hollywood studios that stubbornly churn out substandard sequels because the first film in a franchise did so well. In the rush to ‘put out new product’ they often fail to consider how their audience has changed, or how the story should have evolved. In the end, the mediocre sequels tarnish the legacy of the whole franchise. Avoid this. Invest more into the work and think carefully and cautiously about the recent paradigm shift.

“We want our readers to know we’re all in this together.” (followed by a blatant product push)
For my money, this is the worst one. No one wants to read heartfelt essays on shared experience and togetherness, only to discover at the end that the whole thing is a cover for a product placement. It’s the feeling we’ve all experienced when we get off the rollercoaster with our happy kids at the amusement park but then — surprise! — the park forces us into the souvenir shop on the way toward the exit. Oh, I see. Our joy isn’t enough. What they really want is for us to buy stuff.

Trust is everything at a time like this. The collective fear that information about COVID-19 is incomplete, or worse — misleading and inaccurate — is palpable.

What to do? How do you find the ‘right’ motivation to publish at such a sensitive time? We think this is a good starting point: We have expertise and knowledge that can illuminate dim corners and advance the COVID-19 conversation. It’s our duty to share it.

Call me naïve if that sounds too simplistic. To be sure, a robust debate is brewing over whether COVID-19 is really a socio-economic ‘leveller’ that will reduce the old world to ashes and force a return to simpler approaches. The jury’s still out on that one.

Either way, in the short-term it’s fair to say embracing the more altruistic motivations for publishing will only help you maintain credibility during this challenging time.

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