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Opinion and Insight

On James Harding’s Pet Tortoise

lbbonline.com, 1 month ago

James Porter on the former Director of BBC's slow news venture and what it can teach brands about creating meaningful and engaging work

On James Harding’s Pet Tortoise

A few years ago, James Harding left the BBC after becoming exasperated with the news agenda and having begun to 'identify with people who felt overwhelmed' by the news agenda. He sought to build a news outlet centred around the idea of 'slow news' and it has today been announced that it will launch in January. His venture has much to teach brands and communications agencies.

The sheer quantity of media we consume and are exposed to in 2018 means that not much sticks in the memory. But just how transient is the news and how short are our memories? Well, Boris Johnson had a meeting with Steve Bannon, and weeks later wrote the infamous - and racist - 'letter-box and bank robbers' column. Very little was written on just where he got the idea to be so inflammatory… 

Whilst this may be a political moment, the lessons are there to be seen for brands and agencies. How do you build a connection with consumers if they forget things so quickly?

There is not an easy answer, and understanding the media consumption of target audiences has always been one of the main roles of strategists and planners in PR and advertising. Guinness adverts may be great, but if they end up in the AA newsletter, they aren’t going to drive sales.

The problem is complicated by the fact that consumers have never had more access to so much media. Whether a brand pumps money into Instagram ads, traditional TV ads or more traditional PR work can be what makes and breaks small businesses or allows a multinational to conquer a new territory.

Harding’s pet Tortoise has a lot to teach the communications industry regarding these issues. The values that underpin Tortoise (integrity and credibility) should underpin PR and advertising strategies across the country. The public are crying out for a dignified approach to things. They are fed up with click-bait news and Piers Morgan having a go at Daniel Craig for carrying his baby(?!). We are surrounded by lies and whether it’s bullshit claims printed on a bus or filtered lives on Instagram, people are beginning to see through it. People are not going to engage with or buy into brands that they do not see as responsible. 

Tortoise has also decided, to its credit, to have a strong opinion and take a stance on things. Their opinion will be informed, and it will be respected. Brands should embrace this. Socioeconomic and political events have been entwined with communications for years and yet very few brands have used this overtly: why risk alienating a portion of your customer base? That is until Colin Kaepernick was strewn across billboards in the US. Reams have been written on the brilliance (and the potential hypocrisy) behind this campaign and this isn’t the place to repeat it all, but the point stands: Nike took a political stance, they put themselves on the right side of history and gained the brand loyalty of swathes of populations around the world. 

The Kaepernick work is meaningful and Tortoise has recognised that people want to have meaningful interactions. Whether it is with a news outlet or with a brand, this is a crucial point. People are bombarded nowadays and constant scrolling on Twitter and Instagram makes it hard for a brand to be noticed. Getting them to stop and take notice cannot be fluked. Anything short of perfect will be ignored and trivial content will drift into the ether. Tortoise is not going to bombard its members with content (more information on the format can be read here). So, the consumers will not be over-saturated and when information does come through, they will engage with it, and their relationship with Tortoise will improve, along with their levels of loyalty.

Vast proportions of the population are becoming disengaged and it will take different approaches and models to re-ignite their interest. Tortoise is doing this and has received financial backing that reflects the confidence in it, I too am confident that it will go from strength to strength and the communications industry should remember that the important thing about tortoises, as Harding says, is not that they are slow - it's the fact that they win.

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