Wordsmith Miranda Blake explores the importance of the written word in unprecedented times.
Every year, we get a news headline designed to prepare us for ‘the hottest summer ever’ or ‘the coldest winter ever’. Though in capital letters – you know, for emphasis. But, most of the time, it doesn’t actually happen.
We’re used to it now. And for many of us, titles like these aren’t scary anymore. After all, minus the back-of-the-mind climate change anxiety, extreme weathers aren’t too much to be concerned about.
But then COVID-19 happened – something that impacted everyone, all at once. We saw scaremongering headline after scaremongering headline. And it got me thinking about the power of communication…
Informing vs scaremongering
I recently read something about journalists getting the blame for scaremongering. This article was defending them, saying that their job is to inform so that people can be prepared for the worst. And I think that’s fair to an extent. A scaremongering news article isn’t always false either.
Let’s take the very beginning of March. There were lots of headlines floating around, saying that the coronavirus outbreak could place entire cities on lockdown. It was anxiety-inducing. But there were only 36 cases in the UK at the time, so it was easy to discount. Then, over the next three weeks, things escalated – and now life before lockdown feels like a distant memory.
I’m not denying that there is some clear scaremongering going on out there too – those articles which ARE IN CAPITAL LETTERS TO SCARE THE LIFE OUT OF YOU, and those which are informative until they end, frustratingly, with an ill-informed opinion. It can be a very fine line between aware and scare, and we as writers need to tread it carefully.
Interpretation vs fact
Getting away from a scaremongering – or simply clickbait – title is difficult in the modern day. Whilst I ‘distanced’ myself from the news by simply choosing not to visit these websites, I had to switch off my social media feeds. Because social media is full of… interpretations.
You can start with a perfectly informative piece. Someone can then pick a phrase from it, and take it out of context. This is then shared, over and over, so that one person’s interpretation can mutate and spread faster than, well, a virus. And that’s how news can magically transform into a completely different story, and overstep that very fine line.
Yet we need certainty now more than ever. So much of this situation is still a maybe. And even the headline writers don’t actually know what’s going to happen tomorrow. That’s why it pays to be agile, responsive, and always learning. It’s the only way that your audience can confidently depend on you for guidance.
Communications vs copywriting
I’ve seen my work change a lot here at MYC. We’re still writing copy, but all of our clients have adapted their content in some way or another so that it’s relevant to the COVID-19 climate. I have found one thing interesting though: we have actively avoided scaremongering with our coronavirus-specific content. Instead, we’ve spoken a lot about preparing for the future.
We’ve moved away slightly from ‘traditional copywriting’ (that is, writing to sell), and towards communication (writing to inform, educate and build trust). This is normally a long-term tactic for brands, so it’s good to see the shift given that coronavirus has forced us to be on our toes. It has proven that, yes, you have to be adaptable – but you still need to focus on the bigger picture.
Communication is essential. It’s the lifeblood of these times. As long as we bear in mind that there’s still room for interpretation, we can inform our audiences in a way that doesn’t scare, but is still honest.
What you say and how you say it has never been more important. Want your brand to strike the right balance? Let’s talk.