Attention is in short supply and brands want a slice of it. There are ways to earn it – intriguing advertising, smart design, compelling stories and arresting opinions.
If your tool is opinion, how do you put it to work? The world is not short of opinions. You’re vying for a finite supply of attention in a saturated marketplace.
A sub-branch of the opinion industry – punditry – is in a difficult place right now. Commentary on politics, business and sport is now cross-examined and appraised by merciless audiences, enabled by social media. Political pundits are called out as frauds – forced to answer their audiences more immediately than before, sports pundits are criticised for vapid delivery, and cultural pundits told they’re out of touch. So here are a few things to bear in mind if you’re giving it a go.
Step one to earning your slice of the attention pie, as a pundit, is about establishing your niche. And this might take some time. If you’re six months into a job as a surveyor, having been a customer services advisor for five years prior, it might be hard to convince audiences you’re an expert. That said, being insightful doesn’t have to be commensurate to years’ of service – knowing your stuff is the important thing.
Step two is about understanding the opportunity. Whether it’s TV, radio or a website column, are you going head to head with another pundit of opposing views? If so, you’ll need an understanding of why the media has set up the opportunity like that, and what arguments your opposite number is likely to make. Some of the public groan around punditry stems from the ineffectual way media stages “arguments”. You know the sort, where it descends into a shouting match and nothing of substance is learned from the item. Avoiding opportunities where you’re paired with a known agitator or the outlet’s style is to facilitate a cock fight is probably a wise move.
Step three is being wise about what you say. Without something new and valuable to say the exercise is pointless – you’ll have no cut-through in this saturated market. You need to keep up with what other commentators in your niche are saying, and keep notes on what you think they’ve missed. Taking a journalistic approach to research will give you the edge. Don’t rely on facts, figures and observations that have already been touted too much. Dig out your own as that will build material that is genuinely insightful for audiences. Be careful not to conflate controversy with entertainment. The two aren’t always allied. You want to get a rise from your audience, but a good one.
Finally, step four is about being invited back. Your shtick needs to be good enough for the producer to ask you back on the programme or the editor to commission another column. It should tempt other media outlets into getting in touch with other opportunities. Don’t chase opportunities just because you want some column space or air time. Pick a time and situation where you’re confident of being able to entertain and offer something enlightening, otherwise don’t bother. Getting another gig is not necessarily a volume game, it’s about quality.