You can point to the marketeers. By the 1950s, the dawn of the mass consumer era, advertisers schooled in the ways of Frued’s nephew, PR guru Edward Bernays, were homing in on the individual.
Though by all accounts from this Budweiser commercial, it’s intriguing to see how this this 21st century ‘buddy beer’ is packaged and targeted then at women.
Advertisers would hone their craft, giving their target audience a profile: her job, her age, where she lived, how she spent her time and so on mattered to get inside her head and purse. Television and Television news’ nonchalance at first were recorded because, well, there were few televisual alternatives.
However, at some point, television would emerge from its generalisation of the audience to lift advertisers’ techniques. The audience was not a mass, but could be captured in a complex matrix of singular entities.
For ITV News in the 1960s the saying was, ‘they (audience) had to understand it in Wigan’, says Ken Mellor an ITN pioneering sound man. Why Wigan? Mellor chuckles. At Channel 4 News the mantra is what will they (audience) be talking about in the Fox and Hound (pub).
Targeting the audience, encased in modern day reception theory, is the art or science that stands in front of the newbie researcher. Closer proximity is their editor, whom it’s taken as a given has a fulsome understanding of Budweiser woman.
So here’s the scenario. You’re one of ten people called back for the final round of interviews for the prestigious Telegraph internship or BBC’s graduate (nom de plume) scheme.
Your task: you have 20 minutes to write and deliver a brief to the panelist of editors about an idea for the day’s news.
Nerves get the better of you. You’ve little idea of the day’s news, so you snatch a look at your phone to see the headlines before you’re led into the interview room. You’re left alone, but you have the nagging feeling you’re being watched.
The newsroom is a ecosystem not for the faint hearted. ‘There is nobody else hidden away on some other floor (to help), there’s just us’, to quote Brit actor Mark Strong’s character in Zero Dark Thirty. In news, it’s you who delivers content for the day’s output in the editorial meeting, where time is a premium.
Hence, the skill is to deliver your pitch in key sentences, backed by anecdotes/ stats/short stories that reinforce your point. The sheet handed to colleagues is that more detailed, but enough not to be War and Peace condensed onto how many pages used.
Back in the interview room, preparation your best friend has deserted you, so you resort to a cultural norm — your verbose, perhaps, articulate self, except the nerves overcompensating for your lack of confidence will force you to gabble like Looney Tunes’ Porky Pig.
Your training would have prepped you to think about her, the beer drinker, and how to get pass your editor. There is no fixed automaton way of going about your task, but there are key words that the editor expects to hear. Principally what the story is?
This is not the same as what you think it will be, or hope it should be, but what, given your research skills, with some certainty it will be. That sneaky glance at your phone too, whilst helpful, draws rolling eyes when you start talking.
“Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but we’re already covering that !”, opines one of the panelist. The subtext is what we will be paying you for is your ability to ferret stories that aren’t on our agenda, but perhaps should.
It sounds like a tall ask, but you only have to watch Channel 4 News to see how they often veer of the general news agenda track. That approach is enshrined in their remit to be different. For you that requires a coterie of morning reads from discursive sources and spotting news that has yet to be PR processed.
And now that you’ve got yourself into that narrow corridor you’re delivering as a story, what next? What do you plan to to do with it? In news parlance this is often described as the angle you’re taking, though you could prescribe it as other things. In adland it’s the execution.
More nerves means you’re not about to tell the editor why anyone should be bothered about your story. Days later is when you realise you could have done your 15-seconds more justice.
Pitching, whether in brief form in an editorial, at the Sundance Film Festival or for the ad account is the transferable skill. It’s about understanding how to get your point across, with little fat. It requires placing yourself in the shoes of the audience and asking, what do they want from me sans the histrionics. It is the power of persuasion.
No doubt it did something to Budweiser. In their ads, there’s nary a woman in sight now.