Telling Compelling Stories
Strategic Content in Rural America
OUTdrive Episode 33 with Ben Frederickson
In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Ben Frederickson, a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Better known by readers as BenFred, Ben shares his passion for sports through stories that capture and engage readers and listeners across a variety of platforms.
Read more for their thoughts on the value of delivering compelling and creative stories, Ben’s tips for developing and improving storytelling skills and the merging of print and digital media. We also discuss the importance of thought leadership and more about Ben’s journey as a journalist.
Be in Tune With Your Audience
As a talented and accomplished sports writer, Ben has the opportunity to write about topics that he is passionate about. That passion shines in the stories he consistently delivers to his audience. When asked how Ben approaches new story ideas, he shares insight into the unique process.
“That’s a good question. It’s almost a gut feel type of thing. Sometimes, there is a moment or a decision that you feel like changes the game and really needs more attention, or there’s a topic that everyone is talking about when you’re out on the golf course,” he says. “If that’s the conversation, I want the column to answer that or give my opinion on it. I think part of it is guts and instinct, and part of it is having a feel for what people want to know and what topics they want to see addressed.”
Listening to conversations around him and understanding what really drives and motivates his audience allows Ben to deliver what his readers want. Whether it is a matchup between two teams or the inside scoop on what’s to come for a team, Ben works hard to deliver unique stories that make his audience think.
Another way that Ben stays in tune with his audience is direct feedback through letters to the editor, email, social media and other platforms. As the conversation continues, Cliff asks about the frequency and types of feedback Ben receives. Ben shares that the information and insight he receives varies, but helps him improve as a journalist.
Speaking of Twitter specifically, he says, “Some days you check your mentions and there’s somebody there lighting you up for something that sometimes is fair, and sometimes it’s kind of off base,” he says. “But you’ve got to welcome it, try to accept that feedback and learn from it when there’s opportunities to. But you also have to have thick skin and ignore the stuff that isn’t worth responding to.”
In addition to email and Twitter conversations, Ben also participates in a weekly chat with readers on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website. No matter the medium, Ben appreciates the opportunity to converse with his audience. He adds to this point, saying, “I like the conversations because it helps me find a feel for what people are buzzing about and what they want to see tackled.”
As marketers, we all have the opportunity to stay in tune with our audience by keeping a pulse on conversations, being a valuable resource by answering questions about our company, client or industry, analyzing top-performing content to incorporate in future strategies, requesting feedback and remaining committed to consistent communication.
Find Your Style, Flow & Rhythm
Ben has found great success because of his ability to create compelling stories in his own personal style. Most successful writers have a personal style that makes them unique. Ben shares an inside look into his writing process and style and some tips other writers and storytellers can apply to help them succeed.
“I write in a file that’s three to five inches across, because that’s how it’s going to look in the newspaper. I want the flow and stacking of paragraphs to have that feel to it,” he says. “I know nine times out of 10 that people who read what I write are reading it online, but that’s how I’ve done it and what makes sense in my head. I want it to have the staccato and rhythm of a newspaper column, even if it’s going to be viewed online.”
By visualizing the final format, Ben is able to strategically create the story to naturally flow and be the most engaging to readers. However, he likes to test out his work by reading his pieces out loud if deadlines allow, a tip he recommends for all writers.
“If I have time, I will read what I write out loud because I want it to flow. If I wrote it and I can’t read it out loud without pausing or getting off track, I need to streamline something and make it less clunky,” he says. “If someone who hasn’t written it can’t read it that way, they’re going to bail. If you give someone a reason to get out of something you’ve written, they’re going to bail.”
Another tip that Ben shares for writers is the importance of reading the work of other people and truly analyzing it. “There’s a difference between reading something and saying, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ and then reading something and saying, ‘That’s good.’ Why? What made you like that? What did the columnist, reporter, writer or novelist do to make you like that writing? Or was it the opposite?,” he says. “You have to analyze and almost gain by osmosis styles of writing until you find your own. You don’t even really know when you get there, but you’ll hear it more from other people.”
These are great tips anyone creating any kind of content can apply to their work and business. Finding a unique style is a journey, not a race. Invest the time and encourage your team to do the same.
Provide Value & Make People Think
One of Ben’s favorite parts of his career is creating valuable and informative stories that become conversation topics and make people think.
“I want to write the column that gets people talking, not in shock value, but I want to set the tone for the discussion the next day. There’s a popular sports radio element here in St. Louis as there is in most big cities. You don’t want to write the column that they’re talking about on the radio yesterday, you want to get ahead of it and set the discussion,” he says. “I want to be writing something that gets the conversation going and makes people think, or maybe challenges the way they think. Because if you’re not doing that, you’re pretty easy to overlook. You can’t rely on just the fact that you’re in the paper being the reason that people read. You have to give them a reason to come back.”
Ben recognizes that content creators have the unique opportunity to spark conversations and inspire others to think, a privilege and responsibility that should be taken seriously. Ben works hard to provide valuable information and insight, backed by data and facts.
The Merging of Print & Digital
Competition in the journalism space continues to grow as print and digital media evolve to merge and become intertwined. Although this may provide a challenge, it presents many opportunities for writers like Ben to reach and grow an audience in new ways.
Digital Media Platforms
In addition to the traditional newspaper, Ben and many other journalists are reaching clients through digital media platforms, including video, social media and online publications. Ben explains how these platforms fit into his weekly schedule.
“We do a chat once a week on Tuesdays at STLToday.com that lasts multiple hours with readers asking questions. We do a podcast with Dave Matter, our Mizzou beat writer and do a podcast with Dan McLaughlin, the Cardinals TV broadcaster that runs Fridays on his website,” he says. “A couple nights a week, I do some sports radio at KTRS Big 550 here in St. Louis and I also do a video with our St. Louis basketball beat writer. It’s always busy.”
Ben understands the importance of using different platforms to effectively reach and grow audiences. Any brand can benefit from strategically leveraging content across a variety of platforms to maximize its impact and return on investment.
The Value of Print
Although digital media continue to grow, print is still effective. As screen fatigue increases and people spend more time than ever using technology, printed media retains its unique value.
Ben shares that although many people think newspapers are becoming irrelevant, there is still a desire for them. “There’s still that thrill when a high school guy sees his name in the paper, and there’s still the thrill of picking up a sports page on opening day,” he says. “When the Blues won the Stanley Cup for the first time in team history, people wanted the paper. They want to put it on their wall. It’s pretty cool to be a part of that.”
Strategically integrating print and digital media in a marketing program has many benefits and can be very effective in achieving results.
Old School Values & New Digital Media
Although media platforms are continually changing, there is always going to be a need to provide information and content that encourages readers to think critically and answers their questions. Consistently developing compelling stories can be a challenge. However, Ben believes the reward is worth the effort.
“There is always going to be an increasing need for instant analysis and discussion. People want things five minutes ago, so people who can find ways to provide that insight responsibly, thoughtfully and quickly are doing it right,” he says. “There is a real market and real demand for educated opinion and analysis of what we’re seeing in sports, and I think that’s going to be very popular moving forward.”
Brands have numerous opportunities and platforms at their disposal to tell their stories in creative and compelling ways. New digital platforms and traditional values can be utilized together in strategic ways to position your brand for growth and success. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities?
Get additional insight from Ben and Cliff in this episode of OUTdrive. Check it out!