Published on February 4, 2014
Perfecting Personality Profiles Creating compelling business coverage through compelling characters By Jacqui Banaszynski
Memorable characters What makes them so?
People are memorable due to character Deeds or actions Signature traits Words Defining moments … So, too, with businesses
Poll Question #1 What percentage of your business-beat stories are profiles or focus primarily on a central character?
Why profiles? • • • Businesses are PEOPLE Started by, run by, made successful by, sometimes ruined by PEOPLE They affect PEOPLE • • • • Provide or end jobs Create products we consume Provide services we use Drive the economy we all are part of Photo by Flickr user Kurman Communications Inc.
Why profiles? • At heart, any business is just a compilation of the characters • • • Who run it Who make it run Who are affected by it Businesses are about PASSION and PURPOSE. Employees at the opening of an Apple Store. Photo by Flickr user macinate. And those come from PEOPLE.
Poll Question #2 What type of person do you or your editors usually select as profile subjects?
Whom to profile? Obvious subjects: • • Businesspeople or businesses in the news Or in the bull's-eye of a controversy Photo by Flickr user Eran Sandler
General Motors CEO Mary Barra 1st WOMAN TO HEAD A MAJOR AUTO COMPANY Will her character change the culture, character or operation of the company?
Jeff Bezos AMAZON CEO BUYS WASHINGON POST Visionary remaker of retail takes on revered traditional institution Will he stabilize, transform, save, undermine or revolutionize an industry in trouble?
Slam-dunk profile subjects • • • • Firsts or barrier busters Heroes or goats Winners or losers True newsmakers BUT… you don’t have to wait for news to bring fascinating characters to your coverage. Photo by Flickr user Jerry Bowley
Search your community or beat for: • People facing a dramatic challenge or going through a compelling transformation • Turn-around artists • Futurists, visionaries and risk-takers • Entrepreneurs and inventors • Change agents Photo by Flickr user Martin Playing With Pixels and Words
Pope Francis Rocks the Vatican with changes Captivates journalists and the public
Martha Stewart Look for survivors • • • • Characters who defy the odds Whom we love to hate Whom we admire or follow Who teach us something as leaders, consumers, human beings
Profile potential is everywhere • The passionate craftsperson • • The expert who can explain how things work or why they matter The longtime loyal employee who becomes the embodiment of a company Photo by Flickr user Silvia Benedet • The individual who represents a broader trend or illustrates a bigger issue
When the story becomes the business Which becomes an ongoing story as people who buy the product buy into the story (glassybaby)
Or just a great story… The business is really the story behind the business The product and business take on the CHARACTER of the founder
Community characters The local shop owner or repairman or salesperson or butcher, baker, undertaker we all know … but don’t really know (Bob at Dawson’s Shoe Repair in Columbia, Mo.)
Poll Question #3 What are the two most important elements of a good personality profile?
Profiles are not… • Resumes • Chronological life biographies • Lists of employment or accomplishments • Q&A interviews • (Use bio boxes)
Effective profiles are character revealed through… DEFINING MOMENTS that demonstrate character, value, motivation, style SCENES that show people in place, time, culture and situation; put people in context Relevant and REVELATORY DETAIL that shows not just what someone does but who someone is DIALOGUE and DYNAMICS that illustrate relationships and interactions
Memorable TRAITS, DEEDS, WORDS
PROFILE TYPES • Not one-size fits all • Must match publication, purpose, audience interest and newsworthiness • Adjust to tone of subject or character, and to your own time, resources, style or strengths
1. Whole Earth • Cradle-to-current • Obituaries • Major figures or news (Don’t overuse. Subject, space, interest, access often doesn’t warrant or require the whole life story.)
Janet Yellen New Chair of the Federal Reserve • Person known in small circles bursts into national awareness or prominence • Focus on primary aspects of job or role, but fill in the whole-life background • Give the public context
But you can also profile in a ...Paragraph Photo by Flickr user Windell Oskay • Character captured in a phrase or paragraph • Puts personality to names and titles • Selective, relevant detail, description or dialogue • Metaphor helps (if it speaks to understood or shared culture)
"He was Dobie Gillis turned crusty Army scout..." http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_24980304/pioneer-press-senior-editor-mike-bulger-dies-at “He wore all the hats, knew where all the bodies are buried, held the flashlight, led the way, saved our a--es so many times, bemused by us but never critical.”
2. Newsmaker/Niche • Focus on key aspect connected to news of the moment or situation being explored. • Include only background information relevant to that news, and then with tight selection and compression. Photo by Flickr user Christopher Woo
3. Micro • Represents or reveals a macro issue or situation • Uses one to tell the story of many • Micro subject must be chosen carefully to be a fair stand-in • If one character doesn’t represent issue fully or fairly, zoom in on three or four Photo by Flickr user Evan Leeson Photo by Flickr user Dave_S
4. Interview • Often necessary for celebrity or limitedaccess profiles • “My lunch with …” • Done well, puts readers in the room • Relies on effective dialogue and description • Interview questions essential Photo by Flickr user Craig Howell Spice Girl Melanie Brown, spokeswoman for Jenny Craig Photo by Flickr user Eva Rinaldi
Melinda Gates Careful Controlled Guarded Seldom accessible Always on message But… how interesting if…
5. Negative space • Lack of access or cooperation • Obituaries • Control freaks • Geographically challenged • Subjects buffered by publicists, lawyers, policies • Relies on records, multiple other voices and/or observation Photo by Flickr user Beverly & Pack
“INTO THE WILD” Jon Krakauer never met Chris McCandless, but brought him to life through the stories of those who had.
“Roger and Me” Michael Moore’s quest to interview GM CEO Roger Smith. Interview never happens, but character of place, culture and company is explored.
Tomorrow The HOW of Profiles • • • • Access and sourcing of profiles Best practices of reporting for profiles Effective writing structures for profiles Alternative profile approaches and structures
Homework Make two lists: 1. List the 5 most important and influential people on your beat. If you don’t cover a specific beat, then just list the most important or influential people in your community. 2. Then list the 5 most interesting people you’ve ever met on your beat or in your community. Don’t limit yourself to people who fit the usual definition of “newsworthiness.” Now identify the people who would make a great profile. (Hint: If someone is on both lists, they rise to the top.) Choose one or two, and answer these questions: (1) Why would you want to profile them? (2) What would you most want to find out about them? Please email your answers to: Cassandra.Nicholson@businessjournalism.org by 8 ET tonight, Feb. 5.
Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @jacquib Slides, video, handouts, homework at: http://bit.ly/profiles2014 Photo by Flickr user Xurble
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