Working the Angles for Content Creation
How to cut a new angle from an old story to create a new one.
Cynics say that the best ideas have been plucked to death. To me, an incurable optimist, originality is constant and ongoing because human society is always in a state of constant regeneration.
Philosophers have written hundreds of quotes about how history seems to repeat itself. Most take the harsh view that humanity cannot or will not take measures (usually something simple) to alter a predictable outcome (usually something gloomy). Carlos Castaneda suggested that if you open your mind and learn from history, you can change what may seem like a predictable outcome.
That’s how it goes in writing and content creation. There’s always a new story in an old one. If originality seems wanting, it’s time to take another look at your old stories. Literally, rewriting them with a different perspective. You may say this is “spinning” a story, and I’d say, “Yes, that’s one way to look at it.” You may then say, “Isn’t that spam? Won’t google ban you for it.” And I would reply, “Not at all.”
Old PR guys – the ones I trained under – called this “working the angles” or simply “angling.” The task wasn’t just to repeat the story. You’re doing more by creating new content. One way to look at the process of “angling” a story is found in the ancient art of “plank-making.” Yep. Lumber.
A master plank cutter studies a log of prime lumber carefully before he cuts it into planks. He studies the grain and other features to predict how it will produce certain characteristics in the final product. He may cut into knots or grain to make interesting patterns. He may include rot or burns for a splash of color. He may cut straight along the grain to produce strong and rigid planks.
For instance, there’s nothing interesting about “dog bites man,” but the world wants to know when there’s something new about the dog that we didn’t know before. Maybe it has only three legs, it was a big dog, a small dog, a dog that jumped from a 2nd story window to attack the man. Maybe the man bit the dog back.
Still puzzled? It could be that you have a list of “things you must do in Italy.” Why not create a new list of “things you MUST NEVER DO in Italy.” Admittedly, there’s more work involved. But at least you have a fresh perspective on an existing idea.
In my master content creation toolkit, “angling” is a discovery process that may be deployed for content development, messaging, and social media. You can apply it to any story or narrative. Change the angle of attack by adding a feature, a benefit, a concept, a human interest. With a new angle, you can set a new theme or reset opinions. New angles may help expand the artistic or emotional effect of the story. Seemingly negative points are often transformed because a new angle emphasizes a positive result. Normal and average situations evaporate because a new angle produces a previously ignored or overlooked value.
Here’s an anecdote about literal angles from a retired PR practitioner who was once an account manager for Ruder Finn:
At the close of World War II, RCA Records announced that it was releasing an “unbreakable” phonograph record. Until that time, records had been made of clay and were very fragile. The new RCA record was made of vinyl, which was far more durable. To prove the invulnerability of the new product, a publicity executive conjured up a stunt to drop both types of platters from the top of the RCA building in downtown New York. The date was set and the press and public showed up in droves to see the platter splatter.
At the designated time, the president of RCA dropped the old clay record by its edge and it zipped straight down to the street and disintegrated on contact. Then came the new vinyl platter. He dropped it in the same way as its predecessor and, to everybody’s surprise, it too shattered like an old dinner plate. Facing public impalement or worse, the panicked publicity executive asked the stunned president to drop another vinyl record, “…but as you would if you were going to set it on a record player.” The change in aerodynamics caused the record to drift down to the waiting crowd, where it bounced off the pavement intact.
Remember to plan your story angles carefully. In the case of our intrepid publicity executive, a 90-degree change in his angle was enough to change the outcome of his story. He saved his own neck and ended up with a great public demonstration. Things may not be so easy for you, but his last-minute realization is worth remembering.
Here’s another way to look at angling. A good marcom pro never forgets the essential facts related to a product, service or event. So what do you do? Put them in bullet points in the middle of the paragraph? No. You fold the key points into stories that are personal, situational, and demonstrative. Narratives like these are gold for content strategy because one aspect of a product (for instance) can instantly produce three angles!
Let’s say you have a new widget. You can write about how it works from a personal experience (possible testimonial), how it worked in a specific situation (or a range of possible situations), and you can write just to explain the particulars of how it works. Three story angles. Three possible “stories” suitable for blog, video, or user-generated content (e.g., testimonial).
That’s all for now.