“It’s an insatiable beast – it eats up content and wants more. It’s our job to find it.  Every. Single. Day.”

The executive producer of the Today Show was outlining priorities for my new job as one of the three senior line producers. As well as putting the show to air, we had to make sure our reporters, producers and researchers found the most interesting, most talked-about stories for our show. Preferably exclusively.

Live television is a beast that demands to be fed constantly and consistently. Otherwise, the audience goes elsewhere.

Sound familiar?

Word cloud digital platforms

The demands of the digital world can feel overwhelming at times. Finding content to meet those needs is often cited as one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs and businesses.

But maybe they’re starting in the wrong place?

Production meeting at the Today Show

Hands down, the Today Show was the most exciting, demanding and rewarding place I’ve ever worked. There’s nothing to match live television for adrenaline. It was addictive. 

But after the show each day, the production meeting was all about what’s next: tomorrow, next week, next month. (I’m seated far right in the photo – damn, I wish I’d kept that jacket!).

“What are they talking about? What do they want to know? What should they want to know?”

These were the questions we obsessed over at every meeting. Ideas would be thrown out and shouted down. Talked up and put into action. It all boiled down to one thing – would the audience be interested enough to keep watching, and to come back next time?

It’s the same question that needs to be asked by content creators about every single thing they are considering putting in front of an audience. Will they be interested in this? Is it what they want or need?

Sadly my experience in working with content creators, and as a content consumer, is that the audience’s needs don’t usually come first. The starting point for most content ends up being about what the business wants to communicate.

“What do we want them to know? What message do we want to get across? What’s important to us?”

And then they complain that much of their content is ignored by audiences. Is it any wonder? When I was in the newsroom, more than half the media releases from PR companies would go straight in the bin because they were focused on what the client wanted to say. And as journalists, we knew that wasn’t what our audience wanted to hear.

So how do we find out what our audiences want?

We ask and we listen. We listen more than we talk.

When we meet people who are interested in our field, we ask them what they’d like to know about it. We pay attention to social media comments and consider how we could take the most engaging ideas further or in a different direction.

We think about the questions that come up most frequently and how they could become content ideas for us. We use surveys to ask them what they would like to know more about, what troubles them and what pleases them.

Almost anything we want to tell people can start from what they want to know. Anything less will have them switching off us before our show has really begun.