How ATTN: creates the stories that make you pay attention

January 17, 2018

Written by NewsWhip

Attention is a contested topic for publishers and marketers. How can you catch your audience’s attention, and how can you hold onto it?

In today’s age of endless scrolling and countless memes, how can content creators stand out and build a loyal following?

ATTN: is one of the few that excels. Through its short, consumable, and catchy videos, ATTN: distills today’s issues into what they actually mean for the average person, and why it’s worth caring.

We spoke to Matthew Segal, ATTN:’s co-founder, about how the publisher crafts stories that are “worth your attention”. 

Can you tell us about a day in the life at ATTN:? 

We have a daily editorial and content meeting where our video editors and producers all meet and we come up with ideas that we believe are important for the world’s stories to tell. Most of them are evergreen, not tied to breaking news. We look at the news cycle and ask “how can we look at this and not summarize?”

We had a video with John Kerry, the former Secretary of State, because it’s one year after the Paris Climate Agreement, and we made a video with him on why it was a mistake for us to pull out of the agreement.

It's absurd that America is the only country that has said it will leave the Paris Climate Agreement, which was adopted two years ago today. Sec. John Kerry explains why. #ParisAgreement

Posted by ATTN: on Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The way we approached it was as an explanatory piece that gave some perspective on the world’s view of us, which was different from just a news report you’ll see about the Paris Agreement.

The bulk of what we do is on our narratives. We have narratives around parenting, health and wellness, the war on drugs, the environment, and we ask ourselves what are the most important stories in each of those topics that our audience should know about. Some are character driven, some are explanatory and driven through animation that we do in-house, and some are documentaries where we interview stakeholders in that field.

We have editorial reviews where we go through every video and we ask is it boring, is it interesting? Is there too much air in the story, is there anything we can omit? Are we telling it the right way? 

How important is social media and distribution to your strategy, and why? 

It’s not only important to our strategy, it is our strategy. The way to meet consumers today is on the platform they live. The average consumer under 35 is logging onto Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter multiple times a day. If you don’t make content that meets them there natively where they live, you’re in big trouble.

We’ve very much had to specialize. The quality of native content doesn’t have to be lower or its integrity worse, it can often be that the creativity and professionalism is much higher and it’s a much tougher thing to do on these platforms. It’s tougher to tell a story in 2-3 minutes on a social video. 

What makes ATTN: unique as a publisher?  

As a publisher, we strive to give as much context to relevant topics as possible. We don’t assume our audience lives and breathes politics and news, and insider info all day. We try to approach through a conversational viewpoint. We obsess over giving context to issues as opposed to just summarizing ‘here’s what happened today’, or giving a partisan viewpoint. What does this mean for you, why should you care, and how can we make this as entertaining as possible? 

How do you measure your impact? 

We do look at things like what types of videos have the greatest retention? Where do people fall off on video and get bored? Are there narrative mistakes where things get convoluted?

Generally, content is qualitative. You’re only as good as your ideas and the way you execute them.
A lot of publications talk about data as if it’s the panacea to their success. At the end of the day your content is only as good as your creativity. We’re much more obsessed with trying to be digestible, understandable, and conversational.

There’s a reaction in the room sometimes, and you’ll know you’ve struck a nerve, when people will pause and lean back in their chairs. 

What are some key attributes that ATTN: content has to have? 

We’re really careful not to be invested in just retelling the news. There are so many outlets out there to tell the world what’s happening.

Our value is getting people context and helping them understand why they need to care about topics that are relevant and encourage them to have a better stake in why things matter. We take a “why you should care” vs “here’s what happened” blend.

What if Earth treated us the way we treat Earth?

Posted by ATTN: on Friday, April 21, 2017

My background is voter registration, where I was trying to get people to vote, but they didn’t understand the issues. Similarly, the bigger void in the media crisis frankly, are people who don’t have a stake or sense of understanding the issues. They haven’t had messaging that was clear and accessible. 

Can you tell us about your work with influencers? You’ve had some great names pair up with you. 

We work with influencers all the time. We talk with credible messengers around the issues we want to convey. The message is much more likely to be received. Do we have the right messenger?

We worked on Facebook Watch with Jessica Alba, Zooey Deschanel, etc. It’s about credibility and that the narrator will bring passion to the message they’re talking about. We made videos with them all on parenting topics and they’ve done incredibly well. The influencers investing in these topics and speaking personally. Zooey has a project around this and her passion is plain on screen.

There are tiny pieces of plastic in the seafood you're eating. — Zooey Deschanel , h/t The Farm Project.

Posted by ATTN: on Sunday, December 10, 2017

We don’t do things with random people. We want them to have a personal connection. That’s how we host and cast. We offer them a lot of engagement and views and eyeballs from a young audience that they want to reach in a lot of ways. 

ATTN: has amazing engagement rates on social media. What does your audience look like? Do you actively engage with them? 

We put out the content and let them run with it. We pay attention to comments and community, and to the feedback we get. We monitor and very much respect all that feedback, in continuing to program our strategy. 

How do you manage strategy across different audiences? 

Twofold — at the macro level, the Facebook audience in general, and the Instagram audience. Certain best practices to create language and visuals that work. On the more micro level, we’re speaking to slightly older millennials in a more advanced stage in their life, that’s the core audience that we really want to reach. We call them late millennials and we love to reach them.

We have different Facebook properties. We have Watch shows geared toward health, and relationships, and targeting those pages. But for the most part, we try to cover topics that we feel are important for the world and worth people’s attention. We don’t verticalize things because we think creating all these different sub-brands can cannibalize your audience.

How can we make the brand as ubiquitous as possible, for the people? 

What are your challenges? How have you overcome them? 

We face challenges all the time. Building up a piece of content and not bringing home the goods. It’s difficult scaling the company and getting teams to work efficiently. You learn from challenges — you have to get strikeouts to get home runs.

Every week we publish a video that underperforms or bombs. Occasionally we use this to say “what did not work here, and what can we learn from this?” That’s really important.

In getting teams to be more interactive, as the competition has grown, we’re making sure audience development is speaking to editorial so that they can leverage trends and data to make smarter editorial decisions. 

What have you mastered? Any tips for other content creators? A secret recipe? 

I think we’ve gotten really good, maybe the best, at taking complex issues and making them digestible. That’s what we’re really proud of.

We’ve covered affordable housing to education costs to gerrymandering, and made them go viral in ways that are frankly impressive compared to how obtuse and tense the issues might seem to explain. 

What are your goals for ATTN:? Is there anything you’re looking forward to in terms of new platforms, technologies, tools? 

We made it no secret that next year we’re getting into more longer form content in general. Taking 2-3 minute videos and extending them to 5-10. We’ve got a knack for storytelling on the internet but now we want to take it to a longer view. 

You’re exploring Facebook Watch too, right? How’s that been? 

Facebook funded three shows. They’ve all been really interesting experiences for us. We’re at a point right now we’re where trying to condition our audience to watch things in the 5-7 minute range.
We did successful things historically, so now it’s time to experiment and test the waters. It’s my hope we’ll be doing more with them in 2018. 

You’ve also been doing some cool work with branded content, helping brands tell better stories. Can you tell us a little more? 

We’ve had a really great year in the branded content space. We’ve worked with big brands who are excited to tell their stories and help explain how their corporate citizenship applies to society, and they turned to us to be a key storyteller in helping them convey that. The way marketing works today, millennials don’t want products shoved down their throat. They’re more likely to shop with brands that have a virtuous outlook or mission in the world. Once brands convey that story, the loyalty increases.

Make your voice heard.

Posted by ATTN: on Saturday, July 8, 2017

For example, REI does amazing work with the environment and has a deeply embedded moral compass, helping them convey that helps their bottom line and also helps loyalty. We’re really good at helping brands make that connection. Marketing is not just a hard sell, but a soft sell too.
Thank you, Matthew! For a look at the top stories trending now, and how publishers like ATTN: are innovating, check out NewsWhip Spike

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