The tell-a-friend impulse

How do you scale a magazine from 0 readers to being Europe’s best selling magazine? You need three things:

Great writing.That resonates.And gets passed along.

Interestingly, this list starts at the end. It’s how Henri Nannen, founder of the Stern magazine and its editor-in-chief for more than 30 years, led the Stern to actually become Europe’s bestselling magazine. He demanded from his editors to start their writing at what gets passed along. Unless an editor could clearly state what a reader was supposed to TELL A FRIEND after reading an article, they were not allowed to write the article. Nannen explained the rule by an anecdote about his grandparents:

Suppose grandpa and grandma are going for a walk. Along their way they buy the newest edition of our magazine. Now, when they come home, they do what they always do: Grandma walks into the kitchen to prepare lunch, while grandpa sits down in the living room to read our magazine. Suddenly, after reading one of the articles, he closes the magazine to shout into the kitchen: “Grandma, they’re going to raise taxes again.” It’s the one sentence that felt so important to him that it created the urge to shout it into the kitchen. It’s the same phrase that he’s going to tell his friends when he meets them in the evening. When we don’t decide what that phrase will be, grandpa’s just going to decide for himself.

What’s important to keep in mind is that it’s the same sentence that our audience is going to tell their friends (colleagues, boss, partner, …) when they tell them about the piece they just heard or read from us. It’s the same sentence our audience will reply with when someone asks them: “So, what was the pitch like?” It’s the same sentence that they are reminded of when they make a decision a month or so after we’ve talked to them.

The thing is this: Our audience will always have that sentence. No matter whether we like it or not, our audience will always have an answer when someone asks them: “So, what was it about?” … and they’re not going to ask us for support.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

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