Content with purpose / Learning from the content maestro

Posted 15 March 2017.

​By Dallas Gurney – General Manager, Spark PR & Activate

​TV3 didn’t come to Whangarei until the mid-90s. Until then, for me, being home from school sick meant Love Connection and Days Of Our Lives. The latter was so slow-moving the storylines still made sense between days off school. But with TV3 came Oprah. And Donahue. And Sally Jessy too. But Oprah was something else.

I’m two episodes into Making Oprah, a podcast from WBEZ Chicago about how she changed the face of daytime TV. But not only does this podcast tell the story of the biggest show and broadcaster of our generation, it is full of Oprah nuggets, making it a goldmine for those passionate about content.

Oprah’s career and achievements have been well documented: The richest African-American of the 20th century; the USA’s first and only multi-billionaire black person; the “queen of all media”. Making Oprah is a rare insight into the world’s most successful content creator and offers valuable lessons for those seeking to navigate an increasingly cluttered content landscape that can too often rely on quantity over quality.

There are so many stories and catch-cries that content-geeks can learn from, like “staying in your own lane” and “love and fear” being the only true emotions. But a key takeaway for me so far is something that Oprah came across in the early 90s after turning 40. While doing the obligatory “my husband’s cheating on me” and “confronting skinheads”-type shows of the time, Oprah read a book called Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav. This book talks about “intention”, the notion that our intention towards others is the single most powerful energy in our lives. Zukav’s “intention”, as I understand it, essentially means having broader purpose.

A complete rejuvenation of the Oprah show followed. It wasn’t enough to do a show because it was shocking or fun or even good TV. It had to have a clear, motivated “intention”. It was during this time the self-help and emotion-centred Oprah we know today was born.

Nobody would call Oprah a talk show host or an interviewer today. Radio, TV, magazines, book clubs, digital, social – she remains a multi-media powerhouse. What ties it all together? Intention. Purpose. Oprah truly wants us to have better lives. And that desire is clearly genuine. The authenticity shines through.

In content, in business and in life we cheat ourselves out of being truly outstanding by trading away our intention – our purpose – too cheaply. We might start off solid – a journalist wanting to stem corruption by holding politicians to account, or a radio host building pride in their town by being its biggest advocate. But then, over time, we cut corners. The daily clicks or ratings start to guide us. We look to save a bit of time. Outsiders make fun of it and we hesitate. Before long our purpose is just an ambition. And then it finally gets filed in the bottom drawer.

Oprah’s story is a reminder of what’s possible when you keep focused on the real reason you’re doing what you’re doing. That flows right down to a single social post, the writing of an article, filming of one video or an individual break on a radio show.

Content is not a volume game. No pride should be taken from how much content is created, only in the impact the content has. Purpose beats quantity every time.