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Drive up conversions by harnessing persuasion for content

Published Aug 04, 2021
Updated Dec 29, 2022

Last year, I presented a working paper at Poynter’s Global Fact 7 on what makes misinformation persuasive on WhatsApp.

Unfortunately, before I could complete the paper and submit it to a journal, I sold my 50% shares in PROTO and exited. Here’s the video of the presentation on IFCN’s channel.

The knowledge I gained from my extensive reading on persuasion and cognition has stayed with me.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for persuasion techniques in various places, from advertisements and investment pitches to my five-year-old’s attempts at getting her way. Recently, I noticed it again; this time, in news and journalism stories.

Apple News’ use of persuasion

Apple News Plus Audio Newsletters offer a concise two to three line explanation of why each long read is worth your time. This is what it looks like:

Below are 14 more sales pitches from various Apple News Plus Audio newsletters.


Holloway treats editorial products as software and makes persuasive pitches.

Holloway offers comprehensive reports on a range of topics, all backed by thorough research.

They have elevated the art of pitching editorial products to the next level.

Attention: A concise headline and one-line summary help to create relevance.

Interesting Facts: Remove any doubt from the audience’s mind about the content of the book. We provide:

  • A 300-word summary of the 330-page book.
  • Interesting facts about the product, such as its length, level of research, and how it can be accessed.
  • A detailed table of contents to show what is included.
  • For those deeply interested, a few chapters are given away.

Desire: Holloway uses reviews and testimonials to create social validation and demonstrate the number of people who have invested time and effort to make it successful. I particularly appreciate their “Does this sound like you?” section of the pitch, which includes a few sentences expressing the problem that customers may be experiencing. This conveys that Holloway comprehends their customers’ issues.

Finally, they present a Call to Action.

Both case studies market the content without revealing the information component of the content.

News products employ persuasion too!

Do news products publish persuasive messaging? No.

Is persuasion employed within the newsroom daily? Yes.

Reporters, writers, and contributors must be convincing when proposing stories to an editor. Business Insider’s Head of Video summarizes the pitch as asking “Why now?” or “So what?”

When an editor requests a columnist to write about a particular topic, that’s a data point that can be used to pitch. Every decision editorial teams make has an impact on their audience. This article lists a few other choices editorial teams take.

On a lighter note, a few months ago, I saw an anti-pitch. At the peak of the second COVID wave in India, when lakhs of people died, a major cable TV news channel had Chetan Bhagat, a novelist, commenting on vaccine availability.

So, why aren’t newsrooms publishing persuasive sales pages?

Before asking this question, I asked myself: why didn’t Pykih, the web development agency I founded and ran, ever write persuasive case studies? We built websites and data visualizations for big global brands, but never managed to build a meaningful web presence for ourselves.

Pykih had an oral culture. Everything was transmitted directly from me to the team. By the time the team completed the work and it was time to write a case study, I was already two or three projects ahead. As a result, most of the nuances that led to certain decisions being taken were forgotten.

I suspect a similar situation exists in newsrooms. News teams are so busy staying up-to-date and publishing stories that they haven’t established a written culture. As a result, most elements of a persuasive pitch are still communicated orally.

When the story reaches the desk and social media team for packaging and publishing, they lack the context of the editorial decisions that led to it. As a result, they only look at the finished product and write what is essentially a summary, not a pitch – “Why it’s worth your time.”

Have you seen editorial products use persuasion to increase conversions (traffic or revenue)? If so, could you please tweet me those examples?