Jerry Agar—host of the “Jerry Agar Show” on Newstalk 1010 radio—opened his IP Osgoode Speaks Series talk with an admission that he did not care about us. Following the fleeting moment where he (clearly in jest) cast immediate discouragement onto his own audience, he clarified his statement: the default position for Agar—and media gatekeepers, generally—is a casual disregard for the strangers who regularly seek to leverage media to their benefit.
Agar began by expanding on his default indifference stating it is a frequent response to the entitlement displayed by people who often call the show facetiously promising that they would be doing Agar a favour by coming onto his show when in fact it is they who want his help. Agar expressed how this entitlement mentality—which he mused was likely a generational-effect from oft-received consolation trophies— fails to consider the abundant competition for media time.
The rest of Agar’s talk illuminated how to leverage media to overcome intense competition for airtime. He used several examples to differentiate the successful stories from the unsuccessful, starting with the successful: star of Dragon’s Den Kevin O’Leary and his surprising run for Tory leadership, which was recently reported by CBC as being neck-and-neck with that of Peter MacKay.
According to Agar, the key was not found in this quote often attributed (though unverified) to Theodore Roosevelt: “[n]obody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”; rather, it was found in Agar’s adjustment to that quote: “most people don’t care until they find out what’s in it for them”. To cater to gatekeepers’ interests in order to get a message out, Agar emphasized that brief, efficiently told stories—stories than can be told in one sentence—are most appealing to those gatekeepers not just because it makes their job easy, but because the story will be easily communicable to their audiences.
Further, if a brief one-line summary of an issue provokes more questions, it will be more likely to incite callers, on-air debate, and will be less likely to result in dead-air. Agar’s first example of a powerful description was the lead line: “people living in high-rise buildings in a city have less chance of surviving a heart attack”. This line tells a story entirely but also provokes immediate more questions (such as why?), making it vastly superior to those one sentence stories which do not, like Agar’s example of a botanical fair’s announcement and description.
Agar had advice beyond perfecting the quality of a pitch, also focusing on the importance of the degree of research and knowledge on the proposed subject. He pointed out that getting a message out through the gatekeeper does not guarantee the benefits generally yielded by the broadcast of that message. To illustrate his point, he recounted two disastrous stories of broadcast subjects: one who could not answer questions about her chosen topic (a school trustee who did not know why hypothetical marijuana retailers should not be in close proximity to a school even though LCBOs can be); and, another who was uninformed on her chosen topic (a teacher asking the public to “walk a mile in her shoes” who did not know taxpayers subsidized her salary).
Finally, Agar honed in on some other important factors which could contribute to getting him (and his audience) to care about you, including: putting the listener first, being assertive, being creative, and, seeing opportunities and capitalizing on them.
Though the talk focused on radio broadcasting, Agar tied his message back to the law and how to apply storytelling in the legal profession by relating the concepts he discussed to client advocacy and professional self-branding. Doubtlessly, the media can play a profound role in the former context, whether soliciting the media’s help in telling the story the way you want to tell it, or whether the media comes to you first, leaving you no choice in the matter. Also, it is unquestionable that lawyers in today’s climate can leverage the media to get the word of their services out to the public. As a law student, storytelling is a major component of the non-stop application processes I began the day I applied to law school, and Agar’s advice will no doubt stick with me long into my legal practice.
Jordan Fine is the IPilogue Content/Publication Editor and a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.