Playbuzz Chief Storyteller Shachar Orren on the Future of Journalism

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In honor of National Journalism Day (November 3), HER Magazine decided to spotlight Shachar Orren, the chief storyteller at Playbuzz, which is a storytelling platform for the creation of interactive editorial and commercial content.

Companies like Netflix, Sky News, HuffPost, Warner Brothers, Time Inc., Viacom, Unilever and CBS, use various types of Playbuzz tools – including polls, flip cards, and interactive articles – to increase levels of audience engagement and social shares. Also, Playbuzz recently raised $35 million from The Walt Disney Company and several other investors, which increases the total funding amount to $66 million.

A Work in Progress

Orren spent over nine years as a journalist and editor, primarily in print media. “I felt like my career was just starting to bloom, but the industry around me was going through the opposite process – budget cuts and less room for creativity.” She explains that the magazines she worked for were cutting back on production and employees. “The people I loved working with were being let go, or they were choosing to move on as opportunities for growth and salaries were plateauing, and I could feel that glass ceiling getting closer and closer.” Orren felt she needed to try something different to stay inspired.

“That’s always a terrifying moment for a writer who is passionate about content and storytelling, because you’re not sure your skills and experience will be useful elsewhere.”

But fortunately, she found the perfect fit. “I came across Playbuzz – then a small, early-stage startup with five people, that was looking for a content expert to bring their storytelling platform to life,” Orren says. “Four years later, it’s the best decision I ever made in my career.”

One reason for her excitement: Playbuzz is now an international company with 8 offices worldwide. As a result, the company has an opportunity to gather market perspectives in each of those locations. “Everything we do, we get to test and see how it’s adopted and used across Europe, the U.S., Latin America and in the Middle East.”

Working for an international company also allowed Orren to relocate from Tel Aviv to New York City. “This transition has been a balancing act between knowing when to tone down my ‘Israeli’ tendencies of being very direct and assertive when working in the U.S. market, and actually using these characteristics as an advantage.” And she believes that her outsider’s perspective is priceless in her role as chief storyteller.

The Future of Storytelling

Text and minimal imagery are the standard tools used by most journalists. “Amazingly enough – these are the same options I had as a print journalist, meaning the move to digital, mobile content has hardly changed a thing for many publishers,” she says. But consumption habits have changed. While Orren believes that people are always looking for a great story, she says it has to be delivered in a format they enjoy.

“During my time at Playbuzz, I’ve been able to work with editorial teams at top publishers including ESPN, HuffPost, TIME, VH1 and more, to drive forward innovative storytelling that promotes real audience engagement.” And to save journalism, she says more publishers also need to be more innovative. “They need to adjust to the era of FOMO (fear of missing out) and Snapchat, and understand that readers have a growing amount of content sources to choose from, along with diminishing attention-spans.”

Orren also believes that publishers have to invest time and resources to learn the types of new tools that can provide a more interactive experience for their readers. “For example: asking readers to answer a question, vote on a poll, or click a card to reveal what’s on the other side.” These small elements can make a huge difference. “They make readers feel that you are forming a one-on-one conversation with them, asking for their opinion, versus speaking at them.”

Creating Content That Engages Audiences

Orren laments the fact that most of the content published today hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. “It is text-heavy, with a bold header and an image or two — but if society, the internet, and content consumption have all evolved so much since then, why has the article stayed the same?”

She believes that engaging content has three key elements:

  • It has to be visual-first: Images capture our attention. Digestible content must have a strong visual element, which sometimes means instead of a text paragraph, use an image, GIF, or video, or even take a quote and make it more visually prominent. Captivating visuals help guide the reader through key points of a narrative, keeping them on the content journey for a longer time.
  • It needs to be interactive: Break long-form narratives into engaging elements that help translate deep, text-heavy stories into immersive ones that are more accessible to readers. That doesn’t mean changing or shortening your original story, it merely means enhancing it.
  • It should be data-driven: What do clicks and views really mean when readers may only spend seconds on the page? Focus more on engagement-based KPIs (key performance indicators) such as completion rates, share rates, engagements in-article, comments, etcetera.

Advice for women entrepreneurs

In addition to sharing her story, we also asked Orren if she had any words of wisdom for women entrepreneurs. She favors assertiveness. “Never be quiet: if you want something – ask for it.” For example, if there’s a role in the organization that you want, ask for it, even if you don’t get it – since rejection is actually good for you. “If you don’t ask for it, no one will ever know your aspirations.”

Orren’s second piece of advice should be familiar to regular HER Magazine readers, since it reinforces what several other successful businesswomen have said: resist the urge to behave like one of the guys. “Be who you are and bring that voice to the table.” And Orren’s final tip, and the one she considers most important? “Always be kind and generous to other women.”

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