Lessons from the Washington Post’s “Refuge”

There are marketing lessons within reporting on real world events. They aren’t marketing lessons so much as they are general lessons for how to make people pay attention and think—but isn’t that the point of marketing?

Recently, the Washington Post ran a heartrending, beautifully human feature on Syria—specifically, the refugees and their stories. It’s possibly one of the finest pieces of journalism I’ve read. The sentence structure is short; to-the-point. The tone is calm, measured and deliberate. The human story stands side by side against the statistics and the political implications. And the copy is broken by visual graphs, vivid photography and video.

“Changing region, changing lives,” written by Kevin Sullivan (who authored the entire 18-story feature), reads—in part—like a best-selling thriller: “The details of that night come to him now in disconnected bits: Dania at an Aleppo hospital. Her stomach flayed. His daughter’s intestines. Doctors telling him to go to Turkey immediately. Kilis State Hospital was an hour away, just over the border. Dania’s best chance was there.”

Some features within Refuge contain short video clips showing its protagonist blink or smoke a cigarette or scratch at a beard—they only last seconds, but it’s enough to breathe more life into the copy and it helps solidify the fact that real people—people like you and I—are being affected by this in ways we can only imagine.

What’s the big result here? The Washington Post’s Refuge feature caught my attention—and held it. Refuge did that because it struck human chords within me, gave me visual content to make connections between the text and the story, and strengthened that with hard statistics and context. I’m engaged. I’m thinking. As marketers, we’re always talking about how we can attract and engage our audiences. I say—that answer has always been within our reach. We just need to know where to look and then we need to be deliberate in how we present it.