The trick to keeping your audience coming back for more

I spent last Wednesday evening with two incredibly thoughtful, talented and witty programme makers.

Sarah Lawrence and Graham Stuart ooze the kind of restless enthusiasm that demands your attention. Sarah is HSBC’s Global Head of Film and Video, and Graham is Executive Producer of The Graham Norton Show. A million miles apart you might think, but I discovered they have a lot in common.

At our film event (Lifting the lid on TV’s best kept secrets... and how you can use them to engage your audiences), Sarah and Graham revealed how they keep viewers coming back time after time.

So how do you command the loyalty of your audiences? Or, how can you guarantee repeat purchase on the content you produce? Both our guest speakers stressed the importance of making an emotional connection.

For Graham Norton, that means building an instant rapport with his guests, understanding what his audience are interested in and having the wit to conduct a symphony of high-energy chat with multiple celebrities.

For corporate filmmakers like Sarah, the emotional connection comes from telling a human-centred story and ensuring the content is authentic, engaging and clear. Some of the most successful films we have produced for HSBC have explored mental health or equality issues. Other films with high engagement figures are those which demonstrate HSBC’s commitment to fighting financial crime, featuring real-life police raids, prison shoots and interviews with convicted drug smugglers.


In the past, emotive communications was more closely associated with consumer comms, while the corporate world was historically perceived as more rational, data-driven and (whisper it) dry. However, social media and the proliferation of film content has led to a blurring of these old distinctions. Corporate communication and creativity are no longer mutually exclusive. Indeed, corporate communications that lack creativity are unlikely to resonate with intended audiences and definitely won’t bring them back for more.

Something else that HSBC and The Graham Norton Show share is an unwillingness to rest on their laurels. Despite years of consistently high-quality output and acclaim, both are constantly innovating, re-inventing and taking risks.  HSBC Now started as a regular magazine show delivered exclusively to staff. Over time, it has transformed into shorter-format films distributed across multiple channels. Likewise, The Graham Norton Show has matured from its slightly more provocative origins to become a much-loved British institution. It also has a huge global social media presence and Graham revealed he’s equally proud of his Gold Creator Award (which YouTube present to channels with more than a million subscribers) as he is of his Baftas. The innovations don’t always need to be earth-shattering, indeed it’s important to ensure your audiences feel like they’re getting a consistent product, but incremental adjustments mean formats and content are constantly refreshed and improved.

Perhaps the most striking thing about both Sarah and Graham is their continued passion for what they do. Both are veterans in their fields, but it’s clear they’re still hungry to learn, explore and push new ideas forward. So if it really is true that you’re only as good as your last show, then on the evidence of last week, neither Sarah nor Graham have anything to worry about.

Sonal R Patel is a Partner and Executive Producer at MerchantCantos

A recording of Sonal’s interview with Sarah Lawrence, HSBC’s Global Head of Film and Video, is available now on our Soundcloud channel -

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