6 ways to up your storytelling game

You’ve launched a brand journalism site. Kudos. But it’s time to move on to what’s next. Welcome to brand journalism 2.0.

6 ways to up your storytelling

So you built a news platform and you’re churning out some great stories. You’re getting more traction on social media, and news outlets are paying attention. You’ve transformed your communication department into a modern, digital newsroom, and your team is acting like the reporters they should be.

Bravo!

But you know what they say (and we all know who they are): What have you done for me lately?

Brand journalism helps organizations rise above the clutter of content on the web. But you have to keep evolving, just like other publishers fighting for a piece of their audience. To stay in place is to lose ground. Here are six reasons to take your storytelling to the next level—or maybe the one above that.

1. You heard it here first. Brand journalism 2.0 means you break your own news. This can be a tough sell for many PR pros, who prefer to pitch good stories to journalists and bury bad stories in the trash bin, hoping no one will notice.

Here’s the truth: Many of your truly newsworthy stories won’t be covered—or even noticed—by a severely under-resourced news media. As for bad news, it has a way of coming out, no matter how much you try to hide it.

In brand journalism 2.0, you still pitch media your good stories, and even offer exclusives, but you publish those stories directly to your audience. Instead of waiting to react to bad news, you get in front of it.

Here’s a good news story—and a not so good one—both broken by the news team at Blue Sky, the brand journalism site for the Pittsburgh International Airport.

2. You’re in with the in-crowd. Access is brand journalism’s gift that keeps on giving. Reporters and others want in, but you’re already there, and the people granting access are your colleagues. They’re your beat. Work it.

Show your audience how something works. Take them somewhere they wouldn’t expect to go. Surprise them. Give them insights they can’t get elsewhere. That’s what access gives you. Here’s how the news team at Denver Water used theirs.

3. Be trendy. Traditional PR is all about you, and the tendency is to want all the glory. That’s not how it works. Reporters, especially in national media, are reluctant to do stories only about you, other than breaking news.

 Instead, identify a newsworthy trend (this takes some reporting), do the story and then pitch the trend. The team at RED, the news site for Metropolitan State University of Denver, did a terrific story about the blending of apprenticeship programs and traditional academics. That landed them a feature on the PBS NewsHour.

4. Dig for gold. You have data. Lots of it. Most organizations are swimming in it. But you have to mine it. Numbers tell a great story if you know how to analyze and interpret them.

Data stories are automatically newsworthy, because no one else has done the work. You can do them because you have access, though a lot of this stuff is there for the taking, if anyone knew where to look. Typically, data analysis presents the kind of trend that national media covets. Here’s one from the news team at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, using the organization’s own data and an interactive map.

In another story, the Blue Sky team in Pittsburgh examined available data to spot the growth in passengers being bumped from flights.

[RELATED: Jim Ylisela is hosting a Brand Journalism 2.0 Summit, Aug. 6-8, at Boorn Brook Farm in Manchester, Vermont. This is a roundtable discussion among communicators who are doing brand journalism, or thinking about how to get started. Seating is limited, and there are only a few spots left. Sign up today!]

5. Thought, meet leader. We hear about thought leadership all the time, to the point where everyone is starting to hate the term. In brand journalism, we call it opinion and point of view. Your news site allows you to showcase your leaders and experts with thought-provoking content.

Take a stand. Have a point of view. Start a discussion on social media. Let those who disagree with you have their say. Top organizations have the confidence to not only offer opinions, but lead the conversation. One University of Alberta professor whose autism was undiagnosed as a child wrote about how she’s using her life lessons to help young students find their strengths.

6. News of the weird. Find the fun and quirky. Want to draw a crowd on social media? Look for all the unusual, surprising and yes, entertaining moments that can happen in any organization, and don’t be shy about sharing them.

Think creatively about how you can play off an event, a holiday or something in the news. Think about your subject area broadly and find ways to extend your brand. Denver Water attracted national recognition when it challenged rap mogul challenged rap mogul Jay Z’s statement that music should be free, just like water.

That’s just the beginning. Brand journalists are taking more compelling photos, shooting mini-documentaries, launching podcasts and publishing long-form story packages.

Why does any of this matter? In a recent piece, Axios’ Nicholas Johnston put it this way: “Companies are realizing they need a new weapon in the war for attention: an editor in chief.”

Jim Ylisela, co-founder of Ragan Consulting Group, is a longtime teacher, editor and award-winning journalist. 

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