Mayo Clinic exec: ‘Everything we do … can become part of brand journalism’

How thinking and working like reporters ensures Mayo’s content reaches as many audiences as possible.

Walk into the daily leads meeting for Mayo Clinic’s communications team, and you’d think you were in the newsroom of a major daily or broadcast operation.

The Rochester, Minnesota, medical research organization brings together media relations, social media, public affairs, and internal communications teams to share upcoming news from Mayo Clinic, as well as trending news that the organization’s experts can weigh in on.

The daily leads meeting—as well as departmental pitching meetings and communications strategy meetings—do much more than generate press releases and place medical experts in news stories.

“We coordinate news on the front end so that it can be delivered as completely possible,” explains Ron Petrovich, manager of Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media.

The end goal of this coordination, Petrovich says, is to deliver compelling brand journalism—that is, content that meets the needs of news organizations and their audiences while highlighting the Mayo Clinic brand.

Creating an environment where brand journalism can flourish requires advance planning, says Karl Oestreich, media relations manager for Mayo Clinic.

“We plan about 85 percent of our content in advance so that we can take advantage of news of the day,” he says. That means non-breaking stories that are tied to medical research or events are packaged up well before their launch date, giving PR, media, and social media teams the time to respond quickly when national or international news intersects with Mayo Clinic expertise.

Download a free white paper, “How to be a Brand Journalist,” to learn what it takes to become a successful brand journalist and create news content on behalf of your brand.

The value of the newsroom structure

Encouraging staff to be attuned to news trends (as journalists are) and scheduling meetings where story ideas are shared and developed are essential to an effective brand journalism approach.

“Everything we do, even press releases and blog posts, can become part of brand journalism,” Oestreich says. “We try to think about everything broadly. What other elements can we create to help tell the story, like tweets or Facebooks posts? Can we offer videos or animations or sound bites?”

Another key element of a brand journalism-focused organization is a newsroom-like beat system, under which PR and media relations staffers are responsible for certain topics or stories. Mayo Clinic’s media relations team members are assigned to medical subjects such as cardiology, but also manage outreach to specific media outlets so they can build stronger relationships with top media outlets such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Oestreich says.

Regular meetings and editorial calendars add structure that helps foster brand journalism.

“The daily leads meeting is the heartbeat of the day—it’s where everything starts,” says Petrovich. Meetings also help integrate the various communications teams at Mayo Clinic, helping them all get more mileage out of their story development. “It’s more challenging to develop brand journalism by making all of these connections, but it pays off with much richer content,” he says.

Planning creates better content

MediaSource, a developer of content for brands, helps create story packages that drive media coverage. Like other brand journalism leaders such as the Mayo Clinic, MediaSource relies on a newsroom-like environment to generate stories that serve the dual purpose of generating news and focusing a (subtle) spotlight on brands.

Clark Powell, vice president of MediaSource, says morning meetings and planning calendars are a staple of the company, just as they are at organizations such as Mayo Clinic.

“We meet every morning to talk about the coverage that our clients received the night before, and what opportunities we can jump on that day,” Powell explains.

Powell says editorial calendars, like the one maintained by MediaSource, can help any communications organization capture and track opportunities for coverage in the near future. “We’ll look for ways to capitalize on the news that we know is on the horizon, like stories about sleep problems when the clocks change, or stories about cancer tied to specific cancer awareness months,” Powell says.

Maintaining the brand journalism mindset is perhaps most valuable when it allows PR and media relations teams to react quickly to timely news.

“We have these ideas so ingrained in our staff that they’re thinking about news and possible placements for our clients all the time,” Powell says. “Someone on our team was recently doing a juicing diet, and saw a news series about juicing. He recommended his doctor to the reporter as a possible source, and the doctor was featured in one of the reports.”

Online news resources widen audience for content

At Mayo Clinic, producing brand journalism happens both long-term and short-term. For example, the Mayo Clinic News Network is a special website for new organizations that offers fresh perspectives on evergreen news, such as back-to-school nutrition for kids. Journalists can sign up for members-only access to exclusive b-roll, high-resolution images, and sound bites.

“It’s a convenient resource for high-quality news material, which is a big help for newsrooms that don’t have as many newsgathering resources as they used to,” Petrovich says. “We’ve got about 800 subscribers so far.”

For a recent story involving research on using the measles virus to fight cancer, the News Network team created a podcast about the breakthrough, as well as a video and social media posts.

As the graphic above shows, Mayo Clinic communicators don’t practice their brand journalism in silos-it’s all shared and repurposed and is designed to reach as many audiences as possible.

“We’re becoming more and more integrated with our news-driven approach, which is where we’re seeing success,” Petrovich says. “We’ve figured out how to marshal our resources.”

Download a free white paper, “How to be a Brand Journalist,” to learn what it takes to become a successful brand journalist and create news content on behalf of your brand.

This is the second article in a three-part content series on brand journalism. This series, in partnership with MediaSource, a media relations and content production firm that specializes in brand journalism tactics, offers tips to communications professionals.

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