Brand journalism: How to create your own media outlet

Do your homework, build gradually, measure your results, and—to develop and sustain your credibility—approach your topics objectively.

Some say brand journalism is the new PR. They might be right.

Earning media coverage in the traditional fashion is now more difficult because of staff reductions and space constraints at newspapers. The decline in the number of journalists means fewer opportunities to garner media placements.

These days, if public relations practitioners want to win publicity, they might have to write (or video) the story themselves.

Brand journalism—sometimes called corporate journalism or corporate media—can increase website traffic, educate stakeholders, publicize the organization’s good deeds and attract customers. PR writers are mistaken, however, if they believe they can produce top-quality brand journalism by posting corporate marketing literature on the company blog.

PR pros have to abandon long-held practices. Writers accustomed to producing advertorials or other types of marketing and PR copy are ill-suited to the task. Here are some tips to produce outstanding brand journalism:

1. Start slowly. Build the site gradually. “Starting with walking seems obvious, but not everybody does it. It not only builds your experience in a manageable way; it also helps gain essential internal cooperation,” writes Todd Blecher, communications director at Boeing.

2. Work like a journalist. Maintain a neutral tone that lacks marketing-speak, which customers readily spot—and reject. Cite authoritative experts and documented facts.

Writers with journalism backgrounds can bring the needed skills. Instead of writing about or videoing your company and products, cover your industry. Focus on the issues and trends that matter most to your customers and prospects, and spend time on research and analysis to uncover new angles on an existing subject.

“Showcase your unique opinions and point of views and give people relevant information in a conversational journalistic manner, while keeping the content fresh and engaging,” advises Regalix.

3. Become a storyteller. A storytelling approach that features a protagonist overcoming a difficulty will grab and keep the audience’s attention. Start with a problem; conclude with a solution.

4. Study examples of outstanding corporate journalism. There are plenty.

Cisco’s news site features breaking tech industry news and company content, including blog posts and videos. American Express’ Open Forum started out as an online kiosk for small businesses, but it has grown into a leading brand journalism site. Adobe’s CMO opines in featured articles on topics as diverse as artificial intelligence and U.S. Census Bureau. Walmart Today has cited U.S. manufacturing initiatives and a Polish candle-making company (a Walmart supplier) that opened a factory in the U.S.

5. Set boundaries. Identify which topics your team won’t touch and what subjects it will pursue. Most avoid religion and politics, instead featuring content that somehow relates to their brand. However, some excellent corporate sites cover topics that seem only remotely related to their business.

6. Promote the content on social media. Encourage all employees to share the content with their personal networks. Offer social media training, and let them pick the posts to share. Consider creating pre-written posts that the brand ambassadors can share. You can also boost the reach of selected posts through social media advertising. Also, partnering with other companies to share stories can be mutually beneficial.

7. Develop an editorial calendar. Match your topics to industry events. List upcoming industry conferences and other events and create content linked to those events. It’s important to schedule your calendar months in advance.

8. Hold editorial meetings. Regular staff meetings, a standard journalism practice, can help plan story topics and brainstorm ideas. Virtual meeting tools can help geographically dispersed teams and departments using outside content creators.

9. Experiment. Try new ideas, see how they work. If they don’t succeed, try adjusting them, or drop them and move on. Sometimes new tactics need time to gain traction.

10. Measure your efforts. Measurement can gauge readership and ROI and determine which content to develop. Examine metrics such as page views, time spent on site, comments and inbound links. A service that offers comprehensive social media monitoring and measurement of social media networks, blogs and online news sites provides additional data and insights far beyond Google Analytics. “If readers key in on Product A, you don’t want to write content on Product C,” says Mike Murray, founder of Online Marketing Coach.

Brand journalism has at least partly eclipsed media pitching. Why should PR pros strain to pitch to journalists when their organizations can become media outlets? Remember, though: Effective brand journalism requires dropping old PR and marketing practices and, instead, performing like a journalist.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog.

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