Brand journalism metrics surge during pandemic

Digital platforms across industries draw big audiences with reliable news, analysis and commentary

Are communicators “essential”?

Not, of course, like health care workers and other first responders working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. But communicators are quite essential in their own way. In the midst of this crisis, and in the difficult transition to come, they provide an indispensable service to their organizations and their audiences.

Namely: Facts. Clarity. Understanding. Empathy.

No one’s doing this better than the vibrant brand journalism platforms owned and operated by companies across the spectrum. I checked in with a few editors and found that COVID-related content has on average doubled their pageviews in the last few months.

This is impressive stuff. These communicators are covering the pandemic like seasoned reporters and editors, which they are. (And if they weren’t before this, they sure are now.)

Brand journalists are delivering relevant, timely and insightful stories to their audiences every day.

Here’s a look at what exemplary brand journalism looks like in three very different industries: a hospital, a university and an airport.

[RELATED: Join Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela for a free virtual summit on exceptional storytelling during COVID-19, from 1-3:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 26. They’ll be talking with four brand journalism editors about their experience covering the pandemic, what they’ve learned and what’s next.]

Cape Cod Healthcare

Cape Cod Health News

Cape Cod brand journalism websiteLaunched in 2015, the goal of this news site was to create a trusted portal and resource for health information on the web, said Pat Kane, senior vice president of communications and business development, who led the effort.

“And that’s what we’ve become,” he said. “At a time of crisis, people have turned to us.”

The Cape Cod Health News staff published its first COVID story on Jan. 28 and never looked back. At the height on the pandemic – Massachusetts has been among the states hardest hit—the team produced 50 COVID-related stories in 60 days, generating half a million page views.

There was so much news that the site had to send its e-newsletter (with the latest headlines) twice a week instead of once.

The stories have run the gamut from explanatory reporting, such as Laurie Higgins’ piece on how ventilators work; to sound advice, “Don’t wait to seek care for a serious condition,” by Robin Lord.

On March 31, Beth Ann Lombardi wrote about how to reassure your children during the pandemic. Bill O’Neill’s April 17 story showed readers “what to do about Mom and Dad.”

And on May 8, as part of the site’s “Behind the Mask” series, Clare Mulroy introduced readers to two nurses working on the frontlines of the pandemic.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Cape Cod Health News,” Kane said. “Probably put out a lot of releases that wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact.”

Metropolitan State University of Denver

RED (Relevant Essential Denver)

Metropolitan State University of DenverAs COVID-19 swept through Colorado, MSU Denver was forced to shutter its campus. RED’s editorial team went to work, covering the crisis remotely.

RED published original content nearly every weekday, running 28 COVID-related stories in March and April, said Dan Vaccaro, associate vice president of strategic communications. In those two months, RED more than doubled pageviews and unique pageviews year-over-year while new users more than tripled year over year. The average time on page hit 2:42, up more than 34 percent year over year.

Launched in 2017, the RED staff has always prided itself on strong photography and compelling videos. Some of the top COVID-related content demonstrated the power of images to tell a story.

When RED photographer Alyson McClaran shot what have become some of the iconic images of the COVID-19 era, RED jumped to get the story behind the viral photos.

RED photojournalist Amanda Schwengel shot and produced video showing MSU Denver’s critical role on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight, including video of MSU Denver nursing students administering COVID-19 tests.

Pittsburgh International Airport

Blue Sky News

Blue Sky News brand journalism site

Pittsburgh International launched Blue Sky News in 2018 to position the airport as an industry leader and the “front door” to a region experiencing a renaissance in technology and innovation.

And in its first year, it did just that. The Blue Sky team documented the planning and design of the airport’s new smart terminal and unveiled, in a long-form story and video, the nation’s most comprehensive airport sensory room for children and adults who find travel debilitating.

“Blue Sky News gives us the ability to tell our own story,” said Managing Editor Bob Kerlik.

And when the pandemic hit, the news team quickly shifted its coverage to the devastating effects of COVID-19 on airlines and airports. Blue Sky has published 40-plus COVID-19 stories since Feb. 24.

The team kept travelers up to date with timely information about airline rebooking policies and described how the airport’s efficient logistics provided another option for cargo flights carrying critical medical supplies.

The stories have generated significant media attention. Blue Sky’s story about being the first airport to deploy ultraviolet cleaning technology was picked up by more than 30 media and industry outlets, including CBS News, Newsweek, the Associated Press, Yahoo News and Mashable.

Blue Sky also has raised the profile of CEO Christina Cassotis as an industry thought leader, with interviews in The New York Times, Fast Company, Bloomberg Radio and other media and industry outlets.  In addition, the team has worked with Cassotis to produce opinion pieces and a series of leadership videos.

“Without Blue Sky News, we would have been reliant on press releases and social media—the same channels as everyone else without the ability to cut through the noise and clutter,” Kerlik said.

Jim Ylisela is co-founder of Ragan Consulting Group. Join Jim and Mark Ragan for a free virtual summit on brand journalism in the age of COVID-19, on May 26.

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