How to report directly to your audience

Companies increasingly turn to brand journalism as news outlets continue to struggle with declining revenue.

There’s a moment in the classic anti-war movie “Dr. Strangelove,” when President Merkin Muffley breaks up a scuffle by saying, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room.”

Today, many news outlets are so short-staffed that we can imagine an exasperated editor saying: “You can’t report in here. This is a newsroom.” If they even have a newsroom.

Two recent surveys by PR platforms Cision and Muck Rack serve as reminders of the challenges facing journalists and, in turn, the profession they love to hate — public relations.

Relying exclusively on press releases makes little sense when more than half of PR professionals say their biggest challenge is getting responses from journalists, according to Muck Rack’s State of PR 2022. That’s not surprising, since 65% of reporters say they file at least four stories a week and 43% cover at least five beats, according to Cision’s 2022 Global State of the Media Report.

With more news than ever before (and fewer reporters), many compelling stories don’t get told. Like yours.

The surveys also provide renewed justification for an alternative, which we call brand journalism. Reach your many audiences directly, rather than depend on the media to deliver your news for you. Respect your audiences by giving them the information they need, rather than trying to sell or market to them. Attract their attention by using the techniques of solid reporting and good storytelling.

There’s some great work being done by organizations running their own news outlets, and we’ve worked with quite a few of them. Here are some recent examples of the kinds of stories that make great brand journalism:

News-jacks: “What the Fed’s rate hikes mean for your money – and possibly your job,” by Danielle Sottosanti, in The Statement, the brand journalism platform for Tulsa, Oklahoma-based BOK Financial. The Statement does a great job of reporting on all things financial, using its experts to comment on the news or provide analysis of a trend.

News-jacking is a great technique for brand journalists: Take a timely story in the news and rework it with one of your experts providing insight, while linking to the original piece. When the Federal Reserve decided to raise interest rates — again — to combat inflation, The Statement was all over it.

Follow ups: “COVID-19 Still a Risk for Patients With Cancer as Cases Rise,” by Pat Carragher, in Endeavor, the brand journalism site for Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. COVID may have dropped off many front pages, but it’s still out there, and certain vulnerable populations continue to be at risk. Endeavor has done a solid job of covering the pandemic and its effects on cancer patients, who are often immunocompromised from their treatments.

It’s hard enough to get media coverage for some of your stories, no matter how newsworthy. Keep your audiences in the loop by following up on the stories that matter to them.

Breaking News: “Airport Decides Against Closing Longest  Runway,” by Bob Kerlik in Blue Sky News, the brandjo platform for Pittsburgh International Airport. Your organization regularly makes news, whether media think so or not. Publish it first, on your news platform, on social media and through an email newsletter that goes to subscribers. Think of your news this way: You can pitch the idea or send a release, then hope for the best. Or you can publish the story and invite media to use it any way they choose. (That includes running it as is, which many smaller outlets hungry for content will do.)

Over time, reporters covering your industry will start paying closer attention to your content and use your site to inform their own coverage. This is not the end of exclusives, by the way. If you have something really hot, and The Wall Street Journal wants it for themselves, give it to them.

Explanatory Journalism“Monitoring Monkeypox,” by Johnny Woodhouse, in Juice, the brandjo platform for Baptist Health, in Jacksonville, Florida. Explainers are a great way to serve your audience. They see something on the news, catch a snippet on social media and before you know it, everyone’s freaking out about, well, monkeypox.

Juice does a great job of taking health topics in the news and explaining them, clearly and dispassionately, for anyone who wants the facts. Whether it’s sleep, mental health or the soon-to-be renamed monkeypox, Juice is a reliable source for its readers. (Side note: Johnny Woodhouse doesn’t just sport a cinematic byline, he’s one of our favorite brand journalists.)

Analysis“Dreamers reflect on a decade of DACA,” by Matt Wilson, in RED, the brandjo site for Metropolitan State University of Denver. The school has been at the forefront of the DACA movement (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) since President Obama signed an executive order in 2012 protecting eligible immigrants from deportation. The school ranks first in Colorado for enrolling undocumented students.

Wilson’s story does what a good piece of journalism should: It lays out the issue (10 years later, DACA still faces court challenges) and tells the story of MSU Denver students who have benefited from the program and are committed to immigration reform.

Jim Ylisela is the co-founder of Ragan Consulting Group and Tom Corfman is an attorney and senior consultant with the firm.  Schedule a call with Tom to learn how we can help you get started with brand journalism. RCG specializes in corporate communications training, consulting and strategic counsel. Follow the firm on LinkedIn here and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

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