This is the third 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.
When you’re aiming to land major media placements, it helps to have some good luck—and then back up your lucky break with a lot of work and smart strategy around brand journalism.
That’s how The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center won exclusives with TV’s “CBS This Morning” and The New York Times this past August, along with more than 250 hits in national and local media. A brand journalism campaign, which partnered a journalistically sound story with the medical center’s polished spokespeople, was the driver for placement success.
As Bob Mackle, director of media relations for the Wexner Medical Center, explains, the media campaign started when word got out that Dr. Ismail Nabeel, an assistant professor of general internal medicine at Ohio State, was one of a select group of people to receive a Google Glass. The device is a wearable computer, worn like a pair of eyeglasses, and can display online information to the wearer, as well as broadcast what the wearer is seeing.
“We knew that if a doctor used Google Glass in the operating room, we could get major media attention,” says Mackle. “Dr. Nabeel’s first thought was to do an organ transplant, and allow medical students to see it from the doctor’s perspective—they don’t often get the chance to see transplants up close.”
However, the PR and medical teams agreed that an organ transplant might prove tricky to set up for a Google Glass broadcast. It’s a complex surgery, a little too graphic for broadcast media, and not a common occurrence. “We wanted something relatable—surgery that people would be likely to have, or would know someone who’s having it.” They settled on ACL knee reconstruction—a short, commonplace procedure.
Lining up spokespeople, a patient, video, and audio
With a surgical procedure selected, Mackle’s media relations team began working with MediaSource, its content and media relations partner, to line up the elements for the brand journalism campaign, and ensure wide distribution for the story. When practiced well, brand journalism is the art of creating packaged news stories with a straightforward storytelling approach, in a way that subtly highlights a brand (in this case, Wexner Medical Center).
“If the story comes off as a marketing brochure, it will backfire on you,” Mackle says. “It’s a common mistake in brand journalism.”
Unlike a press release, brand journalism doesn’t do a PR hard sell, instead providing content that meets the requirements of news organizations. The medical center had an interesting story, a key hurdle for any news piece—it could explain the value of a hot new technology to surgeons’ understanding of common medical procedures, and the story offered great visuals for TV and print.
Next on the list for Mackle and his team: a good spokesman and a patient willing to be interviewed. “We needed a surgeon who was enthusiastic, and who was used to talking to the media,” Mackle says.
Dr. Christopher Kaeding, the university’s director of sports medicine and the surgeon who eventually performed the ACL surgery, was the team’s choice. Paula Kobalka, an Ohio woman who had hurt her knee playing softball, agreed to have her surgery broadcast to medical students via Google Glass, and to be interviewed.
With such a good story, Mackle and his colleagues thought they could nail down high-profile exclusives: “When you have something like this, you want to take advantage of the media attention,” Mackle says.
They pinned down exclusives with “CBS This Morning” and The New York Times, offering the TV show the chance to shoot its own footage and do its own interviews with the experts. The pitches focused on the advantages of Google Glass for patient care. For example, live streaming the surgery to students and capturing photos and videos of the procedure to add to a patient’s medical file.
Hear more on how media coverage was secured:
Multimedia newsrooms give fast access to story elements
A key part of preparing a brand journalism campaign is making source materials easily available to the media, says Robert Leitch, technology manager and senior producer for MediaSource. Wexner Medical Center has a multimedia newsroom where it posts press releases, video clips in various formats, audio clips, and photos; the Google Glass campaign has its own page within the newsroom.
“The online newsroom gives organizations a central place to help pitching, and to distribute all the elements of the story,” Leitch says. In the case of the Google Glass story, that meant everything from bios of the doctors involved, to HD- and SD-format video clips, to suggested tweets.
“We don’t want to get a call from a news outlet saying that we don’t have the format they need,” Leitch says of the “cover the waterfront” approach.
A ready-for-anything online newsroom also takes the blogosphere into account. “Bloggers want to embed video, not download it,” Leitch explains, so the online newsroom offers embed code from YouTube.
The resulting “CBS This Morning” story about Google Glass featured interviews with the patient and the surgeon, samples of the video output from Google Glass, and discussion between Dr. Kaeding and offsite physicians (watching the live stream feed) on how to repair the patient’s torn ligament. Mentions of the Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State were included throughout.
In additional to the two big exclusives, the Google Glass surgery story helped land 250 stories for Wexner Medical Center. The “brand” part of journalism did its job, Mackle says: “The underlying message of the story was that this is an institution that values innovation, and wants to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening in medicine.”