How brand journalism boosts U. of Alberta’s visibility—and reputation

The university’s robust storytelling is reeling in a wider audience, landing more media coverage, and showcasing superstar faculty members.

Alberta's brand journalism efforts

Where might one find the latest news and research about aquatic snapping worms, renewable energy, Scientology and dinosaurs’ sex appeal?

Look no further than the University of Alberta’s brand journalism site, folio, which hosts and posts robust reporting on a tantalizing array of topics related to science, tech, business, research and wellness.

Folio’s storytelling has reeled in readers, landed major media coverage and netted two CASE Circle of Excellence Awards—including widespread praise for its investigation into the possible Canadian origins of John’s Lennon’s song, “Imagine.”

If you’re on the fence about brand journalism, folio’s recent accolades offer proof that becoming your own publisher is perhaps the most reliable way to get your message out in a muddled media landscape.

“If you’re interested in getting your stories out to a wider audience, and you want the media to cover your organization more than it does now, our experience shows brand journalism works,” says Michel Proulx, folio’s editor.

Monitoring metrics and progress

The site, which launched in 2017, has tripled its page view numbers in the last two years.

“It’s another sign that the editorial changes we made when we launched folio two years ago— namely the types of stories we covered and the way in which we told them—were the right thing to do,” Proulx says.

There aren’t mysterious machinations or explanations behind the site’s success. Folio is powered by a five-person newsroom that employs a straightforward storytelling style and a traditional journalistic structure.

“The reporters pitch story ideas and, if they’re accepted, which the overwhelming majority are, they report and write their story and file it to the editor,” he says. “Once the story is edited and fact-checked, our desker copyedits it. We then find appropriate art and schedule the story for publication.”

To track progress, Proulx and his team monitor page views, daily e-newsletter subscriptions, and demographics of Folio’s fans on Facebook. Mentions of the university in news media stories are closely tracked, too.

Proulx says that the number of external university mentions has increased by 47% over the last two years. 

Widespread press pickups of this story offering science-backed weight training tips—as well as this piece about a 10-year-old boy who helped University of Alberta scientists identify an ancient fish species—have elevated the visibility of the site and the school alike.

Folio stories have even spurred TV news segments featuring faculty members as subject matter experts.

Looking forward

What’s next for U of A’s brand journalism efforts? In addition to expanding readership and media mentions, the site’s team is keen to start a monthly podcast.

Proulx says he and Jacqui Tam, Alberta’s vice president of university relations and an early proponent of the school’s brand journalism initiative, were also recently asked to write a case study piece in the peer-reviewed Journal of Education Advancement & Marketing.

“I love watching newsrooms unfold,” says Jim Ylisela, who worked with Proulx’s team to launch the website, “and the communicators at U of A did a great job of organizing themselves into beats and building their site.”

If you’re keen to replicate Alberta’s storytelling success, there is no magic brand journalism formula. However, porcupine content is not a bad place to start.

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