How to break your own news

Brand journalism showcases your expertise while delivering timely news to your many audiences.

Jim Ylisela is the co-founder of Ragan Consulting Group. He loves editing breaking news stories at the oddest hours. Got news? Of course you do.

News happens all the time, whether you’re ready for it or not. What’s changed is that there aren’t as many reporters to cover your story as there used to be. You have to tell it yourself.

You may ask, “Why bother?” Let’s just churn out the standard, boring press release like we always do and send it out on the newswire, where it’s guaranteed to generate millions of “impressions” faster than McDonald’s hands out hamburgers.

The bosses like those big numbers, even though they mean very little to your organization. Even McDonald’s stopped the official burger count about 30 years ago, content to go with the more generic, “Billions and Billions Served.”

What makes news? It’s timely, which means you need to use it or lose it. No time for a committee to spend days on approvals. It’s newsworthy. Even though it’s about you, it may likely bring value beyond the marketing department.

We’ve trained and worked with a lot of brand journalists who have a nose for news. Here are three examples of what breaking news looks like, brand jo-style.

Guess who’s coming to the airport?
The staff at Blue Sky News, the brand journalism site of Pittsburgh International Airport, are particularly adept at news. After all, they work for an airport, where news can break at any time and frequently does.

PIT has been building a new, high-tech terminal, which generates plenty of news itself, but the Blue Sky team isn’t content with just covering the usual groundbreakings and construction milestones. There are more stories than that, including two recent pieces.

On Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, the airport opened a new childcare center for airport employees and also the construction contractors working on the terminal project.

The story coincided with a feature on the national NBC News website, “Airports, racing to hire workers, compete to look after their kids.” PIT was the lede anecdote.

Two weeks earlier, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg flew in to tout the airport’s workforce development program and get a sneak peek at the childcare center, which Biden called “revolutionary.”

Both stories were reported, written, edited and posted on the day the news happened.

Tip from the PIT team: When you have breaking news, toss your regular production schedule out the window. Blue Sky sends out an e-newsletter with its latest headlines between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. every Tuesday. But news doesn’t stick to that schedule. The story about Biden’s visit on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 18, was posted later that day. The childcare center story, which opened on Friday, Aug. 4, was published that evening.

Keeping up with the Fed
News about the economy seems to break every day, if not several times a day. That keeps the brand journalism team busy at The Statement, the dynamic news site at BOK Financial.

Will the Fed raise interest rates or take a pause? Are we headed for a recession or a soft landing from the ravages of inflation? What does all this mean for consumers and small business owners?

The team at The Statement is all over it. In the last two weeks, the team has published eight timely stories tracking developments in the economy. They wrote stories before, after and when the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. And they’ve provided analysis and expert commentary on what all this means for student loans, the mortgage market, property insurance and other issues that matter to customers trying to weather the volatile economy.

“We’re always working to add local detail on what the story means to the reader and our region,” says Megan Ryan, director of strategic content for BOK Financial.

Tip from The Statement: Anticipate the news and prepare ahead of time. In the case of the Fed announcement on interest rates, writer Danielle Sottosanti got comments a few days early from BOK experts whose job is to track and analyze the market, wrote two versions of the lede and published the final version soon after the Fed announcement broke.

And speaking of weather . . .
Talking about the weather has moved from idle chit-chat to real news that affects people’s lives and livelihoods. This is true for an airport (delays and cancellations) and a regional bank (property insurance and supply chain).

But no news team understands this better than the sterling crew at Denver Water’s TAP, the brand journalism platform for the city’s utility.

The TAP news team has covered it all: climate change, water conservation, drought. And rain. Sheets of it. Record thunderstorms are a kind of breaking news all their own. And when they happen, the TAP newsroom springs into action.

On Thursday, May 11, Denver had one of those thunderstorms people remember. (We remember because we were in town teaching a brand journalism workshop.) Over the next couple of days, the TAP news team delivered a full analysis of what turned out to be the eighth wettest day in Denver history, complete with photos, charts and good storytelling.

Hot Tip from TAP: When a big story breaks, it’s all hands on deck: reporters, editors, graphic designers, social media writers, photogs and videographers. Everyone contributes to the final product, brought in for a smooth landing by a good editor.

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