How to get your brand journalism site up and running

You’d love to try content marketing. You know you and your staff have the journalistic chops. But how to get it off the ground? Learn from Advocate Health Care.

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Funny thing about brand journalism. Executives can be nervous about trying it out, but it makes use of skills commonplace among their communicators.

“It’s about storytelling. It’s about journalism. Yet for executives, it’s as if they discovered something new,” says Jim Ylisela, president and co-owner of Duff Media Partners.

Ylisela and Stephanie Johnson, editor-in-chief of Advocate’s online newsroom health enews, laid out tips and lessons learned for those seeking to use content marketing to boost their brand or organization.

In creating the site, both draw on extensive news backgrounds as they worked together to create and launch the site in July. Ragan Communications worked with Advocate, an Illinois health care provider, to create the site.

This approach—using an in-house newsroom to reach reporters, employees, and consumers—is particularly appealing to hospitals, which deal every day with dramatic stories and with health issues of broad interest. Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic also have invested in brand journalism sites.

Here are some ways to get your brand journalism site up and rolling:

1. Make the business case.

Johnson says the approach is effective because it offers information to people searching for health news. Somebody Googling “knee replacement,” for instance, is likely to end up a patient.

“Brand journalism is important, because we need to meet people where they are,” she says.

Find real doctors, patients and other staffers to tell the story. “Instead of just writing press release after press release about this, and trying to pitch media stories through press releases, let’s just do the story ourselves,” Ylisela says.

Also, as TV newsrooms shed staff, a health care organization can get B-roll on the air if the video is shot professionally.

2. Assess (and repurpose) your content.

Look at what’s growing mold on your website: tons of potentially interesting content, disguised as press releases. Written on topics like “how to avoid the flu” and “how to avoid getting sunburned,” many of these can be turned into health-tip features.

“You have these generic press releases that you put out that are kind of evergreen,” Ylisela says.

Rewrite and make them more journalistic and conversational. You may need a better quote than the one you made up for that executive—or a better source.

One press release read: “Some bug bites may need attention this summer.” Advocate rewrote the story under this headline: “4 bites that could really bug you.”

Advocate also converted evergreen doctor interviews into blog posts, repurposed existing videos, and found stories in research and white papers.

3. Assess your talent.

From 100 communicators across the system, Advocate created a news desk of seven of its top writers-people who follow the news and work quickly, Johnson says.

These writers found huge numbers of readers for stories, some of which were highly personal, Johnson says. Johnson blogged about her journey to adopt, and another staffer wrote an eye-opening piece titled, “When my little brother had a stroke.”

4. Restructure your editorial process

Advocate’s news desk evaluates story ideas, assigns stories and reports them, and produces content for other media. Crucially, it reviews its efforts and learns from the edits.

The staff also trolls the Web for content to curate—that is, quoting and linking to other health stories.

5. Design and build your site (or Web portal).

Rather than handing off the site to IT and waiting to see what they come up with, Advocate created a content requirements plan, drew up a mock-up, and only then assigned the programming.

This way they could “emphasize content first before programming and coding,” Ylisela says.


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