This is the second 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
At National Jewish Health, the Denver, Colo. hospital with a worldwide reputation for its research on, and treatment of, respiratory disorders, the PR and marketing teams have three requirements for stories deserving the brand journalism treatment.
“We look for news with broad appeal,” explains Lauren Green-Caldwell, chief communications and marketing officer for National Jewish Health. “Then we ask ourselves if the story will make a difference in people’s lives. And then we need to make sure it highlights our brand mission.”
Only then, says Green-Caldwell, will the story get the brand journalism treatment: a video package for broadcast, photos of patients and doctors, and audio and video files for radio and the Web. These stories, produced with the assistance of content provider MediaSource, are the hospital’s opportunity to deliver newsroom-quality stories that showcase National Jewish Health’s brand—hence the term “brand journalism.”
The ability to produce well-sourced stories with a journalistic sensibility starts with the involvement of people from all walks of hospital life, says Green-Caldwell. “You have to know your organization very well,” she explains. “In our case, our public affairs team is always talking to doctors and researchers, so they know when new studies are coming out.”
Green-Caldwell likens this process to the classic newsroom technique of “walking the beat.” “Your people need to be out there,” she says. “And they need to have a good relationship with other departments so that people come to you with stories―you’re not always having to seek them out. If you let any of these avenues for stories operate in silos, you’ll miss good opportunities.”
Once these ideas are collected, they are discussed during regular meetings of the public affairs and content management teams—again, using the newsroom structure of an editorial meeting to suss out the worthiness of story ideas. Perhaps 10 or 12 stories are on the table at any given meeting, she says.
Balancing good storytelling and brand promises
Clark Powell, vice president and co-founder at Media Source and a former TV journalist, agrees that a newsroom-style vetting process helps stories that resonate with media consumers rise to the top of the pile.
Powell says, “It helps if your team has former journalists involved in the process, “And it helps when everyone in PR and marketing can meet frequently and pitch stories.”
After more than 15 years of producing and distributing hundreds of brand journalism style stories, Powell and the MediaSource team has established a criteria to help properly vet story ideas into brand journalism style.
Their process, called the “Brand Journalizer,” has six criteria that begins with focusing on the audience—not your brand.
“The most important criteria in brand journalism is that it focuses on your target audience and not your brand or CEO,” Powell says. “You need to know what your audience cares about and worries about so that your brand can be their ‘solution’ and help make their lives better.”
Another way to “brand journalize” content is to find your company’s voice through a real person.
“Since these stories need broad appeal, you have to personalize them,” Powell says. “Tell people’s stories and explain how the news will affect their lives.”
Powell says you also need to be credible by tying into third-party statistics or national trends, keep it simple, think about visuals and un-brand your content.
“The less branded your content, the more it is brand journalism. However, a good brand journalist finds a way to seamlessly weave in your brand, without it appearing commercial or self-serving,” he says.
One of National Jewish Health’s most recent brand journalism stories ticked all Brand Journalizer criteria. The hospital’s researchers issued a study showing that tall, thin women were more likely to suffer from lung infections caused by bacteria commonly found in shower heads, as well as soil.
“We had great patient stories, and we had our national expert in the video,” Green-Caldwell says, noting that the story also offered simple tips on avoiding the infections, like cleaning shower heads and using gloves when gardening. “That’s another way we emphasize our mission to teach the public about health.”
Solid sourcing raises credibility
In another brand journalism initiative that the hospital developed working with Media Source, the PR team showcased a study on home air pollution and its effect on rising asthma and allergy rates. The study was used as a springboard for a broadcast story on simple tips for improving air quality in the home.
In brand journalism stories like these, credibility becomes highly important, Powell says-and the finished pieces need to leave no doubt that they are built on solid ground.
“We cite everything specifically, and we always reference peer-review journals,” Powell says of MediaSource’s healthcare pieces. “Everything is transparent to the news outlet. Also, the information has to be fairly recent.”
Maximize your content
Powell advises brands to produce content with the news media in mind first, which allows for repurposing, adding “If you do brand journalism well, you can be picked up by the news media plus be your own media outlet by featuring the content on your company-owned media properties.”
A good brand journalism story, explains Green-Caldwell, lends itself to being told via multiple channels. Stories that pass the tests for media appeal can turn up on other channels:
“We take these stories down several paths—we’ll use them as featured content on our website and in our e-newsletter,” Green-Caldwell says. “There’s only minor crossover among these channels, so the stories can reach new audiences.”
Brand Journalizer criteria:
1. Focus on the audience. Always consider what the audience cares about and how they will benefit. It’s not about the organization’s brand, but their audience.
2. Find a voice. Find a real person and tell the story through their eyes.
3. Be credible. Seek tie-ins to a national trend or bigger picture. Integrating third party stats/facts bolsters credibility.
4. Keep it simple. Steer clear of technical talk. Find an expert who can speak the consumer’s language.
5. Think visual. Find stories with compelling visuals. A video, photo or infographic is worth a thousand words.
6. Un-brand the content. Brand journalism is not brand-centric. A brand journalist’s job includes figuring out how to seamlessly weave in a brand presence.