5 Lessons in Brand Journalism from Ragan’s Content Summit

brand journalism
Image Credit: BrandJournalists.com

In opening Ragan’s Content Summit last week at the Nascar Hall of Fame, Mark Ragan stated, “We need to stop begging the media, and become the media instead!” Powerful words, especially coming from a reporter turned publisher and CEO. But he hit the nail on the head; no longer are pitches and press releases enough. With media companies downsizing, there are now less people to cover more stories, making it even harder to get our messages heard… unless we write about them ourselves. Brand journalism provides us, as marketing and public relations professionals, the forum to give our audiences the information they want while bolstering our brands’ credibility and influence. Here are my top five brand journalism takeaways from the conference:

1. Tell a Story:

At the heart of brand journalism is storytelling. We must learn to think like journalists and tell stories that excite emotion in our readers. Brand journalism, also called content marketing, talks about the audience, their needs and desires, not the product or company. Rather than writing the story we want to tell, we need to write they story they want to read, shifting the focus off ourselves. Like Chipotle’s scarecrow video, which beautifully depicts the bigger story of a trend toward modified and processed food, with only a subtle sale of their brand; or Coca Cola’s Journey website, which aims to “Refresh the world, one story at a time” by offering stories that are perfectly aligned with their open happiness brand; once you find a great story, make the most of the content by leveraging it across a variety of channels and mediums. And, don’t be afraid to reuse content that proved to be extremely popular.

2. The 60:40 Rule:

When developing a brand journalism site, make it easier on yourself by using the 60:40 rule from Matthew Royse, managing editor of Forsythe’s content marketing site, FOCUS. His rule suggests “60 percent content curation and 40 percent content creation.” If you are constantly providing your audience with interesting and relevant information, they’ll be more likely to read the content you do create. Note that curation isn’t merely aggregation or reposting content from another source, but carefully selecting industry news, reworking the headline or writing a brief summary (maybe even including a quote from one of your experts), and posting with a citation and a link. Aiming for only 40 percent original content, allows you to focus your resources on the strategic, evergreen stories that get to the heart of your brand.

3. Quality Over Quantity:

If your company currently has a yearly quota of press releases to write… run! The focus shouldn’t be on the quantity of news you share, but the quality of it. This is especially important in healthcare where we have doctors begging us to secure coverage of their latest research and executives who think getting yet another U.S News and World Report distinction is BIG news. It is our job to be choosy about which topics receive our time and effort, always keeping in mind what our audience would want to read. Advocate Health Care’s Health eNews site is a great example of brand journalism at its best. With articles like “Could you be allergic to your cell phone?” and “Can dogs detect prostate cancer?” the reader is constantly intrigued and stays up-to-date on the latest health information, courtesy of Advocate.

4. That’s Not a Niche:

My world was practically turned upside down, when a particularly engaging speaker revealed I’ve been thinking about niches all wrong. Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, said that in order to reach a true niche, we must drill deep into the populations we have previously considered niche audiences to discover targeted subsets. Take, for instance, Tractor Supply Co. which chose not to simply target farmers, but drilled deep to find a loyal, passionate subset of backyard poultry farmers. Tractor Supply Co. created a brand journalism microsite targeted to the niche’s needs and interests, becoming a trusted source of information and, in the process, selling some chickens and all the supplies that come with them.

5. Integration Is Key:

Unfortunately in the communications world, many of us have become extremely siloed. We have different teams for marketing, public relations, social media, website and internal communications, and they often don’t speak to each other. This creates a duplication of efforts and fragments messaging to the point where we make mistakes like advertising a hospital’s specialty clinic which has a next available appointment in three months. Oops! An integrated communication model on the other hand, allows the entire group to work together, outlining goals and objectives which fuel a system- wide strategy. In these environments, we create best scenarios, like a mom-to-be who is shopping for pediatricians passing our physician practice’s billboard on the way to work, seeing a social media post from us about childhood allergies during lunch, hearing a story about one of our patients on the radio during the ride home and being directed to our website by a Google ad while browsing the internet before bed. Four touch points and every single one is likely the product of a different department; that is brand magic!

As we seek to keep up with the ever-changing media environment, we must remember that great content is our greatest tool. Let’s go forth and tell a story!

Is your brand or organization using brand journalism? Tell us about your results in the comments.


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