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How To Produce Killer Brand Journalism

birchboxI’m not sure if brand journalism is the new PR, or if brand PR is the new journalism, but both seem to be gaining traction. Some still say the term is an oxymoron, since the line between thinly veiled PR or marketing and content that’s truly relevant can be a fine one.

But a recent case that demonstrates the power of quality brand journalism is the dramatic success experienced by Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. Using a head-mounted computer and camera device, the Center produced live video of the first Google-Glass-assisted operation, scoring exclusive features with top-tier press, including “CBS This Morning” and The New York Times.

Talk about “surgical” use of PR strategy! Of course, Google Glass is still a hot wearable technology story, and the inside-access aspect made it something the media couldn’t replicate or get on their own. Still, kudos to the Wexner team for its focus on quality storytelling and video production.

For most companies who don’t have an exclusive story about the latest wearable tech, however, brand journalism can be a challenge. It seems like everyone’s trying to do it, but few are doing it well.  In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), most businesses feel they’re not very good at it.

This is understandable.  First, there’s that glut of content, so it’s hard to stand out.  Second, some feel pressured to generate brand exposure, or they don’t grasp that it’s secondary to quality and relevance.

What is Quality Brand Journalism?

Marketers, take heart. There’s plenty of mediocrity out there, but there are also best practices that serve as guidelines to producing high-quality brand journalism from those who have done it. Here is our take:

More journalism, less brand.   Shane Snow, founder of content platform Contently analogizes to conversations we have in the real world. If you want to make friends and influence people, you ask others about themselves.  It’s not so different in the digital world.  When it comes to your content, marketers should learn to be other-centered instead of focusing on their own needs. It’s just not about you.  That’s one reason that keyword-stuffed blog posts or educational pieces that are really sales pitches have fallen out of favor.

Go small or go home.  Yes, we want to trade in big ideas, but the broader the material, the more likely it is to move beyond a company’s core expertise.  It’s natural to think that more topics translate into more prospects, but that’s not necessarily the case. Niche or long-tail content born out of deeply held opinions or experience is likely to resonate with your most valuable audiences. 

Make it part of a brand communications strategy.  Most marketers know this, but only 44% of those responding to a CMI’s survey say they have an overall strategy.  To be effective, brand journalism should be part of a broader communications program that delivers relevant stories to the right audiences through the most suitable channels.

Think like a journalist.  Or, hire one. Real journalists quote sources, back up assertions with data, and in general, don’t editorialize.  Brand journalism doesn’t have to hew to those standards, but supporting conclusions with sources and tapping outside experts adds credibility to the narrative.

Study the experts.  Plenty of businesses are doing a good job with content.  Many are large companies: American Express’s Open Forum for small business is a pioneer and a good role model. So are Cisco, Adobe, Virgin, GE, Red Bull, and Coke. Of course, these are huge brands with budgets to match.  But for small business examples, look no further than Birchbox, CorePower Yoga, Jeni’s Ice Cream, or Gibson Guitar’s Lifestyle blog.

Slow down.  Google’s new algorithms favor deeper, long-form content with original material. Yes, “snackable” content still has its place, but a single high-quality piece is sometimes worth ten” me-too” blog posts that regurgitate what’s already out there. 

This post was adapted from a similar one that appeared November 20th on MENGBlend.

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Comments

  1. Steve Lubetkin

    We strongly agree with the advice in this post. We urge our clients not to think in terms of “let’s make a video” but in terms of reporting on news stories about what their organization is doing. It has to be a commitment to producing new content on a regular basis, preferably several times a week, using the website as a broadcasting and publishing platform. I’ve written about this strategy in detail at http://bit.ly/BeingTheMedia.

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