When I started out in PR (way too long ago), it was so much easier. There were just so many media outlets and journalists, that we could get coverage for almost anything. OK, not ANYTHING, but it was a lot easier if for no other reason than more journalists and media had more time and resources to actually cover brand stories.
The reality today is different. Today, newsrooms are shrinking and to secure brand building media coverage we must challenge ourselves to tell better, deeper, more researched and content rich stories. We must provide those stories to media in more ready-to-use formats, and must be extremely targeted in our media relations. A buck-shot, e-blast approach won’t cut it… at least for the most part. All of this and still, Canadians are consuming more editorial content from a greater variety of specialized/niche sources. And they are selecting those sources based on how the content benefits them or aligns to their world view. (As an aside, I will argue with any so-called expert who claims that media relating is a dying practice. The landscape has changed, but Canadians still seek out editorial content — whether it's about politics, movies or brands. Journalism isn’t going anywhere!)
Taken in this context, the challenges faced by we PR pros both make what we do more difficult, AND open up new and exciting strategic possibilities within the (A)ESOP model. If Canadians are seeking out trustworthy expertise beyond the “traditional media,” the brands we represent have the opportunity to fill that void. Supported by their agency partners, brands can be more meaningful, useful and timely, simply by investing in a brand journalism strategy — a PR-led form of content marketing that transforms a brand into a producer and publisher of editorial content (producer being the more important side of the equation for PR).
It’s such a simple but powerful brand building idea. An organization or company, recognized as an expert or hoping to establish a leadership position on a particular topic (e.g. a hammer manufacturer on DIY construction) creates and publishes helpful, interesting or timely content, much like a newspaper would, on that topic. By sharing this content, which can significantly buoy SEO results as well, branded websites are transformed into trusted destinations for customers and proof (in and of themselves) of a company’s commitment to improving the lives of customers.
This is a content marketing strategy that every brand that wants to go beyond mere awaremess building through advertising should ask their PR team about. Immediately. In a challenging communications landscape, it’s the right strategic move. And once you make the bold decision to invest in brand journalism, be sure to utilize these six simple rules for success:
1. Apply Journalistic Ethics and Integrity
Integrity is a prerequisite for credibility. If a brand is going to create and publish editorial style content through an owned channel, it should maintain a strict code of journalistic ethics. That means being honest, objective and transparent, requiring at least two confirming sources before publishing, to ensure fairness and non-discrimination. Without ethical underpinnings, a brand journalism strategy has already failed.
2. Take an Editorial Approach
This is what PR is known for – helping brands find their editorial voice! With advertising the primary goal is communicating something about the brand. A brand journalism strategy is different. In order to be successful a brand journalism strategy needs to prioritize the value of a piece of content for the intended audience above brand building or product awareness. That’s not to say that everything you publish shouldn’t have a connection to what you sell – it should! But the ROI from such an approach comes more from the trust, affinity and loyalty born from the very fact that you (the brand) published useful, authentic, non-biased information on a topic that they (consumers) are interested in.
3. Brand Lightly
Closely related to rule #2, be careful not to include too many brand mentions in your content. If you do, it will end up ‘sounding’ like advertising. With so much data now showing consumers tuning out traditional advertising, there is perhaps no quicker way to limit your impact that ringing the brand bell too often.
4. Leverage Third-Party Writers/Experts
Whatever your topic, odds are that there are already established experts and influencers sharing content. To kick start your brand journalism platform, why not partner with a few of the folks who have already earned your audience’s trust to create and publish original content through your channel? Sure you’ll have to pay them – as well you should – but the content created, differentiated voice and halo effect (to name only a couple of benefits) have a huge value that you should be willing to pay for. Besides, I always say that nothing worthwhile is free. Utilizing third party voices will also help to lighten the workload associated with maintaining a brand channel.
5. Publish Regularly
Ok, so this rule can and should be applied to any brand venturing into content marketing. A brand journalism strategy, for obvious reasons, is no different. If you don’t publish new content on a regular basis, consumers will stop dropping in and the strategy fails. Enough said.
6. Create a Community
If you want to make your channel a frequent destination, go beyond simply sharing content by applying a social media philosophy and creating a sense of community. To do this, create mechanisms and opportunities for your audience to share their opinions with each other, communicate one-to-one on your topic, and publish their own original content. The community can and should be moderated, but if you are able to bring a community together around your brand, it can power sales and success for years!
Can you tell that I’m a big believer in this strategy? It’s not a new idea (John Deere, after all has been publishing its magazine “The Furrow” since 1895), but it can lead to a bright and prosperous future for PR and brands alike. And by applying these rules, and our SO team is happy to help, your company can reap the benefits of brand journalism – an investment that pays dividends.
That’s it for now. Please Tweet, Gram and link to this blog to support the #PR (A)ESOP revolution! I hope you’ll stay tuned for more explorations of the role of PR in a social world. Until next time – thanks for reading.