More organizations have turned to brand journalism to improve their reputations, engage customers and gain positive media mentions. Coca-Cola, American Express, and Adobe are just a few examples of companies that employ journalism-style, data-based, educational and non-promotional content in their online news rooms, on their websites and in direct communications to customers. Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility, joined the brand journalism crowd with the launch of illumination, its online news site.
Duke Energy hoped brand journalism would prompt the public to see the utility in a new light, explains Greg Efthimiou, Duke Energy head of content and employee communications, in a PRSA article. It had plenty of good news to tell about green energy, employee deeds and energy conservation tips.
“The result was higher engagement on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and surprisingly eager responses from overworked journalists looking for a story idea or high-quality content to plug into news holes,” Efthimiou says.
Media outlets picked up the story of Cordy Williamson, its senior vegetation manager known for calming property owners upset at the utility for cutting trees too close to power lines. The New York Times featured Williamson in its Vocations series.
The Shift from Marketer to Journalist
Brand journalism requires abandoning the sales and marketing style familiar to many corporate communicators and adopting a journalistic style to gain the long-term trust of consumers and stakeholders. An emphasis on education and mutual values aligns the organization with their customer base. To accomplish that, Efthimiou recommends:
Tackle the tough issues. An environmental accident in 2014 at a shuttered North Carolina power plant owned by Duke Energy unleashed up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River on the North Carolina-Virginia border. The team examined the Dan River coal ash spill, its most serious reputational and environmental crisis in decades. It described the environmental damage and included critical commentary from local leaders.
Embrace video. Its Old coal-fired power plants go boom! video that shows implosions of its coal-fired power plants, accompanied by the Skidmore College Orchestra rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, ranked among the most popular features when illumination launched.
Ban the oversized check. The humongous cardboard checks as photo-op props remain a PR and marketing staple. Good visuals stir emotions or prompt interest. Gigantic checks don’t.
Please the audience, not senior executives. Tell senior executives when their ideas fall flat. “There is no quicker way to dilute the power of branded content than to cater to executives’ wishes rather than your audiences,” Efthimiou says.
Categories of Brand Journalism Content
Consider your buyer personas, or the types of people you’re trying to reach, when selecting topics, advices Dan Lyons at HubSpot. HubSpot seeks content for mid-level marketing professionals and CMOs, Lyons writes in the CMO’s Guide to Brand Journalism.
Define what subjects are off-limits, such as competitors. Bashing rivals might be fun but could appear petty. Praising a competitor, on the other hand, could be a smart move, Lyons says.
Start slowly. In the beginning, build the site slowly to manage the difficulty of starting something new. “Starting with walking seems obvious but not everybody does it. It not only builds your experience in a manageable way it also helps gain essential internal cooperation,” writes Todd Blecher, communications director at Boeing.
Measure your efforts. Measurement can gauge readership and ROI and help identify what content to develop. Examine metrics like page views, time spent on site, comments and inbound links. A social media listening service that offers comprehensive monitoring and measurement of social media networks, blogs and online news sites provides additional data and insights far beyond Google Analytics.
“If readers key in on Product A, you don’t want to write content on Product C,” says Mike Murray, founder of Online Marketing Coach. “You want quality content that you can measure.”
Bottom Line: Organizations can improve their reputations and win media mentions through brand journalism. But creating quality brand journalism requires a lot of work. The most difficult aspect may be changing from marketing to a journalistic style.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.