Storytelling

July 11th, 2013

Brand Newsrooms: Innovators or Noisemakers?

Great stories make our worlds stand still. They push us outside of our comfort zones, inspire us to try new ventures, and help us empathize with complete strangers. They piss us off, keep us awake at night, and stay relentlessly stuck in our heads.

We know when we’ve encountered a great story, but often the machine that connected us to it stays hidden. Brands and marketers, often in an attempt to mirror the efficient, high-quality operations put forth by news publishers, try to adopt a “newsroom” model — a content production staff, often of full-time, in-house employees, working together to research, create, and execute on marketing content.

But for brands, content production needs to be only one variable in the brand publishing equation. Brands aren’t the New York Times or CNN. Content marketing strategies need to generate tangible returns and hit concrete goals for the broader company. No matter the content production plan, whether it’s centered on a newsroom or a distributed team of freelancers or something else entirely, long-term profitability remains paramount. That’s why a brand that thinks setting up a newsroom will instantly create a successful content strategy may be missing the mark.

Granted, for some brands, a newsroom model has worked great, blending the formerly independent worlds of traditional publishing and marketing with the goal of building customer relationships in real-time. Often, these success stories come from brands that have built an entire campaign or strategy around current events.

Here’s one example. Responsive, real-time content is the exact approach that Oreo takes with the quick, reactive, and impressively on-point mini-ads  that have made it famous in digital marketing, including a particularly memorable one related to the unexpected power outage during this year’s Super Bowl. As Jack Macleod points out in an article in AdAge, Oreo’s campaign positioned “the idea of a standing rapid-response ‘newsroom’ [as] one of the year’s most-discussed marketing strategies.”

The risk is that newsroom-style operations have the potential to hurt brands by isolating content production from other company teams.

“The most effective content marketers…master the art of connecting the brand essence, voice and message to the cultural headlines of the day,” wrote Macleod. “Without the broader connection, a brand could come off as nothing but a noisemaker and risk cheapening its image.”

A “brand newsroom” can’t report from within a company if it’s so isolated that it doesn’t know what’s going on.

There’s no doubt that, given its success with distribution and visibility, Oreo’s new digital marketing strategy is a lot more complex than simply operating a newsroom. Content production may be a small operation for a brand, but content marketing is cross-functional. Successful strategies consolidate input from stakeholders across business arms, from revenue officers to philanthropy teams, analysts, researchers, and product marketers. News and current event riffs might be as central as they are to Oreo’s strategy, but they must ultimately funnel into a long-term brand story and customer relationship. The coverage must bring something unique and extraordinary to the user experience. Some brands may shy away from keeping the teams that manage these involved with their “brand newsroom” in the name of keeping the content fresh and unique, but the end result will likely be content that’s out of touch with the company’s goals and strategies.

And more than anything, great stories need audiences to take off. For brands, these resources are also often already in-house, opening up the possibility of paid channel advertising, promotions through social media, email campaigns, and so forth.

Because a great story can’t live up to its potential if no one’s there to read it, and a “brand newsroom” can’t report from within a company if it’s so isolated that it doesn’t know what’s going on.

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