“We Want to Retire the Press Release”: An Interview with GE’s Tomas Kellner

Tomas Kellner is the Managing Editor of GE’s external blog GE Reports. Before joining GE, he spent eight years at Forbes as a technology and business reporter. Tomas also spent six years at Kroll as a Senior Director working on financial investigations and business intelligence. He studied at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and materials science from Czech Technical University in Prague. He is also a Fulbright Scholar.

It’s been said we’re all publishers these days.

Journalism has certainly changed as the media landscape has shifted.  You could argue there are no journalists anymore – because we’re all journalists. The barrier between media and society is disappearing – if it’s a good story, people don’t care where it came from. That’s a huge opportunity for brands to tell their own story.

You’ve been at GE Reports for a little over a year. How has it changed?

I’ve tried to make it into more of a destination for technology and innovation. Ultimately we want people coming there not necessarily to read about GE, but to learn something new about technology and its impact on the world.

Who’s your audience?

We are aiming high. We want to reach decision makers, thought leaders, customers, and also tech enthusiasts, the people who go to the airport and the first thing they want to do is check out the engine on the plane. Our ideal readers are interested in how the world works, how things tick. We also hear a lot from GE employees.

Who decides what to write about?

It’s a team effort. Every week we meet with teams across the company and talk about compelling story angles and what to focus on.  Then I go out and find stories that reflect that focus.

Do they spend a lot of time looking over your shoulder?

They see the editorial calendar, but I report the story like a normal journalist. The idea is to keep it in the form it was written, but to catch all the bugs.

How long does it take a story to go from idea to published?

Sometimes a week, sometimes as short as a day. When we can, we try to break news.

Even with legal involved?

Not always – but they are pretty fast. They are invested in seeing the stories come out as much as I am.

GE is one of the brands out there that’s done content really well. Do you think that’s because the topics are inherently interesting, or is it an internal attitude that allows the content to shine?

What GE does is interesting – that helps. But the culture inside the company is becoming hugely focused on storytelling. We have a CMO and CCO who have pushed us to focus on creating strong content and finding interesting ways to tell our story. Another colleague and I have been traveling around the company and holding writing workshops for our communicators. We teach storytelling – how do you put together an interesting narrative, like something you would read in a newspaper or a magazine. Now you have a chance to write the story yourself, so do it right.

What’s success look like?

The ultimate goal is to retire the press release. It’s a great holder for facts, but you’d never want to read one. We want to tell stories.

What about metrics?

We focus on a number of key metrics like– unique visits, time on site, subscribers, and sharing. When we see our stories on Gizmodo or Reddit getting thousands of hits, we know that we have a shareable story. We’ve got traction. That’s what we’re looking for; stories that get passed around without us even pitching them.

GE Reports publishes upwards of 200 stories a year – what does your editorial team look like?

Ultimately I think the ideal setup (for a brand) is to have a small team on the inside that really understands the company. But if you want to scale to be a real destination, you need outside help – and that’s where companies like Contently can be really valuable. Magazines have been working with freelancers for years – that model will translate to brands as well.

Who’s your favorite writer?

Aleksandar Hemon – he was a journalist in Sarajevo, and now he writes about his American experience as an immigrant. I relate to it.

Who’s your least favorite celebrity?

(Laughs) I’m not an expert on celebrities. Ask me who’s my least favorite nuclear scientist or something!

(Interview has been condensed and edited)

Image by Fotopedia

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