We may have romanticized notions of how newsrooms used to look — frenetic movement, the synchronized rattling of keyboards — but those tropes no longer apply in the modern age. Publishers from The Daily Dot to Pulitzer-winning InsideClimate News now operate with fully virtual newsrooms, connected by little more than Google Docs and CMS platforms. That makes the concept of the “brand newsroom” — one of the big buzzwords of 2013 — perplexing to brands. Everyone wants a brand newsroom, but no one seems to know what it actually looks like.
At the Contently Brand Publishing Summit, leaders of some of the most successful brand newsrooms tackled some of the biggest brand newsroom questions. What kind of content should we create? What are the right risks to take? And what does success look like?
The first step is not renting office space, bur rather, figuring out what kind of stories to tell. Steve Clayton, Chief Storyteller at Microsoft, said that the key is to tell rich stories from an insider’s perspective. He points to “88 Acres,” an investigative profile of a small Microsoft team that implemented energy-saving technology to create “smart buildings” throughout the tech giant’s campus. The story, it turns out, was originally offered to Businessweek and Fortune. “We got far enough along to know that they weren’t going to run the story because there wasn’t any news,” Clayton said. “It was just a good story.”
The press release is no longer going to drive the type of coverage you want… Everyone is kind of a media company, but everyone is really bad at it.”
Operating in a brand newsroom, however, gave Clayton the freedom to tell that story, and as it turns out, telling a good story pays off. When Microsoft ran the article themselves, it took off and ended up fueling “millions of dollars in sales” from other companies interested in the technology.
Daniel Lyons, Marketing Fellow at HubSpot, gave a blunter take on how his current newsroom provides the freedom and security that his past editorial jobs lacked. “I got really tired the last ten years of my career working someplace where we’re constantly going out of business. The mainstream media is collapsing, and it’s a race to the bottom for this absolute shit content,” said Lyons, referencing the click-bait that populates the web.
Now, it seems, the storytelling void left by the mainstream media is being filled by brand writers like Lyons and Clayton. At HubSpot, a marketing software company, Lyons blogs about the ever-changing media landscape. Now, for Lyons, his job isn’t to drive cheap clicks that keep the lights on. Instead, he’s tasked with telling compelling stories that naturally drives sales and leads.
Of course, determining what stories to tell can be difficult. Jason Wellcome, Global Head of Mediaco at Weber Shandwick, builds brand newsrooms for a plethora of clients and detailed his standard approach.
“How are you meeting and moving business objectives?” Wellcome said of the questions he asks clients. “The press release is no longer going to drive the type of coverage you want… Everyone is kind of a media company, but everyone is really bad at it. How can we teach them to be better at it?”
The mainstream media is collapsing, and it’s a race to the bottom for this absolute shit content.”
Publishers should create content that feels organic to their particular audiences, even if it means going against the grain of standard media practices. Ultimately, one of the best things a brand newsroom can do is report on the brand and industry they work in. “Go direct with your story,” Wellcome advised. “And be the best resource with your story.”
The brand newsroom doesn’t need cubicles or large editorial staffs or even people who work in the same physical space. All that’s required is a team of strong writers telling stories that are meaningful to a brand’s identity. The brand newsroom is still new and evolving, but more importantly, it has the potential to be an extremely powerful force.
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