How Telling Great Stories About Your Company Will Attract News Coverage and Grow Your Business
By Christopher Biddle, President, BiddlePR
PRSA NJ Vice President & Membership Chair
As a former daily newspaper reporter and editor, I’ve come full circle in my 40 years as a communication professional.
That guy in the photo? It’s me, working as business editor for The Trenton Times in about 1990.
Although I left the newspaper business 24 years ago to become a business communications executive, lately I’ve been writing real news stories again – this time as an experienced writer (and strategist) for my PR clients.
Great news stories are at the heart of a powerful new tool that is transforming the way organizations communicate and do business. It’s called “brand journalism.”
What does it mean and how does it work?
Write Your Own News
Here’s how Ragan Communications, an oft-quoted expert on the topic, describes brand journalism:
“Companies and other organizations are becoming their own media outlets,” says Ragan Communications CEO Mark Ragan, a former Copley Newspapers national reporter. “Gone are the days when organizations depended on traditional media and advertising channels alone to win new customers, build buzz and visibility, and engage decision-makers.
“Today, smart brands overhaul their websites and social media channels to take messages directly to customers, stakeholders, the traditional media, and new influencers. On the lips of every marketer today is the mantra, ‘Content is the new marketing,’ Mark says. His lessons are equally applicable to government and nonprofit communicators.”
Thousands of successful companies, large and small, are practicing brand journalism and building their businesses with compelling storytelling. As Mark Ragan put it at a recent seminar: “They are getting eyeballs and turning that into business.”
It’s About Them, Not You
The biggest hurdle organizations face in adopting brand journalism is changing their own mindset about what constitutes news. Most organizations think and speak like organizations, resulting in boring press releases rendered in corporate speak.
That’s because most organizations take the myopic view that they are the most important part of any news story. They also use technical “insider” language to announce their news, as if trying to baffle rather than inform their audiences.
Boring, technical, and organization-centric. Could there be a more ineffective form of communication?
Yet, many organizations continue to think and present themselves to the world in this fashion.
Brand journalism focuses on real people who care about, and benefit from, the products and services your business offers. Your news stories must make for compelling reading, drawing people in with imaginative storytelling. They must resonate emotionally with your target audiences.
Remember, real news is about them, not you.
Pecked by a Chicken?
Here’s a side-by-side comparison, courtesy of Ragan Communications, of how two different organizations reported the same news, one in corporate speak, the other as a compelling story.
Organization #1 (anonymous):
No headline provided, followed by: “On October 1, our company will adopt ICD-10 as part of the government mandate to use this more specific set of codes to label medical diagnoses and procedures. This change aligns with our 2015 Business Plan and is particularly important for our Claims, Reporting, Health & Medical Management, and Provider Contraction operations.”
Organization #2 (Kaiser Health News):
Headline: “Pecked by a Chicken? Sucked into a Jet Engine? There’s a Code for That”
Lead paragraph: “If you’re struck by an orca, sucked into a jet engine or having relationship problems with your in-laws, fear not: Your doctor now has a medical diagnosis code that that. Today, U.S. doctors, hospitals and health insurers must start using the ICD-10, a vast new set of alphanumeric codes for describing diseases and injuries in unprecedented detail.”
How to Do It
Kaiser Health’s news story literally sucked me in! They transformed a potentially deadly topic into highly entertaining news by focusing on you, the audience, with imagination and creativity.
Notice that the announcement by the first company leads with “our company will adopt,” which is organization-focused and so utterly boring I needed a second cup of coffee to get through it.
If you want to start your own newsroom and tell your own stories, the first step is to recognize the power of creative storytelling. To harness that power, Ragan suggests you take the following steps:
- Conduct an audit of your organization’s existing communication systems, strategies and mindset.
- Create editorial guidelines.
- Build your own news desk (with real writers/editors and a well-defined editorial process).
- Build an online news hub to post your stories (use WordPress or integrate PressPage into your website)
- Deliver this content to your audiences through every available communications channel and medium (web postings, video, email, social media, newsletters, news releases, etc.)
This is a complex process that requires buy-in from every person in your organization who touches or delivers communications to employees or outside audiences. It also requires the services of at least one skilled copy editor and one good writer who knows how to tell a story. (If you don’t have in-house talent, hire an out-of-work news reporter.)
Keep in mind that your news stories must support your primary strategic goals as a business, and they generally should include a call-to-action (such as a web landing page, email signup box, simple survey, or free-information download). Call-to-action tactics lead readers back to your mothership to take the action(s) you want them to take.
Benefits of Brand Journalism
Here’s how the practice of brand journalism can benefit your business, nonprofit, government agency or academic institution:
- You will engage your employees, who will share your news stories on their SM channels.
- Your Social Media engagement will explode.
- Reporters will call you, so you don’t have to call them (they know a great story when they read one).
- Your organization will rise to the top of search engine results in its areas of expertise.
- New business will walk through your door without the benefit of a single marketing flyer or advertisement.
Here are a few examples of effective brand-journalism news sites managed by small, medium and large companies: EXPORTWISE by Export Development Canada (one writer); Denver Water News; Cape Cod Healthcare’s OneCapeTM Health News; Cleveland Clinic healthessentials; and Coca-Cola Journey.
Footnote: After moving my clients’ websites to WordPress and posting real news stories about their work, I have watched those stories rise to the top of search engine results in my clients’ areas of expertise. Type “stadium security best practices” into Google search to find my client CCICADA.
Christopher Biddle is President of Biddle Communications & Public Relations in Moorestown, NJ. He practices brand journalism with his current clients. This blog was inspired by a Ragan Communications brand journalism seminar he attended in NYC.