Brand Newsrooms: How-To Advice From Edelman and Other Digital Media Experts

  • The web does not lack for advice on how to build brand newsrooms.  Much of that advice circles the same themes and very little of it deals in specifics.

    With that in mind, ScribbleLive hosted a chat with some brand newsroom experts this past Tuesday (April 8). We talked with pros like Chris Hogg, co-founder of /newsrooms; Justin Pearse, head of marketing for bite globalSteve Smith, partner at The Starr Conspiracy; Jon Bernstein, author of a seminal whitepaper on brand newsrooms; and April Umminger, vice president-director of Chicago newsroom, media services at Edelman Digital.

    They had a lot to say, but we paired it down to the essential answers to the big questions many people are asking. Read on to learn why brand newsrooms matter, what they should look like, how journalists can make the leap, what brands can reasonably expect and what the future holds.

    Q: What is the real value of a brand newsroom?

    Brand awareness is measurable. And brand journalism provides measurable lift. -- Steve Smith

    In the new media world, brands can use their newsrooms to become thought leaders in their industry space, curating content, breaking news and telling great stories -- their stories -- directly to their consumers. -- April Umminger

    Brand newsrooms can position a brand as an equal to a media organization. For example, when it comes to attracting audience, companies like Red Bull are as powerful as any media organization. Worth noting: A deep, deep, deep commitment on Red Bull's part. -- Chris Hogg

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    Q: What should a brand newsroom look like, and who should it include?

    We structure everything like a typical newsroom: Managing editor, city editor, reporters, copy editors, production. Of course, we use different titles. But it's the same concept. -- Steve Smith

    Brand newsrooms require editorial and analytical bench strength. A brand newsroom needs to take its content as seriously as a news organization would. That means having strong managing editors. And in the long-run, we’re all going to live and die by analytics. It’s the pairing of editorial + analytics that will determine success or failure. -- Chris Hogg

    An example of brand newsroom work flow
    by chris.huston

    The role of analyst is foundational in any newsroom staff.  As a former journalist, I feel comfortable saying that "news judgement" is no longer enough.  We need data and insights to back up our actions. -- April Umminger

    Producers and journalists with breaking news expertise are invaluable. Speed, discipline and quality control are learned in a news environment. -- Chris Hogg

    Q: What advice would you give to journalists who want to move into brand newsrooms?

    For journalists considering a move, firstly understand this is NOT journalism. It uses many of the same skills and indeed amplifies them but it's not a seamless move. It's critical you understand the agency or brand you are moving to and that they share the same values a you regarding the importance of content and storytelling. -- Justin Pearse

    For journalists who are considering a shift into brand newsrooms, there are plenty of opportunities. LinkedIn is a good source to find them, and most agencies are looking to hire journalists. 

    We have journalists based all over the world. We've created content in 15 countries and are always recruiting talented journalists in virtually every major market. Shameless call for applicants! :) -- Chris Hogg

    The ex-journalist needs to be comfortable making the shift. 

    A good example of a journalist who has made the move here in the UK is Clare Francis, ex-Sunday Times, who runs team. It's a comparison site and she provides news and information around personal finance (that 'News you can use'). She is satisfied that although she works for a commercial organisation, the content is not influenced by the commercial relationship. 

    I think lots of other ex-journalists will be looking for similar assurances. -- Jon Bernstein

    Q: What can brands expect in the first 30 days post-launch?

    Brands should have reasonable expectations. Brand journalists should set an editorial calendar that aligns with the marketing plan and get some quick wins on the board. Show results and remember done is better than perfect. Three pretty good pieces of content in the first 30 days is better than one perfect piece – or none.

    Also, brands should expect an evolution over time. Let your team experiment and fail in safe ways. Focus more on telling a good story, giving away more valuable information than you are comfortable with, and connecting on a values level. You want your audience to feel that they know you and like you, because people buy stuff from people they like. -- Steve Smith

    It’s critical KPIs are agreed at the outset. Do you want engagement ie no of views of your content, action ie no of leads generated, no of click throughs to your ecommerce site etc. Are brand metrics important? Are you measuring the impact on your influencers? If so can you measure this? -- Justin Pearse

    Agree a workable approval process. Newsroom speed (especially if you want to take advantage of the social web) means fast sign-off, not marketing campaign sign-off. So agree:
    1. Those things you can write about without sign-off
    2. Those things you can write about with sign-off
    3. And those things that are 'no-go

    There are different metrics for different stages of the pipeline. Early in the funnel, it can be as simple as impressions, likes, follows, RTs, etc. Later in the funnel, it gets into conversions, opportunities and closed deals. -- Steve Smith

    Q: What are some common mistakes brands make?

    Biggest pitfall: Not enough trust in brand journalists and not enough access. -- Steve Smith

    One thing we focus on intensely is learning. It's OK to have content that doesn't perform exceptionally well. Test. Learn. Move on. -- Chris Hogg

    1. Failing to secure buy-in within the organisation
    2. Not properly defining success measures (or assuming it's all about traffic)
    3. Failing to define workable timelines

    Q: Finally, what does the future of brand newsrooms look like?

    Brand news rooms will become increasingly important. One of the biggest problems with every brand under the sun jumping into producing content is that it’s leading to a flood of rubbish, poor quality content with produced with no real thought as to the audience it’s aimed at. Content pollution in other words, which at Bite we’re fighting against, A branded newsroom’s biggest goal really should be to stop brands churning out pollution. -- Justin Pearse

    It's not going to replace independent sources of content. But it might prove complementary, especially if brands understand that they are writing for the reader. That means providing useful content, not badly disguised marketing messages. American Express, Intel  and co seem to understand this. -- Jon Bernstein

    To learn more, including why metrics matter, whether out-sourcing makes sense and which brands are doing stellar work with their newsrooms, check out the chat itself.

    To learn how ScribbleLive can help transform your brand into an active newsroom, click here.

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