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Using Brand Journalism

By John Garvey

Do you want to know what strikes fear in every marketing manager? It’s when someone from C-level walks in their office and asks, “hey, can you get this into the newspaper? Better yet, call the TV stations and have them come by for an interview.”

Sure, if you have a crisis (e.g., your CEO is being led out of the building in handcuffs or one of your employees stole money from a customer), you will have the media at your door. But this column is not going to be dedicated to crisis management. Instead, let’s focus on when you have good news. How do you get the good word out when the mainstream media these days is pretty much focused on dumpster fires?

Let’s look at the problem first. You are part of it. You and a lot of other people are not buying the newspaper anymore. Don’t even get me started on how much time you’re spending on Facebook rather than watching your local news. Here’s a shocker: media is a business, and because they have shed an incredible numbers of eyeballs, not to mention subscribers, a lot of them are having a tough time making a go at it. The first thing that gets cut under this immense pressure is reporters. The second thing is your good news story.

Where do you go with your good news story? Take heart; the answer is right in front of you. Here is a hint: the first word in PR is ‘public.’ Second word is ‘relations,’ of course. That’s it. Nobody put the word ‘media’ in there. Back in the day, media was the way you connected with the public. But, being back in the day, you had access to probably two papers (a morning paper and an evening paper) and three television stations. That black-and-white existence was a long time ago, so it is time to throw out most of the promotional tools we used back then as well.

“What is good brand journalism? You need to tell a story about something you are proud of and why, and do it without using the words ‘proud,’ ‘proudly,’ or ‘check it out.’”

The good news? Connecting with the public, your public, has never been easier. That is where brand journalism comes in.

Brand journalism, in today’s digital world, is very powerful. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Your good news has to be relevant to your audience. That relevance is not judged by you, it is judged by your target audience. If you were the king or queen of relevance, then you could post all day about how proud you are to support this or that. You would use #proud and probably an image of you giving some organization a big check. Or, you would simply start your lead sentence with “check it out,” and your audience, of course, would gobble up your good news. But, alas, you are not the king or queen, and “proudly proud/check it out” is not brand journalism.

Here is another news flash. Machines run the digital world. If your audience doesn’t like your content, chances are the machines won’t either. Quite simply, if you are relevant in your audience’s eyes, they will click, read, spend time on your page, and maybe share, and all that will be observed by the machines. They will then help your content to travel to even more eyeballs. Sure, I know, you can boost (pay to promote) “proudly proud/check it out” news, but that just means you’re shoving that content into your audience’s face. Ever try to get a toddler to eat creamed corn? It’s a mess.

What is good brand journalism? You need to tell a story about something you are proud of and why, and do it without using the words ‘proud,’ ‘proudly,’ or ‘check it out.’ If you’re supporting a cause, tell the story of that cause and why it is important to the community. That is a story that gets read and shared. You can also have employees tell stories about how and why they feel they make a difference in the community and or in the lives of their customers. If these stories are authentic, they also will pass the relevance smell test.

It doesn’t end with just causes and good deeds. You can tell stories about products and services. ‘Check out our products’ is not a story. On the other hand, digital audiences relish how-to’s, so how to use your product or service to do something they want to do is a subject that is meaningful. If you are in business, you are an expert at something, so try to think of how your product or service improves your customers’ lives. That style of content, sometimes referred to as content marketing and a cousin of brand journalism, can be very effective.

Here is where the fun starts: you don’t have to write all this stuff. You can use video. I know, video is so scary, and cameras have been proven to make people sound stupid. Find someone who can talk on a subject and ask them to do the video. The internet loves video. Google loves video. Search-engine optimization (SEO) loves video. You need video. I’m not kidding … run out and start videotaping right this second. Then throw it away and get a pro to help you.

This content in its full form should live on your website. You do want to pay for dissemination of both your brand journalism and content marketing. Using social-media marketing or Google Ads gives you tremendous reach and targeting power and it is very affordable. Your plan should be to promote this content to your target audience and lead them back to your website for consumption. That, of course, is where the sales funnel starts, and should you have Google Analytics on your site, you can observe their behavior once they get there (traffic, unique visitors, time on page, migration to other pages, etc.).

Oh, one last thought. Those of you who are smartypants already know that this article is an example of what I was talking about: brand journalism and content marketing.

John Garvey is president of GCAi — Digital Marketing Innovation; (413) 736-2245; [email protected]