Tips for Brand Journalists

Brand journalists must ape the characteristics of real journalists. The level of trust and engagement with their consumers is at stake.Brand journalism is all about feeding your viewers content that interests or informs them, rather than writing a string of press releases about what you want to tell them.

For many PR and marketing professionals, especially those who never worked on a college student newspaper, brand journalism can be uncomfortable. Training to develop and deliver key messages must give way to reportorial instincts about story hooks, absorbing stories and visual storytelling. You don't push, you reel in. You don't hype, you engage.

For the journalistically challenged, here are some brand journalism tips: 

1. Think stories, not press releases

Reporters and their editors think in terms of stories. What's happening that is newsworthy? What would our readers or viewers like to know? Brand journalists should ask the same kinds of questions to determine what kind of content to post on a website or a blog. Understanding brand consumers and their expectations is critical to producing stories that will capture their interest and make them repeat clickers. Social media guru Jay Baer stresses the importance of "youtility" in brand journalism content. Tell stories that matter to your viewers.

2. Package your content for ease of access

Print, electronic and digital media package their content so it is easy for readers and viewers to find what they are looking for fast. ESPN divides its dense website into different sports. Newspapers have different sections, dividing national news from local news and business news from entertainment news. Television stations have different anchors for news, weather and sports. In addition to ease of access, packaging also is designed to expose as much content as possible. There is a reason why the sports page is usually deep inside the paper and the sports report is at the end of the news broadcast. Brand journalists need to employ similar packaging techniques to make their content accessible and expose as much of it as possible.

3. Behave like a photojournalist

Your website and blogs need what journalists call "good art." People like pictures and video. Reporters today, even for print and web-based publications, are asked to tote around cameras or camcorders. This harkens back to the days when reporters, especially those working for small daily and weekly newspapers, served in the role of photojournalists. They covered the stories and conducted the interviews while keeping an eye out for visual opportunities. My personal photojournalism gem was a picture in Portland Angeles showing a mile-long line of log trucks carrying single, huge logs cut down from an old-growth forest. The picture ran with no story. None was needed. As the hundreds of reader comments noted, it was a picture for the history books. Brand journalists need to look for pictures for the history books that tell stories and captivate viewers. 

4. Trust your consumers

Journalists rely on news sources. You should put trust in your consumers. They can generate content of interest to others consumers. They can say things — positive and negative — that you can't say, but that will add deep credibility to your website or blog if you air them. Brand journalists can get a hernia trying to make a video they produced go viral. It may prove a lot easier to bust through the boring barrier with content supplied by your consumers.

5. Share your content in return for sharing other content

As the digital age has overtaken print media, shrinking some news staffs, news outlets have turned to sharing the stories they produce. The Oregonian and KGW-TV are news partners. TV stations have spawned websites that operate as if they are independent news entities. Oregon Public Broadcasting shares content and news resources between its radio and television operations. Collaborative journalism extends to private sector sources, which can help uncover story hooks that would be invisible to beat reporters. Brand journalists can employ the same techniques to expand and diversify their content to satisfy consumer needs and interests. 

6. Rethink your press release strategy

The press release isn't dead, but it has a new purpose. Instead of hyping meaningless events or serving as an excuse for an inane CEO quote, press releases can be ersatz stories that are self-published. Credible journalists don't use press releases, regardless how well written, verbatim. But they often refer to them as news story leads. Brand journalists can use press releases, written as if by a legitimate reporter, as a form of "news" on a website newsroom. The smarmy quote and gratuitous self-aggrandizement will undermine the credibility of your press releases, but solid reportorial coverage in the form of a press release can effectively serve as a news source. 

7. Adhere to deadlines

Nothing defines real news better than timely news reporting. An event or statement may be newsworthy today, but old news tomorrow. The same holds true on your website or blog. David Meerman Scott uses the term "newsjacking" to describe finding ways to hook your story onto breaking news, like Oreo tweeting during the blackout at this year's Super Bowl about dipping the cookie into milk in the dark. Brand journalists are on constant alert for opportunities to tell their story on the backs of trending news.

Content is the key to engagement. The key to content is practicing a form of brand journalism that closely resembles regular journalism.

Brand journalists must ape the characteristics of real journalists. The level of trust and engagement with their consumers is at stake.