In the past several years, journalism has changed radically. Now, big brands such as Cisco
are cranking out their own news, rather than leaving the job to resource-strained traditional media outlets.
In 2013, I joined SpareFoot to lead our brand journalism initiative. For much of my career, I worked at newspaper newsrooms in Missouri, Illinois, and Texas. Today, I put my journalism skills to work in the SpareFoot newsroom
, something I never could have imagined while enrolled in journalism school.
Maybe your startup already engages in brand journalism but you want to step up those efforts, or perhaps your startup hasn’t yet waded into the brand journalism waters. Whatever the situation, here are eight brand journalism tips from the pros that could help your startup evolve into the next Cisco or Coca-Cola.
1. Put a plan in place.
Before you publish a single blog post, you’ve got to know your audience. Whom are you trying to reach? Furthermore, you’ve got to map your path. What results do you want to achieve?
“Like any marketing strategy, you have to set goals and metrics so that you can measure its success. Without that, you’re operating in the dark,” said Lauren Licata
, content marketing manager at Base CRM, a Chicago-based provider of customer relationship management software.
For help in crafting your plan, Licata recommends checking out the Content Marketing Institute’s “framework.”
2. Start small.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Rachel Parker, founder and CEO of Resonance Content Marketing
in Houston, said that you can’t go wrong with a “beautifully crafted e-newsletter” as your first step, and then adding other content vehicles as your budget allows.
3. Blog well.
Not very long ago, blogs and websites would “stuff” their content with keywords. For instance, SpareFoot might have blitzed a blog post with the phrase “how to store a mattress
.” These days, that’s a big no-no.
“The keyword’s heyday has passed,” said Brandpoint
President Scott Severson. “While it’s still important to use the words that matter in your content, the old ideas of stuffing your text with your perceptions of words that the search engines are looking for is long gone.”
Now, Google and other search engines are searching for fresh, relevant, often-shared content from authoritative sources, Severson said. Those factors indicate the content is top-notch.
4. Blog often.
Severson suggested publishing posts on your startup’s blog at least three times a week at the outset.
“Your blog is one of your most powerful tools for good brand journalism. It is your mood, voice, and personality,” he said. “In today’s search environment—largely controlled by Google—your blog can be the fodder for the fresh new content you need to feed your website to keep the search engines coming back to see what’s new with you.”
5. Keep it interesting.
In a blog post on SocialPR Chat
, Will Sturgeon, executive director of strategy at PR firm GolinHarris
, said that regardless of your audience, your brand content must be as attention-grabbing as all the other online content.
“The solution is to give them what they want,” wrote Lisa Buyer, editor of SocialPR Chat. “Think beyond the traditional press release and seek out high-quality content that can be shared by brand loyalists or someone who has never heard of your brand.”
6. Find the proper tone.
For content to resonate with your audience, it must offer “emotional insight” and should include “stories that work on a more personal level,” Buyer wrote.
In today’s world, merely plastering with your website with a bunch of pretty product photos just won’t cut it, Stephen Waddington, digital and social media director at PR firm Ketchum
, told SocialPR Chat.
7. Build a well-rounded team.
If your budget allows, assemble a brand journalism team that includes writers, Web producers, Web designers, video producers, and anyone else who can produce high-quality content. No matter the size of your company or your budget, try to hire people who possess varied skills, Buyer advised.
8. Consider tapping outside resources.
Is your team too bogged down to actually create compelling content? Then you might want to turn to outsourced expertise.
One of those experts is PR firm McCauley Communications
. The firm’s “My Newsroom” service hires professional journalists to write news stories for McCauley’s business clients.
“The idea is to write about the industry in which our clients do business,” said Byron McCauley, founder and CEO of McCauley Communications in Cincinnati. “This goes one better than the press release or blog, because it seeks to add knowledge about an industry with quotes from key clients, but it’s traditionally sourced as well.”
[RELATED: Get advanced brand journalism tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela in New York City, Chicago, or Denver!]
Keep in mind that not every startup may benefit from brand journalism. For example, a consulting startup that operates in a niche market might find its time better spent cultivating relationships over the phone and in person, said Rachel Parker, a content marketer from Houston.
At the same time, remember that brand journalism doesn’t seem to be waning, although some naysayers argue that it’s simply a fad.
“People want to do business with those they know and trust, and they just can’t get to that point based on a slick ad and a catchy tagline,” Parker said. “Brand journalism allows businesses to build a foundation of trust and familiarity, so that when they do come on with their pitch, that message falls onto more welcoming ears.”
John Egan is editor of The SpareFoot Blog, where a version of this story originally appeared.