Lisa Arledge Powell

Why Brand Journalism Is Outreach Marketing’s Secret Weapon

Video Transcription

Hi. I’m Lisa Arledge Powell for MediaSource and I’m really excited to share with you why brand journalism is outreach marketing’s secret weapon. Now if I had to guess, I would expect that there are several former journalists listening to this, right? Well so am I, and actually I will show you my super embarrassing 1990s news photo of me as an anchorwoman in Texas. And please do not laugh because we all know everything is bigger in Texas, especially hair and my hair is huge. So I challenge any of you former news reporters, producers, editors to post yours super embarrassing photo so I don’t feel so bad. Okay? So tweet me @lisaarledge on Twitter and then that way I won’t feel like the only former newspaper person with the big hair. Alright?

Seriously, if you have journalism training, you are set up to succeed today in the new world of communications. And even if you don’t have training as a journalist I can help you take your communication skills and learn how to do brand journalism, because it’s a brand-new world out there and we need to know how to communicate.

So brand journalism is a new trend that we’ve heard about recently. I’ve actually been doing some form of brand journalism for the past 16 years at my company, MediaSource. I talk a lot about brand journalism all across the country and today I just want to let you know that I really approach it from a PR and marketing perspective so I’m going to talk more about that today.

So over the next 30 minutes here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to define brand journalism. What is it? What do you need to know about it? We’re also going to talk about who the best brand journalist. There some companies that are doing a really good job and I want to share that with you as examples.

I have a case study I want to show you that we drove so much traffic using brand journalism to a major website that it actually crashed it. It was pretty amazing. And also I want to share with you the brand journalizer story criteria. By the end of this session you will be brand journalized, so get ready.

Before we define brand journalism I want to define outreach marketing just to put it all in perspective. So outreach marketing, the definition, this according to our friends at GroupHigh, aims to take marketing back to its roots by focusing on human-to-human connection and the basics of consumer psychology. So the intent is to bring marketing back to a simple level so that you’re connecting with your consumer instead of marketing to them. So it’s saying that we need to stop marketing to our consumers, and we need to start connecting with them. This is why brand journalism is so right for this.

So what is brand journalism? It is discovering and creating news content on behalf of a brand. Now the key word here is news. It needs to be newsworthy to your audience. When I talk about this, a lot of people say wait a minute. I don’t have a story within my brand that’s going to pick up on CNN. So, that’s not what I’m talking about. Your story does not doesn’t necessarily have to be so newsworthy that every consumer in the whole world cares about it. You just have to know who is your target audience and you need to make your content newsworthy to that audience and that’s really the secret of brand journalism.

To create brand journalism content, we always start with by asking one key question, WWJD? And what that means is what would a journalist do? So before you do anything, before you create content, before you even decide what you’re going to create you need to ask yourself what would a journalist do if a journalist was creating that content, how would they approach it? And they need to ask yourself those questions.

So speaking of journalists, here are two very famous journalists that you might recognize. So think about this. If these two characters were set in the present, they might actually be brand journalist reporting for brands instead of media outlets. So think about mild-mannered Clark Kent, you know, he reports for The Daily Planet. But what if today he reported for Red Bull? They do a great job of brand journalism by the way. And here’s why I think he’d be perfect for it, because think about it Superman needs a lot of energy to beat the bad guys so he would actually be the perfect brand journalist for Red Bull.

And now Mary Tyler Moore, who didn’t love her? She worked for WJM in Minnesota. But think about a Minnesota-based hospital that does a great job at brand journalism, the Mayo Clinic. So maybe actually Mary Tyler Moore would be a great brand journalist for the Mayo Clinic. So it’s interesting to think about that.

Now let’s talk about some real journalists, as opposed to characters that we know. Who are some of today’s best brand journalist? Well I think Coca-Cola really is the granddaddy of brand journalism. They do an amazing job. I’m going to show you a site right now. They have a site called Coca-Cola Journeys and they do a great job. So they are producing content for their audience. So instead of stories on Coca-Cola Journeys about Coca-Cola and their products this story, for example, is about if you’re a millennial, how do you get hired and tips for that.

So that is one example of brand journalism. What I love about Coke is they were one of the first companies to say, hey let’s get rid of the press release and actually start producing content that our audience cares about and that’s really the core of brand journalism.

Now, here’s another great fun piece that Coke produced for their audience on their site. It’s about classic diners from around the country and this kind of piece was great. They put it out during the summer travel season, and I’m showing you this because this is an example of a tip that we always give our clients doing brand journalism. So when you’re doing your editorial calendar, think about what your audience cares about, not necessarily about your brand launches and what’s happening with your brand and Coca-Cola did a wonderful job with this. They know people are traveling during the summer so they did a feature piece about these classic diners all over the country. So that’s a great great tip about brand journalism.

To show you that contrast here’s the corporate part of Coca-Cola’s website. Now this is branded. It’s got a lot of branding. It talks about their brand. This is not brand journalism. So one tip I want to give you brand journalism is not heavily branded. So if that’s what you’re producing, it’s not brand journalism. You need to dial the branding back.

Another brand that does a great job of brand journalism is the Cleveland Clinic and they have a site called Healthhub that is part of their main site. And basically if you looked at this site you would think that it would be WebMD or maybe the health section of a major network or of They do articles that are very much news you can use, Seven Ways to De-stress When You Have Cancer. And how are they doing this? They are doing this by thinking like a journalist and that’s what you need to do in brand journalism.

And just as a contrast here is the corporate area of Cleveland Clinic’s website. Again, this is not brand journalism. Basically, you can find your chart, you can find a doctor, you can pay your bills. It’s very very transactional, which is not brand journalism.

Why do I think the time is right for brand journalism? Well there are a few things going on. First of all, as you know, I’m sure in your own home markets news outlets are expanding coverage, but they are not necessarily expanding their staff. So they need us as brand journalists to help them with that content.

The second thing is that technology has removed barriers for brands in communicating to their target audience. And in fact social media allows direct access to your consumers. So, all of these things together show us that the time is really right for brand journalism.

So once you create your content, what do you do with it? Well as you probably know, there are a couple different ways to distribute your content. One is paid media, which is like advertising or a commercial. The second is earned media, which is news coverage, got by media relations. And the third thing is owned media, your company owned website, your blog, your social medial channels.

So those are the three different media types, so I will say that as MediaSource when we work with brands we have really gotten the biggest bang by doing a combination of earned media, which again, is news media as well as the company owned media and I’m going to show you some examples of this.

Alright, so this is a case study of a brand journalism campaign that moved the needle so much that a company’s website literally crash because we drove so much traffic. So that’s not a bad problem to have unless you’re the director of a website which you know that can be a little bit of a problem.

So this case is from the Ohio State University , Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, one of our clients. And a doctor there developed a self-administered test called the SAGE test, and it can help spot memory problems early. So this has major implications, obviously, for Alzheimer’s. So this was a simple test that you could actually download from the company’s website, the hospital’s website, and do yourself at home.

So first we established our goals with this brand journalism campaign. Our major goal was to drive traffic to the hospital’s website, so that was really our overarching goal. Our strategy was that we wanted to create brand journalism content as well as distribute that content via earned media as well as owned media.

So the first thing we said is, what would a journalist do? We really took a look at this story and said if we were a journalist from an outside media outlet, what were the elements that we would want to show the story? So we really identified three at major elements. Number one, the doctor who developed the test number. Number two, a real person and this is really key, and it’s actually pretty easy to do within health care. Who’s the person that this affects? You need to find a person that your audience is going to connect with, and more importantly that your audience is going to care about so that you can tell the story through their eyes. And the third element was obviously the test itself. We wanted to show people the test and how simple and easy it was to do.

Our outreach strategy was to target both earned and owned media. We wanted those two parts working together. So this works best when you have all parts of the brand journalism paradigm working together. So the way we are set up at MediaSource, we have our content producers working side-by-side with our media relations specialist. So we have the people producing the content and the people pushing it out working together. And I would highly recommend this if you’re starting a brand journalism program to get these two sides working together. You’re going to have better stories that resonate with your audience and you’re going to get better results.

The other thing I would say about having things work together is you have to have traditional media and social media working together. So you can do one or the other you really need to be doing both in order to amplify your message the loudest.

So let’s start with earned media, so I would suspect that many of you taking part in this workshop today are responsible for earned media and do a lot of media pitching. So I’m just going to walk you through some of the steps that we take when we are doing brand journalism for earned media.

The first thing that I would recommend is to start as far in advance as possible. If you are hoping for national coverage you really need a front porch time of about three weeks, maybe even more once your story is already produced. I know that seems a long time, but running things up the flagpole at networks can take days and even weeks and moving from one to the other can also take a long time. So a lot of times we hope for an exclusive and sometimes that takes a couple days and if the network says no you have to go to the next outlet. So give yourself that time to negotiate those exclusives.

Once your exclusive is set, then, you can move to those other national media outlets. In advance you should be setting up interviews so that people can be interviewing your experts and interviewing your real person. And the other thing is you have all this great content that your content team has created so make sure your utilize that, make sure you get out there and make sure you offer it to the mass media so that you can maximize your message.

One thing I want to share with you if you are really hoping to get major earned media coverage you need to be distributing your content in a way that the earned media can actually use it and pick it up. So I’m going to show you what we have developed that does that.

This is our multimedia newsroom and we developed it several years ago, really before the media actually even started using it. We have it branded for different clients. What you’re looking at right now is for the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and it goes directly to all of their stories. So the sole purpose of this site is to deliver high quality digital elements to the news media outlets so that they can actually download them themselves and use them on their sites.

Nearly every top-tier outlet, television, online, print, have used this across the country and many across the world so we know that this works. So it’s very very important that you deliver it in a format that they can actually use and it needs to be very very easy.

So then when you click into the site, this is what it looks like. So you can see that reporters can preview and download all the various elements until you – remember, you should be offering them all of these elements, not only written elements, photo elements, video elements, in various different formats and different types of files.

We also created multimedia elements for this story for company-owned media, for the social media sites. So things lived on YouTube which were pushed out via Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes we create 15 second Instagram videos of our stories that our clients will use on their company-owned media sites. So the same goal with these as earned media. We wanted to push these out in order to drive people back to the hospital’s website so they would download the test.

So, as part of our media relations efforts that I talked about earlier, we did reach out to the national media, and we started working with Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s producer at NBC Nightly News and basically by the time they got back to us it was already the day the story was airing. So NBC didn’t really have that much time to get their own media elements.

This was a real win for the hospital. The reason is they had all these brand journalism elements that were already out there and already done. So we were able to provide some of these outlets to NBC News as well as set up some interviews for them so that their producers could do their own interviews with the doctor and also the patient.

So that night on NBC Nightly News they produced at a 2 1/2 minute story. I’m going to show you just a snippet of this not the whole 2 1/2 minutes but honestly, we couldn’t have scripted it better. Because for 45 seconds they showed the hospital’s website, their URL on the television on NBC Nightly News for all their viewers to see. So take a look.

Male 1:  From NBC News World Headquarters in New York, this is NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

Brian Williams:  The number of people who spend a part of everyday wondering if their memory is failing them and whether it could be a sign of something more serious, tonight there is a new at-home test to help keep track of mental sharpness. We get a report from our Chief Medical Editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman:  Eighty-year-old retired nurse, Emily Shorenstein, loves to travel and spend time with family. She’s been all over the world. She’s one of more than 1000 people over the age of 50 who took one of several short exams developed by researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. They’re showing some promise at identifying cognitive issues early and it’s a tool researchers say for anyone concerned about their own or a loved one’s memory loss.

Male 2:  They can do it on their own. It doesn’t take doctor’s time, staff time. It can be done virtually anywhere.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman:  The so-called SAGE test is free and available online for download. Anyone with a computer can access it at Once printed, the simple four-page exam measures drawing skills, problem-solving, language and more. The answers are also online so anyone can check scores and track progress. Researchers say, if you’re 62 or older taking the test once a year could be a good way to track any decline. Doctors caution, however, that the test is just one way to identify a potential problem.

Male 2:  It just says, hey, maybe my thinking is not as good as it used to be and it starts the conversation with your physician.

Brian Williams:  And we want to let folks interested in the test know, we’ve provided a link to it on our website.

 Dr. Nancy Snyderman:  We sure have.

Brian Williams:  So you can take it home. Dr. Nancy, thank you, as always

Dr. Nancy Snyderman: You bet. Thanks, Brian.

Lisa Arledge Powell:  So once the story aired on NBC Nightly News obviously, put it on the front page of their website, which linked back to the hospital’s website, and what happened after that was amazing. Traffic to the hospital website dramatically spiked around seven o’clock Eastern time after NBC Nightly News aired. Their site crashed around nine o’clock, the hospital site crashed. More media outlets then picked up the story the next day. The hospital obviously they got their website back up shortly. We continued our social media push.

The hospital decided to do a self-induced outage of the website the next day for a few hours just to prepare the site to take on more traffic, because so much traffic was being driven to their site. People wanted to download this test. And the website had more visits in a single day on the two days of the story was really really popular than they had any day before in the past five years. So it really was incredible the amount of traffic that came to the site.

I thought it would be interesting to show you the top media sites that drove the most traffic back to the hospital website. What I think is really interesting is you would think that they would all be major sites, major national sites, and take a look at them. Some of them are. Obviously we have NBC News, CBS News, Huffington Post.

There also some local and regional sites, is the website of the number one station in Columbus where Ohio State is located. is the website of The Plain Dealer just up the road. So these sites played into it as well as look at the site on the bottom That is a niche site. It’s not a major national site, but look, it was one of the top drivers of traffic. So, what we learned from that is you have to have a mix of media. Yes, you have to have the big national media that helped drive so much traffic, but don’t forget your locals and regionals and do not forget those niche websites where your viewer really really cares about your topic.

And here’s the big win, this brand journalism campaign drove a million downloads of the test on the hospital website. That is incredible. And honestly, we have not heard of another healthcare brand journalism campaign that has prompted a consumer to do something a million times. So obviously the hospital is very very proud of this. And also there is more than 1 million visits to the hospital’s website overall, and honestly traffic is still being driven there as more brand journalism articles hit and more initiatives are happening.

But that’s not all it did. In addition to driving all of those people to the website, it also drove a lot of earned media coverage. Take a look at this. More than 500 media hits, more than 500 million in audience and 1.6 million in advertising value. So the campaign was a huge success.

One tip I have for you before we wrap up is with brand journalism you really need to have a very strict and very defined story vetting process. Not every story is going to be perfect for brand journalism so you need to find the ones that are. We have a process in place where we vet the stories and is called the Brand Journalizer Criteria. There are six steps and I’m going to share those with you right now.

The first step is to focus on the audience, and obviously by that I mean, who are you trying to reach? Who is that target consumer? What do they care about and what that’s what you need to focus on. The second step is to find a voice, and by that I’m been the voice of a real person. Remember the lady, Emily Shorenstein that you saw in NBC Nightly News piece? That’s the same woman we used in our brand journalism piece, that’s the person we pitched to the news media. Find that person. You need to find someone that your audience cares about and that they can relate to.

The third thing is to be credible. Obviously your brand may be credible on its own, but sometimes that’s not enough. You need to tie into a national statistic. You need to tie into pop culture, tie into something bigger than you and your brand so that you can be part of something larger and more credible.

Next, keep it simple. Especially if you’re talking to the consumer, you can’t use your industry speak. You can’t talk in big terms. Talk in terms that they can actually understand, simplify things. Think visual. I showed you some examples earlier that you always want to provide stills and video graphics as well. One tip I have when you’re thinking about visuals don’t think about those once you go out on location to gather them, think about them ahead of time. As your planning your story ask yourself what’s my iconic visual? What’s the key video that I need to get? So you need to think be thinking about that earlier, because you need to plan ahead of time.

And finally unbrand your content. Many people get very nervous when I say this because they say, well why am I paying for a brand journalism campaign if I don’t have any branding in it? By unbrand your content, what I mean is, to really step back the branding so it’s not in-your-face. Remember we’re not doing a commercial. So subtle brand mentions, the same type of mention that a media person might do if they we’re doing the story. So if your expert’s a part of the story, you identified them as an expert with ex-brand. Exactly like a journalist would do.

These steps can be difficult to remember, so we wrote a song about it. So if you like Schoolhouse Rock you’re going to love the brand journalizer song. This is the Outreach Marketing Virtual Summit Premier of the Brand Journalizer Song.

Male 3:  Be a brand journalist. Here is how you do it. The Brand journalizer. It’s your toolkit. You got to focus on the audience. They’re the people you are talking to, find a voice and use it. That’s what should I do. You have to be credible. That’s a must. That’s the way you build trust. Just keep it simple. Don’t make it absurd. Don’t you know, a picture is worth 1000 words. Think with your eyes. Keep it visual and unbrand your content. It’s better to be general. Brand journalizer, brand journalizer, brand journalizer, follow these tips and you’ll be wise. It’s all you need to brand journalize.

Lisa Arledge Powell:  I hope you love the Brand Journalizer Song. If you did, please share with all your friends. The URL is on the screen. We need to make this a number one song, so please it’s got to go everywhere. I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, about the song, about anything related to the brand journalism. Please e-mail me or you can tweet me @lisaarledge on Twitter. Thanks so much.