Brand Journalism

AHA Creative Strategies is a public relations agency. We’re communicators. We’re social media participants. We’re brand journalists. We use video, video news releases, b-roll, podcasts, photography, articles, news releases, media and blogger pitches, news conferences, media tours, speaking tours, speeches, special events, trade shows, community meetings, annual reports, newsletters and so much more to assist our clients in communicating with their stakeholder groups. (Notice I said “with” – not “to” – that’s very important.) We are in the business of informing, educating and creating conversation. As importantly, we’re in the business of listening and responding.

I mentioned in Monday’s blog post that I would focus on some of the tools we, at AHA, provide to clients and why they are of value. I think before I do that, I should take a step back and define what good public relations is – to us. (I don’t want this blog post to be too long, so next Wednesday I will focus on the specific tactics. Although, I have to warn you, I got a bit carried away – today’s post is a little long!)

Good public relations is working in partnership with clients. Even when it is challenging, we tell them what they need to hear – rather than just take orders and deliver what they want us to. We identify what they need (which isn’t always the same) and we approach what we do with optimistic realism. Timelines, deadlines, client resources and budgets also have to be taken into consideration.

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We’ve been talking a great deal about the power of video lately. At AHA, we believe that video can be a valuable tool to help tell an organization’s story – but it is just one component. In Wednesday’s blog post, I am going to talk about other tools that are important when it comes to telling your organization’s story.

For today, I want to focus a little bit on how we, at AHA, approach public relations using video. Prior to opening our PR agency, I worked for both a larger PR agency and in-house as a director of communications and had many opportunities to work with videographers. One of the challenges that I often found was that the videographer showed up on the day of the shoot and asked: “What am I shooting?” It felt disconnected to me.

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[caption id="attachment_4443" align="alignright" width="276" caption="Photo by Alan Light"][/caption]

The online world has opened up great possibilities for organizations. While it is true that newsrooms are declining and it is more and more challenging to grab the attention of traditional media (more challenging, not impossible), it is also true that the opportunity for clients to tell their stories, to spotlight successes, to showcase the benefit and value they offer to customers, clients or stakeholders is greater than ever before.

We have always had a strong focus on creating compelling and engaging stories for clients – great stories are at the heart of public relations. Advertising and marketing campaigns provide value in context of what they are; public relations isn’t advertising or marketing. Our approach to public relations is (and has always been) with an editorial lens. It is about relevant and timely information that is of value to stakeholders – not just about what the organization wants to promote, sell or highlight. Building a story that is of interest, engages people, and stimulates discussion and the sharing of ideas is always our goal. A brand journalism approach brings that into better focus.

Brand journalism is an approach that is based on credibility, openness and trust and it is a balanced story. It enhances the reputation, image and leadership of an organization, the CEO and senior executive team, and the people that work there. It’s about human interest. Brand journalism helps an organization connect with stakeholders and build awareness and brand trust.

Think about some of the most popular talk show interviewers of the past few decades – Barbara Walters, Oprah, Anderson Cooper – each of these people ask a range of questions from the funny ones to the tough ones. They open the conversation with world leaders, celebrities and local heroes – telling funny, heartwarming or interesting stories. And we listen. Intently.

Think about what brand journalism could mean for your organization. It’s a way to showcase something interesting and exciting happening. It’s a way to tell your story in a compelling, engaging and, even, entertaining way.

What if your online annual report could have links to quick video interviews to people profiled in the written report? What if a customer could have the opportunity to interview your CEO or President about a new product or service? What if you could showcase the work being done in several locations and how it all fits together? Who are your employees when they aren’t at work? What does your organization do to help support its local or global community? What would your stakeholders like to know about your organization that has some heart and soul?

If you had your own television show or print column (or both), what would you showcase about your organization? What stories are waiting to be told?

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We just did the “soft” launch of the AHA Brand Journalism services last week. It was an exciting, lively time at our PR agency and I had some great calls, emails and messages from friends, colleagues (communicators and journalists), clients and potential clients about the services.

One of the questions that I was asked was: “What if you start with a client and discover that the story they want to tell – or the product or service they are offering – isn’t any good? How does the brand journalism approach work in this situation?

Integrity, authenticity and credibility are crucial when using a brand journalism approach. At AHA, we believe it is important for the long-term success of our company to do our due diligence when it comes to taking on clients. We research and review potential clients, just like they check us out.  That doesn’t mean we won’t take on clients who have challenges or issues – that’s part of what we do. It does mean that we won’t take on clients that want to “spin” things. Positioning is one thing; it’s truthful and authentic. Shifting the truth, spinning the truth, being misleading – that’s just not for us.

Sometimes, clients want to tell a story that could be seen as self-serving. That’s where we come in. We see our job – as communicators and as brand journalists – to help evolve or expand a story that might be a little too “salesy” or self-promotional. There have been times in the past – and undoubtedly will be in the future – where we have had to go to a client and explain that something they thought should make every journalist in the world jump up and down in excitement wouldn’t, and we didn’t believe it met the news values necessary for it to interest the media. In that case, we go through a solid review process of what value the story does have. Perhaps it could be used to showcase something for the internal community. (How would that work? Would employees find it of interest or value? Could it help them to do their jobs better? Would it inspire or engage them? Or would the board be interested in it?) Not every story is right for every audience.

A story that feels too self-serving can often be expanded or evolved through research, interviews and digging a bit deeper. Sometimes it can be developed into an interesting story that can be shared with media or directly with stakeholders via the organization’s website, blog, social networks or video sites.

Identifying what the story is, who the right audience/stakeholder group is, what the right medium is (short video documentary, video news release, article, tips & hints, photos, a Q&A… the list goes on and on and sometimes it is several mediums that come together to create a content package), and what online venue should be used comes together in a brand journalism plan or road map.

At the core of everything we do in public relations, it’s about sharing great stories, communicating well and being authentic, credible and engaging. You tell a story to benefit the audience, not to just push what you want them to know.

We think that if an organization views all of its communications efforts through a lens that is critical and asks the tough questions before you share the story, it will build strong relationships with stakeholders.

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