Brand Journalism

dreamstime_xs_50255076Super Bowl ads are highly anticipated and costly. It is estimated that just buying the time slot for a 30-second spot for Super Bowl 50 would have set you back around $5 million U.S. And then there are production costs, which are estimated to be up to $10 million U.S., depending on the commercial.

The halftime show is another big element. This year, Coldplay was listed as the headliner, and then Beyoncé and Bruno Mars were added to the playlist – all high-profile entertainers with huge followings.

The reactions on social media to the ads and the halftime show are a perfect example of how the world communicates and how reactions have changed. Some people absolutely loved a specific commercial and others really hated it. They shared their opinions all over social media, which were then picked up, retweeted or shared by others – including traditional media.

Some loved the halftime show; others slammed the performance and Beyoncé specifically – saying it was an attack on police officers. And that was also shared and retweeted – creating a pretty heated discussion about what she was trying to communicate.

Anyone with an opinion – whether you think that opinion is right or wrong – can speak out on social media. And, while Super Bowl 50 was a huge event and your organization might not have that kind of following, it is important for any organization to realize that someone, somewhere might not like what you are doing – and someone, somewhere else might love it. And they might be sharing all of this all over the Internet.

Opinions like the ones being shouted out on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites on Sunday night used to be contained amongst the person’s friends and family – or perhaps those sitting next to them at the local pub. But now those opinions can find a global audience – and depending on how you respond or don’t respond, this can impact your brand.

The AHA Moment

It’s important to: a) know what is being said about your organization; and b) be prepared for both positive or negative conversations. The positive comments are of huge value and acknowledging them can help you build strong relationships with influencers and potential brand ambassadors. The negative comments are equally important – especially if the discussion goes beyond opinion and the information being shared is inaccurate, misleading or an attack. Depending on the circumstances, responding isn’t always strategic, but you need to know what is being said before making that decision.

It’s important to know what conversations are being held that either talk about your organization or brand, or that impact your industry – and it’s crucial that you understand how to respond effectively.

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Brand JournalismHere at AHA, we’ve been talking about brand journalism for years. We know how valuable it is for organizations to tell their stories in the same editorial-style manner that a journalist would. Creating informative, interesting and entertaining content, branded content or as we call it – brand journalism – allows an organization to connect directly with their target market or stakeholder group.

The Internet allows an organization to produce its own “news station” – and to use print (articles and written information), broadcast (video and audio) and interactive (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more) to fully engage with the individuals and/or groups they want to connect with. It should be time for everyone to do a happy dance! So much of the opportunity and power has been placed in the hands of the organization – yet very few do it well or even at all.

Brand journalism could mean a series of how-to articles about something relevant to the products and services you provide. It could be a series of short video segments that showcase the individuals or companies using your products and services. Brand journalism could also be a podcast about something unique to your organization. Then it gets shared on your website, on social media sites and on your blog. (Do you have a blog? It is a key element in building relationships with your target market.) If the content being created is informative, helpful, engaging and interesting, it will help to build social media audiences.

We work with a range of clients in creating brand journalism campaigns and content. The key is that we develop a strategic approach. We work with our clients much in the same way as a newsroom works. We identify key stories and we make sure the content flow works together and leverages off each element rather than just dropping random bits of copy out there. We identify the target audience and how they like to consume information. We build an editorial schedule that has some room for flexibility for when news happens, and we develop strong content with solid visual elements.

It is such an exciting time to be a communicator – or a business leader who understands that content can be an incredibly valuable tool that: a) builds relationships with target markets and stakeholders; and b) can be measured. There is a huge opportunity to create strong return on investment using branded journalism.

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Happy New YearHappy New Year! From everyone at AHA – we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.

In the AHA office, we have been talking a lot about 2015 and what it will bring in the world of communication. It is clear to us that this year will bring PR, branding, social media and marketing together – even more than it already is.

I think we have been fortunate because we have been involved in the online world for so long – close to fifteen years. We recognized where corporate and organizational communication was going a long time ago and have always been working towards a blended approach, with strategic PR and brand leading the strategic communications approach (which should include social media and marketing).

Building relationships with your stakeholders and communities has always been at the heart of public relations. And that is what the world demands now – relationships. Whether it is in branding, marketing, advertising, social media or PR – people want an authentic connection with the brand and the people who work at an organization.

There are no longer two worlds for a CEO or president – their personal life runs into their professional life and vice versa. If an organization only uses social media to push information out – it isn’t going to be effective. If ads are only about what the company wants to say rather than what the consumer wants to hear, they won’t work. (And if they don’t have some kind of social media component – there isn’t much chance of building any kind of connection or community.)

“Integrated” might be the word of the year when it comes to what we do for our clients. We need to blend PR, branding, social media and marketing so that you are speaking with the same voice, messaging and positioning, allowing your target market, stakeholders or community hear from you through a diverse range of platforms in a way that is engaging and interesting to them.

We strongly believe that this is the year for strategic engagement with stakeholders, customers or clients, and your communities. We are excited to help our clients achieve this through a blended approach that produces results and is budget-effective.

This year is going to be great for AHA and for our clients!

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We work with quite a few consumer products or services clients. We were writing a proposal the other day for a potential client that offers products and services in an overcrowded and very noisy market sector and it started an interesting conversation in the AHA office. In this day and age of digital and social media, how spread out does an organization need to be in order to reach their target market?

One of the first things we do with clients is review where they stand relative to competitors – both online and in traditional media. It’s important to understand the current landscape before developing a strategy.

Once we know what the playing field looks like, we review the products and services of the client and what they offer potential customers, guests or patients. In a marketplace where many companies are offering similar products and services, it is important to take a bit of a deep dive into this. To not just take what you see at face value, but to look for the unique areas – the “magic” that belongs only to the client – and how that can be packaged and promoted to engage both traditional and online/social media. We also look at how it can be used on their own website.

Many of our business to consumer clients are in specialized fields. That gives us some excellent opportunities to educate and inform their target markets. It also lets us profile the client as an expert in their field. We do this through bylined articles printed in trade and consumer publications and online, with informative and entertaining blog posts, through a series of short videos, through Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit, and by using webinars and a range of other tactics that put forward editorial style, valuable information that is not marketing speak and doesn’t try to “sell” – rather it educates and informs. In a crowded marketplace, consumers want to understand the expertise of an organization and they want to see the benefits of their products and services. Providing this type of information is far more valuable than focusing on a hard sell.

There is a great deal of opportunity to blend a media relations, social networking and direct to consumer approach that, done well, will have a measurable (and strong) impact on driving potential business through the door. Once they are in the door, it’s up to the staff to deliver on the brand promise and take good care of this customer, guest or patient.

Supporting staff in delivering the brand promise will be next week’s blog topic.

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story visualThe Internet has changed how we absorb information. Shorter text, quick facts, and compelling and creative visuals such as infographics, photos, illustrations and video speak to the new need for relevant, short pieces of information to digest.

In the world of public relations, we have known, for a very long time, that body language is important – especially if you are dealing with an issue or a crisis. It isn’t just what you say that matters, it’s also the visual that goes with it. Studies have shown that 93% of communication is non-verbal and that our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text. As a communicator, I know that using visuals works from proactive, positive messaging to responding to an issue.

Visual storytelling is an important component of strategic communications, no matter what your organization or brand. For the AHA team, this includes sending out a photo with a “good news” media pitch for clients, content on our website, the image included with our blog posts, infographics, photo and video news releases and, of course, our Fast Take Fridays. Our Fast Take Friday videos are great examples of using visuals to engage. From potential clients to the people who hire speakers, viewers get to see me in action.

There is a visual element that supports the message, and rather than reading tips and hints, those interested get to see the person behind the information and it is shared in a more compelling and connected way. People are more drawn to content that either tells the story through visuals or has messaging that is supported by a visual.

We sometimes have to remind clients of the need for good visuals when working with them on their speeches and presentations. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen presentations (mostly PowerPoint) that are so filled with text that it makes your head spin. I am not talking about well-designed infographics or compelling charts or graphs; I am talking about words upon words – just too many words! Usually, it is the same information that the person is going to speak to in their presentation and it’s just on the slide – no visuals or graphics to bring the subject to life.

Images are extremely important for presentations if you want your audience’s attention.

When working with clients on their presentations, here are the goals:

  • Have the audience immediately interested in the content. (An image does that – it draws people in.)
  • Ensure that you aren’t overwhelming them with so much information that they won’t remember anything except that feeling of too much information. (A PowerPoint slide with too many words is overwhelming.)
  • Tell a story that engages, as well as informs. (Images and stories engage. Use examples, human-interest stories and dramatic visuals. The only story those old stock photo shots tell is that the presenter didn’t put enough effort into their presentation.)
  • Provide them with enough information to interest them so that they actively listen to what you have to say. (Reading your slides to them doesn’t count as interesting.)

When you take a step back and see the shift of how people want and expect to be communicated with, you see the popularity of social networking sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter now encouraging images and video. Vine is a very popular video-sharing site and, of course, the grandparent of video, YouTube, continues to be popular.

Visual storytelling is important. How are you telling your story? Does it include visuals? To be effective, you need to show as well as tell.

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