Brand Journalism, the Art (and Integrity) of a Media Pitch

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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