Brand Journalism

Brand JournalismI recently read an article about a new brand journalism site being produced by the U.S.-based organization Duke Energy, via an article on by Paul Working.

This site is a great example of brand journalism. According to the news release, this is an online destination for stories about remarkable people, innovations and community and environmental issues. And there are some solid, well-written articles that are examples of brand journalism best practices on this site. There is one on Duke Energy’s environmental director who is a national leader in devising ways to prevent wind turbines from accidentally killing bats. There is another about a North Carolina (where Duke is based) couple that is on a crusade to preserve the memories of a now-vanished 1940s village that sprang up beside a power plant. The site even has a piece entitled: “6 ways to improve your love life” – in relation to saving energy around the home.

Duke Energy has created a well-produced online destination for the average person who is interested in this subject matter – and I would expect that schools will find this site of value too. The news release outlines that media outlets are welcome to republish, with attribution, any content on this site – including stories, photos, videos and infographics. The company also hosts a multimedia news centre for journalists too.

AHA Moment

Brand journalism provides an opportunity for you to inform your stakeholder groups. Over the long term, it will help you to build more authentic relationships. Not every organization has the resources for a site like the one Duke Energy has launched, but there are things you can do to shift to an approach that includes brand journalism.

  • Think about developing an article for your e-newsletter or website that is less promotional and more editorial in style.
  • Review your current communications vehicles to see if there is an opportunity to include short video segments and interviews – not just of your senior team, but also of individuals throughout your organization.
  • Ask yourself what the toughest questions you might get from a journalist are and how you would answer them. Take a look at how you provide this information in a compelling, engaging and informative way that educates your audience and positions your organization as a thought leader.
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charlotteempeycrop2We are beyond thrilled to announce that media icon (and all-around awesome human being) Charlotte Empey has agreed to take on the role of AHA’s Toronto Bureau Chief.

AHA partner, Ruth Atherley, and Charlotte have known each other and worked together for many, many years. Their friendship and professional relationship goes back to the days when Charlotte founded and was Editor-in-Chief of Modern Woman magazine and Ruth was a contributing writer for her. Charlotte went on to have senior and leadership roles at many of Canada’s national publications – including as Editor-in-Chief for Metro English Canada (daily) newspapers and Canadian Living magazine.

In this partnership role, Charlotte will work with the AHA team to expand the brand journalism and branded content services in Toronto, Vancouver and across the country.

With shrinking newsrooms, organizations are challenged in getting their stories told via media coverage. Understanding how widespread the changes in traditional media are, as well as the power of social networks, online content and search engine optimization (SEO), the AHA team realized years ago how important it is for brands to tell their own stories.

In order to meet a growing client need in this area, the AHA team has put a strong focus on creating engaging, informative, well-written and professionally-produced branded content and brand journalism campaigns for our clients. This approach allows the brand story to be effectively and authentically shared with organizations’ stakeholders, communities and target markets in a way that engages the audience.

For our purposes, branded content speaks more specifically to projects or individual items to be developed – such as web content, one-off articles, videos or podcasts – and brand journalism is focused on a longer-term campaign that would include weeks, months or even years of creating ongoing, interesting, informative content on a regular basis that engages your target market or stakeholder groups.

Please click to see case studies.

AHA Branded Content/Brand Journalism Services

Our branded content/brand journalism services include, but are not limited to:

  • Writing and editing
  • Identification of compelling story angles relevant to an organization/project
  • Defining the client’s brand story
  • Interviews with subject matter experts, senior team and staff members, board of directors and other individuals, when necessary
  • Research of industry/global trends, identifying key elements relevant to the subject matter
  • Development of brand journalism campaigns
  • Editorial content schedules for ongoing series
  • Editorial content schedules for social media
  • Editorial style writing of articles for websites, blogs, e-newsletters and other online publications
  • Video segments and series (sometimes accompanied by articles)
  • Photos
  • Photo essays
  • Social media content
  • Social media series
  • Promotion of branded content on social networking sites
  • Client bylined articles for submission to traditional media (consumer and trade)
  • Op-ed pieces (bylined to client)

See the news release on this announcement here.

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For Immediate Release                                                                                

February 16, 2016 

AHA Creative Strategies taps media icon

Charlotte Empey as Toronto Bureau Chief

Gibsons, B.C. – Charlotte Empey, former Editor-in-Chief of Metro English Canada newspapers and Canadian Living magazine, has accepted the role of Toronto Bureau Chief for AHA Creative Strategies, AHA CEO Ruth Atherley announced today. Along with heading up the Toronto office, Ms. Empey will also work closely with the AHA team to expand the agency’s brand journalism and branded content services. She will do this through a strategic partnership between her company, FYI Media and AHA Creative Strategies.

“Charlotte is an incredible visionary and editor-in-chief, not to mention one of the most generous, supportive and encouraging leaders. She is a true icon in the world of journalism,” said Atherley. “When we heard that she had shifted into communications consulting with her company FYI Media, we knew we wanted to partner with her in the areas of brand journalism and branded content.” She added: “In this day and age, when newsrooms are shrinking and media outlets are laying off reporters, editors and producers, more and more organizations have to tell their own stories. Who better to help them tell these stories than one of the country’s best journalists. We are beyond delighted that Charlotte has agreed to take on the role of AHA Bureau Chief and to partner with us in helping organizations to effectively tell their stories to their stakeholder groups and communities.”

Said Empey: “I have worked with Ruth since she was a young writer, pitching stories and writing for me at many of my publications. I know her attitude, approach, work ethic and integrity and I have watched her grow into a seasoned, experienced communications professional who understands the changing media landscape and how to effectively tell her clients’ stories in that environment. When she approached me with the idea of heading up the AHA Toronto office and taking on the role of Bureau Chief, she definitely caught my attention.” She explained: “There is a growing demand from organizations for well-written and well-produced content that effectively tells their story in an engaging and authentic manner. We are here to meet these needs and to tell some great stories that engage, inform and entertain. I am thrilled to work with Ruth again and to partner with the AHA team.”

About FYI Media

Charlotte Empey, Principal at FYI Media, partners with her clients – editorial, corporate and not-for-profit – to create powerful narratives that inspire, move and motivate. She helps her clients to define communications goals and objectives, and to identify the audience psychographic – key to understanding who they are and what kinds of stories will move them most. Then she develops a strategic plan and manages a team of cross-platform professionals to create stories that cut through the clutter and capture hearts, minds and the collective imagination.

About AHA Creative Strategies

Founded in 2003, AHA Creative Strategies Inc. is a boutique communications firm with clients in Canada, the United States and New Zealand. The AHA team has developed, executed and managed strategic communications, brand journalism, PR, social media and community engagement campaigns and projects for clients locally, nationally, in the U.S. and internationally. AHA regularly works with clients to help manage a wide range of emerging issues, challenges and crisis communication initiatives in traditional media outlets, online and on social media networks.


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How we communicate, both professionally and personally, has changed drastically in the past decade. The online world has created a different way of connecting with stakeholders, your target markets and your community, as well as with family and friends. And that has had an impact in the world of media, including journalism, advertising and marketing.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to focus on journalism because publicity and media relations are often important components of what we do as communicators. In Canada and the U.S., newsrooms are not just shrinking – many are ceasing to exist. Print publications that have been in business for more than 100 years are going out of business and local television and radio stations are being closed down. We are at a critical stage in how local and international news is delivered to us. There is a great deal to be discussed about what this means to our communities. I strongly believe that journalists are a key element in maintaining a functioning, democratic society. They ask the tough questions, they investigate, and they hold public and private figures accountable to their promises and for their actions. However, for this blog post, I am going to stay off of my soapbox about this subject and focus on the practical business actions that need to be taken in response to the shrinking opportunity to connect with your stakeholders and tell your organization’s story through media relations or publicity.

The fact is, it’s harder to generate positive media coverage for your organization. Newspapers and magazines are smaller, radio and television breakfast shows and talk shows are being cancelled, and the opportunity for a communications professional to generate coverage is shrinking because the process of who gets interviewed has changed and no one is really talking about it. You see, advertisers have become the priority for who gets interviewed. The only way the media outlets that are still standing are going to stay standing is by increasing their revenues. That means creating added value for advertisers – like having them on a morning breakfast show as a guest, choosing to write about their product, service or event, or profiling the CEO or organization in a print publication – creating copy that is written by a journalist, but that leans more on the side of advertorial than editorial. And – none of this is to criticize the working reporters, producers or editors who are doing this work. The world has changed and they have had to adapt. None of the journalists I know are happy about this, but the fact is – they are trying to do their absolute best while the sand continues to shift under their feet.

One example showing how much things have changed is a recent pitch we did to a television breakfast show for a coffee company client. We had an interesting, newsworthy announcement about what the (Canadian) coffee company is doing at their plantation in Thailand for the environment and for the people of the surrounding villages. It is visionary, they use sustainable business practices, and it is environmental excellence. And the producer of the breakfast show said he loved it and that is was a great story and it was something that their viewers would be interested in, but (and it’s a big but here), they had just taken on a “coffee sponsor” and couldn’t cover any coffee news on the show. And low and behold, within the week, there were the hosts with their branded coffee mugs.

The AHA Moment

Organizations can no longer rely on traditional media to tell their stories, to help build their communities, or to connect with their stakeholder groups. They need to become their own media outlets – creating well-written editorial style articles, taking great photos that help showcase who they are and what they offer clients or customers, and producing short videos that share their news and information in a way that makes people want to watch. The good news is, brand journalism – branded content – can be done in a reasonable time frame for a reasonable budget. It will require a shift of budget and effort from media relations, publicity and even advertising and marketing to tell your own story in a compelling, engaging and entertaining manner.

We are going to be talking a great deal about brand journalism and branded content here on this blog in the coming weeks and months. And that’s because it’s a conversation we are having more and more with our clients. While publicity and media relations will always be an important part of the work that we do, the reality of the current landscape and the declining state of journalism and shrinking newsrooms around the world means that organizations will have to produce their own content – in an authentic and meaningful way (no marketing speak) – in order to stay relevant and build stakeholder and customer relationships. It’s an interesting and exciting time in our world and we’re looking forward to helping our clients to effectively tell their stories in a way that engages and informs their target market, stakeholders and influencers.

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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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