Brand Journalism

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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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There is a great deal of energy at AHA today – right across the country – from our offices in Gibsons and Vancouver to our long-term contractors in Calgary, Toronto and Halifax. Today, we officially launch our Brand Journalism services. You can check out some information on these new services here.

The fact is – Brand Journalism has been around for several years; McDonald’s CMO Larry Light coined the phrase in the early 2000s. There are many definitions out there. Some we agree with; some have a different approach than we do. Our definition can be found here.

At the heart of what we bring to clients with our new AHA Brand Journalism services is the opportunity for you to tell your story to your stakeholders in a credible, engaging and interesting way, using the right medium for the right audience. That also means getting it out to your audience through the right distribution channel – whether that’s a social media network, your website, YouTube or other avenues. (There is also a crucial measurement component and the expectation that content created through the Brand Journalism approach will support the organization’s business objectives, but that’s for another blog post.)

At AHA, we’ve always had a focus on creating credible, relevant content for clients – whether it was for a news release, a targeted pitch, a video interview, video news release or other communication vehicle. It had to be newsworthy, it had to meet news values and whatever the topic, it had to be a compelling story. Identifying and packaging great stories has always been at the heart of great public relations and what we do here at our agency. But now, we’ve put together a world-class team of print and broadcast journalists and strategic communicators. You can see the team and our bios here. I will be blogging shortly about the Brand Journalism Team. The skill sets, expertise and experience on this team are exceptional and we’re incredibly excited about each person and the combined talents.

Back to the topic at hand. We all know that the world has changed drastically when it comes to communication. A decade ago, the most strategic way for an organization to get its story told was to generate media attention. While media relations is still an important component of what we do, there are additional opportunities to tell your story – directly to your stakeholders. This is where Brand Journalism comes in. We work with you to define goals and objectives and identify great stories about your organization, your brand and the people – employees, your senior executive, customers or clients – who bring your brand to life. We also help you to develop a clear understanding of your stakeholders – from staff to potential and current clients or customers, to industry influencers and thought leaders, to your board of directors, to media, and to government. This includes reaching out in the way that specific stakeholder groups expect or need to be communicated with – and when. We don’t just create great content and walk away. We help you to reach out to your target audience and engage. We measure your success and challenges every step of the way so that we can refine or evolve the program. We also look at how we can effectively maximize and repurpose the use of the content – making the most of your human resources and budget. It’s all about providing great content, great value and telling a great story.

This is the first blog post outlining the value of Brand Journalism and showcasing the new AHA Brand Journalism services. Over the next few weeks, we’ll blog about how Brand Journalism can augment, support or extend your media relations campaign, how much we respect and admire journalists and bloggers (Brand Journalism isn’t about replacing the media), and about our Brand Journalism Team and what the benefits might be to your organization.

There is a great deal of passion behind our new Brand Journalism services. We strongly believe in the value of these services. We are confident in our ability to deliver exceptional, professionally produced stories in a range of mediums that will engage and interest your stakeholder group(s) – not to mention the positive impact it will have on your overall brand’s reputation.

We’d love to hear what you think about Brand Journalism.

If you think your organization would benefit from our services, please send me an email or give us a call at 604.303.1052.

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