This article originally appeared as a guest post on Digiday.
Brands need newsrooms. But before we can agree or disagree on that statement we need to think differently about the definition of a brand newsroom.
Much of the recent discussion suggests a brand newsroom is a place in which real-time marketing emerges during events; we hear about a cookie getting punted into social media stardom at the Super Bowl, a can of soda bouncing to the Harlem Shake, and then countless others made real-time attempts at producing content that was editorially relevant during the Oscars this past Sunday. While perhaps valuable for impression count, those creative outputs are one-offs.
A brand newsroom should not be a pit where journalists and creative producers are thrown until they figure out a way to hijack an event and make a piece of content go viral. Shiv Singh, Pepsi’s global head of digital, is right when he says it doesn’t make sense for every brand to try to create a model where all they do is culture-jack events.
Brands need to pursue more than a one-night stand with content and move toward sustaining a voice across multiple platforms, with multiple storylines and creative bursts that pull in divergent audiences. We need to move beyond marketing moments to continuous publishing and broadcasting. And as soon as a brand moves in this direction the conversation shifts from how content gets generated and how audiences are targeted to operational support and infrastructure that sustain and propel growth. That will be why brands need newsrooms.
Not everyone agrees brands need newsrooms, but that’s because many in marketing and journalism often still think in linear ways and too many people come to the table with preconceived notions of what a newsroom does or should do.
In order to deal with 24-hour pressure of publishing, brands have turned to both media companies and agencies for help. In theory, a media company sounds like the best place for a brand to go to in order to earn ongoing publishing support, as many media outlets have already built infrastructure to propel ongoing dialogue in real-time across multiple geographies.
But as they are today, media companies can’t run brand newsrooms in a way a brand would want. A media organization’s creative output is typically no more original than a paperclip in a pile, and there is often far too much disagreement within the editorial rank-and-file on how content should be labeled so the audience understands who paid for it. The “advertorial” has been renamed “native advertising”, highlighting how confused and desperate the journalism industry has become in an effort to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up in the digital era.
Traditional media companies also can’t produce branded content because creativity is precious. News is not. Journalists tell stories, while marketers need to meet KPIs. Add to that the need to maintain the design and creative expression of brand and many traditional media organizations are quickly in over their head.
So if a media company can’t do a brand newsroom, another option is agency land. But that quickly gets bogged down by anachronistic campaign flights and “war rooms” where single pieces of content are created at events. Agency copy writers take days to write what a seasoned journalist would produce in a matter of hours, and agency copy writers don’t process data and editorial insights in the same way a journalist would. Agencies struggle to scale a solution that addresses the breadth of challenges brands face as they go social.
Neither media companies nor agencies truly solve a brand’s core challenges around continuous publishing because they’re built to sell a specific product or service rather than pursue innovation. Both groups need to stop asking what they can sell to a brand and instead ask the question any entrepreneur would: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
From the brand’s perspective, the problem starts with 24-hour pressure to communicate and manage audiences at scale. That gets complicated when you throw on real-time competitive pressure and multiply it by distinct demographics. It becomes even more challenging when you spread out across dozens, hundreds or in some cases thousands of geographies that need to be addressed individually. And it‘s nearly impossible to manage using conventional means when you are a brand with multiple product lines.
For brands, these are difficult and increasingly pressing problems to solve. That’s why definitions need to change and mindsets need to shift. Until they do, brands won’t be able to keep up to the huge evolution that has surged in both social media and marketing.
A proper brand newsroom would allow for continuous publishing or broadcasting support. It would allow marketers to create branded experiences that blend journalists’ storytelling and audience-growing skills with analysts’ knowledge and insight with the commercial inclination of marketers. It would be a living entity that responds to events of the world in real-time but also drive discussion and new conversations.
The brand newsroom output would be a cross between a news and magazine experience, but real-time and creatively driven. It would be visually distinct like the New York Times’ T magazine with continuous coverage; it would be in-depth and supported by a network that addresses geographic sensitivities and scale like Monocle or CNN; and it would be fast and inherently social.
There are even parts of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show that have parallels to what a brand newsroom could do; its approach is edgy and editorially relevant and there are parallels to bursts of campaigns that build on daily relevance and reference to the outside world.
The content marketing space is turning into a crowded bus full of service providers, technology companies, agencies, media organizations and startups. Clarity has yet to emerge, brands have yet to figure out what to build or buy. This situation is not very different than what brands went through as they contended with the evolutions of Web 1.0 and 2.0.
Like the media companies before them, brands now have to pick their path to a scalable and sustainable solution. If 2012 was the year brands became publishers, 2013 is when brands will come to terms with a new type of newsroom.
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