By John Miller published July 21, 2013

Turn Your People into Better Brand Journalists: 4 Newsroom Practices

brand journalistsYour organization has embraced content marketing and you’ve gotten into a good rhythm of creating content, including several weekly blog posts, a monthly infographic, and quarterly white papers. You’re getting terrific feedback from your audience, and the sales teams’ conversations with prospects are being conducted on a higher plane — focused on benefits rather than features.

You’re off to a great start. However, you’ve only started to scratch the surface of the content possibilities because your audience reach is still limited — while your corner of the world is engaged, you aren’t quite at the center of the wider industry conversation yet.

If we agree that the goal of content marketing should be to enable your content creators to function as brand journalists (we do, right?), then it’s fair to equate your content effort to that of a weekly community paper. However, there’s an even bigger opportunity here, because online content can help you extend your reach far beyond your current community and create an exponential opportunity for your business.

Operate like a newsroom

To excel in your role as a brand journalist, you need to go beyond what’s happening in your own organization to provide coverage and analysis of key industry events. You need to feed the information-craving beast in order to establish your organization as the go-to information source. You need to make prospective customers say, “I wonder what ‘X’ thinks about this?” whenever there’s a new industry development. If you help your audience interpret new events, you’re performing a valuable service for them — the same service that trusted news organizations have been providing for centuries. Doing this means functioning like a newsroom, i.e., being audience-centric, prolific and agile. Your current content creation efforts prove you’ve got the audience-centric part down, but what about the rest?

Here’s why it matters: Newsrooms and news organizations influence opinion because they are the first ones to inform us of new events and, importantly, readers rely on them to interpret and explain those events. When a brand journalist does this reliably, audiences come to believe in them — and place their trust in them. And that is precisely the goal of your content strategy – to build trust with the audience.

Of course, doing this isn’t necessarily easy; on a day-to-day basis, newsrooms operate very differently from most businesses. They can work at frenetic paces, but they still have organized patterns they follow every day. Your team can do this too — if it has the collective will. Applying the following four common newsroom practices to your content marketing efforts will create the foundation for a more robust and successful brand journalism program:

1. Have editorial meetings every day: Newsrooms generally review story ideas twice a day, in the morning and in the mid-afternoon. Yes, that’s a lot of meetings, but it keeps the writing team organized and united in its efforts. This is not to suggest that you need to engage in “death-by-meeting.” But you do need to make sure everyone is moving in the same direction, assignments are clear and fit together well, and that you’re properly covering the most relevant news.

Our recommendation is to start by holding an editorial meeting once a week, ideally on Monday mornings, when your team reviews the story ideas that are on the editorial calendar for the week, and makes sure each one has been assigned to a responsible party. However, the meeting agenda should not stop there: Your team should also discuss breaking industry news (or other newsjacking opportunities) that your brand can provide analysis on, new story ideas, and any interview opportunities that may have sprung up. To keep these meetings on track, plan for them to last no more than 30 minutes. 

2. Go out in the world: Great reporters (i.e., great brand journalists) don’t stay locked behind closed doors. I like to say that great reporting is like playing great defense in basketball: You’ve got to move your feet. Yes, you can do a lot of research without leaving your desk, but we all know that face-to-face communication is better. 

Your content marketing newsroom will be much more successful if your team is vigorously interacting with others in the industry on social media and comment boards, attending trade shows and conferences, and swapping and debating ideas. The contributors to the very robust SAP Business Innovation blog do this well. If you visit regularly, you get a real sense that they are truly covering the news — they go to industry events, they conduct interviews and, overall, are aware of what is happening outside their walls. 

3. Obsessively follow the news: Newsroom employees are very aware of what is happening in the world; arriving at work ignorant of the day’s big story is a surefire way to fall behind your competitors. Your content team must have an obsession for keeping up with the latest news, as well as the ability to quickly discern what it means for you and your customers. That means being plugged in to social media, devouring relevant news reports, and having a working knowledge of the latest tools and technologies being used in your industry. The New York Stock Exchange’s recently launched Big Stage seems committed to this — and, in the hyperkinetic world of Wall Street, they’ll need to be if they expect to connect with their fast-moving audience. 

4. Work quickly: The content team needs to have what we like to call a Twitter Metabolism — an understanding that the world is moving fast and you’ve got to be faster in order to make an impact. If you’re going to stay in front of the competition and lead the conversation — and thought leadership should be a primary goal of any content strategy — you need to move fast. 

Content teams must be agile. That does not mean moving so fast that work becomes slipshod; it means that the team must be fully engaged and have the skill to react quickly. And it means having defined processes in place so that content production becomes systematized and can be moved through efficiently.

To accomplish this, everyone on the team should understand their assigned roles and how content should flow from the original idea, to research and analysis, to production, editing, and publishing. On most (small) teams, people will have multiple jobs across this flow — for example, there may not be an assigned editor, but peer-editing works just fine as long as the team is accustomed to it.

Sometimes, you need to sprint, and that means you need the right athletes on your team to be able to win. How quickly do you need to be able to work? Recently, Digiday had a great breakdown of how much content various media properties produce per employee per day. Are your team members equipped to write four articles a day when the need arises?

It takes time and resources

If you’re thinking that this might be a lot of work, you’re right, and many businesses don’t necessarily have the organizational metabolism to execute a full newsroom-caliber content creation process. But if you do have the time and resources, it will really make a difference in your efforts to stay ahead of your customers — and be recognized as a brand they can rely on to help keep them informed.

For more tips on creating a newsroom-caliber content marketing program, be sure to check out “Managing Content Marketing,” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image via Wikimedia Commons 

Author: John Miller

John Miller is the Founder and President of Scribewise, an outsourced newsroom that helps organizations to implement and execute their content strategy. He spent 15 years working in some of the country’s fastest paced newsrooms, and has led marketing efforts for brands from Aqua America to Zipcar. Follow him on Twitter @ScribeMiller.

Other posts by John Miller

  • Naomi Garnice

    Great piece, John. The newsroom concept is a great fit for all marketers.

    • John Miller

      Thanks Naomi!

  • ajlovesya

    What I struggle with is what if the topic I am covering isn’t particularly newsy?

    We publish quite a bit about nonprofit/social impact careers and while there is the occasional news item that everyone is talking about, it’s pretty rare.

    What kind of questions should I ask myself and my team to ensure that we are not just newsjacking for the sake of it, but that we are tackling news items that are relevant to our audience, org, and content?

    • John Miller


      I believe that most businesses (but acknowledge that not all of them) have an audience that needs to be informed, educated and entertained (and if you can do all three at once, you win). look at a guy like Marcus Sheridan, who revived his swimming pool company through content. I mean, how much is there to write about swimming pools?

      It begins with a strong understanding of the audience and by building persona profiles. At our company we always start an engagement with an editorial brief, which is akin to an ad agency’s creative brief. It details the tone, voice, frequency and subject to be covered. From there, we build an editorial calendar.

      But I would begin with asking your team if you have a good understanding of the audience. If you feel that you do, I would look to your audience-facing people and pick their brains – what are funders or program managers asking them? What are there concerns and knowledge gaps, and what are the trends they’re talking about?

      Hopefully, that’s a starting point.

  • Bill Donovan

    Well done John. You’ve got us thinking. Marketers who adopt a brand journalism approach will help themselves by adopting as much of a journalistic attitude as they can. I think that means recognizing that in traditional journalism writers who are on a beat know that the information their readers need is the latest development or some thoughtful analysis of whatever has happened within an ongoing story. Similarly, if the editors of a brand newsroom understand what information is most valuable to its audience and when it needs that information, then it can present that “news” in a timely manner. As an aside, I’ve often felt that the deeper you are in a story, the more angles you’ll envision to tell that story and engage your readers. Would you agree? Thanks for the post.

    • John Miller

      Bill – I agree 100% with deploying your team as beat reporters; that’s what we’re building out at Scribewise. As you dig deeper, you find new angles, new sources to talk to, and new ways to both reflect back and stay ahead of current thinking, whatever your industry is.

  • amlikethewind

    Full disclosure: old (like, way over 29) news guy here. And I get that everything changes so this is not a rant on don’t use the Hallowed J-Word….
    This would make for a fascinating exercise to observe, though if you wanted to make it more like “reality” television don’t forget everybody has to pull some all-nighters and you must tweet every hour and you’re going to have to fight to get the resources you believe are deserved. And your photog. will need lunch.
    Your newsroom will lack competition. This is the dark side of the Force which drives the News Person. Your newsroom will look far more like the HBO version than the CBS version, but that’s ok.