5 steps to building your own brand newsroom


Just so we’re clear, I absolutely believe that there should be a clear distinction between journalism and advertising.

But as branded content comes back in vogue (the practice has actually been around for quite some time), I think PR and communications teams should think seriously about how they communicate their messages.

If someone is going to advertise to me, I want to be offered something of sustenance, not just a command to buy a product or a lifestyle. And I should know exactly who has paid for that content—slap a big advertorial banner on top of the piece.

With that in mind, here are my five tips for building a brand newsroom:

1. Hire the talent—or mine it

There is an increased demand for information and quality content. In order to generate meaningful stories, you’ve got to have a team of cracking storytellers with a nose for news and a sense of branding.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have the luxury of hiring a batch of journalists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your current PR team a shake-up.

Be bold—create a new role as chief storytelling officer and make that individual responsible for keeping your brand narrative on-track and on-trend.

2. Find your content crossover

Look for the crossover between what your brand wants to say and what interests your audience. All of your successful stories exist in that space.

Look at your area of expertise, find a topic of interest, then own it. Just like mattress start-up Casper launched Van Winkle’s and owned the topic of sleep. What topics does your team knows better than anybody else? Remember, anything can be interesting if you find a way to make a good story out of it.

3. Connect creators with your sales team

Branded content does not necessarily have to create a direct revenue stream, but aim to generate a sale or make some kind of connection with every story your brand newsroom shares.

Your content team should liaise with your sales team throughout the week. See what leads the sales team is trying to attract and generate content that will entice them to your brand.

4. Have a ton of ideas ready to go

At the beginning of each quarter, put together a host of story ideas that reflect your sales target for the period.

The walls of MediaHQ’s newsroom is covered with post-its with clear, concise headline ideas. That way, our team can peel one off the wall and knock out a 300-word post in the half an hour.

5. Look for openings

Don’t underestimate the power of traditional media. Syndication will help generate brand recognition. Write an op-ed on behalf of your company’s CEO and submit it to a Sunday paper. How about offering an insightful listicle to an industry magazine? Why not pitch a package to feature on a radio programme or podcast?

Your brand newsroom should act as a wire service between established media and your organisation. If you can offer them quality content—not god-awful ad copy—they will gladly give you the publicity.

A version of this article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

Why did a mattress company open a newsroom?

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

Former journalists have always been valued in marketing: They understand the components of a good story, they know the culture of a newsroom, and they can write.

But in 2016 we see a growing trend in marketeers hiring journalists to work as journalists, not PR pros.

Their role is to create a community around a brand, rather than write content that is exclusively concerned with sales: Think of the documentaries on counter-culture presented by Doc Martens.

Media consumers value content that digs a little deeper; they want to feast on something that offers them sustenance rather than SEO junk, and journalists are equipped with the skills to ask good questions, find interesting sources and ensure that articles are reader-focussed.

It has been almost seven months since the New York-based mattress company Casper opened a newsroom.

The self-described “sleep startup” hired journalists to work on its online publication, Van Winkle’s, which is funded by Casper, but isn’t part of their marketing budget.

Gawker-founder and former editor-in-chief of the New York Observer Elizabeth Spiers was hired as Editorial Director, with journalist Jeff Koyen as editor-in-chief and three other editorial staffers.

The two ventures share the same office space, but Van Winkle’s doesn’t feature reviews of Casper’s products or report company news. In fact, mattresses are a “blacklisted” topic. Why? Because mattresses just aren’t all that interesting.

‘Own’ a niche

So what is the purpose in funding the publication? There weren’t any media outlets specialising in the topic for Casper to partner with, so they decided to create their own.

The intention is that the site will “own” the topic of sleep as a niche. They then become the “go-to guys” when it comes to sleep and wellbeing.

Van winkles homepage

Van Winkle’s identifies itself as an “addition to the cultural phenomenon around wellness and lifestyle. While there are numerous publications covering fitness, shelter, and wellness, no single publication owns the conversation around sleep.”

Knowledge bank

It might sound a bit naff to write solely on the topic of sleep, but editor-in-chief Jeff Koyen recognises it as an important issue: “Sleep may account for one-third of our time, but it affects us around the clock. It may be the most important influence on our daily lives.”

And there is a host of material available to cover: Van Winkle’s publishes at least 10 original articles every day, including in-depth features, investigative reports and columns.

The material has nothing to do with Casper’s products, but it helps establish them as the powerhouse behind all things sleep.

Brand recognition

An important feature of their model is syndication. They disseminate material to websites that are hungry for content. One of their biggest customers is Huffington Post.

The service is free, but their website outlines that “You must cite us as the original source with the following text: This article originally published by Van Winkle’s, vanwinkles.com, the editorial division of Casper Sleep.”

The idea is that their material does not push the sale too much — it is a slow burner that will eventually build a community and play an active role in shaping the company’s brand voice.

The learning outcome for PR pros is that brands should focus on building lifestyles, rather than simply looking for material that is blatantly about increasing sales.

Good content marketing is about creating something is actually entertaining and newsworthy, and today’s media consumers are becoming much more fussy about what they consume.

Check out MediaHQ.com’s upcoming course on brand storytelling.