Should Brands Have Newsrooms?

Brand newsrooms are a hot new trend in marketing. To believe the hype, every brand should be staffing up with journalists and going 24/7. In reality, the model’s not right for the majority of brands.

In the age of social media, overnight viral sensations and the constant flow of information and multimedia experiences, it’s not surprising that brands find the newsroom idea enticing. In order to keep up with the times and current media-consumption behaviors, brands are starting to shift towards higher-metabolism marketing that responds quickly to culture, much like how journalists in newsrooms act quickly in response to important events.

“Newsrooms, in some ways, are simply a natural evolution of social media,” said Carmen D’Ascendis, director of global marketing at Jack Daniel’s.

But that’s when reality sets in. Any publisher will tell you that operating a newsroom is an expensive, arduous task. It’s also incredibly difficult to do well, especially if it’s not your business. Add in the many constituencies at a brand, and you could have an expensive nightmare on your hands at worst or a yet another fancy buzzword at best.

That could leave brands back where they started: relying on their agencies. Deep Focus recently created its Moment Studio, which specifically focuses on helping brands with real-time marketing. Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer is a strong supporter of the newsroom content model for brands and sees it as agencies’ role to make it happen.

“Brands should have agencies that can apply a newsroom approach,” said Schafer. “It’s not feasible for brands to build these within their organizations. Content creation has always been agencies’ jobs. It’s also their job to help their clients’ large organizations have shorter reaction times,” explained Schafer.

Virgin Mobile has its own newsroom, which is comprised of three internal people who manage it, including Ron Faris, head of global marketing at Virgin Mobile, four agency folks who write and design, and about four people from BuzzFeed who help optimize the content for maximum viral potential. According to Faris, the Virgin Mobile newsroom publishes content 12 times a week on average (that’s including posts on BuzzFeed). This past January was Virgin Mobile’s most viral month yet with over 2.6 million views. And when it comes to cost, it’s reasonable according to Faris.

“We created our newsroom for a fraction of what it costs to create a 30-second spot,” Faris said. “You can do it in the six-figures range.” 

But not all brands are created equal, and there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. Creating content all of the time or joining in on certain conversations isn’t appropriate for all brands. As Shiv Singh, global head of digital at Pepsi, sees it, newsrooms are just a buzzword.

“Practicing real-time marketing, whether this takes the form of a newsroom or a premium content strategy or a different way of gathering insights, or a media buying plan, that all should and must vary from company to company and brand to brand,” said Singh. “For all brands to wake up one day and have a newsroom, I wouldn’t recommend that by any means. It scares the living daylights out of me to think of if all brands had a newsroom and were culture-jacking every event.”

Both Singh and D’Ascendis stressed being thoughtful, organized and true to the brand voice and to the audience’s expectations when approaching branded content, newsroom or no newsroom.

“Measuring feasibility and cost effectiveness miss the point — do our consumers and customers want to hear brands constantly? Just because we can set up a newsroom doesn’t mean we should,” said D’Ascendis.

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