What Brands Can Learn from Newsrooms

Kunur Patel is brand strategist at Percolate, a content-marketing technology company. Follow her @kunur.

In real-time marketing, the focus has largely been on the output: the home-run tweets, photos and meme-jacks that prove that brands live in the same internet world as the rest of us.

But behind those great moments — we all know them by now: all things Oreo, Red Bull’s homage to Daft Punk, brands that stumped for gay marriage and so on – is the real innovation: how it all gets out the door.

Fundamentally, to scale beyond one-off executions or creative ideas, real-time marketing requires an entirely different mode of content creation so that brand messaging is at home in-feed, where brands compete with both my friends and the news cycle for attention.

The newsroom has emerged as one model for creating timely brand content quickly. Focusing on the newsroom may, however, give too much credit to staffing alone. Yes, great people and great content go hand-in-hand and I believe they always will. But, the newsroom model doesn’t mean brands only need a legion of great writers and designers at the ready, consuming TV and Twitter voraciously, waiting for the right moment to create.

There’s so much more brands can learn from the systems newsrooms have developed over decades. Publications are complex organisms that make processing, framing and packaging what’s happening in the world quick and efficient.

One organizing principle is the mission, which solidifies what a magazine or blog stands for and who it’s trying to reach. News, trends and events change, but the mission is constant. It is one part purpose, two parts audience and the end goal for all content the entity creates. It manifests in editorial meetings when stories are pitched, shot down or assigned to reporters. Over time, it becomes second nature.

Missions, of course, are not alien to brands. Marketers have long cultivated plans and brand guidelines to structure communications.

But, for a media entity, that mission is not rigid. It’s a filter that colors all communication; it is a series of choices that result in a unique perspective and everything happening in the world flows through it. Tactically, it’s copy and visual style guides. The filter catches what the publisher won’t talk about and determines how to report what passes through.

Then there is the calendar. Publications plan to be relevant and craft timely content around fixed events, monthly themes and seasons. The editorial calendar offers a guide on what exactly a newsroom should pluck from the millions of things happening in the world to talk about. When you strip away the quick news hits and memes, there are universal areas of interest for every publication’s audience. For ad trades, there has been and always will be Cannes and holiday shopping. At the bevy of women’s lifestyle rags, there will always be bikini season.

What brands and media companies share is that dedication to both audience and relevance. For both camps, insight into what the target audience cares about forms a skeleton calendar. So do what’s worked in the past.

Once the calendar is set, brands must determine the format and how content is packaged. Magazines have the front of the book, the back and the feature well with recurring themes and treatments. Blogs have slideshows, numbered lists and quick-hit story formulas so, when news happens, a journalist knows all the necessary components. Intimately knowing those parameters makes the boxes easier to fill.

This, too, is something brands can employ for social media. Some formats social platforms set: character limits, media types, square images. Other formats become how the brand expresses its brand pillars: recipes, user-generated photos, text-overlay memes and so on.

These systems are the real magic behind newsroom responsiveness and the ability to churn out great content quickly. Publications have refined the process of consuming culture, packaging it and staying true to their brands and the times simultaneously.

Without that heritage, brands have a different challenge. For real-time marketing, the focus can no longer be the single, great execution. That worked for spots, campaigns and product releases. Today, timely content is in the supply chain because, tomorrow, the cycle starts all over again.

Image via Flickr/victoriapeckham

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