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Vocus Questions: Mark Ragan on How to Do Brand Journalism

Brand journalism is one of 2012’s hottest marketing ideas, thanks in large part to Mark Ragan.

A former journalist , Mark has trailblazed the idea of combining journalists’ skills with brands’ industry expertise to create hubs of useful knowledge that prospects gravitate to. His own websites Ragan.com and PR Daily are two of the Web’s most renowned destinations for news, advice, and opinion on the latest in PR, marketing and social media.

With more and more businesses waking up to the potential of this type of content marketing, we asked Mark to tell us how any business can get involved.

What is brand journalism and why should businesses get involved?

In the old days, what we did in PR was we put out press releases and we begged reporters to give us some attention. Today, with social media, and with the relative inexpensiveness of making media, you can do your own stories and take them directly to your customers and prospects.

Now, you can become a brand journalist: someone who covers your industry in a way that provides a service for customers and prospects.

“Keep readers in mind, not your C-suite. They won’t help you with traffic.”

What’s in it for us?

Brand loyalty. Credibility. Lead generation. What could be better than to create a news and feature website that becomes part of the workflow of your prospects and customers?  If you can become part of their workflow – if your website can be bookmarked and read regularly by your prospects – that’s golden.

PR Daily: Mark’s site offers brand journalism for the PR and marketing industry. What’s your niche?

So what’s the difference between brand journalism and journalism?

The main difference with brand journalism is that you’re pretty much keeping your organization or company in mind when you’re doing this, which is not to say that you are marketing.  I think if you start marketing your company as part of your brand journalism enterprise, you’ll kill any kind of goodwill that you have.  You have to keep marketing at bay.

Having said that, it would be ridiculous for me to suggest that the brand journalist is going to launch an investigation of the company they represent.  So I think of brand journalism as a form of journalism that really uses the company brand to deliver news and information that their prospects can use.

Which companies are doing good brand journalism right now?

There are so many coming up now, although they are still few and far between. Cisco’s website, The Network, is a great example of brand journalism. Cisco hired former journalists and created this great news site that has tips, information and news about the business of network routers.

The Mayo clinic is doing a great job of covering the healthcare space.  American Express’ Open Forum is a tremendous brand journalism site and one of the earliest. They were doing brand journalism before we had the term. They target the small business owner with tips and information that the owner can use to do everything from hiring employees to managing costs, everything.

So how does a business get started?

It depends on the talent you have and how much time you have. If I were to launch a brand journalism site in say two to three weeks, I would probably hire a journalist (my bias, of course, is that I am a former journalist).  You have to do very little training that way. On the other hand, a lot of PR people today are trained in journalism.

What skills does your brand journalist need?

You need a nose for the news.  You need to know what makes a good headline, a good lead, a good angle to the story. You have to know how to write well.  I think that’s probably the number one skill that you really need to be a brand journalist.  That means writing clearly, and concisely, and always keeping the reader in mind. Not the C-suite; not your SVPs.  What difference do they make? They’re not going to help you with your traffic.  You have to keep the reader in mind and deliver great, compelling content.

How do you know what to write about?

You know what your niche is.  For example: you are the editor of the Vocus blog. You’re going to PR people and marketing people.  You know you’re advising them on Twitter, content, social media, integrated marketing. Because you know your industry and who is reading it, you can then choose topics that they will love.

So how might a smaller business get involved?

A smaller business with a smaller staff should consider the second element of brand journalism: content curation.  You don’t need a whole staff of writers and editors; instead, you become a curator. You know your industry so well that you can quickly go through all the various trade publications and general circulation magazines that cover your industry and pull out the really good stuff. You put it into your voice – and I’m not talking about plagiarism; I’m talking about your bringing your own perspective to other pieces – and then sending it out to your list of prospects.

The other way to do it is to recruit great bloggers and great writers in your industry. Instead of writing all the content, you become the eyes and ears – the filter – for your customers. You go out and find great blogs and ask, ‘do you mind if I run this on our content site? We’ll give you appropriate credit and direct people to your website.’


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