Corporate Journalism: A Catalyst for Better Story Telling

This article was originally published by Bloomberg BNA’s Big Law Business

I am continuously amused by all the hubbub around content marketing. Because while that phrase may be new, the truth is that marketing has always been about content. What’s changed, of course, is the delivery, as the digital era has turned everyone into a publisher.

Brands have responded, churning out words and pictures, audio and video, graphics and data that have made the internet a vast ocean of content. And it’s only getting deeper. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report, 70 percent of marketers say they are producing more content in 2015 than they did a year ago, and according to our State of Digital and Content Marketing Survey, 84 percent of law firm CMOs said they, too, plan to produce more content this year.

But will anybody read it?

Surprising as it may be, it’s our experience that, in the rush to start producing content, many marketers fail to ask themselves that question. Indeed, our 2014 survey showed that while the vast majority of law firms are producing content, only 25 percent said they had a content strategy. Surely, a firm spending time and money to produce content ought to have a clear understanding of how the content will both support business objectives and serve its audience.

The best plans to achieve both of those goals are, in our experience, built around what we call corporate journalism (also referred to as brand journalism or branded content). The concept has been around for a few years, and takes many forms. Here’s how we define it:

Corporate journalism is a practice that combines an organization’s market intelligence and subject-matter expertise with the credibility and narrative techniques of professional journalism.

Corporate Journalism in Practice

And here’s what it looks like in practice:

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Let’s say that your firm is looking to assert its expertise in cybersecurity. A corporate journalism approach would involve the following steps:

Empathize: Who you are trying to reach? GCs? CIOs? IT departments? All of the above? What’s keeping them up at night? What are their superiors demanding of them? Answering those questions will breed empathy — which breeds relevance.

 1. Conduct Market Intelligence: To bring something fresh to the conversation, you must know where it stands. What breaches are in the news? What does the recently passed “Protecting Cyber Networks Act” mean for companies? What research on security flaws has been published?

2. Shape the Narrative: Once you’ve got your finger on the pulse, you’re in position to advance the conversation. What problems haven’t been identified? What solutions haven’t been explored? This is where you bring value to your audience.

3. Report: Seth Godin, the renowned content strategist, said recently that companies need editors, not brand managers. We couldn’t agree more. The integrity and narrative traits of professional journalism can help to organize and present stories in a credible, provocative way. The approach might result in the following:

  • Publishing a news-generating survey, study or white paper on the state of cybersecurity
  • Writing a meaty op-ed in the New York Times or Bloomberg about a surprising flaw in recent legislation
  • Creating a feature article based on interviews with practice leaders, clients and third-party experts
  • Covering a firm-branded cybersecurity event or webinar the way a professional media outlet would
  • Devising a branded cybersecurity newsroom run by an experienced editor in chief (think The Richmond Standard, GE Reports, and Coca-Cola Journey)

4. Distribute: Regardless of format, the finished product must be leveraged across channels, including owned media (web sites, microsites, bogs, alerts), earned (traditional) media and social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook). I’m a big believer in the intersection of owned and earned media. Better content drives better traditional media coverage.

5. Measure and Curate: Digital tools have given marketers the ability to see how each piece of content resonates with their audiences. It’s up to you to use that intelligence to shape and inform the development of subsequent content. A content marketer’s ultimate objective should be to produce content that drives conversations outside of the brand’s existing network. Because it is valuable. Because it is a service. Because it is relevant. It’s not about producing more content. It’s about producing better content.

Corporate journalism provides a framework for doing just that by using journalistic principles to tell stories that engage your key audiences. Done well, it leads to the cultivation of relationships that can burnish your expertise, elevate your reputation and drive your business goals.

For nearly 20 years, John has focused on conceptualizing and executing marketing strategies for financial, professional and other service businesses.

Devoted to his family, he enjoys letting loose on golf cart adventures with his kids.