Agencies look for next generation of managing editors for own 'newsrooms'

As branded content has gained a bigger part of the marketing mix, agencies have been quick to tout their "newsroom" content-creation units as a vital service.

As branded content has gained a bigger part of the marketing mix, agencies have been quick to tout their “newsroom” content-creation units as a vital service. However, the agency world isn't a fit for every former ink-stained newspaper reporter or TV news producer. Some skills from a journalism background translate better than others in PR agencies' content-production teams.

Increasingly, clients expect agencies to respond rapidly to current events, meaning that the daily news-judgment skills of a print- or Web-focused daily news journalist transition seamlessly to a content group at an agency. Daily content-planning meetings, or brainstorms about how to quickly take advantage of an event in real time are common, and not dissimilar to the range of daily news and budget meetings that occur at traditional media outlets.

“Day in and day out, orchestration and best practices are things you borrow from the newsroom, and in terms of the cadence and the quality, you have to talk about how a newsroom does that,” explains Jason Wellcome, global head of the Mediaco content-creation unit at Weber Shandwick. “That is where it is similar, the day-in and day-out rigor and planning. Media organizations have fine-tuned that model of moving quickly but also with quality.”  

However, instead of reacting primarily to tips, police and fire scanners, or local political maneuvers, agencies also take into account analytics and consumer reaction on social media before producing their copy. Some use an old organizing tool of print magazines, the editorial calendar, but they're cognizant of the need to pivot quickly to take on the news of the day, as well.

“TV newsrooms especially tend to be reacting and up to the minute, constantly paying attention to what's happening and breaking. An agency newsroom is paying more attention listening to the audience and creating content based off what we see from analytics,” says Kyle Bishop, director of digital strategy and creative services at 360 Public Relations and a former Web and social media manager at Fox 25 in Boston.

He adds that the savviest members of the current generation of journalists are also Web- and social media-savvy.

“It's such a different world now, where journalism is also about social media,” adds Bishop. “If you're a journalist, you also have to know how to use social media. In TV and newspaper newsrooms, even at magazines, you need to stay on top of things and produce new content every single day, the same way we're trying to come up with content for a brand.”

One editorial position that translates better than most from the media to the agency world is the managing editor, or a similar leadership position focused on making decisions about prioritizing content and ensuring the trains run on time, say former journalists turned content-creation experts.

“I think that's one place where having true, traditional newsroom experience is a huge help. On the agency side and on the client side, we're drawing from folks with journalism backgrounds who understand the fast pace of the narrative and all the things that need to go into the story,” explains Dave Coustan, VP of content strategy and planning at Porter Novelli's PNConnect unit.

Most content-creation pros interviewed by PRWeek contend that journalists with experience planning long-term projects across platforms tend to be the best fit on the agency side, more so than aggressive bulldog reporters who focus mostly on the short-term task of breaking stories daily.

“The managing editor knows how operations work, and those that understand distribution and publishing and advances in digital publishing really help,” adds Wellcome. “I wouldn't say that a bulldog journalist that goes after hard-hitting stories is always the best, because it is the orchestration, production, and quality of content [that is a priority].”

However, Stephanie Smith, who was named MSLGroup's first chief editorial officer in North America this week, contends that the hard-news-chasing reporter can also be a welcome addition to an agency newsroom.

“I think the ability to turn around a story by 6.30pm every day…that level of productivity and the ability to meet very strict deadlines helps us in terms of counseling clients on the need for speed when working on a real-time content format,” says Smith, who was a producer for ABC News. “It does speak to how you are used to working while juggling different balls and on tight deadlines.”

Of course, the primary difference between working for a media outlet newsroom and the agency variety is the role of the client in the latter, which can be a new experience for journalism veterans.  

“Obviously I wasn't working for clients before, I was working for the news team itself, but in a lot of ways, things aren't that different. We're basically creating content for an audience, whether news content or content for that brand,” says Bishop. “At the agency, we're always planning a little more ahead, whereas when I worked in the newsroom, every day was sort of different.”

Engagement, not propaganda
Content-creation pros also say that when it comes to negative stories in the press, developing content that would obfuscate the story at hand is not an option because it would create an even bigger blowback online and on social media platforms.

“All of what you're seeing in the level of dialogue is increasingly a more engaged model,” says Wellcome. “There's certainly not any sort of obfuscation to press an agenda that is wrong. The issue with not having a true transparent approach is that the backfire is a lot worse. The downside is so much bigger than any upside.”

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