Refocusing the newsroom model

In a world where a catchy illustration turning a current event into a proud product advertisement is hailed as a great success, it raises the question, "A great success for whom?"

Brand strategist Kunur Patel penned some interesting thoughts in Digiday last week about what brands can take from the newsroom setup.

She suggested that the industry has been focused on the punchy, timely output of so-called "real-time marketing" -- topical taglines, snappy comebacks, and clever tweets -- while it should be focused on the broader context of how publications operate and how that approach can and should inform brand social media programs. I couldn't agree more. And in a world where a catchy illustration turning a current event into a proud product advertisement is hailed as a great success, it raises the question, "A great success for whom?"

When the main focus of all of those resources and investment in a “newsroom setup” is on how brands can make funnier, more timely ads as the mainstay of their direct-to-consumer channels, I have to wonder if we're harnessing the wrong tools for the wrong ends.

As Patel points out, "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." If all your newsroom is going to produce are clever puns tied to product advertising, then what you have is a clever ad team - not a publishing practice. Sure it might fit the objective of "get more followers," but that's really a means, not an end.

So if I were looking to port ideas over from the newsroom, what from the publishing model would I invest in first?

Take the piece of the newsroom that's most crucial -- the managing editor -- and bring that thinking in to your organization. It needn't necessarily be a hire, or even a role, but it should at least be an operating principle. And not just over social media; place that level of thinking, planning, and disciplined measurement to goals and audience over all the content your brand or business produces across all channels. Consider your current online footprint across what you produce and distribute organically and what you pay to distribute as your overall “reach.” Think about the sub-audiences and niches within that reach. Are you aligned with what they want, not just from you as a business, but in the pursuit that puts you in contact with them? Are you operating your channels as a publisher would, seeking to expand your reach while forging deeper bonds with the audience you do have? Do you have, as Patel references, a "mission" or "role" for your channels that encompasses your business goals but also truly attempts to serve audience needs at a higher level?

Everyone tends to think that big brands with large audiences have it made -- small programs look over the fence and imagine "making it" means having a million followers, page views, likes, or shares. But the programs we work with that have reached that top 10 or top 20 echelon worldwide face the same challenges. The next question from leadership is always, "Now what?" With a managing editor on staff, or a publishing approach with the same mentality, the work has just begun once the program reaches critical mass. Now let's think about how we can focus our energies on some of the deepest niches within our audience, or toward some of the most valuable subgroups. Let's refine the form factors we're offering in order to better meet their needs rather than sticking with the same assumptions we've held. Let's ask our audience where they want to see us go and place some good options in front of them. Let's place some strong bets on what we can deliver better, faster, in a more satisfying way.

Josh Hallett is SVP at PNConnect, Porter Novelli's digital team.

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