by Michael O'Neill
September 19th, 2012

This week’s digital edition of Advertising Age features an important article for brand managers and PR pros. The title: “Why It’s Time Your Brand Invested in a Creative Newsroom”. It’s written by Ian Schafer, a smart guy whose work and perspective I admire.

Frankly, I wish I had written this given the time we spend consulting with clients on the subject, but with a different twist. Media success goes beyond adopting the mindset of a creative newsroom — it also requires the right operating model to run it.

The reason this is an important marketing topic is clear. Technology has reprogrammed our media habits. In turn, media producers of all kinds, companies included, must reprogramme the user experience for discovering and sharing their content.

Take a look at incumbent and challenger media brands to get where this is going. The most progressive of the bunch, The New York Times, Huffington Post, Mashable, and BuzzFeed, all understand their product now requires equal parts content, distribution and social discovery, not to mention reader engagement in the media itself.

Forward-thinking brands in the game understand a creative newsroom alone will not get it done. Focus on a site build without creating a model to run it is a recurring issue we often see in our consulting work. The disconnect leads to internal infighting, rework of digital and content management platforms, disconnects on measurement, bungled outreach to powerful influencers — even scrapping the idea all together.

Getting it right should be a leadership priority. A creative newsroom is a powerful mechanism for modern-day reputation building. It’s an asset to drive changes in how campaigns are designed and content produced. To be effective, it must be an engagement-driven versus broadcast endeavour.

To avoid pitfalls that destroy progress versus facilitate it, make sure you work through some of the following questions in advance:

1. Do you have a positioning platform that focuses your editorial and newsroom agenda?  

The best creative news programmes are anchored in a platform and message strategy. To create a consistent voice and brand presence an organising principle for your content is a must.

2. Is the positioning platform and content strategy relevant to relationships you need to build?

An editorial programme that bypasses deep understanding of media and influencer conversation agendas will miss the mark. Be sure social listening, media relations and influencer engagement teams all have a significant input on your editorial planning — and how you improve it over time based on platform performance and content engagement.

3. Is your digital and social media footprint optimized to post content as well as interact with people that want to engage with it?

A major development watch-out: newsrooms structured like traditional web pages, that don’t allow for quick posting, reader interaction and sharing through your brand’s social network presence. Be sure the newsroom design is as simple as possible for people to discover and share content.

4. Does your editorial plan account for proper use of existing media assets as well as production of original, socially influenced content?

A common, early-stage newsroom mindset is to take existing assets used for other marketing purposes, such as 30-second spots or corporate communications videos, and republish them through your newsroom and extended social channels. Be careful. While some might enhance the overall story being shared, you should prioritise content aligned with specific reader interests in new media formats most inclined to be consumed and shared.

5.  Have you factored in the need to use newsrooms for reputation protection?

Sure, every brand wants to be as creative and engaging as possible with their newsroom execution. But every now and then brands will come under attack. You’ll want to have corporate communications teams acclimated to the platform and ready to take advantage of it to quickly respond to issues.

6. Do your media or PR plans account for paid media support for major news and feature items?

There are unprecedented avenues to use news, brand features and social content as paid media assets across incumbent media, social networks like Facebook and emerging syndication services like Outbrain. This is a tricky, but important consideration. Traditional media buyers aren’t typically in sync with the real-time nature of news, and PR teams typically don’t have paid media budgets to support their programmes. This is an organisational issue to address sooner versus later. To maximise visibility and engagement in what you produce, paid media support is a must-have element of the strategy.

7. Do you have adequate budget to pivot from current practices to a new programming and outreach operation?

Migrating to a new way of operating does not come cheap. I’ve learned from more than ten years of consulting on and running client newsrooms and content program,es that it pays over time — in better brand engagement, reputation improvements and efficiencies in PR and media dollars invested. Think of it from the start as a one-time charge to re-calibrate operations to align with media realities going forward.

A newsroom orientation is both a change management and creative process. Beyond the build, think through who is best equipped to help guide it — those with deep understanding of PR principles like long-term relationship building and reputation protection with content and new media operations unfolding now.

Yes, it’s time to invest in a creative newsroom.

Without a holistic approach you’ll come to regret what you paid for.

Chris Perry is president, digital, at Weber Shandwick

This article first appeared on Forbes.com

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