No, Your Brand Newsroom Is Not Really a ‘Newsroom’—and That Is OK

The “brand newsroom” is a concept that’s here to stay, with several large brands including Marriott and General Electric earning plaudits as successful early adopters. Hype surrounding brand newsrooms has reached a crescendo, but small and mid-size brands need not be concerned that they rival the reporting power of the New York Times to survive.

While some brand newsrooms are physical (and/or virtual) spaces with dedicated staff, they differ dramatically from traditional newsrooms associated with news organizations. Often, “newsroom” reflects a mentality, a particular approach to the content marketing, rather than physical infrastructure.

Matt Bergman

In considering brand newsrooms it’s useful to look at the role of traditional newsrooms. Doing so shows that real-time dissemination of relevant, accurate and engaging news is a finely honed art to which most brands don’t actually aspire. With sincere due respect to brand journalists, the primary motivations of brand newsrooms are to improve the efficacy of content marketing and/or to work around traditional publishers. A closer look:

The newsroom within a news organization is dedicated to journalistic principles. Journalism is defined by the American Press Institute as “…gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities…its purpose [is] to provide people with verified information they can use to make better decisions.”

Certainly, many brands have hired journalists who excel at their craft. But journalism isn’t the primary motivation of a brand newsroom. For a news organization, journalism is the product being offered. For other B2C and B2B brands, branded content is ultimately in furtherance of sales of distinct goods or services.

In traditional newsrooms, adherence to venerated journalistic standards is required. These include best efforts for transparency in naming sources, attributing information and openly striving for objectivity. News organizations report on their own conflicts of interest and on their own failings. Consistent transparency is also essential for a brand to build trust. But one doesn’t expect to see a brand publishing negative or controversial stories about itself.

The traditional newsroom is a space that brings together key contributors to the reporting and distribution of news. This includes editors, reporters, copywriters, designers, videographers, etc. This model is largely aspirational for most brands. Dedicating a physical area may be simple but committing to staff that area with a variety of full-time professionals may not be possible or necessary.

Reporting is an ongoing activity in a newsroom. Reporters dive into regular research, speak to sources and conduct interviews (and report on-scene). Brand newsrooms, whose output is more variegated content, aren’t necessarily reporting hubs. There is also continuity in traditional reporting that is not a requirement of brand newsrooms. News reporters don’t always get to choose what stories to cover—and once coverage begins, there’s an obligation to “follow the story wherever it goes.” Branded news is more easily controlled. Brands have more freedom to let go of a given topic unless the topic is controversy about the brand itself.

Brand and traditional newsrooms prioritize different goals. Traditional newsrooms aspire to cover the stories that audiences find most valuable and there’s no emphasis on coaxing prospects through stages of a buyer journey, which is central to branded content. News organizations surely care about sales, but news isn’t presented differently depending on funnel stage.

News organizations thrive on controversy. Even the most sober reports on hot-button issues can increase the heat. Brand newsrooms need to produce content that is audience-centric and engaging. But brands have incentives to err toward the inclusive—though as they become increasingly charged with taking political stands, that may change.

A traditional newsroom separates news from editorial opinion. Brand newsrooms struggle to erect and maintain this wall and that’s not necessarily fatal. To their credit, many brands work to maintain a degree of editorial independence. But a significant percentage of branded content is op-ed, or stories told from non-objective perspectives.

The traditional newsroom operates within a clear hierarchy. This is shifting, but has traditionally been publisher to editor-in-chief to section editor to reporter. Ideally, brands would mirror that model. But most brands likely can’t afford to hire so many professionals exclusively dedicated to the newsroom. So, one person often wears many hats and that’s challenging.

Daily story meetings and editorial calendars are staples of a newsroom. News reporters don’t have time to be constantly collaborative. So, these structured meetings are central in planning, executing and keeping folks on the same page. For brands, processes and alignment are at the heart of great content strategy. But daily dedicated meetings aren’t always feasible. Most firms need to do the best they can whether that means virtual or video meetings, Slack, etc.

Knowing that traditional and brand newsrooms differ significantly in key areas ought to give smaller brands some comfort: models of brand newsrooms are flexible and adaptive.

Perhaps the greatest impact of creating a brand newsroom is the infusion of a traditional newsroom mindset in the content creation and distribution process: structured ideation, high quality, efficient. accurate, audience-centric, prolific, agile and adaptable, with the ability to be effectively proactive or reactive to breaking stories. Brands that embrace those qualities are likely to produce superior content, regardless of the precise specs of the brand newsroom.

For an immersive session on brand newsrooms featuring Barb DeLollis, director of global corporate communications at Marriott International, be sure to check out PRNEWS' Media Relations Conference this December in Washington, D.C.

Matt Bergman is principal at the business advisory firm BlindBrook Consulting and senior counsel at MarinoPR, a full-service strategic communications firm.