One of the growing trends in content marketing is the branded news publication. Does it really matter if you call them magazines, blogs, or news portals? I think the concept is the same.
Your company isn’t in the news business. It’s in the (fill in the blank) business, but delivering high quality regular news of interest to your target audience is a great way to attract traffic to your website and establish your brand as an authoritative voice in your niche. That’s why more and more brands are turning to this innovative approach to content marketing.
But there are some effective and not-so-effective ways to approach this up-and-coming manner of content marketing. Keep in mind, it’s hard work no matter how you do it.
Why Do You Want a Branded News Website?
Before you jump in the water, it’s best to test it to see if that’s really where you want to swim. After all, the cost of establishing a branded news website can be pretty hefty. Your initial investment should be well thought out to ensure it meets with your company’s long-term goals. After that, you can traverse the path of deciding which of the three types of branded news websites is most appropriate for your situation.
If your goal is to primarily promote your brand, you’ll have to consider what is the best way to achieve that goal while maintaining excellence in newsworthiness. Will your readers expect your news content to be unbiased or tilted toward your own brand?
There are of course advantages to each type of branded news website. Your best bet may be to put together a team of people from your company to evaluate each type and report back with the pros and cons. If you want to turn the website into a revenue stream as opposed to a brand promotion tool, then you’ll set different goals for your content than you will if your primary concern is using the content for branding. You can also find a place in the middle of the extremes where your interests are to deliver industry news from an unbiased perspective mixed with your own press releases and internal news. Whichever way you decide to go, the first step is to determine your motivation for wanting a branded news site. That motivation will dictate everything that follows.
Who’s Going to Write Your Content?
After you decide why you want a branded news site and the purpose it will serve for your organization, and your audience, you’ll want to determine who is going to write your content. The options are pretty straightforward:
- Current staff – Will it be your marketing department, PR team, or a mix of employees from various departments?
- Hire new staff – Will you put a call out for staff positions? You’ll need to figure out just how much to invest in staff, whether you will pay them by their production or put them on salary, and what positions you’ll need filled. Will you sell advertising? You may need to hire sales people. You’ll definitely need to hire at least one editor. One possibility is to hire an editor who will oversee the content acquisition process and outsource the actual writing to freelancers. Depending on how large you want your news website to be, you may hire a managing editor and an editor for each category of the website. Then you’ll have to decide how many staff writers you want and whether or not you’ll need graphic designers and other visual or multimedia professionals.
- Outsource it all – Another option is to use freelancers for every aspect of the production, including freelance editors. Doing it this way will make it more difficult to control the content production process and implement a quality control process. Ideally, you should have one person on staff who is responsible for the entire production, no matter how large or small the operation.
Establishing Your Content Guidelines
Whether you hire staff writers or use freelancers, you’ll need to establish firm and fair guidelines. Be careful that you are not overly restrictive in your guidelines, but you want to ensure a certain amount of quality in your content. After all, you are running a news website. Make sure your writers understand something about journalistic ethics and best practices for online writing.
You should establish your pay rate for writers and expect writers to meet standard quality guidelines. The more you pay the easier it is to expect higher quality journalism.
You’ll also want to decide whether you want writers with a degree in journalism or communications or if you are more interested in experience. Do you want your writers to provide photos with their stories? If so, make sure they use high resolution images and specify the size photos you want. You’ll want photos that conform to your online “page”. One branded news website I write for wants landscape photos only, but if you are okay with vertical images, then let your freelancers know that.
Something else you’ll need to consider is your news writing style. Many emerging branded news websites are opting for the journalistically ubiquitous AP style. Others might go for something like the Yahoo! style. If you are planning to use traditional journalists, then I’d recommend the AP Style Guide as your writers will be more familiar with it, and it’s standard in the news writing profession, so readers will be used to it. The Guardian and BBC both also have their own news writing styles that are popular worldwide.
Some news websites implement hard deadlines for their writers and others simply allow writers to submit stories when they have them done. You’ll need to do whatever works for you, but one rule of thumb is to consider whether the story is time-sensitive or not. If it is, impose a deadline. If it isn’t, you may not want to burden your best writers with a deadline. In this day of reportage, most writers who work online freelance for several clients at one time and some things are simply not in a writer’s control–for instance, whether or not sources return their calls in time to meet the deadlines.
At one news site I write for, I have a requirement to use two quoted sources in all articles. That’s fine, but I’ve had to hold up a story for well past the deadline just because I couldn’t find anyone willing to be quoted for an article and had to spend considerable time hunting down credible sources.
Another thing I see many branded news websites requiring of writers is the submission of story ideas. It’s okay if you require writers to submit their own ideas. In fact, it might be to your advantage. Here’s why:
- If a writer comes up with the idea, then he’ll more likely enjoy writing the article and you’ll get a better story out of it.
- Often, writers are closer to the beat than you or your editor, especially if you expect unbiased third-party news. Let your writer do the legwork, but consider this when you establish your pay scale.
- Each writer can submit a slate of ideas each week and your editor can choose the ones that are most appropriate for your website. This cuts down on the workload of the editor, especially if you have a lot of writers.
- Your editor should spend her time making out the editorial calendar, scheduling and assigning stories, and proofreading.
Running your own branded news website can have its rewards, but it also has its challenges. As Google and the other search engines continue to refine their search ranking algorithms to emphasize quality over quantity, you’ll want to invest in the best content writers that you can find. That means hiring professional journalists or content producers who can write headlines, come up with good story ideas, and execute well-written content that meets all of your content expectations.