Listening to the recent Newsweaver webinar on the Rise of the Corporate Newsroom organized by my colleague Emma Hanley was a fascinating experience, for someone who left a long career in journalism four months ago for a new role in the Internal Communications industry.
Emma had organized James Curtis and Abigail Levene, directors of corporate communications and content specialists, Stampa Communications, to speak about their experience of introducing and operating corporate newsroom environments in many large companies and organizations, including Coca-Cola, Zurich, Vodafone and the NHS.
It probably says everything about the increasing popularity of the concept of the corporate newsroom (CN) that the webinar attracted a very large number of advance sign-ups and the Question & Answer session which followed the presentation could have gone on for well over an hour beyond the allocated 30 minutes, such was the vibrancy and level of interest.
It probably also had much to do with quality of James’ and Abigail’s level of experience – over 20 years as editors and contributors to many heavyweight media outlets – and the ease with which they brought it to bear on the webinar, in a very accessible manner leavened with a large helping of common sense.
I must admit that at the outset I wasn’t sure about what was meant by a corporate newsroom, apart from a vague notion of the glaringly obvious: a newsroom in a corporate setting.
So it was interesting to hear them start out by explaining what it is not:
- It’s not a press office
- It’s not a media relations department
- It’s not a news section on the company website
So what is it? I found reassuring to hear that primarily it was about internal communicators changing their mindset, rather than a recommendation for a full-scale and very expensive radical introduction of a whole newsroom structure.
It was a theme Abigail kept coming back to throughout the webinar. “Above all, we’re talking about adopting a newsroom approach with a journalistic mindset”. It was a mantra she returned to again and again, with clear definitions of what she meant, and guidelines on how to achieve this goal.
Abigail and James set out all the basic questions anyone would have if they were thinking about adopting newsroom thinking to their organization, and then proceeded to provided logical and sensible answers, along with lots of very good advice, obviously based on many years of wide journalistic experience.
They make very cogent arguments about how an effective corporate newsroom can help organizations meet the main challenges facing all companies: linking business strategy and communication, dealing with the speed and volume of information flow, and coping with the digital evolution and the social web. Above all it can transform employee engagement.
Among the areas and topics covered were:
- What is a corporate newsroom?
- Why do companies need a newsroom?
- How do I think like a journalist?
- What makes a good story?
- How do you tell a story?
- What’s the role of a reporter?
- How to work as an editorial team
- Writing and editing tips
- It’s not all about words. Be multi-media.
They also gave very interesting insights into the experiences of companies who had adopted the corporate newsroom concept, including Coca-Cola and the Dutch bank ING.
Stampa had been involved at the outset with Coca-Cola, and it’s been a huge success for them, with the newsroom increasingly fusing activity between both internal and external comms.
As the editor-in-chief of Coca-Cola Journey, Jay Moye said of the importance of reinventing their corporate website through newsroom techniques and thinking: “We believed that authentic stories matter, that exceptional writing and visuals win the day, and that building a global digital newsroom could transform how we engage with all our readers.”
“We champion our culture…humanize our company. We bring to life the stories bubbling beneath the surface of our brands and business,” he said.
But what I really liked about James’ and Abigail’s presentation was that they made it very clear that you didn’t have to be a massive multi-national organization with vast resources to be able to adopt a newsroom approach to your communications. I liked their no-nonsense approach and the fact that they didn’t attempt to glamorize or exaggerate, or oversell the life of a journalist, which is a trap too many people fall into.
They simply explained in detail what journalists do well, almost by second nature, and how this can be practically applied in internal communications in the context of a company newsroom. One of the obvious questions is, how do I think or act like a journalist?
Well, the Stampa duo break that down nicely and you can see how they could quite easily get someone to think like a reporter when it comes to getting stories, how it’s imperative to keep the audience in mind at all times, and what makes a good story in the first place.
Is it interesting, is the information new or does it bring new insights? Will it be of any interest to anybody? Does it meet my audience’s needs?
They give very practical advice on how it might work even in relatively small organizations, how to build contacts for stories throughout the organization, how to build a newsroom team, even if they are not all comms specialists, and above all, how to go about finding a ‘gatekeeper’ or editor-in-chief, to establish and communicate clear editorial standards so that only the best stories are published for the only audience that matters, the readers (not people with vested interests in promoting what they want themselves).
As someone who spent most over 25 years in journalism, it was interesting to see the techniques and skills of my former life being deployed in a corporate setting, and it all made perfect sense. As James and Abigail point out, for a journalist the story is everything. Getting a story that they know their audience will be interested in reading, watching or listening to is what gets them out of bed in the morning. First getting the story and then presenting it in the most compelling way.
And the best stories are people stories. Which is exactly the same for internal communicators, though they might not keep that in focus as much as they should. After watching this webinar, I have no doubt that they will find their mindset has moved that little bit closer to that of the much-maligned journalist! And their internal communications should be all the better for it.
Written by Tim Vaughan, Newsweaver