12 ways to cover your organization like a beat reporter

You work for a fascinating organization. You know there are stories to tell—whether for the intranet or externally on the Web.

But how do you root out good ones as you gaze across the cubicle farm or scroll down a phone list of your far-flung production facilities?

Think like a local beat reporter, says Jeremy Porter, vice president of social media at Definition 6. With the growth of brand journalism, a growing number of organizations are assigning staffers to use shoe-leather reporting tactics.

Seeking ideas on where to find stories, I hit up Porter and Ed Garsten, a former CNN reporter who now heads FCA Digital Media at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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“Pretend you’re a reporter for a local newspaper—and your town is your company,” Porter says. “What news would your ‘residents’ be interested in?”

Here are some tips for covering your “town”:

1. Cover the government beat

Talk to “the mayor”—that is, your chief executive, founder or president, Porter says. What are these leaders thinking about or working on? “What stories haven’t been told—or told in a while—from their perspective?” Porter says.

2. Work your internal sources

At Fiat Chrysler’s FCA Digital Media, which has actual beat reporters for its brand journalism, this means having regular communication with PR and executives who handle a given subject.

Garsten cites a video on the design of the 2015 Jeep Renegade. “This came about through our beat reporter’s relationship with the design staff letting her know about unique attributes of the Renegade,” Garsten says.

3. ‘Stalk’ your employees on social media

Well, all right, don’t be a creep about it and get yourself frog-marched out of the office in handcuffs. But your people tend to share more with the rest of the world than they do with co-workers, Porter says.

“You may learn about interesting outside-of-work hobbies or adventures your co-workers have—or causes they support that are relevant to the work you do,” Porter says.

How about the Domino’s pizza ad featured by FastCompany, emphasizing the creativity of its employees away from the job. They’re not bored, surly teenagers. They’re muralists! Painters! Glassblowers! Even a sugar sculptor! This speaks to their commitment for quality. You are meant to conclude that this means they’ll whip out a zesty pizza as well.

And if that makes you hungry…

4. Go have lunch

But do it where other people in your company dine, Porter orders. Gather news tips as you chomp into that sloppy joe. Hanging around the coffee pot in the morning works, too.

Adds Garsten, “Just get to know as many people as possible in varied areas of your company. Let them know what you do and invite them to suggest stories.”

5. Talk to the makers

This means the people who created your current products or services, or the ones working on the new stuff, Porter says.

Garsten offers a case in point: “Our Mopar-embedded reporter built the trust of the engineering and design staff enough so they let him produce a behind-the-scenes video of the development of a new Funny Car.”

6. Ask the sellers

You could dream up whacky gizmos all day long, like that robot-guided flying blender you thought up last year. But could you get someone to buy the real thing? This is the gift of a salesperson.

“Your salespeople are closest to what you do great, who your best customers are, what changes are going on in the marketplace, so on and so forth,” Porter says. “Make them your friends and you’ll learn a lot.”

7. Cover the meetings

Any beat reporter knows there are meetings you just can’t miss if you want to know what’s going on: city council, the school board, county commissioners. Are you covering the right meetings?

“Get yourself invited to staff or team meetings related to your beats,” Garsten says.

8. Talk to the buyers

Customer stories and case studies highlight your product without making you sound like that boastful blowhard nobody wants to talk to at a party. Check out the video of the kid in Colorado Springs who wants to be a UPS driver when he grows up. (If your customers are under eight years old or small furry mammals, you get a cuteness bonus.)

“Any chance you have to talk to customers about their business and how we got to working together is a good thing,” Porter says.

9. Cover the special events

If you were a small-town reporter, you’d be looking for ideas at every country fair and holiday parade where the high school cheerleaders throw candies at the crowd from a flatbed truck.

Same for your organizational “city.” In a blog post, Matt Raymond, head of marketing strategy and PR Solutions at Nasdaq Corporate Solutions, cites this suggestion from Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local.

“From trade shows to company outings, events are loaded with story ideas,” Raymond writes. “Play journalist and interview attendees about their experience, or capture sound bites around a key theme or question.”

Conferences also afford an opportunity to capture testimonials from clients and thought leaders who speak there, he says.

10. Talk to alumni

Folks who retired or left on good terms are your historians who recall the way things used to be, Porter says. Tap them for “Remember when?” stories, and you’ll never be scratching your head for a #TBT post again.

11. Use analytics

Dig into your website analytics and look at the keywords that have led people to your site. “Go deep to the obscure keywords and you may find some clues to stories,” Porter suggests.

12. Open your eyes

“It’s easy to overlook things you see every day,” Porter says. “Do you have an interesting sculpture in the lobby that has some history? What about that old car in the parking lot or the founders plaque in the hallway?”

There could be a story right under your nose.

Don’t be shy. Get going.


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