Brand journalism approach lands aerospace firm primo coverage

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When Raytheon opened a factory in Huntsville, Alabama, the aerospace and defense company landed media coverage in top-tier publications such as CNET and Time magazine. The story even earned valuable, above-the-fold real estate.

How does a factory opening land such prized exposure?

Through a little idea called surround sound.

Stephanie Schierholz, social media manager for Raytheon, discusses the concept in the Ragan Training session “Working in Surround Sound with Owned, Earned and Paid Media.”

“Surround sound is what we use to talk about coordinating all of our communications efforts so that they work together and amplify each other so that we’re all speaking from the same messaging,” Schierholz explains. It’s about getting all of an organization’s communications teams to work together to spread the organization’s story as far as possible.

Schierholz acknowledges that getting people in PR, marketing, executive communication and public affairs to work together can be challenging.

“For a lot of organizations and companies, this is a cultural change in the way that you do communications,” she says. It’s worth it.

Here are Schierholz’s tips for telling the best stories in the most effective, comprehensive way:

Embrace a journalism mindset

Brand journalism is the foundation of surround sound, Schierholz says. Organizations must refocus their thinking from “What do we want to tell people?” to “What is newsworthy to our audience?”

For Schierholz and her team, this meant telling fewer stories about Raytheon’s individual products and more stories about big-picture concepts that highlight the company’s capabilities. The team also decided to publish fewer stories and spend more time making them better.

To ensure each story and message aligns with company goals, Schierholz and her team formed a news organization within Raytheon. They hired a former AP reporter to serve as the managing editor of digital content. He leads weekly editorial meetings and ensures each story is well researched and written.

At editorial meetings, people share what is going on in their teams, and which stories they’d like to cover. They ensure each story has accompanying visuals, and discuss how they can repurpose the stories for multiple channels. Everyone works off a shared editorial calendar so deadlines and responsibilities are clear.

Give your content a home

Before your news organization can produce content, that content needs a home.

After conducting an extensive audit, Schierholz’s team completely revamped the company’s website. They wanted the home page to look and operate like a news site.

“We want to be the hub where people can go for news about what we’re doing, and we want to provide interesting information that’s easy to access [and] easy to understand and tells a story about what we’re doing—and then is able to be used across various channels,” Schierholz said.

Raytheon’s home page is entirely news focused. It features four news stories (no press releases), links to the company’s social media sites, and a social media stream that shows the company’s latest posts.

Create compelling content

For a story to make the home page, it must fit three criteria:

  • It must be relevant to the company’s goals: Raytheon has many products, but 28 “key pursuits” that are higher priorities. The story must focus on at least one of those pursuits.
  • It must be interesting: If it’s not, no one will read it.
  • It must have a good shelf life: If the team is going to invest time and effort into telling a story, they want to get as much mileage as they can out of it.

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, Surround Sound: The convergence of paid, owned and earned media at Raytheon.” Sign up for Ragan Training for this and other video education on cutting edge strategies and tactics.

These stories typically fall into one of three categories: feature stories, timely stories, and event stories.

Feature stories tend to be the most popular among readers; they focus on products, employees or other interesting things happening within the company.

Timely stories are loosely based on the calendar. On one Valentine’s Day, Schierholz’s team ran a story about Raytheon’s diamond lab. (Raytheon uses diamonds in its radar products.) Though the story wasn’t about Valentine’s Day, the team could use the holiday to discuss how some of the company’s products are made. The story remained relevant throughout wedding season, as well.

Event stories revolve around planned company happenings.

“That story doesn’t really have a long shelf life, Schierholz says. “You want to get most of your traffic before the event takes place.” An example is Raytheon’s celebration of Pi Day. Most of Raytheon’s corporate social responsibility efforts are geared toward math and science education, so on Pi Day, staffers deliver pies to schools within 3.14 miles of the company’s major facilities.

To cover the Pi Day event, Schierholz’s team wrote about the upcoming festivities three or four days in advance. They updated the story on Pi Day—traffic peaks the day of an event—but didn’t report on the event once it was over. Traffic drops significantly post-event.

Repurpose the content

Once you have a strong story, it’s time to put surround sound into action.

Schierholz and her team wanted to run a story about Raytheon’s Patriot missile. The missile wasn’t new, so there wasn’t a hard news angle to report on, but the company was sinking a significant amount of money into modernizing the missile and wanted to explain why.

Thanks to a few key visuals and strong storytelling, the story ended up being the most popular on the Raytheon website. The PR team pitched the story to journalists to better explain the missile’s upgrades, the public affairs team sent the story to think tanks and government agencies, and the marketing team used it in advertising. Schierholz also pays to promote posts on social media to ensure stories get as much mileage as possible.

“That’s what we call surround sound,” Schierholz says. 

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