Coca-Cola digital chief: ‘Kill the press release’

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Perhaps you caught the story in Mashable, The Daily Mail, Adweek, or The Huffington Post.

Coca-Cola’s Singapore team designed a novel double can that splits into two, so customers can share the fizzy beverage with a friend.

Fantastic PR. But one major reason it got so much play was “because we covered it,” says Ashley Brown, who leads digital communications and social media for The Coca-Cola Company.

In a session titled “Brand journalism at Coca-Cola: Content, data, and cutting through noise,” Brown tells how Coca-Cola uses its ambitious brand journalism project, Coca-Cola Journey, to tell its own story. The digital magazine has been so successful that the company is planning to ditch news releases altogether.

Here are a few lessons Coke learned in the first year of Journey:

1. Leverage your current website.

Journey was an old print publication at Coke, and the chief executive challenged Brown’s team to bring it into the modern era. They had a corporate website that was “really ugly.”

“It was in an odd shade of faded green,” Brown says, “but it got tremendous traffic, and that was transactional traffic, largely.”

So, why herd all that traffic into a new site? Coca-Cola remade its main Web portal into a magazine.

2. Build a newsroom, kill the press release.

Coke created a newsroom with people who had journalism backgrounds, and they hold a daily meeting at 9 a.m. to plan its content, often on the fly. At the same time, Coke has a goal of reducing press releases by half this year and getting rid of them entirely by 2015.

“I’m on a mission,” Brown says. “What I want to do is kill the press release.”

For the first time ever, Journey challenged PR teams to think beyond press releases, toolkits, or launch packages, he says.

Coke’s PR people began asking questions such as: What is a two-minute, really high-quality video that someone really would want to share? How do I package that announcement so that someone who doesn’t work at Coke would want to read it and share it?

3. Fill your ‘careers’ section with stories.

Click on Coke’s careers page, and you won’t find a static page with a form application. Instead, you’ll see a storytelling approach even here, such as the piece titled Photographer Lands Picture-Perfect Gig With Coke, about a cameraman who will visit 89 countries for the beverage maker.

4. Touch their hearts.

In recent years, Coke has excelled at telling lump-in-the-throat stories. One story, a first-person piece about surviving a flood, is called “Sharing a Moment of Happiness in Flood Ravaged Colorado.”

Another story and video tells how the company set up camera-outfitted Coke machines in malls in India and Pakistan — longstanding enemies — and gave people a chance wave at each other and make friends.

The company issued no press releases for the “Small World Machines” in India and Pakistan, yet the video won 2.2 million views on YouTube. In the first week alone, an affiliated article got 84,000 visits.

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5. Use infographics.

It’s not just stories and videos. Coke is creating infographics — and has a liberal reuse policy for infographics and the like. One was about its #5by20 program, which seeks to empower women. Journey published the infographic and then pitched it to the Daily Beast, which also ran it.

6. Design for smartphones.

A global business can’t ignore the fact that much of the world accesses the Web through handheld devices. More than 1 billion people own a smartphone, Brown says.

“With smartphones in the hands of so many people, we now have a tremendous ability to deepen engagement with our consumers,” he says.

7. Use data to guide your editorial decisions.

It’s no longer about ramming your message down consumers’ throats. You must offer stories, videos, and other content on subjects they are interested in — and that means closely watching your analytics for what works.

“We can’t talk about what Coke wants to talk about,” Brown says. “We have to talk about what people want to talk about.”

For example, a recipe for Coca-Cola cake is the most popular item on the site. So Coke created four more recipes. There’s even one for Diet Coke.

@r_working

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