One of the most effective ways for brand publishers to create genuinely engaging and valuable content is to adopt the habits of journalists and develop internal “sources” that inform their content and output. Instead of playing stenographer for single-point-of-view or opinion content, brand publishing staffers can instead act as in-house reporters that work with sources (internal executives, subject-matter experts, or external experts) to develop story ideas, glean insights and information and turn it into well-rounded content that will resonate with audiences.
The best place to begin is with internal experts. Brands are often at an advantage in that they have a plethora of insight and expertise within their (figurative) walls. Unlike traditional journalists, brand publishing teams do not have to go far to find a deep bench of expertise on chosen topics that also (ideally) have a vested interest in helping them create authoritative content.
For brand publishing teams, one of the biggest challenges is they often compete for attention with subject matter experts’ other priorities. People are short on time, and these internal experts may see helping the content team as their second, third, or even fourth job. They’re often unresponsive to requests or simply don’t have the time to participate as a result. In some cases, they may have already worked with content teams in the past and found the process cumbersome or frustrating.
In order to manage this, there are some tactics for extracting great content from subject matter experts across organizations that make the process a lot less painful than it needs to be.
Here are some tips and approaches for extracting great content from subject matter experts across an organization, gleaned from the habits of journalists and reporters inside newsrooms.
Create a list of “targets” that maps back to editorial priorities.
In certain situations, it’s difficult to know who writers should set their sights on when it comes to expertise. There may be multiple experts for certain topics, particularly in larger organizations. Another common challenge is that it can get difficult to know what is most important to cover at any given moment. To avoid getting lost in the crowd, publishing groups should regularly create a list of “targets” which roughly correspond to the editorial topics they plan to prioritize. This can be done either on a monthly or quarterly basis and can happen as part of overall editorial planning.
Once a list of targets is created, teams may wish to designate specific experts as “spokespeople” on specific themes and topics. Depending on how many there are, teams can then rotate through these spokespeople on a regular basis so a variety of themes and topics important to the business are covered. Designating spokespeople can also create a sense of ownership and responsibility among internal subject-matter experts, and can ensure teams have all their bases covered.
Conduct regular check-ins.
Writers inside brand publishing teams should seek to develop long-lasting relationships with sources – that is, colleagues who happen also to be subject matter experts. That means regularly checking in with them, be it on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. A simple email or Slack message that asks how they’re doing and reminds them of the content team’s existence is a good start. Letting them know what the team is currently doing, working on or plans to be focused on can help them feel connected and invested in their success. It’s akin to “checking the traps,” as many in the news business often call it. Check in often enough and it becomes a habit that can pay off in the long run with story ideas, tips or other forms of help.
Provide templates and briefs.
While there are benefits to open-ended conversations with experts when it comes to getting story ideas or expounding on certain topics, people usually do better when there are specific questions to answer. If a writer is looking to interview a source, they should provide a “brief” that includes the topline of the story they’re looking to produce, and three to five questions they would like answered. This should be provided ahead of time if the plan is to interview the source live – always recommended over written-out answers, since those don’t leave room for follow up questions or clarifications. In cases where the idea is to ghostwrite a piece on behalf of an internal expert, a clear template should be sent that outlines the end-piece, with prompts for the points that should be covered. Providing prompts, bulletpoints, templates and briefs eases pressure on internal experts, regardless of whether the goal is to interview them for a story or get them to write a piece themselves.
Along with templates, it can also be helpful to provide examples of similar stories or content that has already been produced by the team. If the goal is a Q&A, writers should send similar Q&As. If it’s a trend story, writers should send in similar stories they’ve done. Not only will this make sources feel more comfortable, it’ll also (hopefully) inspire them.
One common reason internal experts don’t want to participate in brand publishing endeavors is that they see it as a black box. One way to avoid this is through communication. Cultivated curiosity is the best tool for any writer or reporter. Writers should be on the lookout for stories throughout the organization, and should always be ready to ask questions where needed. That means asking questions (where appropriate) during presentations and meetings in order to glean more information and better support pieces. Writers should also communicate with the wider company about what they’re working on, the topics they’re most interested in – and this one is key – what their progress has been like so far. If internal experts were interviewed for stories, they should be kept abreast of the development of the piece and a heads up when it is published. They also should be, in case of confusion, given opportunities to ensure that their point of view is represented accurately. While the publishing team should operate independently, it is important to remember that everyone is largely working towards the same goal.
What’s next: For brands looking to build their own publications in-house, key considerations are a focused audience strategy, a strong editorial and content team, and a well-oiled editorial process. See the Brand Publishing Toolkit for further information on the strategies and tactics brands can employ to build successful publishing operations.