Remember when you were in college, or maybe even one of your first jobs, and someone your senior would say, “I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years.” I would shudder, watch co-workers roll their eyes, then try to stay focused on what was coming next. I always hoped it wasn’t a long, boring story because I really wanted to learn from my “elders,” but I also felt like that line was overused.
Guess what? I’m now one of those people who can, and sometimes does, pull out that infamous line. I usually say it when I’m explaining brand journalism. Brand what, you say? See, having someone who’s been around the block more than a few times lends a little credibility to the concept of using a journalistic approach to tell your organization’s story.
Let me start with a little background. I knew I wanted to be a journalist at age 11. Having never dreamt of anything else, I was fortunate to go on to a 25-plus-year career in television news. What I learned toward the end of my time in the newsroom (a real one, not the HBO show) is you don’t need the media to get your story out. Unfortunately, for local newsrooms, if you have a story to tell, and you’re willing to leverage your digital and social platforms, then you are a prime candidate for brand journalism.
Believe me, it hurts my heart to say that. I spent more than half my life with a “j” on my back, fighting the good fight and hoping every day we would be able to deliver quality content that would lure viewers back to their TVs at the appointed time. Instead, much to my disappointment and with a conflicted heart, I watched digital video and 30-second clips on Facebook, Instagram, and Snaps satiate the masses’ appetite for content. So, what’s a veteran TV news journalist to do? Join ’em.
That’s right. I jumped ship and began working to spread the word about brand journalism. I’m in good company. Brand giants like Starbucks, Red Bull, and Square are all producing amazing stories that are full of emotion, visually compelling, and incredibly shareable. Companies in all fields are in the space—athletic wear, pharma, home building, non-profit. But you don’t have to be a giant to participate. Any size company and any industry can use brand journalism to reach its target audience, no matter the demographic.
An important note: This is not content marketing. And yes, there is a difference. When I put a story together for a client, I approach it like I always have—as a journalist. In addition to a discovery session with the client, I do my own research, come up with the story angles, and often find my own interviews. We shoot the story, then write the script, which is opposite of a marketing production. I let the interviews and visuals guide me, allowing the story subjects to provide the narrative and the video to provide the landscape in which it’s set. The goal is to produce a relatable, educational, and most importantly, an emotional story that is accessible to everyone. That includes the media, if it’s part of the strategy.
And yes, there is strategy behind what we do. In fact, much like my old life in TV news when we would produce stories for a specific demo, hoping to boost ratings, we recommend using digital and social syndication, public relations, and/or media relations to share the stories we produce for our clients. There’s nothing better than seeing organic engagement with a piece I’ve produced. And in real time, we can see how the story is performing. We can test headlines, placement, and reach, analyzing the metrics to help us garner the best exposure to the right audience. Oh, how I would have loved to have had the people with the time and expertise to do that in my old gig.
Knowing that I can now focus on genuine storytelling—actually telling the story behind the story—I can breathe again. I’m not producing product placement pieces or testimonials. I’m telling stories filled with emotion, expertise, and an authenticity that allow the viewer to experience something they might not have access to on traditional channels. For the most part, these stories are unbranded, which, because it’s inferred, makes the connection to the actual brand that much stronger.
As we say at Fingerpaint, everyone has a story, everyone loves to hear a good story, and everyone loves to share a good story. What’s your story?
Sandra Kotzambasis is a treasure hunter of sorts. An accomplished and award-winning producer, her true talents lie in her ability to extract the heart of an issue from any conversation. Sandra knows what will resonate with an audience, and she doesn’t stop digging until she grabs hold of it. After spending about 25 years in journalism, the bulk of it in a newsroom, Sandra’s versatility, dedication to premium quality, and appreciation for deadlines are pretty much unmatched. She is a gifted storyteller who keeps an obsessive eye on the details and understands how to humanize just about any situation. Try her. A proud Greek mother of two, Sandra has developed a shortcut for pronouncing her last name, offering “coats and boxes” to anyone who tries.