Brand Journalism? No, Czech Power – Common Sense Included

02/05/2011
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When I decided to set up my own media education company last year in May, my wish was to share my experience with those interested in a journalist’s point of view on public relations. On top of that, I wanted to give my clients something else — a consultant who would listen to them and shape advice based on their own needs, not on an egocentric self-sufficiency that I often find overwhelming with local PR advisers.

I want to give my clients some common sense. Like this, they will be able to recognize the difference and appreciate it,” I said. “Common sense in the Czech business environment?” a good PR friend reacted. “You must be crazy. I give you one year to get rid of your naïve ideals.”

More or less joking, I set up one of my company slogans as “Media intelligence. Common sense included.” Now, one year after, I’m happy to say I was right.

On April 14–15, 2011, Media Education CEE — the new identity of my company since February — is organizing an international workshop on brand journalism. One of the parents of the concept, David Henderson, is coming to Prague to share how this new PR trend works.

What does brand journalism mean? It means that responsible companies, industry leaders, got that it’s not enough to speak and expect stakeholders to listen. It’s not enough to flood the market with old-fashioned communication tools such as product press releases. The only reason people would read such news is because the product would make an immediate positive change in their lives. It’s now about the people and what they want, not about companies saying something. So, how does one get a corporate message across in this new reality?

Brand journalism is a matter of strategy

The enlightened industry leaders I mentioned — such as the technology solution provider Cisco or the international bank HSBC — understood that listening with a bit of modesty, empathy and common sense raises their image in the eyes of global stakeholders. These companies are actively using journalistic techniques to generate corporate news and to engage stakeholders in the latest type of conversation driven by social media in the new digital reality. Basically, any enlightened industry leader would be aware that it’s necessary to be ready to answer any kind of questions, coming from all over the world, at any time in a responsible brand-enforcing style.

Let’s take a concrete case – BP (formerly British Petroleum) for example, the company so much despised for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico it produced last year. As soon as the unfortunate explosion occurred, the company used its own website to communicate its point of view on the event. The reply to the public anger was posted on the same website that the company used to praise itself for environmental achievements and consciousness. If the situation hadn’t been so dramatic, the way BP handled its crisis communication would have been risible. Therefore, for any enlightened company that is aware that an incident can spread digitally like fire and take down even the highest positioned business leaders, it’s vital to manage communication properly.

Brand journalism is about strategy — it’s a conscious decision to stop talking down to stakeholders and actually getting an online newsroom that isn’t full of nonsense and outdated press releases, but of meaningful content generated by engaged company staff and journalists commissioned to provide relevant industry news. Such a newsroom is enriched by high quality pictures that stakeholders — employees, clients, consultants and other media reps can download immediately — and promote your name by posting you as the picture source, for that matter.

It also features videos that explain the company point of view on certain issues, interviews and real human stories emphasizing the need for more story-telling in the corporate discourse, and links to social media that generate real conversation around the company doings. Everything that needs to be in an online newsroom if you want to be seen and make a difference is there: people who are fast to answer stakeholders’ questions, blogs about the industry, valuable visual tools (pictures, videos, graphs, charts) and, above all, the most important sign that you communicate and care — links to social media.

Czech companies can make a global difference

The message of why it’s important to have a balanced, respectful and two-way conversation with your stakeholders may come as an odd thing in our CEE post-communist economies. I can already hear the voices of my fellow communication advisers: “You must be crazy. I give you one year to get rid of your naïve ideals.” But Czech, Polish, Slovak and Romanian companies can indeed make a difference if they want to make it through tomorrow. To find their way on the global market, they need to be able to engage people from China, India, Brazil or Kazakhstan thanks to their online newsroom.

As we go global, our companies need to answer the demands of a global clientele and stakeholders. These demands are usually much higher than those of our passive and fatalist Czech or Romanian customers, and these people have no hesitation to give up on you because they have a global market of suppliers to choose their services from. If there is something that is truly frustrating in the Czech Republic, it is to see managers of leading Czech firms going to public meetings and presenting old PowerPoint slides, talking about themselves in a flat voice for minutes and minutes, then stepping down convinced of their own importance and waiting for praise and a happy retirement.

These people are not aware that, when behaving like this they are actually knocking nails in the coffin of this country’s industry and potential. These people, in positions of power and decision-making, have spent their best years sunken in the reality that it’s enough to exist in the market so that people see how great you are, and to buy from you. That might have been valid in the COMECON, the former Iron Curtain common market, but now we’re 21 years later and things are changing by minutes, not by centuries.

Czech companies that want to make a difference tomorrow and that will actively contribute to the growth of this country and to the education and competitiveness of its youth are the companies run by open-minded leaders who are wise enough to take a step back, wonder if their means of communication are proper for today’s digital world, and then adjust policies accordingly. The global market belongs to visionary leaders with an open-mind, courage and an appetite to engage in real conversation with stakeholders.

The Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, and Slovakia can be a part of this market. When minds open, brand journalism is a fresh communication strategy at hand that brings conversation, social media, digital PR tools and company brand enforcement together to boost your position in the world. Are you ready to step into the 21st century and make news in this challenging, yet rich and beautiful digital world?

THIS TEXT HAS FIRST BEEN PUBLISHED ON MAY 2, 2011, IN THE COLUMN MEDIAPOWER BY LEADERS MAGAZINE http://www.leadersmagazine.cz/2011/05/02/brand-journalism-no-czech-power-common-sense-included/#.UtOFK7R7Y1I

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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