Thinking like a journalist can help us all communicate better

Whether you’re communicating with employees, managers, customers – or just about anyone in any life or work situation – it’s crucial to get your message across effectively. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to get the action or reaction you want. To communicate better, we can all benefit from taking a leaf out of the journalist’s book.

Journalists specialise in capturing attention and powerfully telling compelling stories that cut through the information overload. A good journalist can turn whatever topic they cover – however complex, dry or niche – into sparkling copy that informs, engages and often entertains.

Reporters use the so-called five Ws – also known as the five Ws and one H – to make sure they capture all essential elements in their stories. And being guided by Who, What, Why, When, Where and How can enhance everyone’s strategic and tactical communication skills.

Here’s what to keep in mind before you start writing (or talking!):

  1. Who is your audience? This is the essential starting point. Before putting pen to paper, put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re addressing. What do they already know? What do they care about? Which factors will influence their level of understanding or interest?
  2. Why are you communicating? What do you want to achieve? What do you want your audience to think/feel/do in response? Why should they listen and care about what you’re saying? All this needs to be clear if you are to grab and hold their attention.
  3. What is your story? Exactly what do you want to say? You’d be amazed how often people haven’t even clarified their message to themselves, let alone for the recipient. Also key: what is the new, interesting angle that will hook your audience and keep them engaged?
  4. Where are you communicating your message? Think carefully about the most effective and appropriate ‘vehicle’. Which communication channel and medium fit best? Is it a press release, opinion piece, advertorial, white paper, email, employee newsletter, speech, poster, or social media update?
  5. When should you communicate? Timing is crucial. Whether you’re announcing news publicly, addressing employees or informing clients, when is the right moment to do this? What’s the best time to give the information they need, so you can make the impact you want?
  6. How will you address your audience? What is the right format (text / photo / video / graphic / other) and tone of voice? Regardless of the tone or format you choose, strong communication always means using clear, simple, jargon-free language.

Nowadays, we’re all creators and consumers of communication. No doubt you’ve been on the receiving end of too much complex, confusing, irrelevant or boring communication, so you’ll know how counter-productive it can be. Keeping that critical perspective when you’re the communicator – and always remembering the magic 5Ws – will help you cut through the clutter and make an impact.

Too many ‘alsos’ turn annual reports into shopping lists

A hashtag #Also wouldn’t have quite the same ring as #MeToo, but the word ‘also’ is certainly trending at this time of year when annual report projects are in full swing.

We at Stampa write and edit many annual reports for corporate clients, and the word ‘also’ has a habit of getting hugely over-used in texts. Sometimes it seems as if someone in the process – be they writer, editor or approver – sullies nearly every sentence or paragraph with the A-word.

Why is this? I suspect it might be because many annual report sections are really glorified lists of things a company has done over a year. And sometimes those developments are so disparate that their only apparent connection is that they all ‘also’ happened in the same year.

The trouble is, when you overdo the ‘also’, you end up with a text that reads like a dull, directionless run-down, rather than a coherent strategic story.

So what’s the remedy?

First the quick-win practical tip: do a Ctrl+F to find every ‘also’ in your text and then try deleting as many as you can. You’ll find most can be scrapped – they’re usually implicit and therefore redundant.

Secondly (and this one takes more effort) – think longer and more creatively about how to group or link disparate items thematically, so your text becomes a compelling story rather than a shopping list.

Six reasons why you need a corporate newsroom

Information has never been harder to manage, especially for companies that need to communicate with a wide range of audiences: employees, customers, NGOs and politicians to name a few.

To cope with this, organisations can benefit from bringing the skills and practices of a newsroom into the heart of their communications. Thinking and acting like a media organisation is a growing trend among larger companies, giving rise to a new breed of corporate newsrooms.

Some of our clients, like Coca-Cola and ING, are already leading the way in this area and, as former journalists, we can see why it makes sense. We also know how it can be done and the benefits it can bring.

What is a corporate newsroom?

To avoid confusion, let’s start with clarifying what it is NOT.

  • It is not a press office
  • Not a group of spokespeople
  • Not about media relations
  • Not a news section on your website
  • Not just about pumping out content to your employees

So, what is it? We define a corporate newsroom as a central team that communicates the organisation’s strategy, using editorial standards, practices, and a journalistic mindset.

Why is a corporate newsroom needed?

  1. It tackles information overload

It’s never been harder for companies to cut through the clutter and noise of our information-saturated world. Professionalising how you tell your story, to internal and external audiences, will help you get heard. Learning tried and tested tricks from the media world, like great storytelling and human-interest angles, is key.

  1. It stops misinformation spreading

This is especially important at times of crisis. In a 24/7 information culture, news travels fast – and that means real news AND fake news. At times like this, misinformation can quickly escalate into a full-fledged crisis. A newsroom culture can ensure you get your story out – for your employees and external audiences – before they hear it anywhere else.

  1. It builds authenticity and transparency

Having a trusted and consistent voice from the company is key. A central newsroom can do this, building a sense of authenticity and transparency and helping you speak with one voice.

  1. It makes you human

One of the most common questions you hear from any journalist about a story is ‘what’s the human angle?’ News organisations know that stories about real people work best. This translates into a corporate setting too – a newsroom culture can help you humanise your organisation, helping your employees and external stakeholders see behind the corporate façade, into the heart and soul of your organisation.

  1. It boosts employee engagement

And when you do get your story out there, accurately, quickly and compellingly, you will be boosting employee engagement, which after all, is the aim of any internal comms team. PR Week recently reported a survey by the Confederation of British Industry which said that with 48% of companies say employee engagement is their key business priority for 2017, so now is the time to think of ways to turbo-charge engagement, and a newsroom approach could be one of the answers.

  1. It clarifies your company’s strategy

If you are still not persuaded about how a corporate newsroom can help, think about that other core task facing any corporate and internal comms team – communicating the company’s strategy.  It’s easier said than done and, frankly, many companies are struggling to do it effectively.

A recent survey says that 82% of CEOs think their employees understand their company’s strategy but only a third of employees agree. Clearly, in many companies, the message is fundamentally failing to get through.

These are just some of the reasons why a corporate newsroom can help you – and why they are on the rise among some of the world’s most communications-savvy companies.

Putting a newsroom structure in place need not be as hard as it sounds, and certainly need not involve new headcount or costs. In many cases, it’s simply a question of adopting a journalistic mindset, thinking more like a media organisation and applying a consistent set of editorial practices to help you tell and target your stories more effectively. We’ll talk about this more in our next blog.


Find out more in a recent webinar on how newsroom culture can boost your corporate comms in a Gorkana webinar given by Stampa directors, James Curtis and Abigail Levene:

Five differences between content marketing and public relations (and one important similarity)

Some people think of content marketing as the hip and trendy cousin of public relations, but there are important differences between the two. And there’s also one key similarity to consider.

Before we begin: content marketing is actually not as new as you might think. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, it’s been around since 1732, when Benjamin Franklin published the first Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business. The modern version of content marketing is now well and truly established.

So how does content marketing compare to PR?

1) Direct versus indirect customer approach

Both content marketing and public relations are all about distributing valuable information. With content marketing, you’re trying to build a direct relationship with your audience. You build trust by providing the quality information your clients need.

Public relations is more about forging an indirect relationship with your audience. You approach the right journalists in the most effective way, so they’ll want to write a story about your organisation, its views, services or employees.

2) Media: owned versus earned

This is a pretty easy one. With content marketing, you publish your content on your own media – a website, newsletter, YouTube channel, podcast, custom magazine or any combination of such channels. By offering your customers the information they really need or actively search for, you’re building a long-term relationship. You are a media owner – hence ‘owned media’.

Public relations ‘earns’ its coverage. Your organisation gains credibility because established newspapers or large news sites are writing about it. It’s the free kudos of third-party endorsement. Basically, you want other people saying you’re doing a great job. That also means you can’t control the message that will eventually be distributed.

3) Broad versus niche message

With PR, you pitch your story – selling the mass media a good reason why they should write about your topic. You have to convince them of the value of your news – it has to serve more than your agenda alone. It has to have wider value and purpose.

As for content marketing, you’re directly focusing on your clients. You give them the useful (and often rather niche) information they’re seeking. In fact, it’s often very individualised copy, for just a small group of people who have a particular question, at each stage of their customer journey – from the awareness of a need to the after-sales service.

The content you produce should address the issues your clients are encountering. So your answers can be highly relevant for existing or potential customers, but uninteresting for a wider audience. In fact, you’re building a dedicated online or print magazine for your customers.

4) Timing of message

For content marketing, it matters less when exactly you publish your blog post or video. That’s because you’re building a long-term relationship with your reader (and the search engines and social media). You’re sharing tips and tricks, or useful information, that have a longer shelf life.

In PR, careful timing is crucial. Your press release has a far greater chance of being covered when it plays into the news of the day. And every minute counts when you’re working to meet the deadline of a journalist.

5) Measuring success

Tracking the success of a PR campaign is mostly done by measuring the number of earned media clippings and impressions. Content marketing, so much of which is digital, tends to be measured more in terms of clicks through to other web pages, how engaged people are with the content, and – ultimately – conversion metrics.

Similarity: journalistic mindset

With oceans of content distributed across multiple channels, the competition for attention has increased hugely. This boosts the importance of delivering valuable and consistent information. You want trustworthy content that stands out and serves a real purpose – it should never just be spam designed to sell.

This is where ajournalistic approachcomes in, using editorial standards, practices and a journalistic mindset. For both PR people and content marketers, it’s essential to find and write the relevant stories for the right channels, and to give the clear and concise information their audience is looking for.