7 questions you need to answer before you launch a marketing newsroom
The internet begat social media, which begat content. Now we’re all trying to ‘feed the beast’ as the world hungers for things to look at on their screens and brands long to be providers of those things.
This ‘opportunity’ has led to a variety of new approaches to digitally-enabled, socially-focussed, always-on, creatively-driven content production, distribution and monitoring models, most of which attach themselves to the handle of ‘Newsroom’.
Before you build yours (and you should probably be investigating it, at a minimum), ask yourself these 7 fundamental questions:
1. What’s the point?
No, seriously, why are you doing this? Is there a higher purpose to your newsroom beyond the nagging feeling that everyone else seems to have one. And by ‘higher purpose’, I mean business objective. Do you intend to generate revenue? Identify sales leads? Retain talent? Land new business? If you have more than one, make a prioritised list. Be clear on this point and a lot of the decisions that come afterwards will almost make themselves.
2. Who are your anchor tenants?
This is a good one to get straight very early on, particularly if you are an agency of some sort. Look for existing client relationships or scopes that would provide a couple of sets of ‘real-world user requirements’ to design against.
I recommend choosing two clients at polar opposites of the scale (no matter which scale you are looking at), as it immediately begins to stretch the operational model, giving you a design with sufficient flexibility to handle the requirements of almost any other client, either current or desired.
A note to agencies: the danger in designing a newsroom for a single client is that you do the work and assume the risk of proving the model. If the design is successful, your client may elect to move the model (and associated revenues) in-house.
A note to clients: read that last sentence in reverse to discover how get your newsroom designed for free.
3. Have you got the talent?
Not you, personally (I’m sure you’re just amazing), but your team. Responsive, agile, cost-effective digital content requires responsive, agile, cost-effective digital content people. You may have these people already, but it’s very likely they’ve been blunted by calcified job descriptions and arthritic org structures.
Large organisations tend to reward people for displaying ‘T-shaped’ skill sets (very, very good at one or two specialist skills), whereas lean, hungry Newsrooms need lots of ‘u-shaped people’ (pretty good at a whole bunch of different skills). Discover what shape your people truly want to operate within (I recommend a simple talent X-ray program) and create an environment where boundary riders are more than merely tolerated.
4. Do your friends make you look bad?
I actually mean: do you partner with people who are better at certain things than you are? You do? Good. That’s how it’s got to be.
Be prepared to build a network of creative partners that can get you access to specialist writers, niche audiences, lightning-fast production, smart analytics, on-the-ground photographers, and god-knows-what-else you’re going to need (if only for a weekend) to cover whatever else your audience is interested in (before they get distracted and move on to the next thing).
5. How much do you love org charts?
If the answer is ‘A lot’, you might struggle with the more free-wheeling nature of the newsroom environment. I tend to recommend assigning ‘outputs and outcomes’ to chairs, and then work at filling those chairs as efficiently as possible, every single day. If you’re in the chair that is all about distributing and publishing, for example, then that’s what you’ll be responsible for. If it sounds like it could quickly devolve into an undisciplined scrum, you’re right. Which is why I often recommend one role that has no chair: The Ref.
6. How big is your tool?
Now, I don’t know what you were thinking of with that subheading but I’m referring to the digital infrastructure you’re going to need to make your life slightly less difficult than its about to become. Nobody has really built the definitive Newsroom OS just yet, but an awful lot of people are giving it a red hot go.
Understandably, the tools available now tend to reflect their heritage and tend to major in one particular area, but they can be roughly split into two primary categories: the major infrastructure players (Adobe, Salesforce etc) and the new crop of web-based tools (Hootsuite, Hubspot, Curalate, Sprout Social et al). My advice is always to start with something free-ish and web-based, then try to outgrow it as quickly as possible. You’ll generally go through 3 or 4 iterations and installations before you settle on the mix that’s right for you.
7. Can you feel the beat?
If you just checked your headphones, ur doin’ it wrong. Just as a journalist has a ‘beat’ such as crime, entertainment or sport, so to a brand needs an area of interest that they want to cover and that they can legitimately claim some interest. A soft drink wanting to cover renewable energy, for example, doesn’t make much sense. The same brand wanting to cover music festivals, by contrast, probably does.
A beat is an incredibly useful ‘north star’ for a newsroom operation, but remember: a brand’s own business or product cannot be its beat. If a brand doesn’t (or won’t), have a beat, that’s okay. It just means they don’t really need a Newsroom. They need an agency. And they probably already have one, or more, of those.
All cynicism aside, I believe the emergence of the Newsroom model represents an incredibly exciting time to be in marketing and communications. It offers a legitimate canvas for experimentation and creativity, not only in terms of the product, but also in terms of the organisational approaches and design thinking used to get there. In agency land, at least, it’s well overdue.
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