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Ragan Content Summit Recap: Lessons From USA Today Network, Duke University, Moe’s Southwest Grill and GE Reports

June 1, 2018

Ragan held its Content Summit for Corporate Communicators on April 25–27 at the IBM Client Center in New York City.

Here are some highlights from the event:

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USA Today Network on Reinventing Your Brand

“Add something to the story that nobody else can,” said Amber Allman, vice president of corporate communications and events, Gannett | USA Today Network. “Create specific content for your audience and for each platform. Don’t just replicate; find a differentiator. What are you an expert at?”

In an effort to reinvent their brand, Allman and her team were faced with these challenges: making sure that the Gannett name was well known, that there was a cohesive story, that the brand was relevant and that communications efforts were proactive.

To create outstanding content and reinvent your brand, like the USA Today Network did, follow these six steps, Allman said.

  1. Prioritize. Share key messages with key audiences.
  2. Have a purpose. Decide what you want to be known for, create passion for the stakeholders involved and align your message.
  3. Craft your story. Be your own reporter, create content for your audiences, make messages appropriate for various platforms, find your differentiators and humanize your content.
  4. Legitimize. Understand that data is king, have more than one source and ensure that you’re being consistent across the company.
  5. Be proactive. Do not let others dictate your brand’s story.
  6. Amplify. Saying something one time and on one platform is not enough; use your brand ambassadors.

Duke's Publications Enhance Internal Communications and Content Via Storytelling

“People want to learn about people, not programs,” said Leanora Minai, communications director, Duke University’s Office of Communications Services.

“You must make internal communications a priority. Use a multichannel approach and a journalistic approach to storytelling — people want real stories. Make sure that your content is compelling; if so, then people will pick it up and want to read it.”

Minai and her editorial team decided to offer “news you can use” to 38,000 employees in order to boost readership of their publications across print and digital platforms. They generated story ideas, researched, reported and gathered sensory details, as well as conducted interviews and captured multimedia components. Then after writing, structuring and editing the story, they continued to post, share and repurpose the content.

She provided several pointers on how to move beyond boilerplate announcements and frame narratives that bring your stories to life:

  • Don’t overload your audience with messages.
  • Remember that print still lives, so don’t overlook it.
  • Dive into data, but back it up and make it compelling.
  • Use lists and how-to pieces; readers love them.
  • Inspire and humanize with personal stories.
  • Keep content light and make it social.  

Finding Your Brand Voice With Moe’s Southwest Grill

“Channel your message in a specific brand voice for internal and external audiences. Talk with your employees and customers, not at them," said Victoria Nielsen, senior social media manager, Focus Brands, who works with Moe’s Southwest Grill. “At Moe’s, we make sure that our brand personality is woven into all that we do. Authenticity is key.”

She noted that irreverence and offbeat humor are important to the voice and message delivery of the Moe’s brand. And, she said, the restaurant chain’s name is an acronym for “Musicians, Outlaws and Entertainers,” which is reflected in the music-themed artwork and pop-culture references in menu items.

As 63 percent of Generation Z wants to be talked to in a real, personal voice, don’t be afraid to add that human touch, she said. SproutSocial also reports that consumers are looking for brand behavior on social media that is honest, friendly, helpful and funny.

“So capture your audience’s passion and positivity,” Nielsen said. “It matters how you talk to your audience — loyal customers can become influencers. Find out what audiences care about.” 

The words you choose are very important. Be very particular about your tone and language. There are two main components of a brand voice: language and tone, she said. Tone is how we want our brand to appear to others (friendly and optimistic). Language involves the words we choose to describe that tone.

So talk like your consumers talk and talk like your employees talk, she said, noting to keep your voice and tone consistent across all mediums.

“Employees and consumers need to be able to speak your purpose, vision and values back to you. It’s the essence of the brand that makes you who you are. Keep adding to — and growing — your strategy,” Nielsen said. “If you don’t know what your brand stands for, then you’ll never find your brand voice.”


GE Reports on Powering Your Corporate Content

“The story leads everything and is the foundation of all that we do,” said Tom Kellner, editor-in-chief, GE Reports.

Kellner spoke about how powerful journalism and compelling content can boost media-relations efforts and increase ROI. He also noted that the window of time that people set aside to read is growing smaller each day, so take this to heart when creating your content.

GE Reports launched in 2008 as a reaction to the financial crisis and was used as a tool for telling stories directly to GE employees and investors. The company’s newsroom has now grown into an award-winning digital magazine with thousands of monthly readers.

Brand journalism done well will keep people coming back for more, Kellner said. “When telling stories, you must strive for relevance and to be compelling.”

He said to think like a reporter and think about a “culture of content,” and that GE has trained its employees to do this. “We hold story calls, and pick only the strongest pieces to run. Why? Only the best-told stories connect with audiences.

“Once you get your story, try to break it down into different pieces that can travel to many different places [on social and beyond],” he said. “We’re all digital brands now — we must think beyond one main print story” to reach audiences wherever they are.

Help your stakeholders get what they need on whatever platform they prefer, Kellner said, adding that GE is active on Snapchat, Periscope, SoundCloud, YouTube and Facebook.

Journalists are hungry for a story, so remember to have bias for action, passion versus purpose and a focus on quality, Kellner added.

“Be a facilitator for stories that people care about, and you’ll hook audiences’ attention at the very beginning.”

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

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