Thomas Scott is a Brand Journalist who works in the franchise niche market. Find out how he got his start and how he grew his brand journalism company to more than a million dollars in revenue.
Thomas Scott is one of the leading franchise lead-generation specialists in the franchise industry and has a history of helping brands create breakthrough expansion. Thomas is an expert in creating franchise websites, blogging, SEO, social media and PR campaigns designed to generate fully engaged franchise candidates and recruit qualified franchisees through the use of brand journalism and corporate storytelling. Thomas is also an experienced franchise executive who has held VP positions in development, operations, and marketing. Before becoming a franchiser, Thomas was a successful franchisee, he brings all his experience to help generate leads. Thomas began his career as a journalist and was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His work was published in numerous national newspapers and magazines, including USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle magazine.
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Think Like A Journalist Quote
“Photo is a small voice, at best, but sometimes–just sometimes–one photograph or a group of them can lure our senses into awareness.” ~W. Eugene Smith, best known for his photographs of World War II.
Write to the headline. Make it relevant and interesting so it earns the read and click.
Thomas left the newspaper business in 2001. He got into the franchise industry with a homestaging business. Using brand journalism, Thomas successfully grew the company and brand to 85 locations. Hear how he his franchise eventually helped him launch his current brand journalism agency.
When It Didn’t Work!
Listen and find out how a mattress company taught Thomas a lesson about branding.
Brand Journalism Advice
- Headlines need to have information that people are searching for.
- Headlines need to have a call-to-action–it needs to make people want to click them.
- Long-form articles are a great format to reach target audience.
- Tell more complete stories instead of just using bullet points. Bullet-point articles, shorten the length of time users spend on Websites.
- Three Types Of Website Visitors: Visitors, Leads, Buyers. Listen to the podcast to find out how much time each of these groups spends on a Website.
- Package your content on your Website: include long-form article, two photos, possibly an infographic or video.
Book, Documentary, Podcast, Internet Channel
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The Brand Journalism Advantage. The podcast that teaches the power of storytelling to increase business by attracting, engaging, and influencing consumers.
Now it’s time to think like a journalist with your host, Brand Journalist Phoebe Chongchua.
Phoebe: Hello Brand Journalism community. I’m Phoebe Chongchua. Thanks for tuning into the Brand Journalism Advantage podcast. Here we go with the inside scoop on today’s show, Thomas Scott.
Thomas is a leading franchise lead generation expert and he has a history of helping brands create breakthrough expansion. Thomas’s team creates franchise websites, blogging, SEO, social media and PR campaigns, all designed to generate fully engaged franchise candidates and recruit qualified franchisees through the use of brand journalism and corporate storytelling. Thomas is also an experienced franchise executive who has held VP positions in development, operations and marketing. Before becoming a franchisor, Thomas was a successful franchisee. He brings all that experience to help generate leads.
Thomas began his career as a journalist and was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His work was published in numerous national newspapers and magazines, including USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle Magazine.
Welcome Thomas Scott. How are you this morning?
Thomas: Doing great. Thanks for having me.
Phoebe: To get us started we’re going to move right into our Think Like a Journalist quote. It goes like this, Thomas. “Photo is a small voice at best, but sometimes, just sometimes, one photograph, or a group of them, can lure our senses into awareness.”
I really just love that. That comes from W. Eugene Smith, who is best known for his hard hitting photographs of World War II.
Thomas: That’s excellent. My favorite photojournalist, too. I’m glad you picked that particular quote. It’s one of my favorites.
Phoebe: I found you on Pinterest. What drew me to you were some of the photographs and some of the overlays that you were doing, words over some of the photos, and I think we’ve even quoted you on the Brand Journalism Podcast in past episodes.
I’m really excited to hear what you have to say about brand journalism, to hear what you’re going to tell us about photojournalism. We haven’t talked a lot about that, but obviously there’s a lot of stories being told in the visual space. Both with photos, and like I do, with video journalism.
Thomas: That’s true. It’s very much a package-driven approach. Just like if you were working in a big newsroom in a large newspaper, and you were planning the budget out for the next day’s edition, you would package items together. Infographics, photographs, collections of photographs, headlines and bodies of text — in other words, the stories themselves.
The overall package is what really influences people. If you’re going to be a brand journalist today, and you’re going to assemble and report news about a brand that’s relevant to its audience that it’s trying to engage, you have to think the same way.
It’s really still about packaging. The visual elements of a story are often overlooked by brand journalists who are deep, deep in the writing. They’re used to writing and reporting in the text space. It’s really critical that that’s the main component, but you also can easily overlook things like a large infographic, or a collection of pictures that can communicate on a much deeper level.
People relate to imagery almost on an unconscious level. It makes things sticky and more interesting. That’s the power of a well-told story, is you don’t realize you’re being sold to. It’s just interesting.
Phoebe: Right. I always like to say that photographs and videos make people click-happy. It just engages them from the start.
I know you have a great success tip about writing and getting your work seen, so take it away, Thomas.
Thomas: Oh, yeah. We employ quite a few business writers on our staff. If you work with us, one of the things you hear a lot is, “You have to write to the headline.” My firm belief is that the overwhelming majority of brand journalism today takes place online. That’s where you interact with people, on the search engines, through paid campaigns, through email campaigns, through websites and social media sites. That all takes place digitally.
When we say, “write to the headline,” we mean write your headline first and make sure it’s relevant and interesting, and create the reason for somebody to read. The headline is what earns the read. That’s counterintuitive for a lot of journalists, who are used to writing the story and then somebody else writes the headline after the fact.
That strategy doesn’t work very well online, and you can minimize your results if you’re not careful.
Phoebe: That’s such a great success tip. Do you have a little bit more depth to that, as far as how can you create a quality headline? Because you’re absolutely right. A lot of journalists aren’t used to doing that. It’s passed off to someone else. They write the story, and it might be this amazing story, but if it’s not attracting people by the first words, that headline, then the whole thing is for naught.
Thomas: That’s right. A headline has to do two specific things really, really well or you don’t earn the read. The piece, no matter how well-written the piece is, how good the video is, how well it’s packaged together with photographs and infographics, if it doesn’t do these two things you misfire.
The first is, it has to be relevant. When we say relevant in the brand journalism world, we mean semantically relevant. When you’re doing online work, everything is search-related. The way the search engine works, billions of people a day use search engines to ask questions and find answers.
The headline plays a pivotal role, and the language has to semantically relate to the language people are using when they’re asking questions. One of the real struggles I’ve seen when I hire writers is they actually have to become SEO people to an extent, because really good SEO today is really just brand journalism done on a level that people can relate to.
If you’re going to buy a mattress, or get a quote for insurance, or buy a business or a house, there’s a bunch of questions that you’ll ask. You’ll use a search engine to ask those questions typically, like, “How much does it cost?” “What do users think of it?” “Are there any reviews about such and such a product?”
Mapping out all of those questions, that’s one of our strategies in the work that we do. Writing headlines that relate to that language, that’s how you unlock hidden interest. It’s a really strategic thing that you have to do, but if you’ve worked in a TV studio as a reporter, or a newspaper as a journalist, or even a magazine writer, chances are you’ve never been trained to think like that.
That’s one of the really difficult, missing pieces for people to become effective brand journalists, is understanding keywords and keyword research, and how the keyword research overlaps with the buyer behavior or engagement level of your audience.
That sounds technical, but if you simplify it to what specific questions people are asking, that needs to be in your headline.
The second part is that it has to have a call to action. We call it a knowledge gap, where what you write in your headline has to create a compelling and interesting reason for you to want to read more, or click.
That’s also something that people miss. The headline writing in a newspaper, even a magazine, is much, much different than the structure of a headline online. There are no calls to action in a newspaper. It’s just kind of top-down, informative headlines, or sometimes pithy and catchy headlines, but they don’t really create the call to action that you would if you were doing a Google search for why you should buy a particular mattress. Does that make sense?
Phoebe: It absolutely does. I once heard someone say that clever doesn’t count either.
Thomas: Clever doesn’t count. Clever’s bad actually. That often works against you.
Phoebe: Right, right. Sometimes journalists, as creative as we are, we can hurt ourselves. If you’re being too clever, it just doesn’t really help you online, especially when you’re doing that in the headline.
That’s great. Be relevant, and have that call to action. Getting the readers or the viewers to want to read more, want to click it, want to go a little deeper, and maybe even ask some more questions of the brand itself.
Thomas, tell me about your career. I’m fascinated how you got into this. I’m really interested in the audience that you’re targeting. We haven’t had anyone on the show as a guest talking about franchises. I think it’s such a great niche, so tell me a little bit more about it.
Thomas: It’s a great niche. I’m not sure I want to tell everybody about it.
I went to journalism school at Loyola University in New Orleans. It’s a great journalism program. Spent about 15 years working for the New Orleans Times Picayune, which is a large market newspaper, as a photojournalist. I wrote quite often.
In 2001, right before September 11, I left the newspaper industry. If you had been in that industry for any period of time, it was really clear what was going to happen in the next five or 10 years. It was a slow, gradual decline. I just am a firm believer, as an entrepreneurial person, it’s always bad to stick around and wait for the axe to fall. It’s always better to design your own exit and create something.
That worked out really well. That translated into getting out of journalism and into the franchise industry. Through one of life’s weird quirks, I ended up owning a Showhomes home staging franchise where we bring furniture into houses, which in itself is a really interesting, creative industry.
As part of a franchise system, I got a partner together and we bought the franchise company and grew it. For the next seven years I worked as a franchise executive in that creative industry, home staging. We staged 20,000 or 30,000 homes over that period of time and it was a really fascinating thing to do.
As we grew that business, a lot of our connections with our customers, and the way we built our brand awareness in the real estate industry (because it grew to 85 locations and was a good, sizable company) was through blogging, a little bit of PR and some strategic online writing for website copy.
I began telling our story about how you stage homes, and the before and afters, and the statistics around why that’s beneficial. We created quite a following for that particular brand — this would have been 2005, 2006, 2007 — when it wasn’t called brand journalism. It was called blogging, maybe social media. People didn’t really know how to categorize it. What it was was a non-marketing way of communicating with your base. A very conversational, straight-up tone that was informative, helpful and intuitive to the way we thought people wanted to buy staging services.
That translated into quite a bit of growth for the business on the consumer side and quite a bit of growth on the franchise development side. Franchise companies are different than corporate-run companies in that they have a core business.
Let’s say you’re Subway, where you operate sandwich shops, all the commissary, and all the cost of goods, and all the HR, and all that stuff. On the other side of the company, you have a division called franchise development where they find and recruit franchise owners and make investments and open stores.
If you want to become a McDonald’s franchisee, you buy a McDonald’s franchise. Franchising is a very large industry, with 3,000 or 4,000 brands growing at any time. It’s almost a double-digit chunk of the gross national product now. It’s a very insulated industry, though. If you don’t know the jargon, and you don’t understand the legal relationship and how it works, it’s very difficult to break into.
Because I was a franchisor, there was a tremendous opportunity to replicate what we had done to build our own company. We broke off at the end of 2009 and began doing straight-up brand journalism, first as a blogging service. That was, “How can we help brands communicate in the way that a marketing person can’t?” — tell great stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end that people can relate to, so that they trust the companies and are more knowledgeable about what they do.
That quickly morphed into business development, which is where we work mostly now. People really struggle to find owners and spend an inordinate amount of marketing money on it, so it was a nice niche for us to get into and specialize.
If you’re going to be a brand journalist, I would say find one thing and be really, really knowledgeable and expert on that one thing. Whether it’s working with insurance agents, or maybe a specific type of attorney or a certain type of restaurant. Don’t be a generalist. The more specific you are to a specific type of work, the more successful you’ll be.
The market celebrates specialists and quickly forgets generalists. We’ve grown from a small, one-person shop to a staff of 12 writers. We’ll do well over a million dollars in revenue this year just on brand journalism.
It’s a great business. It’s been a lot of fun to grow.
Phoebe: Yeah. You know, that’s just an amazing story because you started off in journalism, you moved out of it just in time. You got into a home-staging franchise, which has a lot of stories to tell. That’s a fascinating space.
You grew it to 85 locations and then turned into experts at helping the very businesses that you were running. That’s always good stuff when you can show that.
Tell me about a time, maybe, when you were struggling and something didn’t work out like you wanted it to. Maybe you needed to find a little correction to find direction.
Thomas: Sure. We had a client that was a franchise company that we were doing social media services, blogging, a little bit of press release writing.
It was a mattress manufacturer based in Wisconsin called Verlo Mattresses. If you live in Upper Midwest you would know that brand. They’re interesting.
You go into one of their showrooms, they figure out what kind of sleep style you have, or if your partner has a different sleep style how the two of you share a bed together. How tall you are, what your weight is, all kind of metrics around what kind of mattress you need to sleep comfortably.
Then they build you a custom mattress. In 24 hours they build a mattress made just for you based on whatever your needs are, with whatever components you need to have. It’s not terribly much more expensive than an off-the-shelf mattress from a department store or a mattress store, but it’s a much higher-quality, custom product.
They were struggling a little bit. They thought, “Well, maybe if we can get our story out, through traditional PR means, or maybe a blog, we know we can help people connect a little better.”
How long do you think the average person keeps a mattress? If you had to take a wild guess?
Phoebe: Wow. 10 years?
Thomas: The average lifespan is eight years, sometimes 10. How long do you think it takes somebody, when they get to the end of the lifespan and realize the mattress is beginning to wear out, to actually buy another mattress?
Phoebe: A year.
Thomas: It takes eight years. A staggering eight years.
Thomas: If you’re a mattress retailer, it is a horrifying number. It’s the kiss of death. The Mattress Association did this really interesting focus groups, and they figured out there were three reasons people didn’t buy mattresses.
The first is when you go to buy a mattress, there’s a dizzying array of choices, and they all look alike. It’s very hard to tell a $4,000 mattress from a $300 mattress. They’re all big upholstered rectangles that sit on a bed frame. People were frustrated because they couldn’t get the specifics of the differences in the brands, and it was a very confusing process. If you’ve ever bought one, you know what I’m talking about.
The second thing they said was the mattress salespeople have a reputation for being super-sleazy and pushy, generally just not trustworthy individuals. You know. If you’ve ever bought a mattress, mattress salespeople, who are mostly commission-based, come off as a little pushy.
The third reason was that the whole process of buying a mattress made people really uncomfortable. You have to go into a public space, take your shoes off and lie down in a vulnerable position with this pushy salesperson leaning over you asking you questions.
The three of those things really kept people from buying a mattress,even when they were ready to buy, had the money and needed a mattress. So we started working with this particular company to try and nip at that, and traditional PR in the marketing sense didn’t work very well.
We’d get just occasional stuff, but we found people were so jaded about the mattress industry it was very hard to get pickup and play, or engagement, on social media channels. You only buy one mattress every 10, 15 or 20 years. It’s not the kind of thing that you’re thinking about on your Facebook feed.
Thomas: It’s a really weird thing. We unlocked some performance by figuring out that when people do mattress shopping, they’re often trying to get competitive data, or comparative data, for different brands.
We got down to very specific models for some of the common masters. I want to understand how a Verlo compares to a Sleep Number, or how a Verlo mattress compares to Elite, or Serta, or Simmons or one of those types of mattresses.
When we did that we were able to establish a group of customers who had once had the other type of mattress and bought a Verlow. We started doing some traditional reporting. “Tell us about the old mattress you had. How long did you have it? When did it start to go bad? What were the problems you had with it? How did you know you needed a new mattress? Then how did you find Verlo? What’s that whole experience been like?”
We let the customers tell their stories in what we would call a long-format blog article, which is maybe 1,200 or 1,500 words, which is much longer than a typical blog article. It’s full of real detail with pictures and video of them talking about the whole swap-over, changing a particular mattress out.
We began doing that regularly over the span of about a year. It was transformative for the brand. Their search results picked way up. People would read those and come in and say, “I was reading this article about ‘I had this particular kind of mattress and it caves in the middle.’ I read that somebody bought this other kind of mattress that you sell.”
They started selling mattresses at a much higher rate, simply because the story was the missing element. That was the thing that had to connect people. As a brand journalist we had to figure that out the hard way, because all the traditional stuff didn’t work very well.
We had to come back and think, “If I was going to buy a mattress, what would my behavior be? What kind of questions would I have? What kind of story could intersect that person in the middle of that buying process and make it easier for them?” It worked.
Phoebe: You know what I love about that is you said that you had to think about, “If I were going to buy a mattress what would my behavior be?” So I would say you need to think like a journalist and act like a consumer.
When you start behaving the way a consumer would behave, and you go out and you start looking online for things, you realize the behavior is different from the way a company originally approaches their marketing. That can be drastically different.
It’s very informative when you start to say, “I’m the consumer. I’m out shopping for the mattress. What are the types of questions I would be asking? What would I want to know?” I can imagine that the long-form article, 1,200 words, 1,500 words, would be very successful because, you’re right, you’re not buying this every other month. You’re buying it every 10 years or so.
You don’t want to get stuck having to get a bad bed and then take it back. That’s a super-big headache.
Thomas: Yes, but there’s a lesson there. One of the things that characterizes the type of writing we do for the brands is we build websites with that article format. They’re very deeply layered with a sequence of articles. Each page is 1,200 to 2,000 words or so.
They’re very long. We never use bullet points. One of my cardinal rules is we don’t bombard people with bullet points because bullet points speed the read up and shorten the time on the site. It’s just like staging a house.
When I was staging houses we would do a lot of design and structure in the house with the way the furniture worked, the colors play together, to slow somebody down. They spent 45 minutes in the house because we knew statistically, after thousands of houses, if I can keep somebody in a house for 45 minutes, then they fall in love with the house and buy the house because they can visualize themselves living there.
If you’re going to be a journalist, you’re going to have to become an expert, not only in SEO, but you also have to start to understand buyer behavior from a common-sense, human perspective. How would you buy something? Not like a VP of marketing. Often they’re so close to the trees they can’t figure that stuff out.
They have a very different approach to thinking about buyer behavior and influence than a brand journalist needs to have.
Phoebe: Absolutely. I’m really interested in this because we hear a lot that the attention spans are getting shorter, that all of the different apps and the mobile devices that we’re carrying around are causing us to no longer read long-form articles. But you’re saying that long-form articles are very important, and not to use bullet points. Let’s go a little deeper on that.
Thomas: I’m the one person that calls B.S. on the whole statement that you just said. I’ll tell you why. There’s a really, really specific and very important reason why. When you’re interested in something, and you have a question, you will consume a much larger amount of information.
The rule there is the piece of information has to relate to you. You would read that mattress article. You would read all 1,500 words, and probably then some, because you have that specific mattress.
It’s true, in general, that people read less and are busier and don’t have the time, but when you can unlock the relevance, then people will spend a tremendous amount of time.
This is on our franchise recruitment website. What would you say the average time on-site for a typical website visitor is? Off the cuff guess?
Phoebe: 30 seconds?
Thomas: 30 seconds, so maybe a minute and a half would be more like an industry rate. On our website they’re big-ticket items. People will invest $100,000 to $500,000 to buy a business. It’s a very expensive proposition for some people.
We find that among franchise buyers, we generally find there’s three types of visitors to any website. There’s people we just call visitors who are not the target audience, who aren’t trying to produce a transaction or buy something, and aren’t really interested. They just end up on the website.
Then there’s the people we call leads, who are people who express interest and spend some amount of time on the website, but really aren’t in the market or intending to buy. They’re just curious, doing some research or kicking tires.
The third group of people, the most important, are the buyers — the people that actually are the target customer, are qualified, the person that that business needs and is trying hard to communicate with.
A visitor will spend on our sites, because they’re long-format, four or five minutes on average, which is a long time. Leads will spend anywhere from 10 to 11 minutes, roughly double the time. The people that actually buy will spend upwards of an hour. 58 minutes to 62 minutes. They’ll read 33 pages filled with average length of 1,200 words.
When we track IP addresses on all the visitors to our website, that’s what we see. That’s the buyer behavior for the group of people that we’re trying to target. They have an immense appetite for very specific information, and if you don’t structure your content that way they just go somewhere else.
If I’m willing to spend an hour reading about mattresses, and Iyou don’t have an hour’s worth of content on your site, you lose me. I go get it somewhere else.
Thomas: That’s going to happen.
Phoebe: Yeah, you’ve got to be that resource. Absolutely. That’s what they’re doing when they’re looking around. I think what happens a lot of times is those brands are failing in that area, so whether they’re visitors, leads or buyers, they’re going to many different places to try to quench their thirst for this information.
Thomas: They do. If you’re a marketing person like a VP of Marketing, I actually like to hate marketing people. I’ve been in lots of arguments with marketing people in the normal course of business.
Phoebe: I hear you.
Thomas: I just don’t get it. They all follow conventional wisdom like the pages need to be short, pages should have bullet points, the average time on the site is defined by Google analytics, the bounce rate. None of that really matters to me.
When I talk to a CEO and we take a client on, we look at what the business goal is. That’s a really important piece of advice for anybody who aspires to be a brand journalist. Get real clarity as to what the actual business goal is.
If the website is designed to generate sales of franchises, then the number of leads, or opt ins, you get from the website is the metric that really matters. That website is there to take a visitor and convert it into somebody that somebody can have a conversation with.
If you’re working for an insurance agent and trying to get people to buy renter’s insurance, which we have done quite a bit in the earlier part of our history, it’s this: How many requests for quotes can you get?
It often comes down to much more of a lead-generation metric and less of an engagement metric. I found that as a journalist, if you can align all of the work that you’re doing around a business metric that matters to the CEO, you can sell it.
We started doing it here, and our leads increased 30% and our sales went up 15%. They’ll never fire you, ever, because you demonstrated very, very clear value. I think that’s one of the things journalists struggle with. They write and write and write and write, and they really don’t have an understanding of how to relate the metrics back to something that somebody at a C level can really understand and feel good about the return on their investment. Does that make sense?
Phoebe: Yeah, that is such a great point. I’m so glad you brought that up. Now let’s take it from the flip side of it.
Tell me a little bit about what the business, or the C-level executive, needs to understand about brand journalism because it still is somewhat of a tough sell.
Thomas: Let’s define C level just because that’s a slangy word. C level is a short term for an executive level officer of a company.
If you’re working for a really small printing company in your town and helping them with a blog, the business owner is the C level person. If you’re working for a small company, it could be the CEO, the COO, or a VP level, Marketing VP, somebody who’s very high up in the chain of command. Generally somebody we would say is a decision maker, the person who’s going to decide: “I really like this person. I think this is worth doing.”
One of the things that I’ve learned the hard way, in our six years of doing this hard core, is you have to express what you’re going to do in terms of the value it creates right off the bat.
You can’t say, “I just want to write journalism because I think it’s better.” You have to say, “I’m going to write grand journalism on your website. I’m going to restructure the copy on your website. We’re going to launch email campaigns and blogs and social media efforts, and maybe some PR in article format. We’re going to do it because we either need to increase leads, we need to increase calls to the call center. We need people to buy more pizzas or widgets or whatever it is.”
You have to have a plan from the very beginning how the work you’re going to do is going to impact that metric. That’s really tough. That requires business skills. If you haven’t been in business, if you went straight from a newsroom, it’s a little bit of a deficit because you’re not going to know how to think that way.
It’s not hard to figure out. You just have to think about, “For us to have growth, what does that mean? The sales are going to go up. What are the things that have to happen to drive sales up? Which ones do I think I could impact with the work I’m doing?”
I’ve just found that people at the C level — maybe they only have a small budget. Part of their budget is add words, pace their expanding, and you’re going to curate landing pages with their articles that somebody in their marketing side is going to launch search campaigns targeting specific landing pages with long articles about something very specific.
You can increase leads from those things. For instance, we work with a little printing company here in Nashville where we’re based. They do a lot of work at conventions. There’s big convention centers here and people come to Nashville fairly often for conventions.
They know that when somebody comes in to a convention they’ll spend more money and they need it quicker. They don’t have to cut their margin down, and they’re really good at that. We build landing pages around all the problems people have with convention printing and trade show printing at very specific hotels in town.
Those aren’t pages that are on the website that you can get to easily. They’re mostly the only way you get there is by clicking on a paid search ad. There’s a article behind the ad. The article is what engages people.That’s pretty easy to demonstrate whether it works or not because you have a marketing antenna strategy to drive traffic to the content.
Phoebe: Yes. It absolutely makes sense. It’s a great way to track it by doing that and putting that content somewhere where you have to click the ad to get to it, then being able to measure that metric. Super important.
Before we close out of this brand journalism and marketing advice section, give me a few tips that the brand journalism community, and business owners, listening can put into place with respect to photographs, because almost everybody today is at a level where they’re a photographer.
They’re carrying around their phones. Whether they’re using DSLR’s or they’re using their mobile device, everybody’s snapping photos and many people are doing it for their business. What are some quick tips that you can give?
Thomas: A couple. Thanks for asking that. The first one would be, think about your package before. When I say package I mean think about the elements that are going to go on the page alongside, and in conjunction with, the piece of content you’re going to offer.
One of our guidelines is we like, if at all possible, to have a video piece with just an embedded YouTube video of some kind. We like an infographic, which we often hire out to graphic designers. A big stat or graphic that’s kind of like the stuff you saw on Pinterest, with sometimes just words and numbers over pictures. That can be an infographic in itself, because the 2 play together.
Then we like to have 2 decent photographs. I like the one larger, one smaller. I like the photographs to be authentic, non-stock photography. I’m absolutely not a fan of using stock photography when you get into brand journalism. It feels inauthentic and works against your writing in many cases.
It’s actually not very hard, even with an iPhone, to get a decent picture. If you don’t know what else to do, take a portrait of the business owner in the shop. That, sometimes, that’s the person they’re going to do business with. That will communicate some really helpful stuff.
We often do pictures of products, or pictures of the retail location if that’s the case, or the restaurant. A picture of the dining room or maybe of the food. Something that relates to what the content is.
If I was writing a story about a mattress review, I’d have the person sitting on their bed, their actual bed that they just bought, that I took with an iPhone. Or I might have a picture of the sales person, in a non threatening way, in the showroom.
Generally think about all those pieces. Just like writing to the headline, you have to plan that out as part of your editorial calendar and not make it an afterthought. That’s one of the mistakes I see people make. They put all this effort into writing an awesome piece. They get back and it’s ready to publish. “Oh, yeah. We got to get some pictures.”
That’s a fail. That almost never works really well. It’s actually not very hard for you to get pictures and visual elements if you think ahead.
Phoebe: Love it Thomas. We move into the Think Like a Journalist Scenario. I know you’re going to love this. You’ve been hired to help an ailing company that’s about to collapse. It’s reputation shot. You have 1 month, a $1,000 budget, a smartphone, and a laptop.
How do you begin to turn this company around?
Thomas: 1 month and $1,000? What does the company do, or does that matter?
Phoebe: Doesn’t matter. You go for it.
Thomas: My typical response would be, if it’s a small company, I probably would write web content and some landing pages and probably, if I have just 30 days, one of the things about organic content is it takes weeks, and sometimes months, to rank.
The way ranking works through visibility with a search engine, is you get visibility first. That takes a while. Then the traffic slowly builds and then you get leads as an afterthought. Sometimes it’s 120 days later, so that wouldn’t be my first go to.
I would tend to do things like landing pages, and do a small paid search campaign around a few very specific search terms. I probably would take the same pages and do promoted Facebook posts, or promoted LinkedIn ads to drive traffic to the article that I wrote.
Basically you have to buy the traffic when you’re at that stage because you have such a limited amount of time. I would just think strategically about “Could I spend $100 on a Facebook promoted post and reach 20,000 people? Could I send an email with the article to the customer base of the company?” You could do a mail chimp that wouldn’t cost much.
Have a $250 paid search campaign going for 30 days. I would see if I could get enough results to keep the ball rolling.
Phoebe: You got it. That is. That’s a fun one to just explore. We know that it takes a while to build this stuff organically, like you were talking about, but there’s such great, great results from it all.
Thomas, what is one piece of technology, video, or multi-media equipment or app that you just can’t live without?
Thomas: I use, if you’re a writer, I use a piece of software that’s a web subscription called semrush.com. It’s a keyword research tool. If you’re trying to map out language, understand volume behind keyword research, it’s very easy to use. You don’t have to be a super smart SEO person to get some value out of it.
It lets you understand how a particular website is optimized. By that I just mean you can understand what are the search terms people are using to get that particular company, and what are all the related key words that people use in their queries.
That, if you’re smart about it, is the key to unlocking relevance. This is a thing that most brand journalists miss the most often. SEMrush. I think it’s even got a free version, but that’s a many time a day thing we use here in the shop.
Phoebe: Expert predictions. The year is 2025. What is your prediction for the future of TV, news media, brand journalism? How does this all affect people and businesses?
Thomas: Well, I think we’re getting more and more seamless. One of the things that we often tell our clients, in the franchise sales space, where you have recruiters who are trying really hard to recruit people, is that they’ve essentially been fired from the first conversation with a customer, or client, or a candidate, or a prospect.
The entire first conversation where you got to meet somebody and explain what you do, and what your elevator pitch is, and why somebody should consider using you now takes place online. You’ve actually been fired from that conversation. You can’t influence it in any other way than through really strategic and thoughtful brand journalism.
I think as we go through the technology spurts, converting to TV, and video, and streaming, the web content devices, there’s just every brand’s going to have it’s own story. It’s going to need to be really careful about how the story is told and unpacked, and understand at any point somebody may or may not intersect the brand and come in touch with some part of its story.
All the pieces relate back to some type of vehicle where you can do business with the brand. That’s more of a convergence kind of idea, but I see those being less siloed and less specific and much more combined and lots more overlapped.
It needs to be consistent on all levels. That should be an awesome thing for out of work journalists because the skill that you need the most to make all of that work is simply good communications and writing skills. The ability to write honestly, in a conversational tone, with a lot of upfront substance, and with as little bias as possible.
That’s what people are looking for.
Phoebe: Yeah, and that communication is so vital as we move forward in this world of brand journalism for businesses, and journalists who are looking to work in this space, super important, along with the transparency, which usually comes up somewhere in the Brand Journalism Advantage Podcast.
Oh, Thomas, thanks so much. I’ve really loved all of your tips and information and listening to what you’re doing in the niche market that you’re working in. Exciting stuff. I look forward to following your career.