Monster rules for building a brand newsroom

In Trends by Peter Gearin

The managing editor of the large US careers website has sage advice for Australian marketers looking to build a successful content hub.

In early 2015, Margaret Magnarelli would not have seen herself as a future evangelist for brand newsrooms. That’s when she was executive editor at Money magazine – the prestigious US personal finance magazine and website first published in 1972. Now she’s managing editor of giant American careers site Monster, spruiking about the virtues of using journalism skills to enhance branded content.

Magnarelli isn’t seen as a “monster” for crossing to the “dark side” – the world of content marketing. Not even by her former colleagues at Time Warner. In fact, there’s even a case for thinking that she might actually believe her career change suits her. She was named a finalist as 2016 Content Marketer of the Year, after all.

At Content Marketing World in Cleveland in September, Magnarelli spoke of what she has learnt since taking the content reins at Monster. In particular, she talked about the benefits gained by brands – regardless of size or industry – that take the leap of faith and set up newsroom-style content centres.

“Brand newsrooms can supercharge your content KPIs,” she said. “[At Monster], in the year to 2016, we increased pageviews by 65 per cent, increased unique visitors by 20 per cent and increased the job searches on the site by 28 per cent.”

Monster has a team of seven former journalists who produce about 20 pieces of content per week*, including articles, videos and graphics.

“It’s easier to turn a journalist into a content marketer than it is to turn a content marketer into a journalist.”Margaret Magnarelli

She said it’s an exciting time to be a brand publisher. “We’re in a position where we can get our information out in the same places that traditional publishers can,” she says. “[These days] people trust a brand almost as much as they trust a publication. The most fun part is you can tell really cool stories, especially stories that aren’t being told.”

With her journalism and content marketing experience, Magnarelli is in a unique position to offer advice for marketers looking to set up their own brand newsroom. Here are her keys to start-up success.

Assemble the right team

Magnarelli said a basic brand newsroom has five key roles: supervising editor, designer/photo editor, news writer, social media producer and video producer. “The supervising editor sets the content direction, content standards and the ideal calls to action. I wouldn’t have said six months ago that you’d need a video producer but I definitely think you need one now.”

She said it’s important to use professionals with storytelling skills and the ability to source information correctly. “It’s easier to turn a journalist into a content marketer than it is to turn a content marketer into a journalist.”

If you have the budget to employ just one content generator, she said, it would be a news writer. “A lot of brand journalism is done by freelancers, but if you’re going to cover news content, you want somebody who can do it quickly. It’s very difficult to find a freelancer you can call up and say ‘I need you to do this story in two hours’. I have somebody on staff who can do that. And when that story’s done, he can do two other stories on that day. [Staffers] also get to know the brand very well.”

She said she has nothing against content agencies but using them is the most expensive option. “The freelancers I used at Money were really experienced journalists, and we were paying them US$300-700 a post. You can get high quality journalists to write for you and not pay a ridiculous amount for it.”

The cheapest way to find content is to beg, borrow and steal, and try to forge alliances within the business. “Our social media team want to write funny content – gif posts and quizzes – because it helps with social sharing, and I want funny content to be what we do, too.” You may also find, she said, PR people or subject-matter experts who are excellent sources of content. “Even if they can’t write, you could ghostwrite for them.”

Know what you’re doing

“I speak of my team as 80 per cent journalists and 20 per cent content marketers,” Magnarelli said. “We take the tools of journalism but we still have to have a call to action. We’re making decisions that are based on brand, [ones] that I hope a newspaper or magazine today wouldn’t be doing. For instance, we won’t cover layoffs. Even though that’s news, I don’t want us to get into something negative that reflects badly on our industry. It isn’t of service to our job seeker either.”

Other than understanding broader company goals and working out the right topics to suit an audience, Magnarelli stressed the importance of thinking like a publisher and a marketer. “To some extent, I like the idea of focusing on pageviews and visitors,” she said. “I know there is some distaste for this in content marketing, but I think it’s the first step to understanding if somebody is engaging with the brand. But I think you need to think beyond that to the conversions aspect. We need to think about how we’re going to build those conversions.”

Establish a content plan

Magnarelli said the Monster team generates original news and evergreen content, and keeps on top of what is happening in the careers space. It likes to cover stories that others aren’t, such as those based on academic studies. Having news on your site makes you look current, she said. It makes you look like you’re able to address your customers’ needs.

Monster is also happy to report on what news sites have covered in the employment field. “Brands are sometimes afraid of reporting from other sources but it’s something we embrace,” she said. “We do a certain amount of our own reporting and a certain amount of aggregation but in this case the work is done for us. We can cite the Wall Street Journal, which is a trusted source, and add our own level of information to it.”

Monster also generates a lot of material in-house. “We find that our brand newsroom powers our PR engine, to a certain extent,” she said. “My team is pulling data from our customer insights team that we can deploy in stories. That data is often used to go out in press releases and earned media.”

Know your ideal channels

The content the Monster brand newsroom creates is distributed via its own website as well as through email, PR, social media, native advertising and syndicated services. Magnarelli believes it’s important for Monster to diversify its distribution channels because this gives the brand an opportunity to speak to as broad an audience as possible.

“If you’re going to do this brand newsroom thing, you’ve got to make it a daily habit.”Margaret Magnarelli

She also believes in making friends with people within the organisation who can help you get the content in front of your preferred audience. “I think it’s really important to build relationships with all the marketing stakeholders who can distribute your content,” she said. “We’ve done a really good job of that. They have been our allies and have helped us get our word out. It’s really worth getting across those silos to get stuff done.”

Then there’s the material produced by Monster that is published by others. “Monster has syndication partnerships with Fortune, Fast Company … and about 800 newspapers,” she said. “We share our content for free with them. It’s basically free native advertising.”

Understand how often to publish

“If you’re going to do this brand newsroom thing, you’ve got to make it a daily habit,” Magnarelli said. “You’ve got to do it as often as you can. In my mind it’s at least once weekly. You want to build a consistency and expectation from your audiences that this is what you do.”

She said if the plan for a brand newsroom is to break news, well, you’ve got to be fast. Nothing is older than old news. “The faster you can get on the news, the better,” she said. “When employment results are released at 8.30am on Friday, I know we need to get the story up by 10am. That’s because I know my former employers at Money will have their report up at 10 o’clock. I’m holding my team to the same standards.”

She said it was also important to really know your audience. “I was completely surprised to find that people do their job searching from 9am to 1pm, Monday through Wednesday,” she said. “We publish a lot of out job-search content then because we know the job seeker is [on the site] then.”

Figure out why it’s important

“My goals are to build brand awareness but also to build seeker conversions,” Magnarelli said. “They are the ones looking for job ads, applying for jobs, registering for Monster and getting job alerts. Ultimately, if we get both of those things, it should ladder up to company revenue.

“That means if we bring the seekers in, if we make enough people aware of our brand, and if they take action based on our content, it means the companies want to be on our site. And it’s the companies that provide the funding for our brand. We need the recruiters to be advertising on Monster and they want to be where the job seekers are.”

She makes starting a brand newsroom from scratch sound so simple.

* Note: An earlier version said the Monster team produced 20 pieces per day.

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