Digital Media Upheaval and the Transformation of Communication

Digital news proliferation, shrinking circulation numbers, information overload and a burst of communication channels: In the new information age media publications are witnessing the most profound transformation they have experienced – ever.

A news universe upside down

The dynamics of this transition are creating an extremely competitive arena for news production and consumption. Journalists are faced with an information environment that is increasingly difficult to handle: a rising news overload, a real-time culture, entertainment-driven consumption, global information access, multimedia reporting, a rapidly expanding set of skills and extreme customization. No question: Unidimensional journalism – reporter attends event, types story, done! – is dead.

Even for the most experienced journalists this creates considerable challenges. The advance of the digital era turns their professional world on its head. More often than they like, they either don´t have the time or the expertise – or both – to edit press releases, PR content and reporters´ stories as thorough as necessary. They feel and often are overwhelmed. In many cases they are not sufficiently prepared for their changing tasks.

Opportunities for brand-related news and stories

In an analysis titled “Overload”, the Columbia Journalism Review describes Journalism´s battle for relevance in an age of too much information with the following words: “The information age is defined by output, we produce far more information than we can possibly manage”. The decisive question for marketing leaders, brand managers, CMOs and their brands amidst this tidal wave of information is this: How can we tell our story, explain our mission and demonstrate our purpose without simply contributing to the omnipresent noise? How can we convey engaging content and a compelling message with greater differentiation that features our brand and gets the necessary attention in an increasingly fragmented consumer audience drowning in a sea of information?

The answer is surprisingly unpretentious: You need to raise the value of the information you present, put it into context and make it sticky by making it shareable, visual and simple. Your news needs to resonate with the audience. It needs to create social noise and it needs to be packaged into digestible chunks. This sounds pretty abstract and theoretical, doesn´t it? But several companies (and even internet platforms) have already started to cater accordingly to this brand new world. Google started its “Panda algorithm” in order to prefer valuable content. The Associated Press launched a Top Stories Desk in order to prioritize stories with deeper, more analytical content highlighting the bigger picture behind the news. More and more publishing houses are launching so-called “content studios”, creating brand storytelling capabilities.

More and more brands are either making good use of these channels or are following in these footsteps in order to publish stories, written, visualized or otherwise, giving their brand more relevance, explain its purpose and bite-sizing them for newsroom-attention. It starts to sink in with a rising number of brand managers that traditional approaches to marketing are not working any more the way they once did. What is needed is a steady stream of brand-related stories that are custom-made for editorial use in social and traditional media. McDonald´s has pioneered this approach. Within only a few years it has evolved into a corporate strategy known as “brand journalism.” Its aim is to run a media-like news division or department which produces multidimensional stories around the brand and distributes them through its own channels to the media and directly to its customers and consumers. In 2014, the Advertising Age described this “content stream approach”: “With the new “I’m lovin’ it” campaign, McDonald’s rejected the traditional marketing and advertising approaches that focused on a single, repetitive message in favor of a “content stream approach,” involving multi-dimensional messages via multiple channels to multiple audiences. McDonald’s approached communications the same way an editor approaches the creation of a magazine, with its array of different content aimed at a variety of interests — but with a coherent editorial framework.“

Siemens as a pioneer

In Germany, Siemens is one of the corporate pioneers adopting this concept. Siemens went all the way to abolishing departmental walls between marketing, PR and internal as well as external communications and brought their respective staff together as one big newsroom, transforming this part of the company into a real publishing house. The multinational electronics company has created an integrated newsroom located at its headquarter in Munich. Here, employees from all the affected departments are brainstorming, researching, producing and distributing the stories around the Siemens brand as one big team. The whole publishing activity is focused on the best brand topics. The most suitable communication channels are then chosen on a case to case basis: Going online, offline, on platforms like Facebook, publishing videos, audio, press releases, even speeches or briefings for Siemens managers. For the multinational company from Bavaria, departments working all on their own with one entity not knowing what the other one does, is corporate past. Part of the daily routine are professional media activities like editorial meetings, theme planning sessions and distribution strategies.

The growing importance of storytelling is also apparent in the chemicals industry. A good example of how to intensify B2B communication are the „Pushing Boundaries“ reports by Covestro, a world-leading manufacturer of high-tech polymer materials for key industries. Their stories illuminate how the company wants to make the world a better place with innovative products. Covestro partly transformed its Global Corporate Website into a magazine, featuring useful and relevant stories around its mission to question conventional processes and ways of thinking and developing ground-breaking product innovations by constantly pushing boundaries. On its website Covestro features – among other examples – “Solar Impulse”, a zero-fuel flight around the world, highlighting how the journey to a sustainable future is only now beginning. It also runs a story on “CO2 as a raw material” describing a new job for the climate killer and explaining “what that has to do with your bed”.