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The Brand Newsroom: Deploying Content to Draw Audience, Drive Engagement

By Alan Brew

To hear Jason Bartlett tell it, focusing on “content” as opposed to traditional marketing is important to driving brand engagement—especially with younger audiences. Until recently VP of Global Digital Marketing at Xerox, Bartlett was responsible for company-wide digital presence across multiple platforms—a bustling ecosystem managed like a newsroom. Rather than using social media to push out an endless stream of company-centric communiqués, he advocates for a brand-as-publisher model aimed at drawing audiences in by providing information and insights—in his words, “contextually relevant assets” and “touch points”—that customers and prospects will find useful and informative. Bartlett joined Xerox in an advertising and media capacity in 2005 after six years of affiliation with Xerox as an account manager at Young & Rubicam. Before announcing his departure from Xerox to become Vice President, Digital Marketing & eCommerce at PitneyBowes, he spoke with BrandingBusiness Founding Partner Alan Brew about the newsroom paradigm, its staffing requirements and how to reposition a brand by marrying social media and timely, strategically curated content.

Brew: Everybody in the business world knows that Xerox is undergoing quite a radical transformation. Today, Xerox describes itself as the world’s leading enterprise for business processes and document management. Basically, as I understand that, it’s back-office-function outsourcing.

Bartlett: We are going through an incredibly exciting transformation as we evolve into being a leader in a global business-services arena. Our role in marketing is to change the perception of Xerox today. We are known as the “copier company.” While we’re really proud of our heritage and long-standing approach to innovation around office equipment, and technology more broadly, we’re much more than that today.

We’re a leader in transportation. We’re a leader in customer care and healthcare, financial services and more. These are all outsourced offerings that allow us to help our customers simplify the way work gets done and really focus on their core offerings. These are behind-the-scenes, back-office functions that we’re supporting.

It takes time to change perceptions of a brand that’s been around for a long time and is known for one thing. What’s really exciting is the function that marketing, and specifically content and social, plays in the broader scheme of things.

Brew: The company has changed how it engages audiences through content and social media. How is that happening? 

Bartlett: We’re able to utilize social and content to really focus on that perception gap. When it’s executed properly where you abandon many of the traditional marketing concepts, there’s an incredible opportunity to initiate our transition through effective content execution.

Brew: I should imagine that the lines are blurred completely in terms of how one thinks of social media and marketing.

Bartlett: Yes. We’re definitely still in the infancy stages, from a marketing perspective, as you look at social and content, but there has been a lot of significant maturation. We’ve been really quick to learn and optimize on the fly.

We’ve also realized the importance of the broader digital ecosystem, where people are engaging with our brand across multiple platforms in many different ways. What’s great about this, from a digital perspective, is our ability to pull together, in an integrated, purposeful kind of way, a string of touchpoints that brings people through a content journey or an engagement journey with our brand.

It must be built around a concept of “audience in” and not “Xerox out.” If you couple that with an approach that provides useful information or unique perspective, this is what drives the strongest engagement. It’s the foundation for our thought leadership that, again, accelerates our ability to reposition the Xerox brand.

Brew: As I understand it, you and your team develop custom content.

Bartlett: That’s correct. We have two people that lead corporate content initiatives. Both have kind of a newsroom mentality. They are responsible for the ongoing, daily writing, editing and publishing, through owned social accounts, all of the content that we create. We do have an agency partner that helps us in a couple of key initiatives. We’ve got a roster of writers around the company that we tap into for our blog platform, as well.

Brew: Do you have editorial meetings around content ideas?

Bartlett: Yes, every single morning. Traditional marketing tactics, I believe, are really past their glory days. This newsroom mentality, and being in tune with what’s really hot in the marketplace, while also having that lens of what’s contextually relevant, has been hugely impactful for us, and it really drives a lot of our strategic discussions with the social marketing team as well.

Brew: Could you give us an example of a recent content initiative?

Bartlett: We are a significant player in healthcare. We’re in tune with a lot of what’s going on in Washington, D.C….things that are happening in real time and decisions being made, and a lot of our customers are probably wondering, “Well, what’s the impact of this to my business?” We have reporters, if you will, within our ecosystem of content marketing who are watching it, measuring it, looking ahead and understanding the impact to our customers’ businesses.

We’re writing content within hours after some of these decisions are handed down. It’s an ongoing strategy for us to understand breaking news events and how can we put our thought or our opinion behind it and provide some useful information to our customers.

What’s been interesting is, getting these types of people who are highly talented in the news cycle to balance that with a business lens… to constantly keep that contextual relevancy to Xerox in mind. They’ve married those [newsroom] skills with the ability to understand a business strategy and tie into a broader plan. It’s more than just reporting news.  

Consumers today, especially the younger generation—they’re driving these big changes in the way brands need to communicate. I truly believe that CMOs and marketing leaders have an incredible opportunity to reevaluate the organizational structure not just at the program level, but also the talent that aligns with these new forms of communication and engagement.

I’m a big supporter of this newsroom approach. It goes beyond a tactic. I think it starts to drive a cultural change in the way we communicate. This is not just creating tons of “stuff.” It’s creating strong, contextually relevant assets that our audience will find useful or informative.

The analysis function within that is really, really important. And in-house creative design and implementation is another area that has been hugely beneficial for us.

The last bit is technical competency. Given the explosion of platforms and solutions that enable social, content and Web teams today to be more efficient and more effective in what they do…having the marketing group truly understand the capabilities of these platforms and having some baseline technical competencies, married with these other talents—you start to see a fundamentally different staffing structure than we’ve seen, traditionally, at big brands.

Brew: Can you tell us what the responsibility of your creative director is? How does he participate in the content?

Bartlett: This would be one example of where we’ve got some room for some growth as our creative director today is on my Web marketing team and really focused on web deployment and ensuring proper UX [user experience] and information architecture of our website globally—somebody who’s incredibly creative and insightful and fully understands what we’re trying to do at Xerox.

Encouraging this person to spread his wings and think about this across many forms of content, and understanding the social space and understanding how our consumers are engaging with the types of content that we create, is an area where we’ve got a lot of opportunity to develop over time.

Brew: We’ve talked about social networks. In my mind, that’s very fundamentally Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Bartlett: Yes, those are our channels. LinkedIn is really important for us, given its B2B nature. Twitter is important but difficult because of the volumes coming through that platform. So it’s hard to stand out. You’ve got to be incredibly active. The challenge is different with Facebook, which is more rooted around organic reach and this kind of recent trend where we’re needing to spend a lot more money to make our message pop through in Facebook, which is a bit of a concern for us. We’re in the process of standing up a Google+ presence. We also rely heavily on YouTube and a roster of blogs as well.

Brew: What is the most common mistake you see B2B companies making in content in the social space areas?

Bartlett: I see a lot of focus on quantity and not quality in their content deployment. I think that they’re more focused on telling their story. It’s that “company out” idea that I mentioned. 

The other pitfall I see is a lot of focus on driving immediate business. Sales cycles in B2B are really drawn out. They can be measured in months. You have to be patient, and you have to understand that the audiences today shut down when they are sold to at the wrong time.

What we are finding in this space is that our audiences don’t want to be sold to. They want to be engaged with, and the sales process is not the priority or not the primary way to engage with people.