Tomas Kellner spent eight years as a business reporter at Forbes, and now is managing editor of GE Reports, an online publication that GE created to tell stories about its people and its innovations. Kellner publishes six or seven articles a week. He writes most of the articles himself, but also gets some from an outside agency.
Kellner also has created a role that involves traveling to GE locations and teaching storytelling workshops. “We have held the workshops at GE businesses in the U.S. as well as Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Beijing and elsewhere around the world. The idea is that GE communicators ultimately will pitch and write stories and serve as GE Reports correspondents, instead of producing press releases that few people read and care about,” Kellner says.
Kellner’s performance isn’t measured in terms of lead generation. GE isn’t expecting to create content that will sell jet engines. Rather, Kellner is trying to build brand awareness. “We look at traffic, as well as the number of outside media links to GE Reports and the quality of the links. We like that popular blogs like Gizmodo are reading GE Reports, but we’ve been picked up by Wired, the New Scientist, Fast Company and other traditional media outlets. All of that counts.”
One of Kellner’s recent articles was “Going to Extremes,” about a Czech aircraft manufacturer, Aircraft Industries, that uses GE aircraft engines. Aircraft Industries had won a deal to provide small planes to an airline in Nepal. Kellner wrote the article, which was accompanied by video shot by GE staffers wearing GoPro cameras. Another recent story that Kellner loved writing was “A Flight of Fancy,” a profile of a design student who spent five years building an incredible exact replica of a Boeing 777 jetliner out of paper.
Kellner reports to the director of communications, and he’s part of the PR operation. GE Reports is part of a larger effort around storytelling at GE which was initiated by Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock. Kellner is writing for multiple constituencies, including customers, potential customers, employees of GE, business partners, investors and technology enthusiasts. “This job gives me a perspective on what the world is going to be like in five or 15 years. I want to learn something new every day,” Kellner says.
IBM’s primary blogs, A Smarter Planet, IBM Research, and CitizenIBM tell stories and present points of view on societal, industry and business transformation, including IBM’s (ASP); scientific advances (IBM Research); and corporate involvement in social progress (Citizen IBM). The main goal in these websites is to present IBM’s ideas about how to make the world work better. In addition to publishing posts by IBM writers and executives, the sites also publish posts by leaders of other organizations, academics, government bodies, etc. who have worthwhile points of view on these themes. Bottom line: IBM is telling its own story, influencing people about ways to use technology to make progress, and engaging in a conversation.
During his 12-year career at BusinessWeek, Steve Hamm wrote more than 30 cover stories about technology and made a name for himself as one of the finest and most respected journalists in tech. In 2009 he made the jump to corporate life, joining IBM as a communications strategist, writer and videographer. He reports to the head of corporate external relations.
A big part of his focus involves IBM’s vaunted research division, and he’s especially passionate about IBM’s cognitive computing initiatives, including its Jeopardy-playing supercomputer, Watson. Hamm also co-authored a book with John E. Kelly III, director of iBM Research, “Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.”
“It’s a very exciting area,” Hamm says. “We’re talking about 50 years of work on artificial intelligence, and other related areas, that is all finally coming to fruition. It’s kind of amazing to see, to be there when it happens.”
Hamm writes for IBM’s Smarter Planet blog, which logged more than 850,000 unique visitors last year. He writes strategic white papers, and helps company executives develop byliners and op-eds. He also contributes sponsored content to mainstream publications like Forbes, Huffington Post, Wired, and The New Yorker, with which IBM has advertising relationships.
Hamm doesn’t reach the kind of huge audience he did when he was writing for BusinessWeek, but some of the videos he’s made have been viewed 80,000 times. The goal is not traffic for the sake of traffic, but rather reaching the right people – including IBM clients, business partners, journalists, bloggers and industry analysts.
Hamm has also been able to pursue his passion for writing about tech in India and Africa. Reporting on stories for IBM he has traveled to Africa, China, Europe, Latin America. He’s working with smart people, and telling stories about brilliant scientists whose work will change the world. “I feel like a very fortunate human being,” he says.
I sometimes think the real audience is an audience of one. If I publish something about an IBM researcher that makes that person feel good, and makes her feel motivated and want to stay at IBM, then that’s a valuable service I have performed for the company. So sometimes I just think about that one person.
Bill Calder is founding editor of the Intel Free Press, a news operation inside Intel that was launched in 2010. It’s a three-person operation housed inside Intel’s PR department, with Calder, a former journalist and longtime PR guy, in charge, and Benjamin Tomkins, a journalist who previously was the managing editor of InformationWeek. Others inside Intel also contribute to the blog sometimes.
Calder measures traffic, but doesn’t really care what the number is every month and isn’t concerned with trying to boost traffic from month to month. Nor is he trying to generate sales leads. Intel sees the Free Press as a way to cover stories that aren’t being covered elsewhere, and possibly to persuade mainstream outlets to pick up those stories themselves.
“We write for the brand, but also for other journalists who may be looking for interesting angles or related stories and ideas,” Calder says. “In some respects, we’re a seed generator. Also, we’re providing free content for websites and other blogs. If a story we write influences a journalist to do the same story, or if they use our stuff directly, that’s the best validation.”
Some sites will pick up an Intel Free Press story and run the whole thing verbatim. Others will link to an Intel Free Press story. Others will read the Intel Free Press story and get excited enough to send a reporter and do their own version of the story. From Intel’s perspective, those are all wins.
Some Free Press stories don’t have anything to do with Intel. One compelling piece was an interview with a research scientist who is also an explorer for the National Geographic Society.
The site publishes three or four articles a week. Most of the writing is done by a few people from the Intel PR team who have Free Press as part of their job duties. The Free Press site shoots a lot of original photos and keeps all of them on a Flickr stream where anyone can download and use them. The primary goal is to get others talking (and writing) about Intel.
“We’re not measuring ROI by how many leads we generate or how many page views we get,” Calder says. “The purpose here is to really provide some behind-the-scenes context, and cover stuff that we feel is relevant even if may not even be directly related to our core business.”
What matters most, Calder says, is credibility. “So much of this is about establishing credibility. A win is when one of our stories gets picked up not because it comes from Intel, but because it’s just a solid news story.”
Microsoft runs one of the finest publishing operations that I’ve seen, a site called Stories that publishes long-form articles with beautiful photographs and high-quality videos arranged in a full-page magazine-style layout. In terms of presentation, Stories is better than almost anything being done by mainstream media companies.
The Stories team is led by Steve Clayton, whose title is “Chief Storyteller.” Clayton is a former Microsoft sales engineer in London whose personal blog caught the attention of Frank Shaw, MIcrosoft’s head of PR. Shaw offered Clayton the chance to move to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and become a full-time blogger, writing about anything he finds interesting on Microsoft’s campus.
There are no traffic goals, and no requirements about generating leads. To some extent Clayton’s team is simply telling stories that mainstream media can’t or won’t tell on their own. One great example is a story called “88 Acres: How Microsoft Quietly Built the City of the Future.”
The story came about after Clayton met the executive who runs MIcrosoft’s facilities. Turns out Microsoft had done some amazing things in the area of building automation. But when Microsoft PR pitched the story to mainstream publications, they passed.
So Clayton’s team did the story themselves. The package they produced was far better than anything that a newspaper or magazine would have done.
The story drew half a million views, but better yet, it actually generated sales. That’s because facilities managers from other companies saw the article and asked Microsoft to come help them smarten up their buildings. The Stories site wasn’t created to generate revenue, but the fact that it could do so was especially gratifying, and a testament to the power of storytelling, Clayton says.
Adobe Systems is best known for its suite of publishing and multimedia products, like Photoshop and InDesign. But in recent years Adobe has expanded into making software for marketing departments, selling a suite of programs called the Adobe Marketing Cloud.
To establish thought leadership in the marketing space, in 2009 Adobe launched CMO.com, which is solely sponsored by Adobe but exists on its own web address, separate from Adobe’s corporate site. Adobe says it created the site as “a demonstration of Adobe’s commitment to helping CMOs lead their companies in a digital world.”
The site’s editor-in-chief is Tim Moran, who previously spent 20 years as a technology journalist. CMO.com does a lot of news aggregation, gathering up articles from around the web that are relevant to chief marketing officers. Articles come from dozens of other sources, such as Wired, Mashable and Advertising Age, and more than 150 marketing-related sites. “Editors review this content every day, picking only the best and most pertinent for inclusion on the site. CMO.com also produces its own `exclusive content,’ which is either assigned to and written by some of the best business journalists around, or obtained from industry, such as brands, agencies, consultants, and researchers,” Moran says.
The idea is to provide a single source where CMOs can keep up to date with all the information in their world, via the site or two weekly newsletters. CMO.com tries to differentiate itself from other marketing sites by aiming at higher level marketing executives and decision makers rather than “manager-level practitioners” who are well served by other marketing sites.
Content has been central to HubSpot’s business since the company’s founding in 2006. The basic idea of inbound marketing is that companies can use content to draw potential customers toward them. HubSpot pioneered the concept of inbound marketing and uses itself as proof that content-based marketing is more effective and more efficient than traditional outbound techniques.
For the content team at HubSpot, content is created with lead generation in mind. Typical blog posts contain a call-to-action for an offer that is put behind a registration gate. The offers generate leads, which are passed to sales.
HubSpot is a data-driven company, and the blog is no exception. The content team has a full-time analyst who monitors blog traffic, lead generation figures and other metrics, and creates a monthly report.
The content team reports to marketing. Marketing has a “service level agreement,” or SLA, with the sales department, under which marketing promises to deliver a certain number of leads each month.
The blog is modeled after a newspaper, with four “channels” or sections -- Marketing, Sales, Insiders, Opinion -- each led by an editor, aka a “directly responsible individual,” or DRI, in HubSpot parlance. The main Marketing blog is structured like a newsroom, with a managing editor, a writer, and a copy editor.
Posts come from executives inside HubSpot, as well as outside contributors, including reseller partners and well-known “influencers” like Guy Kawasaki. Each channel creates content aimed at HubSpot’s various customer personas: marketing practitioners, salespeople, resellers, and CMOs.