Building a “brand newsroom” in a shipping company

The traditional media’s relationship with the public, and in particular the business community, is changing rapidly.

While President Trump has gained publicity from labelling the US media “The Enemy”, there are other more subtle changes taking place in how communities and businesses view their relationship with journalists.

Today, many companies, in particular those engaged in the production and transport of oil, view the traditional media with deep suspicion. In the past this suspicion was played out by CEOs who took the view: “Say nothing” and “Don’t give them anything, they will go away”. But that attitude is changing fast with the dawning recognition that traditional media, so often seen as hostile, can be bypassed. Such is the power that the new digital media brings.

The revolution in digital news has spawned a new generation of media outlets owned by corporations and set up specifically to by-pass old media in an effort to get a corporate message across to a specific audience.

The age of the ‘brand newsroom’ is here.

We have seen this most recently here in Asia with the setup of a newswire by a company long known as a news maker. It is a listed entity operating a fleet of vessels as well as being a major player in the global bunker market. It also has extensive port operations.

This company recently set up a news unit, staffed by 20 journalists, aimed at providing news and information for the markets they serve – on the spot news, prices and analysis of the bunker markets.

The new operation is in direct competition with the media in which the company appears so regularly.

The digitalised nature of information technology has made it possible to run a plausible, popular news website from a back bedroom or a local Starbucks. This, added to the fact that journalists tend to be a younger, low paid bunch in general, makes it an attractive proposition for corporates looking to by-pass traditional media and get their corporate messages out to specific audiences.

We can see this trend increasing within shipping and oil and gas, sectors which traditionally have had few friends in the mainstream media.

But creating content is a new skill for most companies in maritime, so it requires new capabilities and expertise.

Building a ‘brand newsroom’ gives the industry control over its messaging and content — and the ability to create and distribute content quickly.

The staffing will vary depending on the kind of shipping company, but one key role is essential: Someone in charge. It can be a “chief content officer” or a “managing editor” or a head of communications, but there has to be someone with a strong understanding of three related but very different things:

  • The company’s goals, messages and potential audiences.
  • The art of storytelling, whether from experience in journalism or communications.
  • The technology, tools and partners needed to produce and distribute content effectively.

Depending on the goals, that person might hire professional journalists — either on staff or freelance — to research, report, write and publish content.

There are enough shipping and maritime journalists out there who will be content producers if asked. Indeed, we see a continuing trend within the maritime press of the ‘Hybrid’: one day the Hybrid is an independent journalist, the next day s/he puts his/her corporate communications hat on.

Shipping has for too long been an industry closed to the outside world. At its most noble, the aims of the ‘brand newsroom’ should be to make a closed company more open.

It should aim to make a company nervous about publicity more comfortable with it and to help it cope with a regulatory environment better than it thought possible before. To try new things, it should use new technology and break bad old habits of secrecy and opaqueness.

So the brand newsroom needs to be connected to the top level of the organisation. Perhaps it should be part of the office of the CEO. This would be a major culture change for most, but it is an important one – and it’s one the shipping industry will see more of in future.

See more on the following link.

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Edward Ion

Managing Director

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