Build your brand with a marketing plan

Feb 26 2013

At the Reese News Lab this semester, we have two ongoing projects. The first is STEMwire, which aims to create conversation about the need for more science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers in U.S. classrooms. The second is WhichWayNC, a mobile-first experiment that explores N.C. politics and issues.

On a day-to-day basis, most of our staff members are busy working on specific stories for either STEMwire or WhichWayNC. However, until now, we haven’t put much effort into clearly defining the Reese News Lab itself. What is its mission? Why are we so proud of it? How can it be a useful resource for journalists and academics?

To tackle these questions and more clearly define our brand, we decided to launch a full-scale marketing plan for 2013. As marketing manager, I led the push. To do the same for your organization, read these tips.

1. Define your broad goals

During this step, it’s important to consider your target audience. In the past, most of our readers were UNC students who periodically visited our sites for state or local news. Moving forward, we wanted the lab to set an example for the industry on a national scale. Therefore, our target audience broadened to include journalism scholars and professionals beyond the Chapel Hill area. In other words, we wanted to be more like Poynter and less like The Daily Tar Heel.

When establishing goals, you should also think about the public’s perception of your brand. We felt that many of our readers didn’t understand the purpose of the Reese News Lab as its own entity. That’s fair. As an evolving project, we’ve gone from covering campus events to publishing work from introductory reporting classes to focusing on state politics. Without acknowledging this, we wouldn’t be able to move forward in redefining the lab.

Here are the goals we decided on:

  • To define and elevate the Reese News Lab brand by clearly communicating our mission to professionals, journalism scholars and university students
  • To distinguish Reese News Lab from its projects, STEMwire and WhichWayNC
  • To create a framework that future marketing managers can work from and build on, even as individual projects change

Marketing Plan

2. Develop actionable tactics

Once you have your goals set in stone, you need to create a realistic plan for achieving them. This might involve specific actions like sending out press releases, hosting a public event or creating promotional flyers. For example, I decided that sending out a newsletter would help us build a following and communicate consistently with our target audience. I launched Reese Review, a biweekly email that would include links to our content, excerpts from Lab Reports and interesting articles related to mobile and digital journalism. Click to subscribe.

As I wrote and rewrote the steps of the marketing plan, I realized that each tactic needed to involve a specific task and a clear-cut timeframe. For example, I knew that I wanted to use the @reesenews Twitter handle to gain followers. To turn that vague idea into something actionable, I wrote this tactic: “Tweet from @reesenews at least seven times per week, focusing primarily on industry insights, Lab Reports and timely promotional content.”

Your tactics should also include deadlines and quantitative elements whenever possible. This will help you organize your time and gauge your success further down the road. The added specificity will also force you to rethink your goals and be ambitious. Here are examples of three differently worded tactics, from weak to strong:

Original: Secure coverage.
Acceptable: Secure coverage in local publications by the end of the semester.
Excellent: Secure coverage in the Daily Tar Heel and the News & Observer, including one full-length feature story, by April 15.

3. Re-assess the program periodically

Now comes the scary part: Is your program working? This is the phase I’m working through right now. I love the idea of Reese Review, but I didn’t thoroughly plan out how to build its readership when I was developing the marketing plan. Now, we have a fully functioning newsletter with a less-than-impressive list of subscribers. In the coming weeks, I’m going to try to address that by conducting targeted outreach and trying to generate some publicity for the lab.

At times, it can be hard to focus on marketing in a fast-paced newsroom environment. For example, one of my tactics is to create promotional content for the Reese News Lab homepage to shift the focus away from STEMwire and WhichWayNC content. I’ve thought about doing a Q&A with alumni or creating an interactive photo collage of our staff members. However, it’s hard to prioritize these projects when the rest of the staff is struggling to meet deadlines on their stories. In the end, though, it’s important to remember that the big picture does matter. In other words, if no one ever visits our website, those individual stories don’t matter.

What would you add? What challenges have you run into in developing marketing plans?

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