How the newsroom model impacts agency collaboration

To keep pace with shifting marketing trends, some leading agencies are taking cues from an industry not renowned for having its finger on the pulse in recent years: the newspaper biz (full disclosure: I worked for a newspaper company, so I say that with love).

Today’s marketing never sleeps. While many brands have embarrassed themselves trying to piggyback on the topic of the moment (there’s at least one Tumblr already devoted to gleefully cataloging brands’ awkward attempts to crash conversations in real-time), the big success stories like Oreo’s “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” tweet (525 million impressions!) have agencies and brands eager to have an answer when unexpected opportunity knocks. Other brands see newsrooms as a perfect springboard for building deeper relationships with their customers, regardless of what’s trending on Twitter that day.

Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Nathalie Tadena notes that newsrooms are “cropping up at ad agencies all over Madison Avenue” and that journalists are finding that their much-maligned degrees aren’t so worthless after all. As Tadena details, some agencies are even offering crash courses in journalism, training advertisers accustomed to long lead times to make snap decisions and react to events beyond their control. Dell’s managing editor flies around the world to offer writing assistance to her colleagues.

One big change in agency collaboration, then, is the potential appearance of new collaborators alongside freshly-trained veterans. Some industry insiders are skeptical that agency folks will play nice with their new colleagues. “The two corporate cultures are night and day,” writes AdPulp’s David Burn, though he may be overestimating the number of journalists who are crusading, world-saving justice-seekers (those journalists are definitely still out there, but they’ve never been the majority, and they’re probably not the ones running the ever-entertaining @DiGiornoPizza account).

But there is no mistaking the difference in culture. A newsroom mentality, whether it manifests in an actual physical “newsroom” or not, will likely shake up an agency’s comfort zone. There’s certainly no room for business-as-usual bottlenecks or top-heavy inefficiencies in the review-and-approval phases. 

“To be successful in real time, you need to have fewer stakeholders,” Traction CEO Adam Kleinberg told us last year. “The people doing the work – on both the agency side and the client side – need to be empowered.”

As always, it’s vital for agency leaders to clearly articulate their vision, whether they’ve set up a newsroom to help promote the agency itself or to produce content and jump on trends on behalf of their clients. While real-time marketing is typically reactive by nature, a proper agency newsroom can be proactive in creating content. As detailed in Ad Age, the interactive agency Rosetta has 40 writers covering pertinent topics for their clients, with another dozen producing “SEO-friendly branded content.”

Providing value for clients and/or customers will never go out of style, but brands and agencies leveraging newsrooms just to keep fingers on the pulse in the hopes of their own Oreo moment likely have a harder path ahead. “It scares the living daylights out of me to think of if all brands had a newsroom and were culture-jacking every event,” Pepsi global head of digital Shiv Singh told Digiday. Does it make sense for you to be part of a conversation – and, if so, will your participation help tell your own brand story? Adidas, for instance, uses its newsroom to celebrate sports-related events in real-time; it’s less likely that you’ll see them trying to insert themselves into Oscar night. If you’re setting up a serious (and expensive) operation, the end game has to be something beyond mere buzz.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.