Richard parker
This is a post by Richard Parker
Edge’s defiantly ginger strategy guru Rich is a fan of Copenhagen, Steak-frites, George Orwell and Paul Simon. Not necessarily in that order.

One of the greatest challenges for brands wanting to spread their message in today’s climate is the shrinking nature of the media. Once upon a time, companies and corporations could send out a media release to a plethora of media outlets. If the story was decent, chances are it would get a run. Now, that’s not necessarily the case. As such, brands are searching for different ways to tell their stories and one approach is setting up an in-house newsroom.

Here in Australia, the AFL jumped on the bandwagon in 2012, but perhaps the best corporate example is ANZ’s BlueNotes.

Created under the leadership of former Australian Financial Review Associate Editor, Walkley Award winning journalist Andrew Cornell and former Private Media and Fairfax publisher Amanda Gome, BlueNotes launched to much fanfare in April 2014. 

The online publication is accompanied by a weekly newsletter. Managing Editor Cornell said of the newsroom's early ambitions: “We aimed for 3000 subscribers in the first year and we’re rapidly approaching that number in just nine months.”

He added that: “Part of the motivation behind BlueNotes was that recognition the modern media faces increasing challenges to resource and publish the kind of journalism the BlueNotes audience wants to read or watch.”

It’s a point Paul Edwards, ANZ Head of Corporate Communications, concurs with. He told The Australian: “There simply aren’t enough journalists to cover all the topics we want to cover from our business point of view.”

BlueNotes certainly had more resources at launch than some independent publications boast with one reporter noting it had “a bigger editorial team than your typical specialist or trade magazine, subscriptions to all the news wires including Bloomberg and, of course, access to ANZ’s network of business people”.

Following the launch, one reporter commented that the branded newsroom movement was “now going mainstream”.

Inside BlueNotes

BlueNotes is produced by a team that has grown from three to 11 including Cornell. Together they produce at least two stories per day and send out a weekly newsletter featuring eight to 10 pieces. About a third of the content comes from outside ANZ, some of it specially commissioned for the site.

There are eight topic pillars: 

  • The economy
  • Technology & innovation
  • The Asian Century
  • Business & finance
  • Leadership
  • Sustainability & inclusion
  • ANZ news
  • ANZ insights

“It is not a retail site,” Cornell told The Australian. “We are not out there trying to sell any products. It is about having a high-level discussion about the issues.”

Despite initially opting to steer away from self-referential content, the BlueNotes team found there was an appetite for information about the company.

Cornell told The Australian: “Coming from the journalism side, I thought people won’t want to hear ANZ talking about itself. But in fact people do want to hear ANZ talk about itself as we can go into a lot more depth and provide strategic information.”

Gome, one of the key architects of BlueNotes said of the content: “When you’re doing corporate journalism, you have to be expert or better than the mainstream or nobody’s going to read it or take any notice of it.”

An example of what BlueNotes can do is Metropolis Now, a 10 part feature looking at urbanisation and the great cities of the future. 

In addition to the newsroom team creating content, executives at the bank are also contributors. An example is this piece from Susie Babani, ANZ’s Global Chief Human Resources Officer, who writes about leadership opportunities for women in the corporate sector.

This is one of many examples that call on the wealth of knowledge within the organisation.

Gome says: “When I got to the bank, I was like a kid in a lolly shop. There was a huge research department with more than 100 researchers. There were executives with 30 years worth of expertise but they weren’t talking to customers and nobody really knew they existed. The opportunity to unleash that knowledge was huge.”

The BlueNotes team is working with the executives within the organisation effectively training them to be journalists. ANZ is also using software to track and measure the biggest influencers at the bank with the healthy competition not only getting people on board with the project but also bringing the team together across departments. 

The audience

As of July 2015, BlueNotes had 4,000 subscribers and was seeing 180,000 unique views on the site per month. By December last year, this had grown to 5,000 subscribers and 225,000 unique views.

The subscription base consists of media professionals, financial services, stock market analysts, customers, regulators and policy makers.

ANZ gets social

Built during the digital age, BlueNotes is inherently social with Cornell explaining one of the driving insights behind the concept was to be part of a new conversation facilitated by social media. In fact BlueNotes was conceived to meet former CEO Mike Smith’s desire for ANZ to become the leading social bank.

ANZ certainly has the numbers on social to support this. On Twitter alone, the bank has more than 76,000 followers.

In addition to answering customer support questions and sharing BlueNotes content on the platform, ANZ uses Twitter to champion its causes and partnerships. An example is ANZ’s involvement with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The bank went all out on social media sharing video content and completely skinning its Twitter page in the lead up to the event.

Over on Facebook where ANZ has more than 250,000 likes, it’s much the same.

Measuring success

The success metrics for the site include customer and shareholder engagement, but as one reporter noted: “The big ask is whether Blue Notes can become a credible voice in its own right. That’s the big win for brand journalism.”

It’s a question that was answered in March this year when BlueNotes broke the story of Google’s Australian Managing Director Maile Carnegie defecting to ANZ to become the bank’s new head of digital. Instead of sending a press release out to the media, BlueNotes broke the story. When publications including media and marketing industry title Mumbrella sent out a breaking news alert to its database of more than 30,000 subscribers, the story pointed to BlueNotes no doubt resulting in a bumper traffic day for the site and netting a new swathe of subscribers. 

Of course another measure of success is award wins and BlueNotes has already bagged a couple.

It was named Brand Site of the Year at the 2014 BeFest awards which recognise excellence in brand funded content.

In 2015, BlueNotes picked up an Excellence Award for Multi-audience Communication from the International Association for Business Communicators.

What’s next for BlueNotes?

The publication is due to launch a mobile app some time in 2016 that will give subscribers better access to BlueNotes content while on the move.

There are also plans for a webinar series.

At ANZ’s 2014 annual meeting, former ANZ CEO Mike Smith said “in a more transparent, connected world, we have to do more to step out of our comfort zone and engage with the conversations to ensure we stay relevant to our customers and to the community. These conversations may be challenging but I believe they will help stimulate new thinking within the bank… and about the bank.”

BlueNotes managing editor Andrew Cornell said at the time: “That’s a pretty good mission statement for corporate newsrooms like BlueNotes.”