Q&A: A glance at Chrysler’s in-house newsroom

Posted by Tracy Shea on January 14, 2014

Brands large and small rely on the ability to tell their story, to be discoverable in the chaotic, fragmented nature of today’s Internet. Platforms are crowded, conversations are lacking cohesive storylines and opinions sometime matter more than fact.

A brand used to need a celebrity endorsement to become believable and authentic; now a brand can explode or have its reputation tarnished by a relatively unknown individual who may have a channel that is viewed by not only mass audience, but a mass audience that has specific interest in the core business silo your brand has relevance in.

With that in mind, there are brands out there that have made efforts to behave like newsrooms. They have editorial calendars, editorial briefings, content production, distribution and subscribers. Sound familiar?

One such brand is Chrysler. While I have no professional relationship with this brand, the head of the digital media center there is a former colleague of mine in the news business. Wanting to find out more, I conducted a short interview with Ed Garsten.

Q: Ed, what is your role at Chrysler and how does it differ from your reporting days at CNN?

A: At Chrysler I'm the head of Chrysler Digital Media, which is an eight-person team within Corporate Communications. Our team is responsible for administering the Chrysler Media Website, video production, broadcast media relations and social media for the Chrysler PR department.

We were pioneers in what's now called “corporate” or “brand” journalism. In a way, it's not much different from when I was Detroit bureau chief and correspondent at the CNN Detroit bureau. I manage a team, I'm responsible for creative storytelling on a deadline, and I write news packages.

Q: Is it correct to say that your efforts are to cover the automotive beat, with Chrysler as the thought leader, or are your efforts only meant to sell more Chrysler vehicles? Why?

A: My efforts are definitely aimed at boosting Chrysler Group's standing in the marketplace, not just from a sales standpoint, but building trust and confidence among our customers and prospects. However, one of the features we produce, “Insider Outlook,” looks at the auto industry as a whole through the thoughts of leading industry analysts. No other automaker is that transparent.

Q: Branded content, corporate journalism or whatever people want to name it, is arguably a hot potato in the marketing and consumer conversation. How do you maintain neutrality when covering the automotive beat in general?

A: You can't maintain neutrality. Our jobs are to support our company's products and positions. We attempt to tell our stories as responsibly as we can offer our readers and viewers a solid look at the subject matter. However, unlike newspaper, broadcast or web journalists, we do not always necessarily seek that third-party quote or sound bite.

In “Insider Outlook,” we do allow the analysts to say whatever they like. Sometimes they disagree with one of our tactics or don't love a vehicle. That's our way of saying we're not living in an insulated corporate world, that we understand where we stand in the industry and in the eyes of outside parties.

Q: In this era of real-time engagement, how do you avoid the mistake of the 2011 tweet, but still have personality and relevance in the conversations your audiences want to have with your brand?

A: First, the 2011 tweet was posted by an agency employed by our marketing department and not us, meaning Chrysler Corporate Communications. My team has several backstops to ensure no such error is made. All tweets and social media posts (Facebook, corporate blog, Twitter) are vetted by me and many times the PR managers responsible for that subject to ensure accuracy and appropriateness. Nothing hits the web without at least one other pair of eyes to scrutinize it. Yes, it slows the process, but this happens very quickly. It's not bogged down in corporate process.

Q: What are you doing in this branded content realm that is different or innovative? What would you like to be doing?

A: I already mentioned “Insider Outlook.” The other innovation for which we've won awards from PR News, Women in Communication and the International Association of Business Communicators is a weekly video feature titled “Under the Pentastar.”

The Pentastar is Chrysler's corporate logo. “UTP,” as it's known, is a video recap of the past week's top Chrysler stories. It's not just to retell stories; the motive is to give added life to stories that may not have necessarily won wide coverage when they were first released, giving them a second life. The feature is extremely popular and those of us on our team who write and voice it have actually built followings.

We produce hundreds of videos each year for all of Chrysler Group's brands ranging from product walk-arounds to sizzle videos of the vehicles in action. We launched the ChryslerLive Livestream channel last spring where we live webcast branded chats giving our customers a chance to ask designers, engineers and executives direct questions, while learning more about our products. All of our videos can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/pentastarvideo.

What really sets us apart is how my team is constructed. Within Chrysler Digital Media are three multimedia editors who are actually reporters embedded in the company. They each have three or four beats, and it's their responsibility to come up with stories that can be told through social media posts, videos, live web chats or, generally, a combination of all of those methods.

A beat can be a brand such as Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Fiat, SRT or Mopar, or a subject such as corporate issues, technology or motorsports. Everything we do is done in-house. We file stories in real time, just as editorial journalists do, and control every element of our storytelling without outsourcing the company's voice.

I should also say that our media site is the nexus for much of our content. The media site not only contains releases the PR managers create, but our corporate blog and extensive image repository and a self-service video portal where broadcasters and website operators can download broadcast-quality video quickly and easily without being redirected to a third-party site.