Eight ways to create refrigerator journalism

I recently heard a term that has really stuck with me: refrigerator journalism.

It was used by Ragan Communication’s CEO and publisher of PR Daily Mark Ragan at the 2012 International Social Media and PR Summit (SMPR2012) in Amsterdam.

During his opening presentation on brand journalism (aka content marketing) Mark said the Holy Grail is when our content becomes part of people’s daily lives.

If your company is recognised as a respected news source – journalists come to you rather than you chasing them – you’ve made it. @PRDaily is an excellent case in point.

@MarkRaganCEO said our goal as company reporters is to create refrigerator journalism.

What is refrigerator journalism? It is content so engaging you want to make it part of your daily life. You want to share it with your friends. You want to talk about it. You want to take it into your home. It is content so compelling, so relevant and so brief you want to stick it on your fridge.

There were many other useful take-outs from the two-day SMPR2012. Learning about the strategies of global brands like Microsoft, Dell, Edelman and Disney was awe-inspiring. Notes to self: do more planning, more monitoring, more video.

It was reiterated by all presenters that content is still king – in fact, engaging content is more important than ever. So the question I’ll now ask myself each time I publish is simple: Is this content so compelling my readers will want to stick it on the fridge?

So, how do we create refrigerator journalism? Here are my top eight take-outs from SMPR2012:

1. Your new role is Senior Content Creator. Your job description includes content producer, company reporter, conversation starter and community manager.

2. Plan your editorial activities like you run a media company. You own a daily newspaper (blog), magazine (website), TV station (YouTube channel), radio station (podcasts) and a broadcast network (social media).

3. Don’t be afraid to re-package compelling content and cross promote.

4. Great content needs a great headline (hint: readers love lists).

5. Engage your whole company in social media. There are brand ambassadors throughout your organisation who are passionate about their area of expertise. Find them and get them blogging.

6. Social content doesn’t have to be slick – in fact, if it looks too much like an advertisement people won’t share it.

7. If content is king, then listening is queen. But why are we listening? To make changes to the way we do business if necessary.

8. No one is an expert in social media, we are all experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. We are only limited by our imaginations and our creativity.

This article was originally published by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA). I was the only Australian delegate at this international conference, so I wanted to share my key take-outs with other PR professionals. Here’s the original post on the PRIA blog: Eight ideas for creating refrigerator journalism


Six lessons in the school of hard knocks

English was one subject I truly loved at school. As a teenager, I would have three novels on the go at any given time. I enjoyed writing anything and everything – from letters to poetry, from short stories to scripts.

But by the end of year 12 I still had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. The women on both sides of my family were nurses. Even Florence Nightingale was in our family tree, my late grandmother told me.  In fact, my mother was the only one who wasn’t a nurse.

So, when I finished school I started a nursing degree. It was a Bachelor of Science. But I quickly realised I wasn’t particularly interested in science and the sight of needles made me squeamish. Nursing clearly wasn’t for me and I dropped out in first semester.

Lesson 1: Follow your heart – don’t settle for what everyone else is doing.

I traveled around Australia for the next few years working in hospitality. It was fun, but I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.  All I knew was that I was curious and full of questions.

I was 22 when I decided to travel to India and Nepal to ‘find myself’. And I did. By a lake on the roof of the world, I decided to become a writer. I wanted to inspire others by sharing the extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

Writing is such a broad profession – I had to narrow it down. What was the real job? I decided what I wanted to do was called ‘journalism’. So when I got back to Australia I wrote my first feature about an area high on the Tibetan plateau in India called Ladakh. My article was published in Nova Magazine. I was on my way.

Lesson 2: Your unique voice and perspective is your greatest asset. The truth is powerful.

I decided to go to university and study journalism. My mother has always been supportive of my choices, but I suspect the rest of my family considered it a bit of a joke. I don’t think anyone imagined I’d actually finish the degree.

I applied to go to university and was accepted. This was wonderful – except that between having my first article published and attending my first lecture I’d had a baby and was now getting a divorce. It was a challenging time to say the least.  But I was determined to pursue my dream and started full-time studies in 1998.

However, I soon learned the job prospects were fairly grim. Only eight per cent of you will work as journalists, my lecturer told a room of bright young hopefuls. We all looked around wondering who that would be. The vast majority of students were about five years younger than me and weren’t single mothers. How could I compete?

I needed a back-up plan. So I decided to do both journalism and public relations. Employment in PR was growing fast, rather than shrinking, so I figured I could go between the two.

Lesson 3: Be creative. Think about how you can use your passion and skills in other areas.

I persevered for seven years of part-time study. My son was eight years old when I graduated in 2005 – with grades that placed me within the top five per cent of Murdoch University students.

Lesson 4: Those who believe they are less likely to succeed may overcompensate by working harder and can achieve surprising results.

Our lecturers encouraged us to move to small country towns to break into journalism. So I moved to Darwin the day after my graduation ceremony.

It took eight months of constant phone calls, emails and visits to the Northern Territory News to get a job interview. The job I got was as an advertising features journalist. Working 9am to 5pm, no weekend shifts. Ok, so it wasn’t reporting in the newsroom, but it was working for a metropolitan daily newspaper. And it fitted well with parenting. I worked there for the next two-and-a-half years.  So, as it turns out, I was in that eight per cent.

Lesson 5: Your dream job may not look like you imagined, but it will be just right for you.

From there, I moved into public relations for Tourism NT and then into marketing, writing online content for Charles Darwin University. I did a stint in radio with ABC Darwin. I worked as the freelance senior writer for Darwin Life Magazine. Darwin was a fantastic experience but definitely the school of hard knocks for me. I made some huge mistakes and had some big falls, but I learned so much along the way.

Lesson 6: There will be people who continue to believe in you, even when you doubt yourself.

When I moved to Melbourne in 2011, I had a job to come to. I’m working as a public relations executive with Swinburne University of Technology and it’s another fantastic learning experience.

The reason why I have a successful career today is not because I’m especially talented – it’s because I’ve persevered. I’ve never given up. I may not have my name up in lights, I’ve never won a Walkley award and I still have dreams to achieve. But I have built a solid and fulfilling career as a writer. And to me, that is success. I had a dream and I chased it. And I made it. After 15 years, I’m still compelled to write. I still love it. It’s what I do and it’s all I can imagine ever doing.

This was my first guest post and was originally published on Dream, Build, Inspire, Lead. I know the publisher AJ Kulatunga (follow @BLKMGK01 or @ICT_GURU on twitter) from my time in Darwin and he asked me to share my story with his readers. Here’s the orignal post: Six lessons from the school of hard knocks


Meeting Ita

Cleo and I were born in the same year. Cleo was born in Australia in 1972, her mother the now iconic Ita Buttrose and her father the late Kerry Packer. I was born in New Zealand, the love child of two teenagers. Suffice to say it didn’t last and I was raised by a single mother.

I grew up in hippy communities in Western Australia where the women grew organic vegetables, baked and sewed everything from scratch, and helped each other raise their children. The men, in contrast, seemed to pass their days smoking marijuana and living the ‘free love’ philosophy with abandon.

People tend to imagine hippy communities were all about peace, love and lentils. And to be fair there were some wonderful people – my mother and her close friends all had considerable grace and integrity. But in my observation, these communities were littered with lost souls on a road to nowhere. I wanted out.

My mother was a ‘radical feminist’ and a powerhouse. She was intelligent and well-read, with a fiery temper and a heart of gold. She encouraged me to chase my dreams.

I’ll never forget the day one of the hippies asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was about 10 at the time. “I’m going to work in public relations, live in the city and drive a fast red car,” I snarled at him. He almost choked on his hash cookie. Well, I actually drive a blue car now but it was pretty close.

I recently attended the PR Directions 2011 conference in Sydney and Ita gave the closing address, ‘Does media change society or society change the media?’ During her presentation, which was sharp and insightful and very funny, I actually felt like I was falling in love. So it is when you meet an icon.

I am one of a generation of women for whom Ita was made relevant again by the ABC mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. My mother didn’t buy Cleo but, as Ita pointed out at the conference, radical feminists were not the Cleo reader. Middle class women were.

As a young woman I would escape into magazines. I wanted to write for them, I wanted to be in the pages of them, I wanted to be part of them. My first regular reads were Girl and Dolly and I moved onto Cleo and Cosmopolitan as a teenager. I remember Mia Freedman from Cleo and Cosmo, of course, but I only knew Ita as the editor of Australian Women’s Weekly.

Paper Giants opened my eyes to the incredible influence and impact Ita had on my life. Everything from how I perceived my sexuality to my choices in life has been informed by Cleo and debated in its pages. But it also made me realise that Ita was both an editor and a single mother.

I was one of a handful of delegates who milled around after Ita’s address hoping for a few words and perhaps a photo. During my brief conversation with Ita – with me panting like an excited dog and her spectacularly warm and gracious – I blurted out, “I’ve always wanted to write for a magazine full-time!”

“Well, you know what to do,” Ita said. “You just keep on going, you know how it works.”

And so I do. My career has been a study in delayed gratification. Married in 1996. First article published the same year. My son is born. Separated in 1997. Began a journalism degree in 1998. Divorced. Raised son, studied and worked. Graduated in 2005. Son is now eight. Worked full-time as a journalist. Moved into public relations. Met wonderful new man. Son is now 15.

Is it time to chase that dream of being a magazine writer yet? Well yes, actually, I think it might just be.


The road less travelled to Ngukurr

In September 2010, I was very fortunate to be offered a freelance writing and photography assignment with the Northern Territory Government.

The job involved travelling to the remote Indigenous community of Ngukurr, located in south-east Arnhem Land. I would stay at Ngukurr for two days and cover the Futures Forum, part of the inaugural Yugul Mungi festival. I snapped up the opportunity.

Before I left, Darwin locals who had experienced remote Territory communities warned me about Ngukurr. “There will be rubbish everywhere”, “don’t touch anything, it will have human s**t on it” and “don’t walk around at night, it won’t be safe,” they told me. But other people told me it was fine and “one of the good ones.”

It was with some trepidation that I boarded the plane. This could be a tough assignment. I mentally prepared for the worst.

Ngukurr is part of the Yugul Mungi region, located on the Roper River in the lower Gulf of Carpentaria. The region is home to about 2500 people. The Roper region is hilly and lush – thanks largely to its namesake river. The views from Ngukurr across the wilderness of Arnhem Land are stunning. The Roper River is incredibly pristine – it is literally the cleanest waterway I have ever seen. Cruising down her in a boat was the most peaceful I have felt in a very long time.

Set in this beautiful untouched landscape is Ngukurr. And what I found was a clean and friendly township – albeit ramshackle in parts. It is a dry community and appears to have excellent leadership. The locals are shy and gentle but also proud and strong. The children seem healthy and relaxed. And there was less rubbish lying around than in suburban Darwin.

But I did see some surprising sights. A house with a cottage garden complete with rose bushes. Cigarettes being sold for $30 a packet at the general store. A village donkey. The community pool closed during the festival despite the heat – because even in sweltering outback towns Territorians think it’s too cold to swim in the dry season.

I know the community was on its best behaviour with their town on show, but my Ngukurr experience really shifted my perception of remote communities. I had only heard the negatives – the violence, the chaos, the rubbish. Take away alcohol and add a rubbish collection service and things can look very different indeed.


The ugly truth about writing

When I embarked on my writing career 15 years ago, I wrote because I felt inspired to tell other people’s stories. But I also thought journalism would be glamorous and fabulous. Oh, how wrong I was.

Writing is not glamorous.

The closest thing to glamour you will feel is the day after deadline – when you’ve slept, had a shower and changed your clothes. Prior to that you will be on a caffeine-fuelled, sleep-deprived, anxiety-loaded, mission to overcome your terror of writing something worthless and missing deadline.

If you don’t like staring at a computer screen for hours agonising over little things called words – I call it pedantic semantics – don’t become a writer.

Writing is not all about inspired brilliance.

You have to learn to write on demand – whether you’re inspired or not. Writer’s block can be debilitating until you learn this skill. Sometimes you just have nothing to say.

And mostly, even when you are inspired, writing is typing. Unfortunately I’m not a typist, so I’m slow – with typos. Constant typos are infuriating, not inspiring. That said, there are moments in the writing process when you will feel euphoric. Or is that just the caffeine high? Enjoy them.

Just because Carrie Bradshaw got $4.50 a word – doesn’t mean you will.

Once I got paid $2 a word. And I mean literally once. I also used to write 2000-word features for $125. That’s about six cents a word. If you freelance for more than 50 cents a word – be grateful. And smug. You’re doing well.

Your article in print will be flawed.

A story is never finished, it is merely abandoned. Funnily enough, at precisely the time of your deadline. So, when you read your story in print, it could be better. Even if you thought it was perfection, you will read it and see flaws. You might even hate it.

My advice – don’t read it. Look at your byline, let your ego have its moment, then turn the page immediately.

Happy writing!