Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in PR Week.
For the past year, Coca-Cola has communicated extensively on the strategy and evolution of Coca-Cola Journey, our new media outlet. Equally intriguing is the story we haven’t talked about very much – how did it happen in the first place? Why did Coke decide to make a multimillion-dollar, multi-year commitment to brand journalism? How did we sell it in, and how are we executing against our content strategy in a sustainable way?
In December 2010, our Chairman and CEO, Muhtar Kent, challenged our global communications team to resurrect Journey, an internal, print magazine that was published from 1985-1996 (fun fact: our current Chief Communications Officer, Clyde Tuggle, was once Journey’s editor). In the pre-holiday brainstorm that followed, the team aligned quickly on the principle that rich storytelling is the foundation of communications, and that our lack of publishing capability was a weakness. It was in that first meeting that we decided to replace the corporate website with a content-driven hub that would serve as consumer-facing magazine.
Over the next few months, the team developed the core of our content strategy, a 50/50 blend of Coke-themed and un-branded content on topics Coca-Cola believes it is leading, and we planned the editorial to be visually rich and weighty. With a solid idea of what we would publish, we then needed the buy in of stakeholders across the Coke system. So we started to sell.
Unprecedented Executive Support
No company had ever replaced their corporate website with a magazine before, and it took months for some internal stakeholders to become comfortable breaking with traditional corporate web design. Our corporate site was used as a digital filing cabinet for so long that doing away with whole sections took convincing (in all, we scrapped nearly 1,000 pages, several hundred of which had not received a single visitor in a year).
But we did have one enormous advantage: resolute executive sponsorship. This meant that we didn’t waste valuable time on selling the concept, just figuring out the mechanics of pulling it off. Crucially, our leadership team recognized that Project Journey could be crippled if it was subject to year-over-year budget haggling. To secure predictable financing and a multi-year commitment, our Chief Communications Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and Chief Technology Officer jointly presented Project Journey to our Operating Committee. They made a five-year commitment and we were in business.
A New Way of Working
With the clock counting down to Nov. 12, 2012, we had about seven months to build a daily publishing team from scratch. Our growing digital team worked across the Coke system to develop our first global editorial process, first set of legal guidelines for content publishing, common standards for user-generated content, and first content data program. And we hired journalists – three of them within the first six months.
In July 2012, Project Journey was named Coca-Cola Journey and the final designs were locked. In addition to giving the site a magazine format, we also completely overhauled the “corporate” pages, including the investor’s section, careers pages, and press center. Their new look dramatically simplified navigation, and put storytelling front and center. While the magazine’s storytelling has rightly received the lion’s share of attention since launch, these corporate page improvements are a major milestone in their own right, and represented months of design work.
Coca-Cola Journey launched on Nov. 12, 2012. By that time, the roadmap already included more than 25 updates that would roll out by the end of Q1 2013. In January, we kicked off the build of our first international site, the German edition of Coca-Cola Journey. Partnering closely with the German team, we built the framework for an international editorial program that’s evolving today. Subsequent launches in Japan, Morocco, Australia, and New Zealand quickly followed.
The End of the Beginning
By June 2013, the data showed consistent patterns in content performance. Branded stories tended to perform more strongly than unbranded ones, and reader response to marketing, innovation, careers, and history content was stellar. We shifted the content strategy to focus on more Coke stories, and concentrate on content that is fun, bright, and brilliant.
On Nov. 12, 2013, we launched a redesign of the home page to further emphasize stories and finalize the shift to magazine format. And every month, we continue to closely monitor data and do more of what works, and eliminate what does not.
The journey of Coca-Cola Journey was exhilarating and frustrating, fast and slow, groundbreaking and at times mundane. But those of us who publish it every day are certain that this is career-defining work, and that the best is yet to come. We have so much more to learn, and so many more things to do. This story is far from over.
Ashley Brown is group director, digital communications and social media at Coca-Cola.
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