No company other than Xerox can rightfully claim ownership of the words Copy and Printer. So, when the 100-year-old blue-chip multinational—it was founded in 1906 in Rochester, New York as The Haloid Photographic Company—sought to broaden its offerings into business services with its acquisition in 2010 of Affiliated Computer Services, it had a challenge before it.
In short, and without a whiff of irony, Xerox needed copy. Enter Ken Ericson, a former Associated Press editor. In the spring of 2013, Ericson and team launched HealthBizDecoded, and hired an agency to populate it with content and feed it to the appropriate social media channels.
We met Ken at a Cleveland health care summit and caught up with him in New York to hear how challenging a task it is to transform a 100-year-old brand that’s new to content.
Content: Why is Xerox getting into the content business?
Ken Ericson: The biggest thing for us at Xerox is we're known for one thing—printers and copiers. And our story is one of transformation, and not a lot of people know we're in the business services arena with almost 60% of our revenue coming from services. One way to think about this is we work with dozens of states, 1,700 hospitals, and the top twenty managed health care plans. We're one of the biggest players in health care, simplifying the back office functions and administration duties.
How does HealthBizDecoded support that?
It supports everything we're doing across health care, but the biggest focus is to shift perceptions of our brand. Health care and Xerox aren't thought of together and we're trying to create advocacy for what we do and a shared belief about the importance of making healthcare work better for all. We're able to join conversations that we weren't able to participate in before.
Tell us a little about how you arrived at your editorial architecture, or “Topics,” which include Healthcare IT, Innovation, Governments, etc. What was the thinking that went behind it?
One of the things we thought about first, we made a commitment to be editorial. It wasn't going to be a marketing site. We wanted to tell stories that people believed in and that our audience would be interested in and come back for more. We wanted to understand the conversations that are out there and we needed to meet that with topics that are important to us. The other thing we look at are those conversations that are ongoing. We're following stories—health care reform is important. We apply a lot of editorial thinking. We tap people inside and outside (our) businesses to understand what's important. The research was useful, but a lot of the thinking we already had in relation to topics that are important to the brand.
How do you handle editorial calendaring?
We run it like a newsroom. We have an agency partner, Group SJR, a NY-based digital agency that helps us produce the material and support us in putting content on the site every day. It's safe to say we had a very common vision that quality wins. When we started thinking about this, we were really focused on editorial, and we knew that having that vision was important. We have a team that meets once a week, including our internal team and Group SJR, and we run it like a newsroom. We're all pitching ideas. We're pitching the right angle on a story. We ask ourselves, what's interesting to our audience? We tend to look at these things from the outside in. We don't look at a story because Xerox has a stake in it or could be mentioned in it. Will it give readers good advice? Will it tell them something they don't know? Do we have someone who could speak to this and would we use them even if they weren't here? We talk about Xerox in the third person, the way we would talk about any other vendor in the space. We think that helps create belief and trust. I think the benefit of having external support is having that viewpoint from the outside and it helps you put the editorial piece in perspective.
What kind of direction do you give to your writers about purposing content for the web?
The headline is really important, and like anything else, it needs to be interesting. The web has a shorter attention span, people can click away at any time. Be shorter, digestible and sharable. You really have to think about writing an awesome headline and bringing people into the story as quickly as possible. There's a lot of content out there. I struggle with this; everybody is producing content, we need to think about how to cut through with that content. With a magazine or newspaper, you're there to fill a space; with what we're doing, we're adding to what's out there—and that's a challenge.
“We run it like a newsroom. We're all pitching ideas. We're pitching the right angle on a story. We ask ourselves, ‘What's interesting to our audience?’”
What were some of the initial challenges getting HealthBizDecoded off the ground?
One of the challenges is getting people to understand the concept of "content marketing.” It's new and it's not traditional marketing, it's storytelling from a brand, not a news organization. When people hear from a brand, they expect marketing material. But now they see stories that you'd see in a trade magazine. I think changing that perception of content marketing is really a curious thing.
You're a former editor at the Associated Press. What are the similarities the Xerox effort shares with traditional journalism? What are the differences?
They're a lot alike, being able to bring that newsroom mentality to a brand is a really good fit for how we approach HealthBizDecoded. There's obviously the brand component as well. We're here to change perceptions, so we try to set the bar fairly high, so that's similar to my experience. The way we've put this together is with an editor from the SJR side, and a journalist who has subject matter expertise. That's a perfect fit.
What are your measurements of success for HealthBizDecoded?
We look at it a couple different ways, how many clicks, unique viewers, how much time are they spending. We knew this would be challenging. One of the realities is that it's not a sales site or a lead generation site, it's a lot further north in the buyer's journey. Are we changing perception of Xerox in health care? Are we gathering media attention? There's a PR component here too. By creating this content, we're giving our PR team a new stream of material. It's a niche site, it's health care administration and operations. We've had a couple of interesting things happen: we've been quoted by other health care media, we have other trade magazines picking up our stories, we're able to get that attention.
Whatever analytic tool you're using: How many times a day do you check them?
I'll check them once or twice a day to see how we're doing. Group SJR uses Google Analytics and I look through some other dashboards, but I look to see how we're doing socially. We tend not to look at volume, we look at influence. We look if we've reached people of influence in the health care space. There's a need to grow a community but it goes down to the narrowness of what we're doing. We know it could only be so big, but like every community, influence is important. Are the right people amplifying our story? Is the right media picking it up?
Tell us about the first time you looked at the analytics and were surprised? What was it?
One of the things we found, infographics travel really well. My original thought was that video would do really well—people say video is it. In this community, it's infographics, they tend to get shared and keep being shared.
We've been able to look at the power of original content and use that across other verticals and offer sharp insight into business, that's what we're thinking about. We've launched realbusiness.com, that looks across a number of key verticals—health care, customer care, and financial services. What we're offering is advice on how to simplify what they do, offering that good sharp insight to people not only simply about what they do in business, but outside of work as well, touching on lifestyle. It gives people the ability to understand what the new Xerox is all about.