I spent my entire TV career working with the best sports anchor in the country. Channel 4’s Mark Rosen is unique. When most of the industry was hiring blow-dried announcer types, Mark was focusing on facts. While most other sportscasters were coming up with cute catchphrases, Mark was developing sources and telling stories. He’s a sports journalist who just happens to be on TV. And his approach works so well that he has managed to corner two very different markets.imgres-1.jpg

“Mark Rosen was my mentor at WCCO, and I still use some of his lessons in content marketing.”

While I was at WCCO, we did research that showed he’s not only the thinking fan’s sportscaster, but he’s also (by far) the most popular among casual fans. Why? Because he built his brand on real stories and information. Casual fans think he’s genuine, trustworthy, and when they decide that they do want to know anything about sports, he’s the guy they want to get it from. And isn’t that what brands want to accomplish with content marketing? Don’t they want to be seen as genuine, trustworthy, and a go-to source of information in their field? That’s why the lessons I learned from Mark Rosen work so well for content marketing.

Mark wrote a book about his career called “Best Seat in the House,” and I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat for his success.

If you mention Mark’s name in Minnesota, somebody is guaranteed to yell out “Rosie!” He’s the earnest St. Louis Park native who basically grew up on the air at WCCO, covering his favorite teams, traveling to the biggest events, and even running for Governor as a morning radio show’s write-in candidate. He’s that popular.

Mention his name to another TV type, and they’ll acknowledge that Mark is as good as it gets, but I doubt they understand why. After all, despite all of his success, nobody has really tried to copy Mark Rosen. Nobody tries to report his way or write with his style. They treat it like he got where he is almost by accident.

But they’re wrong. It took a very thoughtful approach and a lot of hard work.

I know, because I was his primary producer and writer for more than two decades. I learned how to write in Mark’s voice — starting when he taught me how to write about sports as a college intern in the early 80s — and learned it well enough that we would often take over and finish the scripts that the other one started. That took a lot of trust on his part, and a lot of “brand awareness” on my part, so I think I qualify as an expert on the secret sauce behind the Mark Rosen “brand.”

More importantly, I now use four of the things that Mark taught me at Channel 4 to improve our clients’ content marketing.

Real information is valuable.

Fans want real information. And Mark gives it to them. In a business with so much style over substance, Mark’s style is all about substance. He built his brand around real information from day one — with intense attention to accuracy and a keen eye for detail. The net result is that viewers value his opinions. If everything else that comes out of his mouth is true, his opinions must be accurate, too. And they usually are.

We push our clients in the same direction, because real information has real value. If a person is searching for an answer to a question, they expect an answer to that question. Like Mark’s information, it accurate, timely and relevant — otherwise, they’ll click away to something else. But if it’s accurate and legitimate, your brand has a chance to earn their trust, their confidence, and maybe their business. That’s the key to content marketing. And if you try to substitute a commercial, a “salesy” marketing message, or try to fool them with “clickbait,” you’ll waste that opportunity.

Tell stories.

This is Mark’s true differentiator. Many sportscasters think they deal in information, since they do show the highlights. But that’s all they do, they show the highlights without context and perspective. Mark does it differently. He tells a story.

When you watch ESPN’s SportsCenter, you’ll get a solid introduction that sets the stage for the drama of the game, and then the highlights play out in chronological order, building to the climax — the final score. It’s a fine format that most sportscasters follow, but it’s not Mark’s kind of information-based storytelling. Instead, Mark’s intro gives you the result and the context, and then he uses the highlights to tell a story about how (and why) it happened. It’s a more sophisticated approach that gives his views more of that valuable information.

The same holds true in content marketing. People relate to stories. They appreciate context. Which would you rather watch, a sales video with a company representative spouting off about their product’s features or a testimonial video with happy customers talking about how the product met their needs? The more “real” your characters and information, the better your stories, and the more you’ll relate to the audience.

Honesty leads to credibility.

Mark tells it like it is. Otherwise, viewers wouldn’t trust him. When the local team stinks, he says so. That’s how he builds credibility — with fans and the teams he covers. He’s earned their respect because they know he tells the truth. And he’s earned the viewers’ respect for the same reason.

I’ve always said that you can tell when you turn on the TV whether the sportscaster, news anchor, or reporter you’re watching is on TV because they always wanted to be a journalist, or because they just wanted to be a TV personality. You can tell who’s genuine in about 30 seconds. And the same holds true for content marketing.

You can’t fake your way to credibility. Content that’s real and genuine stands out. If it’s real information, real facts that help the audience make an informed decision, it’ll work. If it’s just a camouflaged commercial, if you’re only showing the facts that put your product in the best light, the audience will likely see right through it, and again you’ll miss out on the opportunity to connect with them.

Be real.

No matter how much we discuss the ways Mark built his brand, they are simply smart ways to showcase his real personality. At the end of the day, he’s just a smart, honest, likable guy who loves covering sports. You can’t fake his passion, particularly on social media. Nope, instead of Tweeting various versions of “Tune in at 10,” Mark has conversations with fans. He even retweets some of them. And every time he has another genuine interaction he proves to another group of people that he really is the nice guy they expected him to be.

Brands would be wise to follow his lead. Engage with your audience instead of posting press releases. Keep it real. Just like Mark Rosen.