Brand Journalism: Better Than the Real Deal?
Brand journalism. Maybe you’ve heard the term and wonder what it means. Maybe you’ve also heard that it’s really only meant for the big guys — companies like Nike or Coca-Cola — who can afford to set up true newsroom-style publishing environments in-house.
Actually, if you consistently publish and push out quality content that engages your audience, you’re already a brand journalist. And despite the newspaper journalists snubbing their noses at it, your efforts in brand journalism are a good thing.
Mind you, I believe in the power of objective reporting as much as anyone. But we’re talking about something different here — something that can open doors for your business to voice who you are and what you represent.
What is brand journalism, really? And what makes it an effective form of both marketing and journalism? Here’s my take on what brand journalism means — and why you can no longer dismiss it.
Brand journalism defined
To understand brand journalism, first consider what other forms of journalism involve: researching, reporting, collecting, writing, editing, and disseminating news for broad audiences. Apply that to a company brand, and the tasks of researching, writing, editing, and so on remain the same — but the focus is on your company and industry.
Sounds a lot like content marketing, right? Well, it is content marketing. It’s just another name, one that underscores the fact that good content is a lot like good journalism — both tell stories, rely on credible sources, convey information in clear terms, and are thoroughly fact-checked and remarkably written.
Brand journalism versus journalism
Whether they graduated from J-school or not, brand journalists do what newspaper or magazine journalists do: they find and tell original stories. Both jobs require research, writing, editing, and breaking down complex information in ways general audiences can understand. Both also work under tight, often daily deadlines.
Where the jobs differ, however, is that traditional journalists function more as independent, objective reporters, while brand journalists are affiliated with a brand, and ultimately what they write needs to reflect or align in some way with an overarching company story.
Does this mean that brand journalism is fluff? Not at all. Done well, brand journalism doesn’t read like a sales pitch. In fact, “brand journalism is when a brand [or company] is the platform or the sponsor of content that is created for the user as opposed to the brand,” says long-time content marketer Michael Brenner in an interview with Forbes. “So it is not promotional or insidiously advertising. It is real content created for consumers by people who care about creating quality content.”
Brand journalism and modern marketing
Brand journalists are as much modern marketers as they are journalists. Done well, brand journalism uses well-crafted content to attract, educate, and engage audiences; build credibility among company leaders and employees; achieve core marketing and business objectives; generate demand; and ultimately inspire action.
Now think of the typical newspaper article. Do the same goals of audience engagement and demand generation apply? Not really. The priority is objective reporting, not building trust and offering helpful advice to readers.
“Brand journalists are essentially marketers who approach the promotions of their brand with the eyes, insight, and delivery of a reporter,” says digital marketer James Anderson in an article for Top Rank. In brand journalism, you’re not one or the other — marketer or journalist. You’re both.
Brand journalism comes in many shapes and sizes
Some marketers think brand journalism only works for enterprise-level companies. That’s not the case. Businesses of all sizes practice forms of brand journalism to varying degrees and on different scales. At one end of the spectrum, global companies like Cisco and HSBC operate full-fledged, corporate-branded news sites with stories and videos created largely by in-house editorial teams. These sites come across as authentic media outlets but add to the mix things like case studies, employee profiles, and hyperlinks to company webpages.
At the opposite end, a local healthcare provider might publish blog posts and send digital newsletters with tips on preventive medicine. Or a regional bank might release monthly videos on topics like retirement planning and innovative investing.
In all of these cases, businesses assume the role of publishers and journalists. And why shouldn’t they?
“Instead of letting the media create stories about you and shaping the perception about your brand, you want to shape the perception of your brand yourself using your own media,” says Stacey Acevero, manager of social media at Vocus, in a video interview.
You don’t have to be one of the big guys to be a brand journalist and publish solid, well-researched, well-written content that engages your audience and addresses your marketing goals. Brand journalism/content marketing gives you a platform from which to voice your ideas and build rapport with your audience. Do it well, consistently, and with a plan, and it will pay off.
Want more information about how content marketing (and brand journalism) can move your company forward? Download our eBook, “How to Grow Your Business With Content Marketing.”