A recent graduate of Journalism school, I spent the last few months of college hearing that my choice of major would ultimately result in unemployment. Newspaper is dying, they told me. The Internet doesn’t need journalists to create content, they said. No offense to my former professors, but Journalism, as I see it, is alive and well. The only difference is that instead of just writing for newspapers, journalists are reporting for brands. The phenomenon is called brand journalism, and it’s changing the role of journalists from that of reporters to marketers
So what exactly is brand journalism? Essentially, it is content produced on behalf of a brand with journalistic principles in mind.¹ Brand journalism is a mix of all the best elements of traditional journalism, PR, and corporate communications to help tell the story of a brand.
Traditional journalism is created for the purpose of informing the public through a process of research, interviewing, and objective reporting. A brand journalist takes these skills and applies them to content they produce for brands.
A by-product of the quickening content marketing revolution, brand journalism is communication without the sell. Unlike traditional marketing and public relations, which are rooted in the sell, brand journalism offers an unbiased message designed to be informative to readers.
A press release can often be bogged down with quixotic prose that a marketer would like a journalist to regurgitate. But journalists don’t want to read those press releases, and they don’t want to write articles like that because they are not sales people.
Someone working in a journalistic capacity knows how to extend information that his or her audience will find useful. Instead of the “Me! Me! Me!” quality of a hard sell, a journalist focuses on giving out facts, information, and resources. Sound familiar? These are the same things any brand wants to achieve with content marketing. Using a journalistic approach as part of your content marketing strategy will bring the much sought after element of storytelling to your brand.
McDonald’s chief marketing officer Larry Light was first to use the term brand journalism in 2004. Light explained brand journalism as a way to “record what happens to a brand in the world.” Instead of continuing to put time and resources into brand positioning, Light realized the benefit of a multifaceted content strategy, approaching his brand like a newspaper editor might approach his next issue. 2
Companies should be taking the rise of brand journalism as a unique opportunity to control their message. Instead of relying on traditional media and press, brands can enlist their own journalists to tell their stories and mold the way the public sees them.
Here are four basic reasons why brand journalists make excellent content creators:
1. A journalist knows how to tell a story.
Journalists are trained to know what questions to ask and how best to relay information to a reader. They know how to structure a story that makes people want to continue reading.
2. A journalist thinks about their audience
Instead of focusing everything they write on the brand they work for, someone with a background in journalism thinks about the person for whom they are writing. When they sit down to create a story, they know that there is no obligation for anyone to read their content; that type of pressure leads to higher-quality writing.3
3. A journalist tells the truth
Something about the way a journalist is taught to research and write a story makes it more objective and removed from a company’s traditional internal marketing efforts. A journalist can generally be counted on to give both sides of the story
4. A journalist understands how to use quotes and give credit to sources
Journalists are trained to research and then attribute their findings to their original sources. They don’t plagiarize, they demand factual accuracy, and they verify sources.
An essential element of your content marketing strategy is choosing someone to create it. That person needs to have the right voice, and right set of writing skills in order to tell your brand’s story. This is where it is useful to have a brand journalist on staff.
The lines are blurring between public relations and corporate communications. Content is the key to finding your customers, but it won’t do anything for you if it isn’t well written, relevant, and balanced. To achieve these elements, you should take care to choose someone who will best represent you in the digital sphere. Peter Stringer, Sr. Director of Interactive Media for the Boston Celtics said, “Brands must be vigilant and selective when deciding who will brandish their digital media assets. A journalism degree would be a logical baseline requirement.”4
I’ll end with a few examples of companies that have clearly taken measures to incorporate the journalistic mindset into their content.
Cisco is considered one of the leaders of the brand journalism movement. In their blog, most of the articles don’t mention Cisco at all. The goal is not to talk about Cisco, but rather to lead a conversation about the industry they represent.
Home Depot puts out a blog filled with DIY and home improvement projects. Yes, the idea may be to buy your supplies at their store, but it’s never specifically stated. This allows readers to draw their own conclusions about where to shop
The Greek yogurt company is doing a lot of things right with respect to content marketing, but their blog is another good example of how a company can interact with its customers in a lighthearted but information-oriented way.
1 Multimedia Journalism, “What Brand Journalism is and Why You Need to Know About it”
2 Paper.li,“Andy Bull: How to Get Brand Journalism Right”
3 Marketing Profs, “Seven Reasons your Content Marketing Needs a Brand Journalist”