Lately, I’ve been puzzled by the term “brand journalism.”
In one sense, it seems like an oxymoron. How could a journalist ever be a brand advocate? I always thought journalists were supposed to be objective.
But if a company hires a journalist to tell great stories, is that brand journalism? Or, is there a rule that suggests it’s in poor taste to combine “brand” with “journalism?”I’m a former journalist myself. I earned my “news/editorial” degree at Kent State University way back in 1986. I spent the next 10 years writing for community dailies and editing industry reports for a monthly business magazine. In 1997, I started writing, editing, and marketing website content.
I’ve compiled seven great insights about the value of having journalists write stories for brands — whether the job refers to “brand journalism,” “copywriting,” “public relations,” or “marketing.” I’ll start with some perspectives writers have shared for Content Marketing Institute, and add some additional advice I’ve picked up over time.
In his article, “Journalism + Marketing = Content Success for UPS Compass,” CMI Founder Pulizzi shared some thoughts from Kirk Cheyfitz of Story Worldwide. Here is a portion of Cheyfitz’s advice that still rings true several years later:
“In the advertising age, 2 percent conversion on any ad is considered a success. That model is not only deteriorating, it’s simply not enough. Our goal must be 100 percent engagement in the brand.
“To do this, marketers must learn the best practices of journalism and execute that through their marketing programs. Journalism is the key word here.”
With her CMI article, “6 Ideas B2B Content Marketers Can Take from Professional Journalists,” Clare McDermott noted that the focus should be on reporting a story and not marketing a product:
“This seems nearly too basic to say here, but some marketers still must be reminded to silence the pitch when developing content. Focus on the issues and trends that matter most to your customers and prospects, spend time on research and analysis to uncover new angles on an existing subject, then make sure you have a first-class writer to transform the subject into a compelling story.”
Dennis McCafferty included that advice in his CMI article, “6 Questions Content Marketers Should Ask Before Hiring a Journalist.”
Here is a summary:
“Any former journo-turned-content-marketing pro worth his or her salt understands this one tried-and-true organizational formula applies to pretty much all projects: ‘Start with a problem. End with a solution.’ It’s that simple. Customers face a challenge, and a client/ brand finds a unique way to address it. While the problem and solution is specific to the customer’s situation, a writer candidate should be able to demonstrate a history of being able to connect the ‘unique’ to a universal user/reader base (i.e., the target audience).
“Much of the success (or lack thereof) here will depend upon research/interviewing skills. When speaking to a client or customer, do they ‘read from a script’ in a stilted manner? Or do they engage the interviewee on a personal level — through humor, empathy, shared experiences, charm, and/ or whatever else it takes to loosen ’em up — to encourage information sharing?”
Pulizzi also explored brand journalism with his CMI article, “Can A Brand Journalist Still Be A Journalist? Does It Matter?” There, he shared an email from Rex Hammock, CEO of content marketing services company Hammock Inc.
Here is a portion:
“Great companies, associations, and institutions realize that when people have stepped forward to buy from or join or attend or support them, the role of the corporation is to help enable those individuals to be ‘better customers.’ Helpful, informative and inside knowledge presented in insightful, entertaining, or productive ways are what great corporate media should be all about. If the content is not legitimate, or is merely puffery, then it will serve neither the company’s nor the customer’s needs — and it will fail.”
5. Educate first
Although brand journalism is soft advertising, its first mission should be about education. The journalist should get all of the facts and nuances from the right sources to provide a captivating story that will draw attention to the brand. But the key is to educate. The last thing you want to do is come across like an infomercial.
6. Be sure to measure your efforts
Incorporating analytics into your brand journalism is important to gauge readership and ROI. Using analytics and SEO will help cultivate your strategy on what kind of content to develop. If readers key in on Product A, you don’t want to write content on Product C. You want quality content that you can measure (including page views, time spent on site, social sharing, visits from search engines, comments, inbound links from referring sources, and more).
7. Approach brand journalism as part of a communications strategy
Todd Blecher, currently the Director of External Communications for Boeing Defense, Space & Security, emphasized the role of brand journalism in a communications strategy in his post, “The Force Behind Successful Brand Journalism.”
Without that structure, Blecher noted, brand journalism content will “communicate in a vacuum, [providing] little benefit to the organization and of little interest to audiences.”
To support the strategy, Blecher also suggested hiring former journalists. Leveraging their training and wisdom can save money and hassles:
“Organizations doing brand journalism are publishers. They need to think about broad and timely content distribution, editorial calendars, and a strategy for repurposing stories. Former media journalists know how to do all that.”
Regardless of what it’s called, I think brand journalism has much to offer companies. They can succeed by taking the time to develop credible, engaging content for the right audience.
How is your business using journalism best practices to tell a story? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Visit the CMI website for more tips on using brand journalism to incorporate your business’ story in all of your content marketing efforts.
Cover image via Bigstock.