In the most recent post, I discussed the decline in blogging; but suggested it hasn’t so much as died as evolved into an aspect of the current “content marketing” theme. Today, I learned about another way to express the concept — the phrase “brand journalism”.
In the brand journalism concept, instead of pitching stories to conventional journalists, businesses write their own stories and use them to convey a variety of messages. The stories obviously aren’t objective (a corporation can’t be expected to write a negative story about itself!) but capture the interest, relevance and attention of journalism, and thus are much more credible and engaging.
Thomas Scott and Greg Lacour write in What is brand journalism, exactly, and is brand journalism the same as journalism?:
it’s all about telling stories aimed at specific audiences. That’s it. Objectivity is a fantasy; a news reporter can’t help but bring his or her biases to a story, no matter how hard he or she tries to be impartial. The practice of journalism, at its core, is about earning and keeping a reader’s interest. Journalism is about finding the essence of a story and deciding how to retell what you find so it is interesting and helpful for a reader. This starts with a catchy headline, moves on to an interesting lead and continues through the body of the article. Like all stories, it has a beginning, middle and an end.
Brand journalists, writers who practice journalism-style storytelling on behalf of a company, have to accomplish the same goal: earn and keep an audience’s attention. They have to collect and edit stories about a company and present them to the company’s audience through a variety of media.
Stories have to be authentic, full of real people doing real things. They should offer transparency into the culture of a brand, and they should give anyone doing online research answers to the questions they are asking. Stories should be interesting to read and helpful. Solid stories earn and keep trust with readers. Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen a “business profile” in the newspaper. OK, it’s not technically an ad. But it sure has the same impact, doesn’t it? So what’s the difference? If a story is accurate and genuine and written to appeal to a specific audience’s interests, how is a piece of brand journalism anything other than journalism?
I developed an effective approach to brand journalism more than 25 years ago upon winning the contract to write a regular newsletter for the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA). With my training and skills in conventional journalism, I set out to write the newsletter as if it was an independent publication including, where appropriate, seeking out and quoting the opposing viewpoint in the publication. The idea worked — even though we fairly reported views that might be against the development community, the respect for the other side in fact enhanced the association’s credibility in expressing its own values.
This balanced approach also applies to our advertorial and pay-for-play projects. Of course, we’ll generate the “rah rah rah” format stories if that is what the advertiser-clients want, but the most effective work has a more subtle and nuanced tone, and tells the story without being overbearingly positive. In the best situations, our brand journalism stories are so good that they become seed content for independent journalistic coverage.