Brand Journalism. A communications style still ahead of its time

Brand Journalism … Is the communications concept of using balanced, transparent and appealing news storytelling – actual news stories – to catch audience interest and enhance the image or perception of a corporation or organization. It has been practiced by very small, very exclusive group of communicators for at least 30 years. And still, its time has yet to arrive.

When I decided to leave CBS Network News, I said I was open to many ideas but not washing windows or doing traditional PR. In the intervening years, I’ve washed windows of my houses and cars but in the field of communications, I have focused on news storytelling to influence favorable outcomes, and it has served my clients well.

Brand journalism works to engage audiences. Why? Because it delivers stories and information that audiences want to hear. People have heard more than enough PR-type promotions, and therein is the rub. The big stumbling block is acceptance of new concepts by the PR and communications industry. They won’t budge from decades-old habits and tactics.

The way I see it, sharing a story that audiences care about is a whole lot more effective to get someone’s attention than falling into the predictable rut of traditional PR … which has not changed much in decades. While technology has changed, PR has remained in the mode of announcements, promotions, publicity and pushing stuff at audiences that by and large no longer are listening.

The pitches that Greg Dobbs and I get each day at BoomerCafé.com from PR agencies, large and small, are the same style, same trite words we heard a thousand times while working at television networks news. BoomerCafé.com is the popular online magazine for baby boomers with active lifestyles we founded 13 years ago.

What does it say for PR? Well, for one thing, it’s a copycat business, lacking in imaginative new ideas. It’s also a lazy business. And, that leads me back to brand journalism. The more I have advocated brand journalism before audiences of mostly PR people in the U.S. and Europe, the more I find them afraid of giving it a try – yes, it means a lot of more work.

I have actually had agency owners tell me that brand journalism is a communications discipline that’s beyond the skill set of their staff members. Or, some people just try to copycat the name while continuing to do the same old PR/flack/publicity stuff.

It’s too bad, really. Because in today’s chaotic news world, there is growing demand for timely, relevant news and information. Audiences want helpful and meaningful information, regardless of source. Brand journalism or whatever the heck it’s called will effectively meet those needs and make a difference.


2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. David, I haven’t heard of the term “Brand Journalism” before, so thanks for giving this concept a proper name. I believe what you describe as PR is a “lazy business” model of doing our profession, but it’s not what true PR should be. True and effective PR is all about identifying the publics, effectively telling the stories of a brand that will resonate with those publics, providing information relevant to the needs and desires of the publics, and sharing in a conversation about how that brand can help those publics. Have you heard of the term “news jacking” ( I would love to hear your thoughts on this concept.

    • DH says:

      Many thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts. I have to admire David Meerman Scott for coining (or making up) the term, news jacking, as the premise to write another book. While not a practitioner, journalist or business consultant, David has been clever at cranking out multiple books a year to support his lecturing business. As for news jacking, it’s just a made-up term that I believe will help David land more speaking gigs. But, news jacking is NOT a reality in the real world, and certainly not in today’s digital era with 24/7 news cycles. I would say, get real! Additionally, I don’t believe it has much merit for any professional communicator. To be candid, were any communicator to seek to get into a news cycle that David describes, it would be all-consuming and inhibit, in my opinion, more sustained and credible communications for a company or organization. It would be akin to PR ambulance-chasing. And, that PR person probably would put their job on the line.

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