In a News World, the Rise of Brand Journalism

Intense mandates on hourly billing hamstring many communications firms in the U.S. from embracing new methods. And, that includes the digital revolution. Many are not in touch with trends of the digital revolution that are screaming past them at light speed. Many slow-to-adapt PR and marketing execs do not yet have Twitter or any social media involvement.

conglomerateThis is particularly true of the mega-PR and advertising agencies owned by conglomerates of financially driven holding companies that are fixated on generating max billable hours from clients. Talk with any of them — as I have for many years — about the value of brand journalism to expeditiously enhance brand distinction for clients, and there’s push-back to that idea or many new concepts. Why? The unrelenting billing demands perpetuate working in silos. Even New Media firms acquired by the holding companies are still focused more on pushing rather than listening and engaging.

Yet experts see greater opportunities in the field of communications. London-based trend researcher Ines Nadal of the authentically enlightened firm Ipsos MORI presents clear perspective of now and the future … DH

By Ines Nadal of London-based Ipsos MORI

To say that the newspaper industry is undergoing enormous change would be somewhat of an understatement, but the decline of traditional print media brings new online opportunities. The US Economic Report of the President shows that online publishing was actually the third fastest-growing industry between 2007 and 2011. With news being one of the things people like to share opinions on, newspapers and magazines started publishing free content online and added Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to encourage their online readers to share and comment on articles. Sites like The Huffington Post or Gizmodo, driven by connected content and participation, now get millions of visitors every month, attracted by their combination of news, aggregated content and blogs. The Huffington Post already gets more traffic than The Washington Post or L.A. Times sites, getting closer to NYT.com.

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Cycling into the future: Communications trends visionary Ines Nadal.

And we have another kid on the block: brand journalism, named as one of the top digital trends for 2013. What exactly is brand journalism? It combines the approaches of professional journalism and brand storytelling to create, curate and share information, looking to engage and educate the brand’s target audience with relevant content, but without being too ‘salesly’. Let’s be clear: brand journalism is not content marketing. Content marketing develops content related to your brand, thinking how the brand can benefit from it, whereas brand journalism looks at how an audience can benefit from content that has been created by the brand.

In the last two years some of the biggest brands in the world have created news sites that are becoming increasingly influential in their fields, like HSBC’s Business Without Borders, Intel’s Free Press, the excellent CMO from Adobe or Coca Cola Journey. As Ashley Brown, director for digital communications and social media at the Coca-Cola Company, said in an interview for the NYT last year, the site is very much like a newspaper or a magazine.

However, there is a key difference between these branded news sites and newspapers and magazines: the content comes from the brand’s point of view and the storytelling is subjective, rather than objective, being of course favourable to the company’s brands and interests. Despite this subjectivity, Brown says that they want to be a credible news source. To ensure these branded news sites come across as authentic and informative, companies are putting a lot of resources behind them. Coca Cola employs more than 40 professionals, including journalists, external contributors and photographers. Another brand news site, The Financialist (by Credit Suisse), counts among its contributors financial journalists, economists and marketing experts. This shows how sites are constantly updated with high quality content and design that can rival traditional media’s offer.

There are huge benefits for brands that practice good brand journalism. As consumers and businesses become more social, brand journalism can help companies to create interest among their audiences, leaving behind outdated press releases and push marketing. There is an opportunity to build a connection with readers and improve your reputation; if people visit your news site and identify with the content, you can improve your brand’s image and become a trusted leader in your industry.

I believe brand journalism is not a fad and we will see more and more brands developing their own media. It is true that not all brands have the resources to match the efforts of HSBC or Coca-Cola and that developing a media outlet is not an option for most brands. But marketers must realise that it provides a great opportunity to engage with their audience and increase relevance of their brand. In today’s media environment, there is no longer a place for traditional corporate communications. Brand marketers need to think about how brand journalism can support their strategy and the shift in thinking that adopting this requires. Companies need to act like a journalist to create credible and honest content that adds value, in a way that will make people come back to get more and more.

And let’s not forget that we are talking about brand journalism, not brand marketing.

Ines Nadal is Head of Trends & Futures at London-based Ipsos MORI. Follow her on Twitter @inesnadal.

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3 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Brand Journalism may not be brand marketing, but that is, after all is said and done, its very purpose. I think your piece is timely and spot on, I am just concerned that we have lost something special, that might be very difficult if not impossible to get back, if it still existed at all. That is a free press, the Fourth estate, open, inquisitive, objective reporting of the news of the day, with educated commentary to follow. Alas, we are now bombarded with liberal, progressive or conservative agendas, subjective news reporting and now brand journalism. Oh well, we are now a vociferous consumer nation, and we are being guided (herded) to be even greater consumers of things, but perhaps just not truth or facts or what will really advance our society.

  2. Alan says:

    Most clients use their websites to send “news” to employees, clients, the media, etc., so they don’t respond to your approach to “brand journalism.”

    • Alan,

      The blog posting is about an expert research report by a respected firm in the U.K.

      I don’t expect to have the value and journalistic grounding of brand journalism to be embraced by everyone. It is a new concept.

      David

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