PR killed the value and concept of brand journalism

Let me begin this column with the personal caveat that as a journalist, I have never fully understood the traditional concept and benefit of “PR.” I have observed that any potential benefits and value of PR are all too often obscured by a compulsiveness to boast and promote.

Traditional PR – with its foundation of news releases, events and balloons – tends to trivialize whatever it touches, at least in my view. You might say that PR has lost its imagination, its mojo.  It’s seldom sustainable, seldom a lasting or good impression.  Not surprising that we are seeing some of the PR agency giants crumble in the last year.

Results from PR are a roll of the dice.

Results from PR are a roll of the dice.

When I transitioned from network news to communications strategist, I found a concrete need among business and organizations to gain substantive and competitive positioning and distinction of voice, especially in noisy business environments. I started by advising leaders on techniques to control what the media reported about their organizations in ways that would create lasting and favorable impressions. “If you want the media to report accurately about your company, learn how to give them a news story,” I advised.

In the mid-1980s, a friend who was an advertising agency executive in Denver, labeled what I was doing as “brand journalism.” I was credibly using news to enhance the brands of business. It was at polar opposites to PR which is promotion oriented. So, I believe I can stake a legitimate claim to having created the pillars of brand journalism even though I prefer to shy away from such labels.

Many CEOs and leaders recognize the importance of conveying an organization’s value and substance to its audiences. And, that’s not achieved by inward-focused, self-aggrandizing bragging and promotion.

The late Steve Jobs never spoke publicly of Apple as “the leading,” “the best,” or “the largest.” Such claims are both contentious and irrelevant. When Jobs spoke publicly, he connected the value of his words in human terms that connected with his audiences. Not surprisingly, when Jobs spoke, audiences listened and he made news.

The secret is simple – never talk about yourself. No one cares. To get attention, talk about value and the things that connect emotionally with audiences to fulfill their needs, not yours.

The press room of a newspaper.

The press room of a newspaper.

This leads me to the proliferation of erroneously-called “PressRooms” of companies, healthcare, and other organizations. A pressroom was a noisy, dirty place filled with large printing presses where newspapers and magazines are (or were) printed.  Just for reference, broadcast news never had such things. In print and broadcast news, news is gathered and written in the “Newsroom.”  But here we are in the digital era, and PR people still use, “press.”

Here’s why the impotent mix of PR, promotion and “pressrooms” today have killed the potential of brand journalism –

  1. Current day “pressrooms” are seldom written as news in a journalistic style.
  2. Pressrooms” mask actual news stories with promotion, marketing, and irrelevant bragging.
  3. Actual site visitor numbers are generally poor-to-mediocre, as measured publicly by Alexa.com. The reason is that visitors don’t care to read or follow such promotion.
  4. Photos used are promotional in style. Everyone is smiling at the camera. That’s not news.
  5. Such sites are developed and managed by PR people, not journalists or anyone with the credentials gained by working in news.
  6. PR people are too often fearful or inexperienced or clueless about contacting a reporter. Most PR people I have known over the years have never bothered to build relationships with the news media.  As a result, PR and marketing have a tradition of hiding behind news releases, paper, voicemail and … pressrooms.

Brand Journalism — RIP.