What is brand journalism?

brand journalism People today are inundated with advertising. So much so that they (both consciously and subconsciously) filter messaging conveyed by ads. Estimates of just how many advertising messages the average American sees everyday ranges wildly, as Forbes contributor Jason DeMers observes “Increasingly, marketers are finding that offering more – more copy, more complexity, more information – isn’t working like it once did. With estimates that the average American sees anywhere from 250 to several thousand ads or marketing messages every day, there’s simply no way to keep pace if your strategy is to be ‘bigger and louder’. Instead, brands need to think strategically about how to stand out amidst the clutter.”

The public relations industry developed in large part to accomplish that for brands through news coverage and other exposure. With today’s modern audience being more fragmented than ever before, using brand journalism is a strategic way to stand out. If done well, it will engage your key audiences and provide ideal strategic content for social media.

What is brand journalism?
Brand journalism involves telling news-style stories about an organization that resonate with the audience. It means telling them a compelling story in a journalistic way, not bombarding them with information or marketing speak. True brand journalism is well-crafted content that is produced by professionals who are trained in journalism, and connects to something newsworthy in the eyes of your audience.

Larry Light was the chief marketing officer for McDonald’s, one of the first major brands to launch brand journalism tactics. In his guest column “Brand Journalism Is a Modern Marketing Imperative: How Brand Journalism Is Impacting Brand Management” (Advertising Age – July 2014) Light says the three brand journalism implications for brand management are:

  1. Brand journalism is a modern marketing imperative. Brand journalism creates an evolving brand story. It is the best way to attract and interest consumers with a continuing flow of valuable, relevant, integrated and engaging content — advertising, articles, blog posts, social media, live events, videos and social media.
  2. Use brand journalism to become a multi-dimensional conversationalist.We have evolved from monologue to dialogue to “multi-logue” communications. With multiple formats providing content in a sharing environment, we have moved from one-way lecturing to two-way conversation to multi-way communication of shared information and opinions.
  3. Think like a journalist. Brand managers are editors of a brand journal. Brand journalism marries brand management and journalistic storytelling. It takes both skill sets and merges them into an energetic communications platform. In our changed marketing environment, marketers need to focus on creating interesting, ongoing content that will attract and engage consumers, rather than relying on old-fashioned, simplistic, repetitive message pushing.

In my role as Chief Communications Officer for Brandman University, I really see my job as being the chief storyteller for the nonprofit university. I hired a former news reporter from the Orange County Register to serve as the lead writer on my team, and draw from my experience in TV news to produce video news segments. We created Brandman News Now to house all of the content, which is pushed out through social media channels.

How can you practice brand journalism? 

Cover events like a reporter would. Here’s an example of a story I did for American Career College with amazing visuals (teddy bears!)

Another example is this story I did for Brandman University, which connected the event to a newsworthy story (the teacher shortage in California):

When you come across a unique or interesting story within your organization, tell the story like a journalist. Here’s an example I did for West Coast University about twin sisters:

Another example is this story about a Navy veteran who inspired the Brandman University community through his perseverance against cancer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgGYETdgO7M

Connect your organization to national trends or external issues larger than your company. That has long been the basis of effective proactive media relations – use this approach for brand journalism as well. For example, here’s a piece about men in nursing for West Coast University that we produced for Nurse’s Week:

Another example is this piece for Brandman University following an announcement by President Obama:

Create a sense of community through short, people-focused features. When you make employees (and students & faculty) the ‘star’ of short profile pieces, it fosters great internal buzz. For example, on my team we do a weekly segment called “What’s on your desk?” and share other short pieces we call Quick Takes.

Of course we still engage in traditional P.R. tactics, including strategic proactive media outreach. The brand journalism approach has been very effective in creating strong social media content that people like and created an ecosystem of story sharing that yields many stories, some of which are picked up by news media. Moreover, nowadays your media pitch becomes much more attractive if you already have great multi-media content available to support it. Have you tried brand journalism at your organization? I’d love to hear about it.