Brands + Journalism: Unholy Alliance or New Marketplace Reality?

Posted by on November 21, 2012

Last week, Forbes published an article titled, “Journalists Need to Understand the Ad Business, Not Sulk and Go Home,” authored by Lewis DVorkin which discusses the changing landscape of digital advertising, and increasingly grim economics of journalism.  DVorkin suggests that it’s the duty of journalists in the newsroom to find solutions for their flagging traditional media outlets, and within the discussion, he devotes considerable attention to the increasing popularity of branded content.

“Marketers are no longer satisfied with the 100-year-old silos that media professionals forced them into — containers intended to safeguard journalistic “truths” from mighty advertisers and to protect consumers from confusion, or themselves,” he writes, going on to note marketers’ desire to be “natural participants in user experiences, not intrusive or disruptive side shows within them.”   In a nutshell, marketers recognize the value of generating earned media, and are less interested in simple “impressions.”   And, as we all know, earned media is generated when readers take an extra step

Many journalists decry the advent of brand journalism, recoiling at the use of the hallowed term “journalism” in the context of what is, undeniably, promotional material.   On the one hand, I can see where they’re coming from – whether you call it content marketing or brand journalism or native advertising, the intention of this content isn’t to merely inform the audience.  The intent is to influence action.

Unholy alliance, or simple reality?

But leaving intention and outcomes aside for a minute, it’s interesting to think about why brands find journalistic efforts and content publication effective.   Simply put, brands are filling voids in their marketplaces, listening to customer voices and answering their questions.  The content they publish is read and shared by their audiences, where it gains credibility each time it’s recommended via a tweet or social share.  Search engines notice the signals, and the content rises toward the top on the search results page.   There’s a lot for a brand to love about this kind of earned media and viral messaging.

The earned media opportunity for brands

Certainly, the content is designed to steer readers one way, or another.  And, let’s be frank – there’s enough discussion these days about media biases to suggest that steering reader action isn’t the exclusive domain of marketers.   But in that aside, it’s important to note that in order to be effective, the content brands publish has to be truly useful, interesting or entertaining (or any combination thereof.)   Put another way, publishing lousy content is waste of a brand’s resources.

  • Utility – Is the content useful to your audience? Will it make their job easier or improve their performance?  According to Mitch Joel of TwistImage, the very future of content marketing lies in the ability of brands to provide utility to their audiences in the content they publish.  He challenges marketers to think about whether or not they’re adding value every time they press publish, rather than simply adding just more static and noise to the ecosystem.
  • Transparency – Is the relationship to the brand made crystal clear to the readers?  As soon as your audience discovers you’re trying to mask your identity or appear independent rather than connected to a brand, you will lose all credibility and goodwill.  If you’re really unlucky, you may trigger a PR crisis.  People appreciate authentic and credible content, and ultimately, publishing good content will reflect well on the brand.  Make radical transparency standard operating practice
  • Interest – Is the content interesting? Is it relevant to your audiences needs?  Does it provide new information, answer their questions or offer unique perspective?  People won’t share boring, hum-drum content.   Make sparking your audience’s imaginations, stoking their ambitions and fueling their conversations the goal of the content you publish.

One challenge the media marketplace continues to struggle with is the rise of the crowd as editor.  Readers now vote with eyeballs and clicks, and are the final arbiters on whether or not an article or piece of content is ultimately successful.  Newsrooms now count traffic to individual articles in real-time, and the number of times an article is read is now a serious KPI for many media outlets.

So, whether you’re a professional journalist, a marketing maven or a PR pro, if you’re charged with developing content for your brand, there are three imperatives you must keep in mind if what you publish is to generate any sort of return on your efforts.

We’re shining the spotlight on earned media!

PR Newswire’s Earnies awards recognize recognizes innovative earned media campaigns executed through social media.   It’s the first socially-selected awards program where the community decides the final winners.

The deadline is November 30th, and submission is easy and free!

Previously published November 20, 2012 on BeyondPR by author Sarah Skerik, PR Newswire’s VP of social media.