The ongoing demise of journalism as a profession in its current form is well-documented. Traditional print outlets are drying up left and right, those still in business are cutting staff, and many online news outlets are mere aggregators and produce little, to no, original content.
What is a j-school grad to do?
One answer is “brand journalism.” Here’s a quick-hit description from a blog post of mine at MarketingSherpa titled, “Content Marketing: Should you lure a journalist over to the ‘dark side?’”:
Defining “brand journalism”
The idea is for companies to hire actual J-school trained journalists and give them free-reign to cover stories that involve topics of interest to the company’s customers and the general space of the business, but not exert any control over the story creation process, and certainly to not require — or even ask — the brand journalist to cover the company’s “story.” The brand journalist is to act as, well, a journalist.
Of course many veterans of copy desks, editorial rooms, city beats and magazine mastheads think of marketing as the “dark side,” and see going to work for a company as joining forces with Darth Vader, the Emperor, and the rest of the gang at the Death Star.
On the other hand, many journalists are in search of work in this tough media economy so there’s a lot of talented people out there to wheezily reach out to with an offer of doing real journalism, just doing it in a different setting.
As you might guess, for brand journalism to work it takes a leap of faith of sorts from two different parties. One, the brand journalist coming from a traditional media background is likely going to be very skeptical of going corporate.
And just as importantly, it requires some deft internal politicking from the marketing department to convince the C-suite one of the best content marketing moves is to hire a journalist and essentially give them total editorial control over what they produce.
Here is noted marketing author and speaker, David Meerman Scott, on why journalist are best suited for this new marketing role:
I’m convinced that those with the traditional skills of marketing, public relations, advertising, and copywriting are not the right people to create brand journalism content. Instead you need the skills of a journalist.
The idea of hiring journalists is a new one at companies, but I think it is essential for success.
Content marketing is increasingly important across the entire function. It’s not enough to pump out the occasional white paper and carefully hone the corporate message. People are more and more looking to companies for general information about the industry, and for links to outside sources of to that information.
Content marketing, particularly utilizing an independent brand journalist, can provide that credibility for companies, and offer meaningful work for an un- or under-employed journalist.
Curious how the term came about? Here’s Susan Solomon in ClickZ:
Have you heard the buzz about “brand journalism”? The term was coined by McDonald’s chief Global marketing officer, Larry Light. Light recently announced Mickey D’s would no longer pursue a singular brand message. Instead, the global giant will tailor its brand communications to niche markets and adapt them to media in which they appear.
“Identifying one brand position, communicating it in a repetitive manner is old-fashioned, out of date, out of touch,” Light says. “Simplistic marketing is marketing suicide.”
Why brand journalism? Because journalism involves telling many facets of a story to diverse groups of people. Face it, gigantic international conglomerates such as McDonald’s have diverse audiences to reach. That’s why the current campaign, “i’m lovin’ it” lends itself well to diversified marketing. McDonald’s can demonstrate how many different target audiences “love” the product in a variety of ways.