What is brand journalism?
Brand journalism is using the tactics of journalism to promote a certain brand. A company uses brand journalism to mold its identity in the eyes of consumers. Describing brand journalism, Lewis PR (2012) stated, “It’s a company investing in content and becoming a provider of news. It is more, much more, than a series of press releases and product launches.” Telling stories, providing thought provoking research, and giving the latest trends of the company through multimedia (video, audio, photography) all plays a role in the expression of brand journalism. Companies’ use this as a way to employ its strategies to connect with their target audiences through different platforms, especially social media. There is much controversy and conflict about the actual term brand journalism and how the practice differentiates from the methods of traditional journalism.
What is traditional journalism?
Traditional journalism is gathering, investigating, and reporting of various events and trends arising in society. It is important for traditional journalist to be unbiased in order to report all sides of the stories they are covering. Journalist must uphold to high ethical standards to be trusted within the industry. With the expansion of Internet use traditional journalism is evolving rapidly. More and more people are moving away from traditional print mediums and relying on the Internet, particularly social media, to gather the latest news.
Brand journalism is growing…
This growing trend is of Internet usage is pushing many companies to turn to this medium to distribute its content leading to conception of brand journalism. Majority of brands are utilizing the switch to the digital times, Lewis PR (2012), observes, “According to research from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 90 percent of non-media companies create original content in some shape or form and more are producing the kind of content in some shape or form and more are producing the kind of content that engages people.” This proves that countless amount of companies are realizing how the Internet can be a vital tool to distributing its messages.
The positives of implementing brand journalism…
A positive side of brand journalism is that it is not a one-sided conversation. It not only allows the brands and companies to have a voice it gives its viewers an opportunity to provided their input, as well. Mark Glaser (2011), the executive editor of PBS MediaShift and Idea Lab, observes, “But the Web has also given corporations the chance to bypass the media and take their message directly to the public. While that is empowering for companies and removes the traditional gatekeeper role of journalist, it also leaves journalist to fend for themselves.” This type of branding brings together marketer and consumer building relationships that were so easily accessible in the past using traditional advertising. Though, this type of openness can bring about some disruptions for the brand if it is not being transparent and honest with the claims that are being distributed. This can stir up much controversy for the company.
Companies’ must establish a trusting relationship with its audiences when distributing brand journalism. Lewis PR (2012), a large trusted company that has offered digital communications services for many years indicates,
To be credible and to establish a reader’s trust, brand journalism must stand up to the finest values of journalism:
It has to be based on facts
Be fast and topical
New content should be generated often and consistently
It must give value to the reader or viewer
There must be complete transparency about the origins of the content. (pg. 7)
These brands must keep up with the fast pace of the Internet by delivering its information very rapidly to keep their viewers interested in the content. Consumers are turning away from the traditional modes of advertising and brand journalism is a way for companies to conform to the changing times.
There are some negative aspects to brand journalism…
Social media platforms provide the target audiences with a voice to respond back to claims made by these various companies implementing this type of journalism. One example of an audience having a powerful voice can be seen in a brand journalism campaign attempted by McDonalds. Andy Bull (n.d.), author of Brand Journalism, writes,
McDonalds, for example, works hard to present itself as a socially responsible company with high ethical standards. Among other things, it likes to portray itself as a friend of the farmer. But there is strong dissent from this image in some quarters. McDonalds can spend a great deal of time and money creating a campaign on social media, only to have it subverted by individuals with no power and no money. Those individuals don’t have to own a printing press or a TV station to get their views out there, as in the past.
When the audience has this type of voice against certain brands it can often times interfere with the ultimate agenda of the company. If one person makes a valid rebuttal that is truthful and goes against the claims of a brand then their opinion can convince others to oppose the claims made by this company. This ultimately can tarnish the companies’ reputation, but it can quickly recover by using some tactics to regain the trust of their audiences once again.
Traditional journalists have their reservations about the onset of the term brand journalism because of the belief that it may challenge the foundation that journalism stands upon. With this in mind, Andy Bull (n.d.) expresses, “Opponents of brand journalism argue that there is no transparency with it. That vested interests can create platforms that appear to be independent of them but which are actually there to serve their agendas and interests.” Those that resist the term brand journalism state that this practice is biased because brands are using this type of communication sway the audience to adopt the companies’ opinions. Many believe that the term journalism should not be used to describe this type of branding.
Corporate media is an alternate term that some use to describe the practice of brand journalism. The alternative is exactly what it states it is the media that a corporation produces. Bob Gellar, a column writer on content marketing for Maximize Social Business, said, ‘“Brand journalism” has always struck me as somewhat of an oxymoron, as true journalism is general, i.e., not so starkly held captive by commercial interests. ‘Corporate media’ doesn’t have this problem; it seems more neutral, expansive and accurate” (Gombita, 2013). Using the term corporate media encompasses all of the different types of materials distributed by a brand and it does not exude the stigma of having to uphold the term brand journalism.
In the end…
Brand journalism or corporate media, whichever title you render more appropriate, can be a positive and powerful distribution agent when employed properly by a brand. It allows consumers to explore a different, more personal, side to a company that it would not have normally discovered with traditional marketing tactics. It is opening up the doors between the audience and products/services. Social media has helped to fuel brand journalism, Bull (n.d.) mentions, “Social media brings the added dimension to the dissemination of news and information that it is passed among groups of friends, colleagues or those bound by some other sort of self-defined common interest by way of personal recommendation.” Feedback is instantly provided to the company through social media helping brands to correct anything that must be addressed within its marketing strategies.
Overall, when writing and distributing information about their particular brand a company will be biased. Consumers look to those traditional journalists to provide them with a truthful account about a product or service. Lewis PR (2012) states, “Along with citizen journalism and social media conversations, brand journalism is playing its part in that media explosion. Traditional media will play a crucial role for years to come as most of us will continue to turn to those trusted sources to reaffirm and clarify what we might have picked up earlier online.” Their opinions are from people just the same as the consumer and not one being distributed by a brand. Having a person (traditional journalist) give advice along with reviews of a product/service provides the audience with an unbiased account.
Various professionals believe that corporate media is a much better term than brand journalism. Tom Foremski, a journalist, states, “I prefer the term corporate media. Corporate media spans the entire spectrum of publishing by a corporation. It can include material that is journalistic in its construct and intent” (Gombita, 2013). Using the label corporate media instead of brand journalism can take away all the conflict and controversy that comes along from labeling it actual journalism. For many, it can cause confusion to call this practice brand journalism because some question if the practice is actual journalism.