Every organization today, large or small, is in the content production business to some extent. Many companies take the traditional marketing approach to their content. This usually involves putting their product or service first—sales-focused content. Why you should buy certain software, or what the benefits are of specific supplements, or how much money you can save by switching to a different brand.
But when it comes to content, there is another approach that focuses entirely on information. Brand journalism is about knowledge sharing instead of direct selling or marketing.
The concept of brand journalism is for a company to establish itself as a trustworthy source of information and news about the particular topic or space in which they operate. If customers can rely on the company for useful insights then they will be more likely to buy products or services from that company in the future.
In recent years, brand journalism has exploded. From podcasts to print magazines, companies are hiring brand journalists and building newsrooms to support media ventures that they hope will boost their bottom lines.
To define brand journalism, it helps to first start with the definition of journalism. The American Press Institute’s basic definition of journalism is: “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.” API also describes essential elements of journalism, which include the obligation to truth, dedication to verification, and maintaining independence. It is essential that when corporations engage in journalism that they adhere to these same standards.
So the definition of brand journalism is very similar to that of journalism itself. Brand journalists seek to deliver useful, unbiased information to help readers understand and stay informed about specific topics. Those topics just depend on the company’s area of focus.
For example, Marriott Hotels now publishes a number of digital travel-focused magazines. Their magazines cover topics including travel tips, hotel design insights, and more. Other companies are creating journalism on topics they feel are socially and culturally important. Starbucks is an example of this. Starbucks has ventured into multimedia storytelling with a former Washington Post reporter at the helm of its brand journalism outlet.
There are a number of ways to start doing brand journalism at your company. Let’s take a look at some of the different approaches.
Hiring trained reporters is one key way that companies start to build a team of brand journalists. Journalists have specialized training and experience in news gathering, fact checking, researching, and journalistic writing that can help you develop a strong brand news team.
You can also offer training and teach journalism skills to your existing content and marketing team. There are a number of online journalism courses that can help you if you have a more traditional marketing team that needs to gain journalism writing skills. Check out Poynter’s online News University.
Now, if you’re a journalist looking to get in the brand journalism game, you may be looking to pick up some different kinds of skills. You’re already a journalism pro, but now you have to turn those journalism skills towards helping a company build a content model that makes sense for their audience. Gaining an understanding of content marketing can help you learn how to leverage your journalism skills in new ways. You can try out online courses such as through Content Science Academy to gain some quick tips and tricks as you pivot into a new chapter as a brand journalist.
Another way to publish great brand journalism is to partner with a brand journalism or sponsored content studio. Many traditional news outlets now have their own content studios that work directly with companies to create brand journalism.
For example, The New York Times has TBrand, which has worked with brands including Dropbox, Invesco, Tide and many others to create all types of journalistic content. The New York Times runs this type of content on their website but clearly labels it as a “paid post” and notes that “The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in this post’s creation.” This helps the news outlet maintain its credibility and it allows the company paying for the content to show it is transparent and trustworthy as well.
Once you have the right team, you need to set up your brand journalism operation—strong processes and procedures to produce compelling content. Since you’re in the journalism business now, you definitely want to follow the news, meaning trends and headlines. You don’t necessarily need to break stories, but if there is a major story that everyone in your space is talking about, you probably want to have a unique take on the topic via your brand journalists.
You also will need to figure out how much content you can produce on an ongoing basis. As a journalism outlet, you will need to produce content on a regular cadence so readers know they can rely on you. And journalism isn’t just the news of the day, it can also involve longer-term projects such as profiles, in-depth series, or features. Plan out a mix of these different types of stories that will work best for you.
Building in time for editing and fact checking is essential. Your brand journalists want to publish trustworthy, reliable content. That takes time and care.
Companies are using brand journalists in many different ways. We mentioned Marriott and Starbucks. Other Fortune 500 companies doing brand journalism well include (but are by no means limited to!):
Adobe: CMO by Adobe is an example of branded journalism that has found a powerful niche that makes sense for its brand. As its tagline says “Insights, expertise and inspiration for and by digital leaders.”
General Electric: A number of years ago GE Reports landed on Contently’s best branded content list for its wide range of insights and explainers.
CVSHealth: CVSHealth has branched out into the podcast space with Healthy Conversations, which it says “brings experts together for an open discussion on timely topics in health care to uncover clinical insights and the emerging innovations that are transforming our industry in real time.”
Nike: With Nike Coaching, the company tackles topics its consumers care about in the health and wellness space. The content takes a research-based approach to covering issues such as sleep, stress, and motivation.
If you are thinking about dabbling in brand journalism at your company or starting a complete brand journalism operation, make sure you have a good understanding of the people and processes you will need to get going. Creating a team of brand journalists or a newsroom is a marathon. You have to be ready to put a strong system in place to keep your brand journalists going long term.
Importantly, remember that working as a brand journalist involves tactics and guidelines that differ from many of the rules of the road you may be used to. Be sure to take into account journalistic ethics and principles when it comes to being unbiased and always giving readers the truth. Doing so, will help your brand journalism gain a strong, lasting readership.
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