Branded Journalism: Bypassing the Gatekeepers?

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By now you’re probably familiar with the concept of “branded (or brand) journalism.”

Our Text 100 CEO, Aedhmar Hynes, held an intimate client roundtable in our Sydney office last week where we discussed the topic of branded journalism and the importance of content.

Branded journalism is an established trend that leverages the advent of digital platforms. In some ways, it is the realisation of Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model of communications. In its simplest form, brands own the message and communicate directly with their audiences via earned channels – bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of the media.

Branded journalism is enabling brands to bypass the traditional gatekeepers:

  • By creating valuable information and sharing it with the world – directly, without the need for message carriers (media)
  • As David Meerman Scott put it, “…it’s not a product pitch. It is not an advertorial. It is not an egotistical spewing of gobbledygook-laden corporate drive.”
  • Instead, brand journalism is the creation of Web content – videos, blog posts, photos, charts, graphs, essays, eBooks, white papers – that is tailored to the needs of your publics.

Socialising Your Newsroom

We are seeing more and more clients socialising their online newsrooms.

This hub of branded journalism is perhaps one of the most underutilised corporate communication tools – a social media-equipped, search engine-optimized online newsroom. It enables your brand to tell your story, capitalise on others sharing your information in social networks, and help you benefit from search optimization. A newsroom as a microsite – separate from your primary domain but designed to mimic it – enables search engines to crawl more of your branded content, and with the social optimisation and integration, ranks that content highly.

A good example of this is the Intel newsroom, set up as a sub-domain, and full of the company’s content from many different platforms across the Web.

While it is certainly an exciting concept that PR can finally remove itself from the shackles of grumpy and time-poor journalists and editors, branded journalism is not the silver bullet. We still need those gatekeepers, and there will always be a role for traditional media in telling stories. So don’t burn those bridges just yet.

Although, I’d caution that branded journalism is not a mechanism to control the message. Consumers are smarter and more cynical than ever, and it’s no use looking at putting inauthentic fences around your organisation’s information. The Diffusion of Innovation within the digital landscape has reached maturity. Wise consumers want honesty and transparency.

What branded journalism does offer our clients, however, is a direct line of engagement with their audiences.

Caution: It’s not as simple as it seems

“’Cheap’ content doesn’t mean its good content. Cheap content is easy to spot because it carries little value. Publishing some links is of not much benefit to anyone if you can’t explain why this content has been chosen, it requires some rationale for the choice and also: it needs to take the story further.”Silicon Valley Watcher

The most obvious barrier to brands succeeding with their branded journalism is content that simply doesn’t work. Whether it’s cheap content, content created by inexperienced PR pros, or content that is not sophisticated enough in the targeting of its audience and their needs; content is king.

My advice? Stop cluttering up the Web with your crappy content and look to develop a content strategy ASAP.

Content created for diffusion through linear communications:

In a digital landscape the environment has adapted to let us share old social objects in new ways, and also new types of objects. Facebook is a site that exists today because it adapted organically to allow the exchange of social objects.

These “shareable” pieces of content, or social objects, are:

  • Highly portable
  • Completely Authentic / Transparent
  • Intuitively Relevant
  • Can exists in various states (link/video/image)
  • Can still be contextual when moved
  • Can be measured (not always 100% possible)
  • Initiate conversation around the object

PR roles are changing, too:

  • We need to work in integrated media; looking at client communications as ‘through-the-line’
  • Branded journalism means we need to understand our audiences better than ever before
  • Increasingly, PR is driving the 360-degree communications for brands through content

David Meerman Scott ascertains that for branded journalism to work, we must engage journalists to create this content on behalf of a brand. While I agree that journalists are the best resource to create credible, impartial content on behalf of a client, I believe it is critical that we as public relations professionals evolve to become skilled in and accountable for content creation and strategy.

If we are to evolve as a profession, we must become the authority in content and strategy. However, in the meantime, the best way we can develop these skills is to establish specialist teams within our offices that consist of journalists, strategists, developers and even researchers and sociologists.

As I argued here, public relations as a communications discipline is increasingly driving a brand’s holistic approach to how it communicates, advertises and engages with its audiences.

Branded journalism, and the focus on targeted and smart content, is another weapon to keep in our back pocket when having conversations with the CMO to command a greater slice of the marketing budget.

 

*Image via flickr user tinyfroglet.