What is brand journalism? 4 approaches to creating content like a journalist

In 2012, the Public Relations Society of America named brand journalism one of its top trends for the year. In 2018, brand journalism is at the heart of how brands create content for consumers. But what exactly is brand journalism? And how do companies apply this approach to their content?

Defining ‘brand journalism’

The core of the concept is to create content from an editorial approach that puts the audience, not the company, first. What the audience wants to hear from a company might not match what a company wants to write; brand journalism aims to bridge that gap.

A brand journalist is a unique blend of journalist and marketer, using a brand’s own ecosystem as fodder for interesting stories the people actually want to read. This increases a brand’s profile and influence across its ecosystem.

A graphical interpretation of how a brand journalism can work (source)

By creating compelling content, rather than generic ‘brand-speak,’ companies are more likely to benefit from the increased trust fostered by being authentic. Brands can also drive down inbound marketing costs because readers choose to organically engage and share the brand’s original content. There’s no paying a middleman like Facebook or Google.

Within this rubric, there are different ways that brands can approach brand journalism. Here are four approaches to creating content like a journalist within any organization, ordered from easy to most committed.

Train employees to write better

The reality for most companies is that employees are not trained writers. Outside of emails, many employees won’t have written much since perhaps writing longer papers in college. Even with  daily projects like creating presentation decks, most employees have had little-to-no formal trading in writing or communications.

While this may not seem like too much of an issue, think about the last time you received a poorly worded email For a potential vendor. Either a specific example comes to mind, or you might not have even paid attention because the messaging was so impersonal.

Each and every communication that the brand has with a prospect or current client reflects back upon that brand. Improving employee communications, both internal and external, creates opportunities to be more clear and concise. This trickles down into content created across the company, fostering stronger bonds through stronger communication.

Reshape company culture towards curiosity

Beyond giving employees the tools in training they need to write and communicate effectively, a company can also infuse a brand journalism approach into their hiring process. Starting with job descriptions, a company should emphasize the desire for candidates who have the qualities journalists are trained to exhibit.

The most valuable quality a journalist possesses is a deep curiosity that fuels a pursuit of knowledge.

Generally, a curious person will just figure it out. This makes for an employee that is both self-sufficient and able to play well with others. After all, curiosity requires inputs from others as answers can’t be found alone.

Another useful skill combo that journalists have is the ability to craft questions that deliver informative, insightful answers — and the interview technique to move through the questions at a pace that delivers the best results from subjects. This includes a streak of improvisation, as interviews don’t often go as planned. A journalist is a skilled conversationalist, able to pull through threads and tie them together.

Once employees exhibit these qualities, the idea is that this approach then informs all content created throughout the sales, onboarding, client satisfaction, and brand marketing processes. Hiring former journalists could be the thing that most impacts on your company culture!

Hire a brand journalist

The shortcut to all this is to simply hire a journalist! Generally, this person is put in charge of certain brand marketing activities, like owned media channels such as the company blog. Often, this person has also empowered and encouraged to train their fellow employees on the best ways to create content.

Often, companies think that they have no stories to tell. But the truth that most journalists see is that any organization filled with people is also filled with stories. 

Sometimes it just takes a trained journalist to surface the most compelling bits and pieces from a company’s ecosystem. And once these are surfaced, the company has a very affordable inbound marketing goldmine. This story-focused content then humanizes the brand, building an authenticity that fosters trust with both prospects and current clients. There’s also a great benefit for potential employees as well!

According to the 2017 Stackla Consumer Content report, authenticity is elusive. The majority of consumers are underwhelmed by the content currently being created by brands.

And as the volume of content increases, it’s harder than ever for brands to resonate authentically. With a brand journalist on staff, a company gains a sensitivity to creating content for a specific audience and not necessarily about a specific brand. The company gains a storyteller familiar with leveraging limited resources to discover and package a compelling narrative — and then distribute it to the target audience in new and innovative ways.

“Brand as publisher”

The most well-documented example of this approach is Red Bull. Over the years, this company has used content as its primary marketing vehicle. Basically became a media company that also happens to sell energy drinks. Whether dropping a human from space (and broadcasting live on YouTube) to publishing its own magazine, the brand created multiple content touch points for consumers to engage with its brand. These expensive original content efforts kept the brand at the forefront of consumers minds and reinforced its edgy reputation.

“Creating great content is difficult, and delivering great content consistently through established processes is complex. However, this is what is required if you want to take your brand from good to great in today’s communication environment.”

-James Keady, digital marketing manager for McLaren Automotive

This is the most full-throated commitment to brand journalism: It costs the most and requires an organization to structure itself around this priority. It’s also something as old as capitalism: Soap operas were originally created to sell…soap!

And it’s not only consumer brands finding success here. There are many technology vendors and suppliers are becoming the go-to resource and their industry through an editorial approach to content. In fact, there are 851,000 search results for “b2b blogs examples,” showing just how many companies are getting coverage for their blogging efforts. One of the most effective, as far as using minimal resources to deliver outsized impact for a specific target is First Round Review, the blog of VC firm First Round Capital.

It comes down to relationships

Ultimately, the goal is to foster stronger, more meaningful relationships with your customers. Generic corporate content alienates people more than ever before. No one wants to feel like a number on the spreadsheet. By creating insightful content that shows that you understand their problems, preferences, and aspirations, your brand can more easily punch through the noise of today’s digital world.

“It doesn’t matter if a company makes diapers or steel girders, it must also be a media company and know how to use all the media technologies at its disposal.

While this has always been true to some extent, it is even more important today, because our media technologies have become so much more powerful.”

-Tech journalist Tom Foremski