As a growing copywriter with a print journalism background, I love the idea of “branded journalism.” Editorial content written for brands, targeted at consumers, supported by analytics, published in digital spaces, that raises a big middle finger to the rule that advertising and journalism can never mix? Sounds good to me.
For brands, the need for journalistic content stems from growing branded communities in social spaces. As brands and consumers engage in more personal conversations via social, consumers simply demand more from them.
More than ever, consumers want brands to give them things of value outside of their products or services. A sense of community that includes transparency, responsiveness and quality branded content. That’s where brand journalists and copywriters come in.
Last week, I stumbled on the work of Kevin Maney, a veteran USA Today reporter who turned his attention to advertising after two decades of writing and reporting as a journalist.
After a successful reporting career, Maney made an interesting move. He started working with big brands like IBM to create journalistic content.
Maney co-authored a book in conjunction with IBM, but branded journalism can include works of art, articles, blog posts, books, photos or videos produced by a brand to reach an identifiable market.
Couple creating content with the market downturn, and many wannabe journalists and former reporters are turning to jobs in advertising, marketing and digital. Many seek jobs that offer more security but still challenge them to use skills from writing in the newsroom like critical thinking, deadline management and creativity.
According to Robert McChesney, co-author of Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It, public relations professionals now outnumber reporters 4-to-1. With print journalism seeing a continual decline in revenue, it isn’t surprising that some journalists are now writing for brands. Market aside however, branded journalism still causes some debate.
Critics fear that branded journalism might fully eclipse traditional journalism. Will the news report about a damaging tornado suddenly be sponsored by a home insurance company? I highly doubt it. The audience would be too quick to call a news organization on it, like they did with The Atlantic’s big advertorial fail in January.
The Atlantic fiasco highlights that we’re working in a time where the line between advertising and journalism is blurrier than ever. Marketing, digital and journalism just came crashing together, giving us a choice. We can either sit here staring or use this opportunity to create new, innovative content that people will respond to.
By we, I mean brands or agencies working on behalf of brands. New organizations don’t have the freedom to pepper advertising content in their editorial work, but ad professionals now have the unique opportunity to produce journalistic content. If done right in digital spaces, that journalistic content will likely produce results.
The key lies in planning responsibly. Branded journalism needs to be intentional, driven by strategy as much as it is by good writing. It must be targeted and audience-specific and not overstep it’s bounds. Producing journalistic content doesn’t equate to producing a Pulitzer winning news article, so brands shouldn’t try to.
How each company executes branded journalism will vary, but hopefully by the end of the year we will see more fact-based, journalistic content reaching consumers and generating revenue.
To track branded journalism, its growth and the debate surrounding it, a good place to start is Maney’s blog. Ignore the clunky WordPress theme and focus on the journalistic content. After all, content is becoming very valuable.
Want to learn more? Email IQ