What is “Brand Journalism?”

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I came across a good article from Tom Foremski at ZDNet recently about how some public relations people are starting to coin the term “brand journalism” to describe what they do. I must say, I was intrigued as apparently some PR practitioners representing certain brands are starting call themselves “journalists” and this concept is really taking off. There’s even a company called Contently, which connects journalists with new media companies that want actual writers to create quality content. Their clients include American Express, Michael Kors, Allstate, PetSmart and Bed Bath & Beyond.

My issue here is throwing around the term “journalist” because it seems that anyone with a computer and a WordPress login wants the credibility of the title. PR people are not journalists because: we are not objective.
PR teams are hired to manage company perceptions through communications strategies and tactics that include creating content, emphasizing brand awareness, managing internal communications, producing social media, writing blogs, press releases, etc. Journalists, on the other hand, are paid to investigate and report on news, trends and events as objectively and fairly as they can.

While we certainly tell true stories (at least the good PR people do), we do not dive in as deeply as journalists. We rarely look for second sources, cover as many pros and cons as we can and include negative comments. Our job is to create a compelling narrative that is as newsworthy as possible, while journalists act as the gatekeepers in determining what is relevant for their readership.

We are being paid by our clients to tell an interesting story and not necessarily one that has to be balanced or give a voice to our competitors.  True, we write a lot of blog posts based on industry trends for our clients but that in no way makes us members of the media. We are biased in favor of their companies and work together to streamline their messaging and tell their stories in a positive light. Journalists always cover news and trends with an unbiased view.

Though PR teams are not focused on “hard news” per se, we are nevertheless disseminating information important to the company’s stakeholders. Our audience goes beyond the general interest of readers and includes building relationships among investors, analysts, vendors, suppliers and company employees.

Do you think brand journalism is a misleading phrase?

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