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Brand Journalism – a new hybrid of PR and business ?

by Ingrida Andrijauskaite

Brand Journalism – a new hybrid of PR and business ?

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It happened ten years ago, when one of the most famous companies in the world – McDonald’s decided to take a new look at advertising and the marketing of their products to consumers. In 2004 McDonald’s started to call it “brand journalism” strategy. This was the first time this trend appeared in the public space. McDonald’s wanted to show that a brand’s story can’t be an over-simplification of a complex idea.

McDonald’s showed that there is a need to look more deeply at the product and the methods of communication which can help to reach the different demographics – different people in varying situations with different needs.

This was exemplified by the new “I’m lovin’ it” campaign; McDonald’s rejected the traditional marketing and advertising approaches focusing on a single, recurrent message in preference of a “content stream approach,” which involves various messages via different channels to multiple audiences.

What is Brand Journalism and why is there a need for it in business?

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Firstly, it is interesting to look deeper at the meaning of brand journalism and try to ascertain why this method has become increasingly popular in the business area.

It can’t be said that this trend is very new in business, because it appeared ten years ago. However, it is just now that this term is beginning to be used in the communication strategies of business companies with a selective target audience.

There are many professionals who analyse brand journalism, but as of yet there is no strict theoretical definition of brand journalism. Brand Journalism is considered as the first wide–ranging practical guide to this hybrid form of traditional journalism, marketing and public relations. Therefore, it can also be referred to as corporate journalism or corporate media. This trend has come from the practical nature of business communications strategies.

The companies are increasingly using and creating journalistic content in their brand communications to the public. They are hiring camera crew and journalists to help prepare the video montage, the text of the news and the content of the brand communications, and to find the best ways of properly representing the company to their target audience.

However, the most popular definition of this trend which is mentioned by communications experts is a method of journalistic storytelling that focuses on communicating messages that consumers care about. It helps attract, inform and engage the target audience of every business companies.

The journalist and author of the book “Brand Journalism”, Andy Bull,  states that this new trend is a response to the fact that any organization can now use journalistic techniques to tell it‘s story directly to the public.[1]

Andy Bull

A journalist has defined the concept as “Journalism produced on behalf of a brand.” This definition sees it as techniques used by any organisations which have ongoing contact with the public. Andy Bull claims that the startegy of brand journalism is also used by companies working in the B2B sector. Brand journalism can be implemented to help businesses sell their products and services to orther organisations and to establish themselves as reliable and trustworthy institutions within their field.

The opinion of McDonald’s Chief Marketing Officer, Larry Light, discussed in “Six Rules for Brand Revitalization” is that mass marketing and mass media no longer work. He explained this: “We no longer live in a world where mass marketing to masses of consumers with a mass message delivered through mass media makes money. In fact, mass marketing as we know it is dead.”

Andy Bull states that it is just as true for mass journalism: “Journalism has always been seen as serving a mass audience. Newspapers, magazines, television and radio – they are all mass media. Or they were. Now journalists are facing just the challenge that Light defined for marketers.”

We all know that every journalist has to focus on comprehensively researching and gathering information without any corruption or influence from corporations, powerful individuals, politicians, or public organizations. Journalists must be reliable informer and presenters of the news to the public. According to this, brand journalism must also focus on the reliable content of a brand and attaining the trust of the public.

One of the reasons why a method of storytelling is very important for all businesses – is that it improves the trust society has in the brand being presented to her. And the main aim is to show that the company is socially responsible across all of their services, products and promises in accordance with the ethical standards of society.

What can be taken from all of this is that brand journalism tries to help businesses to create interesting and original stories about their brand and team. Some great examples of campaigns are HSBC Business without Borders, Survey Monkey, Mail Chimp who are in the lead with their efforts concerning brand journalism.

It is important for companies to remember to create and foster a reliable connection with society. If the company is open and genuine to the public, it helps to build fundamental trust and increasingly garners more interest in the brand.

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Does Brand Journalism split traditional journalism?

Brand Journalism is an ever-evolving discipline within public relations (PR) and business. It‘s not suprising that this trend creates a great deal of disagreement amongst professional journalists and media experts regarding its validity, values and potential harmful impact on traditional journalism.

The watchdog of traditional journalism state that the term of Brand journalism should be referred to as brand communications or content marketing, shedding the word “journalism”. This term is considered to aptly describe the manner of information transfer in the marketing and PR fields. This could be misleading to users and the public, as it does not have the same connotations of media transparency and corporation integrity.

So all the problems with ethics, values or social responsibilities of business will be applied to traditional journalism. This may decrease the trust society to journalism has in journalism and the ethics and worth of traditional journalism. If brand journalism is actively used in the public domain, it may be very difficult to ensure that it is distinguished from traditional journalism. This is the main reason why the majority of media professionals are looking very carefully at this new hybrid – brand journalism.

The new opportunities for business

Although it is harder to find the results obtained by brand journalism, marketing and PR professionals agree that this is one of the best methods to encourage companies to actively use ‘storytelling’ in their brand communications or in the public space.

Brand journalists concentrate on the overall positive impact of brand journalism, because it will provide the novelty, courage, variety and authenticity to companies’ communications. Also, the storytelling part is informative and engaging for audiences, and makes them want to know  how the story ends.

On a final note, Brand journalism can help businesses to improve by finding more effective ways to communicate with their existing and potential clients.

Check out the interview about Brand Journalism and its value for business:

[1] http://www.brand-journalism.co.uk/introduction-to-the-subject/what-brand-journalism-is/