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Is ‘Brand Journalism’ the New PR?

PR professionals: Do you consider yourself content providers? How about reporters? Bloggers? Are we getting close? OK, here’s the question of the day: Instead of struggling with media gatekeepers to win coverage and attract wandering eyes to your brand, should you simply become the media? Instead of providing access to key personalities and emailing quotes for a big story, why not just tell the story yourself?

According to Blue Fountain Media strategist Tim Gray, the best way to promote your brand through content is to create it—he sees the PR industry moving quickly in that direction, and Bazaar Voice’s 2012 “social trends report” backs him up.

Of course you’ve heard about the ways in which an increasingly interconnected media world makes traditional advertising less effective than ever; most viewers/readers will skip those pesky sponsored messages when given the choice. The appeal of creating your own content delivery system is obvious–and more than a few brands have started doing just that.

As usual, financial brands like banks and credit card companies have moved ahead of the curve when it comes to “brand journalism.” Prominent examples include projects like American Express’s Open Forum and HSBC’s Business Without Borders—legitimate media outlets designed to promote their underlying brands without directly selling or marketing the products in question by providing relevant, valuable information to their target audiences via original content, guest writers and media partnerships with other prominent third-party  brands like Mashable. Some efforts are less impressive: all the news on Cisco’s “technology news site” The Network seems to be about the company itself.

Gray’s advice is fairly simple: Act like a journalist writing with your audience’s interests in mind–and interact with them whenever possible, lest they think you’re just another faceless marketing professional. Provide true value to your readers/followers rather than directly promoting a specific product or service and they will respond in turn. In other words, get them to trust your brand and they’ll be far more likely to buy whatever you happen to be selling. The idea isn’t new; only the venue is.

What do you think? Are you ready to start pumping out branded content, or would you rather leave the wordsmithing to the newsmen?

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