Recently, PadillaCRT hosted a “meet the journalist” breakfast that invited a local magazine editor to our office to discuss their role and answer questions regarding how we can provide relevant content and news ideas on behalf of our clients. During the conversation, we were reminded of what most of us in the PR industry already know – editors are busy, their outlets are understaffed and their inboxes are often flooded with hundreds upon hundreds of unrelated email pitches from PR professionals assuming that their audience will be interested, which is a huge pet-peeve!
But, as I walked away from that meeting, I was left thinking about the relationship between brands and media. Given the shrinking number of journalists reporting for publications and the onset of owned content, the landscape and connection between journalist, brand and PR agency is changing. Journalists are up against native advertising, eBooks, videos and more that are not usually distinguished as advertising or marketing and further blur the lines between editorial and paid content.
Similarly, the PR industry is being impacted by these changes. Fewer media opportunities mean more occasions to self-publish and syndicate. Some brands are employing journalists in-house to lead owned media efforts, while others are developing their own newsrooms led by a managing editor or head of brand journalism. More and more, PR practitioners are focusing on building creative content that reflects a brand’s values, market position and ideas on their own first, then working with the media to amplify the story.
Journalism is grounded in objective storytelling about issues, people and trends. Spitting out someone else’s information without emotion or authenticity can be journalism at its worst. But, at its best, journalism can be a dignified service. Good reporting lets the reader form their own opinion based on the provided information. Just as telling the truth and credible reporting are trademarks of journalism, brands could be held to the same standard. However, being persuasive runs counter to objectivity in journalism and brands always include a request of the reader that will benefit their business in the form of a call to action. This is where brands break away from traditional journalism.
Better defined, a brand journalist’s job is to persuade the reader to make a decision that benefits the company. This concept is turning traditional views of brand management and journalism on its head. It is evolving content creation based on journalistic skills, and redefining what news is and how it should be communicated by a brand. The same way an editor approaches a magazine issue with different content aimed at a variety of interests but with a coherent framework, a brand can follow the same approach with dimensional content in many channels for diverse audiences. Think of it as the editorial policy that defines the brand’s character and the boundaries in which the stories are created.
What does this mean for public relations? Brand journalism brings together brand management and journalistic storytelling. PR professionals should think more like journalists and editors – considering ongoing brand communications to be the creation of a brand “magazine” where each article is different but it all comes together as a timely, relevant and cohesive brand story. As PR professionals, we have a chance to engage consumers with journalistic brand storytelling that our audience will want to consume. It is our responsibility to engage our audience in a way that cuts through clutter, educates and entertains, and shares our own narrative based on core brand values. Furthermore, we can help brands produce content and maintain journalistic integrity by conducting research and providing a balanced view that delivers value.
And, this is also where the rubber meets the road between journalism and owned media. Often times, a piece of “news” is less suited for journalism and better served as an email marketing campaign or a company blog post. Brands must decide what purpose owned media serves for them – whether it is to enhance their reputation, build relationships or drive sales. If a brand commits to an owned media strategy with compelling and engaging content, the content can also drive other aspects of marketing and communications. Brands that filter “news you can use” content for their audiences will ultimately build better relationships and communicate a more effective brand story.
So, next time you’re about to email a pitch to an editor, think before you send and ask yourself – Is this branded message relevant to the outlet and what they are reporting on, or is it better suited for and promoted as owned media?