What is brand journalism, and how does it benefit businesses?

Initially I was going to label this piece “Brand Journalism for Dummies”, but opted against it for not wanting to insult readers.

The fact is, however, that few people know what a brand journalist is, or have an idea about what the role entails. Even my mother, an ex-schoolmistress, who is savvier than most, still can’t get her head around what it is that I do, despite me explaining to her what the job involves at least once a month, and using the simplest of language.

The role is also not helped by the fact that while many of the 125 million search results thrown up by Google describe the term along similar lines, differences of interpretation exist. So, what is brand journalism, in my opinion?

Simply put, brand journalism is where companies tell stories, delivered with the integrity of high-end journalists. Usually, brands will host these stories on their own website, although many have created their own content hub — a microsite purposefully built to host these.

Content hubs are particularly effective from both a search perspective as well as separating a brand’s journalistic activities from those of marketing. A number of big brands have created newsrooms that rival trade media and leading newspapers. The best examples are GE Reports by General Electric, Blue Notes by ANZ, Logistics of Things by DHL, projects I’ve contributed to in various forms at a past employer. All three present news and information in a way that could easily sit within The Guardian or New York Times. For sure, there will be mentions of product and people from their respective organisations, but in essence, this information is delivered in the same way that it would be through trade media.

The great thing about brand journalism and content hubs is that they can be anything brands want them to be. Some companies use brand journalism to showcase the views of their people, while others prefer content to be delivered anonymously, taking a leaf out of The Economist. Many use a hybrid model. The types of content published isn’t limited to text. Visualisations and video are extremely popular, and some hub host podcasts.

For companies considering brand journalism as a core communication channel, be wary that it’s costly in terms of time and budget. Plus, it needs buy-in from the very top to ensure it gets the support it deserves. Sadly, I’ve seen many a brand launch an ambitious content hub, with interest and activity soon waning, making the project a huge waste of time and money.

At CP5, we not provide journalistic services to brands, we also assist companies to strategize the content they will publish in the long-term, as well as assist with matters such as distribution and performance analysis. We’ll also openly admit when a hub isn’t the right fit for a particular company.

Brand journalism is about telling inspiring stories to customers, and not selling. Those who take on this mantra will see brand loyalty grow; those who see it as a sales tool will be deeply disappointed.

Photo by Dzenina Lukac from Pexels