What is Brand Journalism?

I have recently learned a new term – brand journalism. Have you heard about it? There are people in this world who write stories on behalf of the company. They are writing for websites, brands’ blogs and social media platforms. It’s actually just marketing…But according to McDonald’s former chief marketing officer, Larry Light, marketing and advertisements were no longer enough to make a company look presentable. Companies needed stories, not just ads. Thant’s how brand journalism was invented in 2004. Nowadays, some business and media bloggers claim that such thing as brand journalism doesn’t exist. Sam Petulla, a former Contently editor, argues that the term was coined incorrectly. “Journalism is independent and brand content writing must have ethics,” says Petulla.

Whether the term is legitimate or not, it still involves content creation, and content creation involves story writing. Brand journalists tell the customers stories about the company they’re working for and they have to adhere to the same rules as any writer: they have to tell the truth, they need to have a good brand’s story with beginning, middle part and ending and they must be objective. When you write a fictional story, you middle part is your story’s external and internal conflict. As you probably remember from my previous post, internal conflict is thoughts and feelings of a protagonist and external conflict is a situation the protagonist has to deal with in the world outside of his own. Naturally, you can’t have that in an article about brand’s history, so the middle part of your story will be the part where you tell how the brand grew and developed.

But let’s start from the very beginning. First thing first, a brand journalist needs to familiarize people with the company and present the information interestingly. Think about fiction. Before we get completely mesmerized by Jane Austen’s characters, we learn their stories. Once we get to know proud Lizzy, kind Jane, foolish Lidia and their neurotic mother, we get so involved in their lives that we find it very hard to put the book down. Why? Because Austen’s characters are original and funny, and funny, as you might suspect, always works.  Now, forget about Austen for now, think of something from our contemporary lives. A couple of months ago I was looking for a present for my friend’s daughter on Lego.com. I needed some assistance with the website and when I went to customer service page, I saw the picture of Lego people, or Lego experts as the company calls them, sitting at the computers and answering phones. I thought it was really funny and quite original. Usually when you go to “customer service”, there are either no people or a smiling girl with a headset. Seeing those Lego toys put a huge smile on my face, and the company gained my favor.

Brand journalists must know how to create a content that would make a potential customer think “That looks like a good company I can trust. I’ll go check it out.” The job of a brand journalist is to present the brand in a favorable light, but don’t overdo it. I think that some brand content journalists go too far, saying way to much good things about the company and using too many superlatives, so the entire post about the brand’s history ends up looking far-fetched. If you keep it simple, but informative, people are more likely to trust you.

Another responsibility of a brand journalist is to keep up with the brand’s news. That’s what a company’s blog is for. And of course, Twitter and Facebook. There must be always something going on with the brand, otherwise how can it keep on existing? New ideas, new products, new promotions, new people…Brand journalists post articles that show the customers that the company is active and that it always looks for ways to keep the clients interested and eager to come back.  Here goes an example! I’m a huge a fan of Modcloth, and, of course, I’m subscribed to their newsletters. The company has a blog and it publishes fun posts every other day. They keep them short, visual and brimming over with ideas. The recent post, for example, was about choosing a perfect coat for this fall season from those Modcloth specialists picked out. Always something new, always something original.

Brand journalist may also promote the brand on external websites, such as HubSpot, which provides marketing tools and promotes companies through different types of social media and that way attracts more customers to the brand. Here is the quote from Ann Handley’s book Everybody Writes, explaining how brands can gain more clients through an independent website.

You can use content as a way to generate leads, which might then be converted into customers. HubSpot is a prime example here; its content is created with lead generation in mind. Most articles or posts on its blog include a call to action for an offer that is behind a registration gate (the visitor must provide an email address to receive the offer). Those registrations generate leads, which are passed on to the sales organization.

Brands hire professional journalists to write about their companies not in a marketing tone, but simply as if they were telling a story to a friend. Journalists, after all, are trained people who would know what language is appropriate in certain situations. They also work fast and can come up with new posts and ideas very quickly. So are there any drawbacks about hiring a professional brand journalist? Unfortunately, there are. Most journalists love independence. As I have written in my blog on creativity, not everybody likes to work in a team. Not everybody can adapt to the environment with the company. Journalists must present information objectively, so imagine how uncomfortable a journalist might feel if the brand wants him to spice up a post a little bit with some insignificant white lie and small exaggerations. Or, what is actually more common, a journalist may simply not like the culture within the company. But perhaps there is a way to compromise?

A brand journalist seems to be just a journalist working in a specific field of the profession. He has to tell the truth, he has to be objective and he has to know his audience. To put it simply, he is just a writer, only non-fictional.

Handley, Ann. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (p. 144). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


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