Fair and Balanced Marketing: Brand Journalism is Here to Stay
by Michael Lotti, Lotti Writing Services
The blurry line between advertising and journalism
Not too long ago, journalists wrote stories for news publications and advertisers bought space in those publications.
“Today, the advertising world and the publishing world are moving closer together,” says Sara Meaney. “It will be ‘survival of the fittest’ as publishers and companies figure out how to produce good content, develop reliable brands, and draw in dollars.”
General Mills exemplifies this trend. “They have a whole journalism-trained staff dedicated to producing content that’s not directly tied to marketing,” she says. The company thinks that this will help them “rise above the noise level” and control the content in their industry space.
In short, General Mills now competes with traditional content-producers like Food and Wine along with other food companies. And, Meaney adds, it seems to be working. “Owned media,” in other words, can be used like “traditional media,” and if it’s done well, brand credibility goes up.
What does good brand journalism look like?
- It isn’t a sales pitch. It’s main goal is to inform a reader (or viewer) through the standard journalistic tools of narrative, emotion, and imagery.
- It’s transparent. Credibility goes down if a company tries to hide its involvement with the content.
- It’s interactive. Readers should be able to leave and view comments, and companies should tolerate all but the most inappropriate interactions.
Throughout her talk, Meaney and her audience kept coming back to the question “But is brand journalism really journalism?” Do brand journalists ask the hard, unbiased questions that all journalists should? Some said “no,” some said “journalism isn’t always investigative journalism,” and Meaney said that whatever you call it, brand journalism is a way that a lot of journalists – old and young – are making money in today’s publishing market. And tomorrow’s publishing market will probably demand even more.
Sara Meaney is the President and “left brain” partner of Comet Branding, a social media and PR agency in Milwaukee, Wis.