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March 29, 2010

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Doug Brockway

I believe the idea is spot on.

It also occurs to me that much of what passes for journalism today isn't, its PR and spin and gobbledygook. Whether the journalism is political, economic, sports or entertainment, and especially if its on TV, watch out.

One fear, if you succeed in this, you'll draw all the true journalists away from journalism into business. That will mean the death of real journalism... and it will all be YOUR fault.

Its good that the market has an iffy track record in responding positively to honest agents, analytic and objective.

Natanya Anderson

Thank you so very much for so beautifully articulating the need for a more journalism-based approach to brand content. While I've been excited to see more people "see the light" and start to move toward the creation of truly valuable content for customers, I've been somewhat saddened to see them try to do so with a PR or advertorial approach. While there is absolutely a need in today's marketing world for the brand to tell its story and meet its objectives, creating content that starts with the end-user's knowledge needs is a different beast all together. Marketing and advertising start with the brand. Journalism starts with the audience and that's why this approach is so critical to the success of any content initiative.

Happily, once a brand starts to take the journalism-centric approach to content, the data should show that the approach is working. Once we all have more data we can share the discussion should simplify even further.

Dave Charest

David,

Your audio clip is right on.

We are all publishers now. Such an opportunity for everyone, really.

I also believe aside from journalists, there's another opportunity for indie artists in theater, film, etc. The other storytellers.

Npressmarketing

Wow. I've never thought of hiring journalists before. Currently, I work with my marketing people to create and develop a content strategy but I think this is a very cool idea. Get some writers in the mix who are already thinking from a content perspective.

Paul Sevensky

David, I would argue that a public relations professional should already possess the skills of a journalist to be successful -- story-finding, research, writing and more. So I think a good PR pro could be a brand journalist.

David Meerman Scott

Thanks all for your comments.

Paul, not sure I agree with you. As a general observation, PR pros (in my experience) are not good at content creation. Of course there are exceptions, but I think those are few and far between.

David

David Siteman Garland

David - The key is you DON'T have to be Steven Spielberg or Stephen King to create content that does well online.

On the other hand you can't create crap.

The life vest and opportunity is content. Content created by passionate people within your organization big or small.

Passion defeats polish.

Storytellers. Journalists. Unique people in your company. Honing the skill set and taking a breath away from the control of "ads" and entering this new world of online content is what I've experienced is the key to success.

Tallulah David

Thanks for another great post, David. I first read this suggestion to hire a journalist in your book, "New Rules," and as a PR person, I have to say the idea intimidated me. I was glad to see that Paul brought up the question I was going to ask, which was "Shouldn't PR people already have that skill?" That was, after all, what my superiors advised during my first year in PR: "You have to THINK like a journalist."

Truth is, however, we DIDN'T think nor act like a journalist. We wrote press releases knowing (1) that they would need to pass the close inspection of marketing execs and board members, and assuming (2) that press releases were expected to be client/product centric.

After reading your response, I had to honestly think about what journalistic skills typical PR folks may be lacking. I think that one of them is also one of the most important assets a journalist can bring to a corporate/mktg team which is their license to be objective. PR folks aren't given that license because they traditionally aren't allowed it, nor do they expect it. Welcoming a journalist on board would change the mindset of an otherwise message-controlling marketing team. This shift in mindset alone would make it easier for PR folks to be more empowered in their counsel/writing/pitching.

With that said, would you ever consider doing a piece on how PR people could start honing the skills of a journalist. I've been blogging to actually practice thinking and publishing content like a journalist, but what else would you suggest to PR pros who aspire to become brand journalists? Is it possible?

Thanks David for your thoughts, always a pleasure.

-Tallulah

Arthur Charles Van Wyk

I like this post. It clarifies and simplifies what marketing on the internet should hinge on, centre around and have at its foundation.

With the internet as an enabler, the way we reach and communicate with people have changed ongoingly since 1993.

Al & Laura Ries, in the "Fall of Advertising.." book speaks of this.. perhaps not in terms as clearly as what we know and use today, but at its very core the Ries' say that brand building will more and more be achieved using compelling engaging content rather than clever tag lines and images passed off as advertising.

So my thoughts on "brand journalism" is that you have just coined a new term but conceptually the practise has been in existence for eons. I see social media, inbound marketing, content marketing, emarketing, digital marketing, new media marketing ALL as the same thing in principle. In practise however, they differ in line with the preferences of and the different facets of the practise utilised by their practitioners.

And I also do not believe that only journalists can "journalise". Writing - especially compelling writing - is not something that can be taught. People go to journalism school because they have a flair and merely need to sharpen the skill, get it directed intelligently or refine it. My belief is that anybody with something to say can speak to those looking to hear what he or she has to say.

Paraphrasing.. Brian Halligan calls it using content to position yourself to be found by those already looking for you. Larry Weber calls it influencing opinion through content. You call it creating web content that delivers value to your marketplace.

At its very core its all the same thing, regardless of what name we give it.

My two dollars..

David Meerman Scott

David (the other one) - well said. Thanks.

Arthur - thanks for jumping in. I disagree that this has been around for eons. Until I started writing about it in 2004, I did not see others on this bandwagon. While the Reis book talks about the rise of PR it does so not from the perspective that people in the brand create the content but rather that outsiders (the media mostly but also bloggers) write about companies.

Tallulah - Yes, I certainly think it is possible for a person with a PR background to gain these skills. I tell people who are evaluating partners to look at that potential partners content. So the same hold trues for a PR person. What does the site look like. Are they blogging? Creating videos? Writing ebooks? My theory is if a potential partner cannot do it for their own business, how can they do it for clients?

David (McKee) Craig

Although behind in the acceptance of many progressive marketing tactics (regulatory hurdles), I believe that many firms in the asset management industry have had some success with what you call "brand journalism" through general market commentary, thought leadership papers and resources that do not directly promote products. I would agree that a financially-astute journalist who enjoyed in-depth research could find a home as a writer in our industry.

After reading your book, I thought that perhaps I should start using my middle name too (two first names, and a last name for a middle name).

David Meerman Scott

DMcKC - I highly recommend using your middle name! DMS

Arthur Charles Van Wyk

Something this is kinda automatically "brand journalism" on its own is the use of the middle name is all written communications.

David Meerman Scott

ACVW - Yes. Just using the middle name!! DMS

Linda VandeVrede

In defense of public relations, I just wanted to say there ARE a few of us out there (maybe just the INTJs) who have always approached PR with the journalistic "inform/educate" first attitude. So I wouldn't discount all PR people in favor of journalists. Maybe I should have gotten editors I used to work with to stick up here on my behalf. :) In my book, "Press Releases are not a PR Strategy," my premise is that PR's goal is to inform, and that true PR is relationship-building thru good content, not spin. I have stuck to that principle thru my career and left employment and clients when that principle was compromised. This sounds very self-righteous, and I don't mean it to be so, but I did want to throw in some support for the idea that not ALL PR people fit the terrible image we've garnered.

David Meerman Scott

Linda - Yes, I absolutely agree.

But people like you who do take this approach are in the minority. In my experience, most PR people just pitch products and rely on others (mainstream media and citizen journalists) to write the content.

In my experience, very few create content for the companies they work for.

Again there are exceptions.

Jaybaer

Great post. What we've considered to be "brands" and what we've considered to be "media" are converging. How long until we see brands become full-fledged media outlets?

I'm working on a project for a large electronics company to sync their content creation to customer inquisitions. It's essentially a robust, content-driven FAQ that's perpetuated in social media and search-optimized as much as possible.

I have a post publishing soon that walks through the methodology. As noted in the comments, the concept of creating content to drive awareness and move consumers through the conversion funnel isn't at all new, but I see the adoption pace picking up speed quickly.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed your session at SXSW. Great format.

Suzie Domnick

David - I agree in principle with you idea, with one caveat. The success of this position within and for a company needs to be rooted in an understanding of branding, otherwise its just more publishing. I believe the knowledge of the brand and branding principles, combined with a journalist approach to publishing relevant content that benefits a brand and business is the key. The two concepts need to be intertwined for the concept to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace.

Gerald J Leonard

Hi David,
I agree with your thinking on branding in general. One thing I’ve learned is that if you do not take control of your branding activities someone else will. I am not a professional writer or marketing expert but I do see a major shift in how effective individuals and companies are positioning themselves using the concept of Brand Journalism and /or Thought Leadership.

David Meerman Scott

Suzie and Gerald - thanks for jumping in. I would not consider myself a "Branding expert." So any thoughts you have regarding what aspects of branding are required to do my concept of brand journalism well would be appreciated. David

Ron Ploof

David,

Just wanted to point you to two companies who are trying this approach.

In March 2008, Xilinx (field programmable semiconductors), hired Mike Santarini (displaced 13-year trade magazine journalist from CMP, EETimes, and EDN) to head up their Xcell Journal & Editorial Services. In April 2009, Cadence Design Systems (electronic design automation software) hired Richard Goering (17-year Editor with CMP)as a Sr. Manager, Technical Communications to write a corporate blog.

These two journalists have been practicing "brand journalism" and may have hints for us all.

David Meerman Scott

Hi Ron - cool. Thanks for pointing out both Mike and Richard and their new roles. It will be interesting to watch their progress.

David

Mark McCarthy

This is the naming (and never underestimate naming) of what is being done by few; but needs to be done by many. Those two words "brand journalism" will inspire ( and for some of us; help us identify ourselves to ourselves and to others.)

Thank you David, perhaps skilled writers who can compellingly provide unexpected value in the shadow of a brand will be more laser focused , consider moving into the space or be led by those with a more robust and purposeful direction.

Mark

Barbara DePompa

Hi David,

Thanks for a great piece, and a new name for what I've been doing for the past seven years. I recently struck out on my own after a long term relationship as a "custom media contributing editor" for a major tech publisher. Been struggling to come up with a new moniker, and will add "brand journalism" if that's ok!

Can honestly say after working with clients ranging from Fortune technology giants, to publishers, analyst firms and PR organizations, the skill set required is as unique as you described -- requiring more knowledge/writing skills than most organizations possess in-house. If you are a 'seasoned' journalist, a natural storyteller, someone who is passionate about creating compelling messages, and who understands that building credible messages is an absolute requirement, this evolution to custom content creation/brand journalism may present an opportunity for you, as it has for me.

David Meerman Scott

Barbara - Thanks for sharing your story! Yes, of course you can use the moniker.

Keep up the good work.

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Thomas Scott

David, Awesome post!
I'm a career journalist turned franchise company exec and have been able to apply journalism skills to drive my home staging franchise. We've had so much success using my freelance reporter contacts to write PR, web and blog content that we've started doing brand journalism as a distinct business offering and it is really getting traction. I believe it is the skill that adds the 'common sense' element to social media and what ultimately gives customers what they really want - good, transparent and sticky content.
I would agree - I have yet to meet a single PR, marketing or Ad firm staffer who could do what we do or ever understood the difference. I think the skill of writing with hooks and for impact can be taught but really takes years of daily work to develop. We're used to writing 7-8 stories a day for editors who have high standards - don't know of a PR person that can do that.

Steve McGrath

BP is getting slammed over their execution of brand journalism. Perhaps they're spinning too hard.
My post: http://www.beaupre.com/cleanspeak/index.cfm/2010/6/30/Next-BP-victim-brand-journalism

post credits you, DMS. Thanks.

Tdparker

This has gone on for several decades in management consulting firms, arguably starting with McKinsey Quarterly in 1964. It's variously called thought leadership, reputation building etc. Different firms use different approaches, but many have editorial teams of former journalists. Booz has a team of 9 and Tom Stewart and Art Kleiner - former journalists - explain their approach here: http://www.bloomgroup.com/content/how-booz-co-develops-and-markets-consulting-concepts.

Info Tech companies started doing it in the 90s, and it is spreading to other sectors, though slowly; I talked yesterday with a design firm which has just hired a journalist for this purpose.

If I were to generalize, I'd say that PR-led approaches though are dreadful. There are several sites of informational content put up by companies' ad agencies - I don't think I want to name them for fear of upsetting people - but they are dire; slick and vacuous. So you certainly need good writers.

But even that is not always enough. If a firm doesn't have a lot of useful content already (the design firm does), a journalist can't invent it. Then you need to do research too.

Daniel Keller

Interesting observation, David, and not surprising that there's been such a wealth of comments. I came to PR almost by accident, by way of journalism, and I'll admit at least part of my decision process was mercenary...I saw journalists I knew putting in 18-hour days to earn little, and PR just seemed to pay better.

But I came to writing in general after >20 years in the music industry, and it's very analogous to what I went through there. We "credible artists" (read: journalists) would never dream of sacrificing our integrity to make disposable pop music (PR), would rather starve (and did).

Only later in my musical career did I begin to see that there's artistry in everything if you approach it as such.

I see PR the same way. I try to never write a dry, boring press release...I understand the value of the story, of a good opening line, etc., and I try to teach that to writers I hire. I like to think that's one of the reasons why my little boutique agency has been fortunate enough to get the big clients. My clients hire us for our content...if we suck, we don't get another gig from them.

The rules of life apply...do a good job and take pride in your work, and people will notice. It's not about the money, but if you do the right thing, the money will come.

Ian Bruce

For me, this is about the old idea in mass communications of "information subsidy". US Journalism is collapsing, and increasingly PR pros will need to subsidize news creation and content. We'll need to be seen as trusted sources of news.

http://ianbruce.blogspot.com/2010/08/naked-enterprise.html

Ian.

David Meerman Scott

Daniel - I love your idea that there can be artistry in anything. One difference here is that with traditional media relations you try to get others to create information about you (or your clients). However brand journalism is when you create the end product yourself.

Ian - Yes it is too bad that the news business is in decline - but what an opportunity for businesses to hire the journalists.

Brownltd.wordpress.com

Brand journalism works for corporate brands, non-profits, products, services, etc. People want information, both good and bad, and they remember it if it is told to them as a story. News organizations focus on conflict and bad news. There is a lot more information that is relevant and interesting than that. Tell the good news using a journalistic style, add a bit of conflict or potential bad news, and you have a winner.

Johnson & Johnson has great examples in their “Our Stories” section: http://www.jnj.com/connect/caring/patient-stories

Great post David!

Randall Ringer

I find it interesting that one of the comments implies Riess would approve of Brand Journalism.

In fact, back in 2004 she was on the record calling it lunacy. http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/1700921/brand-journalism-a-field-day-web-marketers

Laura Riess states, "The notion that McDonald's should abandon the positioning philosophy and instead adopt a brand journalism approach is lunacy."

David Meerman Scott

Randall -- That's interesting. Wish I had known because last week we both spoke at Brand Manage Camp in LAs Vegas. I would have liked to ask her about it.

Thanks, David

Chris Harges

Great piece, though I feel like a latecomer.

I've been thinking about this idea for a while and am now launching a company, Starter Culture (www.starterculture.com) to pair up journalists with brands. After working both as a journalist, and in-house marketing manager and as a creative services firm owner, I now see a landscape in which market forces, new communication platforms and consumer skepticism have all come together to create a space for journalists to write for brands.

David Meerman Scott

Chris - not late at all - this is an important topic. Good luck with the new venture.

Darin Diehl

David,

Great points made here. Brand Journalism - Brand Publishing - Content Marketing - it's all about casting a wider net beyond those already engaged and looking to "find" your company, product or service - to those wrestling with a problem and haven't yet made the connection to a solution you offer.

Eduardo

Hi - from Brazil - David!

Im graduating in Journalism and my term paper is about Brand Journalism.

Could you help me to find a way, a structure, to sort it out?

I would like to study how the BJ uses journalistic language to make marketing, branding and advertising.

Do you have any research/poll idea?

Thanks, nice job!

Sharon J.

Yes, I agree with one of the other posters that said people want and trust information if it is told as a story. As a freelance journalist, I have found this to be true, also. It's a fine line- brand journalism- and other avenues.

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