What is the future of corporate communications?
No one knows for sure, though brand journalism seems likely to stand the test of time. Great storytelling never goes out of style, after all.
Launching a brand journalism initiative is no simple undertaking, however. It requires investment, unwavering commitment and buy-in from bigwigs who set budgets. It requires a patient perspective that accepts a broader, more nuanced view of ROI. Perhaps more than anything, brand journalism requires a companywide understanding of chief objectives and expectations.
If you’re interested—but perhaps not quite convinced—here are four reasons to pursue the long-term messaging merits of brand journalism:
1. It’s empowering—for your company and your employees. As Mark Ragan stated in a recent interview with Flack Pack: “It’s time to stop begging the media—and to become your own publisher.”
Doesn’t that sound nice? Instead of relying on diminishing returns from such weary tactics as blasting press releases into the void and relentlessly hounding disinterested reporters, brand journalism puts you in the publicity driver’s seat. You control your own messaging destiny.
Aside from asserting editorial control and empowering your staffers, being a publisher lets you get out in front of the news, as Ragan Consulting Group co-founder Jim Ylisela pointed out in the Flack Pack podcast. Having your own brand journalism platform lets you proactively address brewing issues or breaking news with your own approved messaging. That flips the traditional script of scrambling to respond to news reports that may or may not be true or complete.
Imagine: No more groveling at the feet of journalists. No more waiting around to hear back regarding the seven email pitches you sent. Brand journalism puts the PR power into your own hands.
2. It’s more interesting and engaging—for your company and your audience. Media outlets—and typical consumers—tend to prefer objective, emotive storytelling over hard-selling promotional content. That’s not to say brand journalism should be viewed as a replacement for marketing. It is a “third way,” as Ylisela puts it, meant to enhance and elevate your PR and marketing efforts. It’s another spoke in your storytelling wheel.
Sharing creative stories that tackle broader industry issues enables you to reach multiple audiences, too. As Ylisela says, “Brand journalism is about approaching the media, but it’s also a direct path to consumers.”
Brand journalism frees you from having to tie every piece of content to some selling point. As Ragan mentions on the podcast, clients such as Denver Water have used the platform to cover issues ranging from climate change, dam safety and the future affordability of our most essential resource. Covering relevant issues and telling interesting stories—without a whiff of salesmanship—can open up a wealth of opportunities for coverage and content consumption.
3. It’s a great way to rise above competitors—and capitalize on the current media milieu. Newspapers are slashing staff. Editors are being laid off in droves. The ragged reporters left standing are under extreme pressure to pump out stories at an unholy pace.
Corporate communicators have a prime opportunity to fill gaps amid the smoldering ruins of U.S. journalism. Understaffed newsrooms manned by wrung-out, strung-out reporters struggling under incessant page-view and productivity pressure are more open to contributions from atypical sources. News outlets might not run your entire piece, but a grateful journalist will appreciate the head start. Many publications or papers would be delighted to use your story as source material.
Today, Google is the great gatekeeper. Brand journalism can help you dominate niche-specific SEO keywords, which will significantly boost the perception (and findability) of your company. This is a great way to become an authority—the authority—on subject matter that pertains to your business.
4. It’s a good way to revive—and attract—staffers. As Ragan says in the podcast, in addition to being a more strategic way to communicate, “brand journalism is just more fun.”
Launching a brand journalism initiative could be a recruiting and retention boon for companies. Who wouldn’t want more storytelling autonomy, creative freedom, integrity and editorial control at work? Who wouldn’t like to be freed from the constant burden of having to sell stuff?
If you do have ex-journalists (or folks with a natural nose for news) on staff, turn them loose. If you lack creative staff, seek ye a laid-off reporter who’s champing at the bit to get back in the game. Lord knows they are easy to find.
Of course, any staff benefits you might reap from creating a more scintillating role are for naught if your execs are not fully on board. As Ylisela says in the podcast: “The leadership must understand it. It’s bound to sink if leaders don’t understand or buy in to the long-term initiative.”
You can have the most enthralling brand journalism platform in the world, but it’ll quickly vanish if budget setters are not committed for the long haul. That’s why it’s crucial to establish and agree on your project’s objectives, expectations and goals before taking the plunge.
Brand journalism inspiration
Want to see how some of the best in the business are practicing brand journalism? Check out these prime examples:
- American Express Open Forum
- Cape Cod Health News
- Cleveland Clinic
- Denver Water
- Omaha Public Power District
- University of Alberta
Here are 24 more to peruse.
Do you have a plan to stay relevant in this age of communication chaos? Prioritizing great storytelling seems like a smart place to start.