Do you follow ‘unsexy’ companies on Instagram? Maybe you popped by your local hardware to have a key made. You saw a sign saying the business is on Instagram. You followed them, only to find that their content interrupts your carefully curated feed of inspiring quotes and National Geographic travel photography.
Can organizations in little-noticed industries do brand journalism?
In this world of professionally branded startups, newsworthy unicorns, and hot-to-trot retailers, unglamorous industries just don’t have the same opportunities for audience growth and engagement. However, businesses that lack pizazz do have incredible potential to create news-you’ll-use content with brand journalism.
Before we look at organizations in ‘humdrum’ industries that built brand equity with owned media, it’s worth pointing out that brand journalism differs from content marketing (though many argue they’re the same).
The essence of content marketing vs. brand journalism
Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications, has helped brands re-build their communications departments as in-house news publishers for years on this premise: Why pitch a story to a harassed, overwhelmed newspaper or TV reporter when you yourself can publish a high-quality news story that the public reads eagerly?
Ragan explains, “Content marketing is advertising disguised as irresistible stories about people using your products. Brand journalism is covering your niche, whether you’re a hospital covering heroin addiction in your community or a public utility giving advice on how to collect water in a rain barrel-two stories our clients actually published.”
In a Forbes article, Lewis Dvorkin, who covers digital journalism and social media, says brand journalism is “marketers using the tools of digital publishing and social media to speak directly to consumers,” removing the middlemen from information consumption.
The goals of content marketing and brand journalism differ too:
- Content marketing generates and pushes leads down the ‘sales funnel.’
- Brand journalism builds trust through owned-media content that, done well, will be syndicated by news outlets.
Organizations that have learned brand journalism
Utility companies like Denver Water have gained national recognition for their brand journalism. Denver Water’s comms team published a comical open letter on its news site criticizing rapper Jay Z for stating that water is free. Within days, the letter appeared on Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly online, getting mentions in news and lifestyle publications the utility company may never have landed without brand journalism.
Omaha Public Power District publishes articles on its barebones owned-media site “The Wire,” as does Duke Energy on its site, “illumination,” which doubled-down on brand journalism and community storytelling after an environmental accident in 2014. Duke Energy’s communications team holds ‘newsroom meetings’ where employees pitch story ideas and reinvent tired topics to continue the organization’s narrative in an ‘owned’ way.
Brand journalism makes its way into health care
Cape Cod Healthcare’s OneCape Health News covers topics from how to protect yourself from tick-borne infections to how to make deciding whether or not to have breast reconstruction surgery easier for cancer patients. Mayo Clinic‘s News Network and Cleveland Clinic have made huge strides towards the newsroom mentality by serving patients content that helps solve their problems.
The Brand Journalism Advantage podcast host Phoebe Chongchua advises, “Learn to be the media and tell your own story in a way that’s interesting and connects you to your core audience. Share helpful, balanced stories. Every company can be a media company.”
Will brand journalism kill traditional media relations?
Instead of relying on traditional media to find and distribute your news, take the reins, as Chongchua and Ragan suggest, and publish what matters most to your customers yourself. There will always be a place for media relations nailing placements in the big-name publications our CEOs covet. Keep this in mind: There’s more than one path to good press.