What is brand journalism?

Brand journalism is strategic reputation management and content creation in the online and social media age. It is the practice of sharing an organization’s story through a range of mediums, using an authentic voice based on journalistic credibility that focuses on the interests of the stakeholder.

It is a combination of strategic communication, editorial storytelling, targeted outreach and interactive technology that allows an organization to share its message with its target market.

To be effective, brand journalism must be tied to the strategic goals of the organization, support its business objectives and deliver measurable results.

What is the difference between brand journalism and PR?

Many marketing professionals believe that brand journalism is different from public relations. At AHA Creative Strategies, we don’t. As an agency and as communications professionals, we have always believed that the role of PR is to share information and to engage in conversation with your public(s). We also believe that brand journalism and PR both focus on providing relevant, engaging and interesting content that provides value to stakeholders and offers the opportunity for interaction. Great storytelling is at the heart of effective public relations and brand journalism is a strategic approach to creating content that will be of interest and value to your stakeholders.

The popularity of online communication provides a never-before-seen opportunity to create interesting, engaging content and to reach out and distribute it directly to your identified stakeholder group(s). Brand journalism provides the ability to tell your organization’s story, to manage your brand reputation and to provide value to your target market. It also allows your target market to join in the discussion with you. Done well, brand journalism creates a positive relationship with your public(s). This is what we have always believed to be the objective of great PR. Now we have the tools, technology and ability to fully deliver it.

What are the components of brand journalism?

Brand journalism includes a range of communications vehicles such as video segments, series or organizational documentaries, podcasts, blogs, pre-written articles, news releases, white papers, FAQs, fact sheets and other content. The range is extensive and the content can be shared or distributed through email, social media networks, on your website, and through many other channels.

Not every component is necessary (or right) for every organization. What communication vehicles you would use depends on your objectives, stakeholder group(s) and budget.

Brand journalism can help attract great new talent; motivate, inspire and keep current employees; communicate successes and/or challenges to government or your Board of Directors; it can help launch new products and services; showcase your community involvement; facilitate collaboration within departments, divisions or your industry; or provide traditional media with credible, newsworthy content.

Why is brand journalism important?

Before the popularity of the Internet and social media, people viewed or heard the information that traditional media chose to deliver. That passive model has changed. We now live in a wired world where people turn to a wide range of sources for the information they seek. This means information should be shared through a variety of distribution channels. Not only that, your stakeholders expect to interact with the brands they use. People want to know that the brands and organizations that are a part of their lives care about their internal and external communities, the environment and the world at large.

Additionally, as traditional media evolves, there is an opportunity to provide credible, newsworthy content to media organizations for their consideration for use in broadcast, in print or on their website. However, it must be a piece that has news value, that has journalistic credibility and that tells a story – not a marketing, sales or promotional piece.

Does brand journalism replace media relations?

Media relations can be an important component of an organization’s communications strategy. Well-researched, targeted pitches that are used to generate positive media coverage can be supported, augmented or expanded through the use of brand journalism.

While it is not yet a common practice in Canada, several U.S. and international media outlets regularly use information provided to them by organizations. The information has to be produced using journalism standards and must provide relevant, timely information. It can’t be a marketing piece, rather one that meets the criteria of unbiased reporting of an event, initiative or campaign.

Whether we like it or not, the role of the journalist and the newsroom is changing. Smart organizations can build relationships with journalists by providing them with credible stories about their organization and by producing content that can be used free of charge. Respectable journalists want information that is truthful, unbiased, credible and of interest to its readers, viewers or listeners. If organizations produce content that meets that criteria, there is an opportunity to put it forward to traditional media for consideration.

What will brand journalism do for my organization?

Brand journalism can help build, improve or transform your organization’s reputation as open, transparent and actively engaged with stakeholders. This approach to content creation and strategic communication provides the opportunity to share many facets of your organization’s story to diverse stakeholder groups. It facilitates a two-way conversation using traditional communication and social media tools. It allows you to enhance the reputation of your brand and provides your target markets – customers, clients, consumers, government, board members, investors and other stakeholders, including media – with the ability to learn more about your organization.

It can attract new talent, inspire and keep current employees and showcase successes and challenges to government or your board. It can highlight the people behind the brand and help launch a product or service. The opportunities for what brand journalism can do for your organization are extensive.

Will brand journalism replace traditional media and journalists?

We don’t believe that will ever happen. We feel strongly that the role a journalist plays in a society, a community and the world at large is crucial.

Unfortunately, the world of journalism has dwindling resources and how people want to receive their information is evolving. Most journalists not only have to deliver a story in their outlet’s main medium, but they also have to provide it in other mediums. For example, a broadcast journalist will cover a story and it will air on the evening news – additional video clips, photos and written articles may be necessary for the website.

The need for this additional content and the staffing challenges being faced in the world of journalism provides an opportunity for organizations that want to tell their story – in a transparent way – with relevant content. Done well, brand journalism content can provide value to a news organization that is understaffed, under budgeted and overwhelmed.

What is the return on investment?

Organizations that practice brand journalism develop relationships with their stakeholders. Depending on the objective of the organization, brand journalism can help attract great people to work with you; improve employee engagement; build client, customer or consumer loyalty; raise brand awareness; keep investors and/or shareholders informed; position the organization as a thought leader within the industry; and improve or maintain government and media relations.

How do you measure success?

We work with our clients to build brand journalism plans that support their strategic goals. Depending on your objectives and the scope of the brand journalism your organization undertakes, there is a range of ways to measure success: Klout Scores, Technorati Authority ratings, and Google Analytics, as well as monitoring numbers of links, reviews, shares, tweets, “likes” of a Facebook page, how many people visit your website, comment on your blog, etc. It is important, however, not to define success through numbers alone, but to put them in context relevant to your objectives: to inform, educate, shift opinion, engage and build brand loyalty, to name a few.

AHA Creative Strategies works with clients at the beginning of each project or campaign to define success and consistently measures throughout initiatives so that adjustments can be made if necessary and appropriate. We also provide measurement, evaluation and feedback at the end of a campaign.

What does it cost?

The budget necessary to develop an effective brand journalism initiative is relative to the objectives and defined scope. This can range from a small pilot project at $5,000, to a more comprehensive campaign of $10,000 – $15,000, to a large, longer-running program of $30,000, $50,000 or more, depending on the scope.

Often, we recommend to clients that we start with a communications audit and review what they are currently doing. Organizations sometimes continue to produce communications vehicles that are no longer effective because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Taking a good look at what currently works and freeing up funds from what doesn’t can often provide the budget necessary for a brand journalism initiative.

Why would we work with AHA for brand journalism?

The AHA Brand Journalism Team is made up of a core group of broadcast and print journalists and corporate communicators. We know how to develop an effective strategy and brand journalism road map, to develop objectives that support an organization’s business goals, to identify great stories and create compelling, interesting and entertaining content and to effectively distribute these stories to your target markets. We have experience and expertise in strategic corporate communications, social media and journalism – it’s the blend of these skill sets that helps our clients achieve success.

How do I start?

We often get calls from organizations interested in brand journalism, but are concerned that they will have to start from scratch. For some organizations, getting started is as simple as creating a compelling short video that highlights a unique or interesting aspect of their organization or spotlights the people who work there. That could be combined with short written profiles of the individuals in the video or a fact sheet on a topic relevant to your organization. It may mean revamping the e-newsletter to contain active links to a short video, a series of photographs, or a newly developed blog or article written to highlight an event, new product launch or other initiative. It could mean creating a series of white papers that link to visuals (photos or videos), or podcast interviews with industry experts – including the organization’s CEO.

It doesn’t take a huge budget to start and we often recommend that clients begin with a reasonable-sized pilot project so that they can understand the process and measure the success.