If ‘brand journalism’ works, does it matter what we call it?
Besides the debate around whether ‘brand journalism’ is actually ‘journalism’ at all, Rakhal Ebeli argues the more important question is whether it does its job.
Brand journalism is the cause of much debate. Interestingly though, this debate is concerned more with semantics than with impact. Can brand journalism be classified as journalism? Is the term misleading? Are journalists still journalists if they write on behalf of brands?
While these questions have merit, there is one crucial question that seems to be left out of the debate. That is: does brand journalism work? In other words, can brand journalism, as a content marketing strategy, provide high-quality content that engages and informs its readers?
It is difficult to provide a generic answer. There will be poor examples of brand journalism just as there are poor examples of traditional journalism. That said, I believe we can conclude the following points:
On the question of quality, brand journalism proves it is a strong source of informed, intelligent writing. A professional journalist does not suddenly become less skilled because they are writing for a brand and not an editor. Indeed, the editorial process to produce brand journalism is just as stringent for brands as it is for legacy media. When a marketer engages a journalist, they expect high-quality returns; they have a vested interest in ensuring the work is of the highest possible standard.
Remember too that the decision to move to newsroom mentality is predicated on an appreciation and need for new insight, relevancy and quality. If we put aside questions of whether brand journalism is “journalism” and look at the actual output, we will see that brand journalism produces high-quality, well-researched work.
Take for instance AWOL, the new youth-targeted travel site, produced by Sound Alliance and Qantas. In this instance, Qantas has placed complete trust in the editorial prowess of the Sound Alliance team; ensuring quality is not compromised by clumsy sales speech.
Brand journalism produces high-impact, engaging content. It is a happy marriage of editorial and commercial objectives. In the modern marketing world, we understand that reach is less important than the relationship you have with your audience. For that reason, briefs for brand journalism are aimed at connecting – not selling.
Brand journalism is not a banner ad. It is not heavy-handed. It is compelling. It leverages a journalist’s storytelling skills to take the reader on a journey, one that is filled with humour, insight and character.
Consider the Four Season Magazine. Filled with luxury travel tips and suggestions, the glossy magazine is so popular, so engaging guests pay to have it delivered to their doorstep.
Brand journalism is just as informative as traditional news. While there is admittedly a commercial agenda involved with brand journalism, this should not by default detract from its news worthiness and relevancy. A brand that adopts a newsroom attitude seeks the same outcomes as a news publisher, namely to inform and to provide insight.
ANZ’s BlueNotes is a prime example of this. The innovative content platform, produced with the help of Newsmodo, offers articles on FTA with China, Australia’s housing bubbles, new payment technologies and the labour market. Through rigorous research and high editorial standards, BlueNotes has become a go-to source for finance news in the Asia Pacific.
What is the answer to the question we’re not asking?
Yes, brand journalism works. It provides high-impact, high-quality content that creates meaningful content experiences with readers. So, does it really matter what you call it?