Brand journalism is about sharing, not selling

Brand journalism is content written by a company but is not necessarily about the company or its products.

Think about all the how-to articles and recipes you find on the web. In almost all of them the focus is on the project or the recipe, and it’s only toward the end that you may discover the content was produced by a company that sells the products needed to create the project or recipe.

DixieAn example is Dixie, which launched a Dark for Dinner campaign. The social movement started June 14 and lasts for six weeks. Each Sunday families are encouraged to focus on the present and to “Be More Here.” Dixie products are shown but not discussed in the commercials.

Brand journalism is stories and custom content such as videos, blogs and infographics. It is timely, relevant and authentic. It is not a press release or a commercial.

Karen Corrigan, CEO of Corrigan Partners, a healthcare consultancy, says that brand journalism is the new marketing imperative. Most consumers today search websites, blogs and ratings before making a purchase. “Brands need to share, not sell,” she told communicators at a meeting of Virginia Professional Communicators.

Today’s consumers trust bloggers, reviews and social communities over what a brand might say about itself. “In the old days it was about controlling the message,” Corrigan said. “Today it is about influencing the message.”

To succeed at brand journalism, one must think like a publisher, Corrigan said. It’s important to recognize that every brand has a digital audience and to understand that audience. Content should be shared across multiple platforms, and the brand must engage with multiple audiences.

Are you using brand journalism or are you still selling?

How to Tell Your Brand’s Story Through the Lens of a Journalist

Plenty of jobs exist for journalists, says Brian Ellis, executive vice president for PadillaCRT.

The catch is that they are not with newspapers, but rather PR firms and companies that need storytellers.

It’s part of the strategy to use brand journalism to become your own news engine. It involves replacing the traditional approach to media relations. “It’s a mindset around what is news and what is appealing to consumers,” Ellis said.

The term is first credited to McDonald’s. Larry Light, chief marketing officer at McDonald’s, said in 2004 that mass marketing, which focused on brand positioning, no longer worked and that “no single ad tells the whole story.”

McDonald’s, he said, had adopted a new marketing technique: “brand journalism,” which involves multiple channels and journalism-style writing.

Here’s a comparison of traditional marketing and brand journalism that Ellis shared:

  • :30 commercial v YouTube video
  • Press release v unbiased feature stories and blog posts
  • Research presentations v infographics
  • Community events v Facebook conversations and Twitter promotions

Brand journalism should be tied to your business strategic plan. It’s important to evaluate the skills of those you hire as they need to be strong writers, preferably with a journalism background. They also need to be quick thinkers and naturally curious.

Brand journalism also involves breaking down silos. It’s critical to integrate marketing, public relations and the digital functions. The infrastructure needs to be built to support web and social media. Finally, it’s important to measure and track the actions of readers and viewers.

Ellis offers a word of caution: “Once you start down this path, it’s not easy to go back.”

An editorial calendar is essential for success as it allows you to track all of your platforms and how your content is shared. “You need to understand how to repurpose content,” he said. “You want to get everything you can out of a story.”

This means identifying the visuals that will accompany the story, as well as writing it simply so the story can be understood. Data points from the story can become graphic points. offers these tips:

  • Focus on the audience
  • Find a voice
  • Be credible
  • Keep it simple
  • Think visual
  • Unbrand your content