Understanding the rise of brand journalism in corporate America


By Kimberly Kayler, CPSM
President, Constructive Communication, Inc.

News is not just outside newspapers today — it is outside newsrooms. The decline of the newspaper as well as the shrinking of newsrooms leaves our culture to filter content. However, it is impossible for humans to efficiently filter the vast numbers of images, videos, tweets and updates created and shared by humans, bots and devices. By 2020, there will be 20 billion devices connected to the Internet, and they will all have something to say.

More and more, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and whatever is launched next are making editorial decisions on our behalf. And anyone with a social media account can self-publish and purport to be a journalist. Unfortunately, these social media platforms (and those using them) don’t have the same J school training we do, and they typically don’t share the same ethical code we do as journalists. In the today’s culture of instant gratification, fact-checking and accuracy aren’t always a step in the publishing process.

Although accountability may not part of Silicon Valley’s culture, the market is asking for a return to that third-party credibility. The journalistic process for gathering, assembling and disseminating news is gaining favor in corporate America. With an emphasis on transparency and accountability, brand journalism – the concept of documenting a brand and what happens to it in this world — is gaining favor among marketers. As a business journalist, it is key to recognize the rise of this new information source so it can be a partner, not a threat.

Members: View the archive of Kimberly Kayler’s webcast on brand journalism

David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and immediate past president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), reaffirmed this during his acceptance speech. “Today, professional journalists are needed more than ever – given all the misinformation and bunk out there,” Cuillier said. “A democratic society requires professionals skilled at collecting information, analyzing it, vetting it, and disseminating it clearly, quickly, accurately, and ethically. This is a calling, my friends.”

The real driver for brand journalism is the emphasis on thought leadership. Defined as an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought, thought leadership is often the goal in corporate public relations efforts. However, with the barrage of information in today’s marketplace, thought leadership is now more important than ever as it provides an opportunity to emerge as the go-to resource on a particular topic. Research indicates that buyers do their homework before making contact, so it is imperative that organizations and/or their people show up in that online search as the thought leader on the topic with which they seek counsel.

Daniel W. Rasmum noted in a recent Fast Company article that “Successful thought leadership does not arrive with a published idea linked to a hope that someone will recognize brilliance and sweep your firm from obscurity into industry prominence. Establishing a firm or an individual as a thought leader requires consistent, diligent effort. Thought leadership is cumulative. Although thought leadership can and should have tactical elements that reveal the evolution of an idea from concept toward implementation, all thought leadership should be strategic at the onset. Thought leadership should be about a big idea that changes how people perceive the world.”

Where is the intersection with journalism? Well, these self-publishers are committed to third-party coverage. Rasmum noted that “selling during a thought leadership presentation, discussion, or post is the number one sin, and therefore, not selling is the number-one rule.” To really emerge as a thought leader, you must be willing to offer a differing opinion – not simply jump on the bandwagon and what’s popular – in order to establish yourself as a leader, not merely an expert.

What does all of this mean to you as a business trade journalist? First and most important is recognizing the rise of brand journalism in corporate America. The second realization, however, is the opportunity to partner with these entities in the delivery of true journalistic news for your readers. And it is my hope that the growth of brand journalism will help shift the market back to a desired state of balanced content. Time will tell.

Members: View the archive of Kimberly Kayler’s webcast on brand journalism

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