Brand Journalism: big new idea or just business as usual?

A lot of people are getting excited about the next big idea that’s happening in public relations and marketing. It goes by various names – brand journalism being the latest – but the central premise behind each of them is that companies will soon all have to become publishers, or face extinction. What I do for a living makes me hyper-sensitive to, well, hyperbole. And this so-called big trend has all the hallmarks of being over-stated. For one thing, companies – at least all but the smallest – have always been content publishers.

Whether they are any good at it is a different question, but the best do an excellent job and some of them have been doing so for a very long time. John Deere is one example. For more than a century it has been publishing The Furrow, a B2B magazine for US farmers, and has now embraced the multi-media, digital age. Another is up-market British supermarket chain Waitrose with its Food Illustrated consumer magazine, originally launched in 1998 and since rebranded as Waitrose Kitchen.

One thing that really is interesting amongst all the hype is that some companies, notably Nissan, have gone beyond publishing. They have moved into broadcasting and content creation that by-passes traditional, independent media entirely and goes directly to consumers. The idea is that they can better control what people see and hear without the inconvenient filtering effect that independent journalists subject all stories to. There’s every chance they will be successful if they adhere to one guiding principle: create quality content that is useful, relevant, interesting or entertaining.

If you need some inspiration about what that looks like, here’s a handy list of 10 B2B companies that excel in this area. They’re mostly US-based, but that doesn’t matter on this occasion. And here’s a short video of Nissan’s Simon Sproule talking about what his company is doing.


  • Crispin White  

    I think this is business as usual. Dressed up, of course, to sell more consulting to clients.

    If you look back 100 years ago to the long copy adverts the best ones were telling stories. Howard Gossage in the 1950’s used campaigning adverts written as editorial to save the Grand Canyon.

    Brand journalism is letting the company, as before, tell the story they want. Today with fragmented media channels a company can start to place their story with more control, just like an advert. the story still has to engage the audience, just as the best adverts did.

  • Peter Coles  

    I agree with Crispin. The media available may be evolving, and cost dynamics of existing media shifting, but the underlying principles are the same.

    Companies that can skilfully engage an audience, and consistently deliver interesting and relevant stories to it, will succeed.

    But many will continue to fail to do so and their efforts, like the “newpaper” I received today from a utility company, will go straight into the junk mail box unread. Most likely more so, as more “publishers” emerge.

    Skill at choosing and using appropriate media for the conversation is what matters.Merely becoming a “publisher” is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for success.

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