Brand journalism – what is it, who can do it and what’s the value to business?

reporters notebook and penThe rise of brand journalism is a digital marketing job trend we’ve been monitoring at Firehead recruitment in the past year. In this short blog series, we look at brand journalism, what a brand journalist does, the value for clients and some of the routes in to getting a job.

What is brand journalism?

There is much debate around journalists who ‘go over to the dark side’ and whether they can still be called journalists – see content marketer Joe Pulizzi’s swift roundup of the arguments here – but essentially brand journalism applies the skills, approach and mindset of journalism to corporate content, and this can significantly affect how businesses tell their stories and the type of stories they tell. Brand journalism was named as one of 2013’s ten digital trends on ClickHere, we reported on it here on the Firehead blog in January as a rising digital jobs trend, and marketers are busy writing white papers on what it all means for their clients.

Brand journalism is part of content marketing with the function usually sitting within the marketing or comms team. Some people use the terms interchangeably but there is an argument that brand journalism fills a specific niche within content marketing. See our previous Firehead post – Brand journalist or content marketer – a job title debate – for how and why journalists naturally approach brand content differently from a marketer.

What does a brand journalist do and what is their value?

Freelance journalists are often hired to carry out a marketing department’s content goals and strategy, often as copywriters and content creators. But the new trend sees companies hiring journalists to work in-house at a more integrated and senior level – and it’s this more in-depth involvement that is having an impact on marketing communications and the bottom line.

One example is Jesse Noyes, who made the transition from being a business reporter for the Boston Herald and the Boston Business Journal to becoming marketing firm Eloqua‘s managing editor. He brought some very interesting real-world views to a brand journalism panel debate at SXSW 2012 called Brand journalism in the real world.

On the company blog, he wrote:

“The Corporate Reporter role is a new one. My task is to drill down within the company and the industry to find the stories that too often go untold. I will profile brands and the people that work for them. And I will attempt to explain game-changing trends as they happen.”

A year after the hire, his bosses reported back on the value of hiring a journalist in-house:

“The results have been fantastic, including thousands of new followers to our blog It’s All About Revenue, a Stevie Award for the blog, a doubling of unique visitors between Q2 and Q3 of this year, and thousands of new, valuable links. It has become the hub of our content marketing strategy.”

But the most interesting developments and value may lie beyond how corporate stories are sourced and reported, which is similar to how a journalist covers a specific beat. Hiring an in-house journalist/editor familiar with media production may also change the modern marketing department into more of a real-time newsroom with associated editorial values, publishing skills and production processes. Change management in organisations – traditionally slow to adapt – may prove the biggest asset of all when hiring in journalist publishing expertise.

Do you have to be a  journalist?

It helps! But there are other options for those prepared to skill up.

Brand journalism doesn’t specifically require you to be a journalist – only that you apply journalistic skills to creating your content. Hence there is some crossover with those from a blogging, PR or content marketing background who ‘get it’, have likely had some training, and can apply the journalist’s toolkit, skills and mindset to their work.

What other routes lead into brand journalism?

Apart from journalists (reporters and sub-editors) crossing over to corporate publishing and PRs/marketers skilling up and making the transition, opportunities may also exist for media graduates.

Journalism training, a J-school qualification or reporting/editing experience in mainstream media all offer a logical route in to brand publishing, and there is a wealth of traditional reporting and editing skills that can be really add value in the client arena. On the downside, there won’t be a readymade framework of journalists to learn from, which is often crucial when it comes to learning the skills of the reporter’s trade, developing a nose for a story and getting practical experience.

The reality is, though, that journalism graduates are chasing a shrinking number of jobs in journalism and some may be prepared to ply their trade on the corporate side – read How Content Marketing is Leading to a Renaissance of Journalism for stats showing the shifting journalism, PR and content marketing jobs landscape.

How many jobs in brand journalism are there?

At present, brand journalist seems to be a job title with limited traction. The biggest brand journalism group on LinkedIn has only 1,500 members. There are little more than 200 people who list themselves as a “brand journalist” on LinkedIn; similar numbers define themselves as a “corporate journalist” and fewer than 100 have the job title of “corporate reporters”. Many add other definitions, such as writer or editor alongside.

“Content marketer” only has around 1,000 profiles specifically listing that title, although “content marketing” lists nearly 70,000.

There are, however, many thousands of journalists, writers and editors who have worked with brands on corporate or marketing communications – most frequently, journalists will work with brands through an agency, reflecting the traditional hiring in of external expertise.

Embedded roles are (in our experience) becoming more common, although full-time in-house journalist hires are likely to be given a different job title, such as Jesse Noyes ‘managing editor’. We would expect the trend of hiring journalistic expertise to continue as businesses realise the value of such hires, although ‘brand journalist’ makes less sense once in-house for a brand; more likely, marketing department’s will assign titles similar to media or newsroom’s task-based roles, eg, writer, reporter, editor, editorial director and so on.

What’s your experience?

Have you seen brand journalism in action? Do you use journalists in your digital marketing mix – in what capacity? Have you spotted any good practitioners? We’d love to include more examples as we blog more on this topic, plus Firehead is also looking for interviewees for our job insight blog series if there are any brand journalists who’d like to get in touch for our Q&A pack.

[Transparency: this post was written by Fiona Cullinan, Firehead’s blog manager and a former journalist and editor in mainstream media for many years.]

Next in the series: How will hiring a brand journalist change your content marketing?

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