What brand journalism is

Brand journalism is journalism produced on behalf of a brand

But it’s not used just by brands. It can be used by any kind of organisation, or for any cause

It is as relevant to Amnesty International or the Red Cross as it is to McDonald’s or Coca-Cola. It can be used by everything from a major food manufacturer to a local restaurant; from an educational charity to a particular university or school.

Increasingly, it’s used by any organisation that has contact with the public, including the police and other emergency services, local authorities and government agencies, transport authorities, bus and rail companies and airlines.

It’s also used by organisations that work in B2B sectors. So businesses that sell to other organisations use brand journalism to establish themselves as trusted authorities in their field.

Any of those organisations can employ journalists and/or journalistic techniques to create compelling content – content that uses all the skills and techniques of traditional journalism to craft a memorable story, and present information that a particular audience needs, wants, values or is entertained by.

They can distribute it over the full range of multimedia and social media platforms. These stories can be told in text for print or online, via video or audio, and through stills photography, even games.

And it can dovetail with their presence in traditional media, and with their overall promotional and marketing strategy.

Brand journalism = content marketing = custom publishing


It’s not always called brand journalism, sometimes it’s called content marketing or custom publishing. There are at least a dozen other alternative phrases used to describe it. They all amount to the same thing.

So how does it differ from traditional journalism – from the vision of supposedly free and independent journalism we discuss here?

Let’s take a scenario many journalists are familiar with – that of customer magazines. As we’ll see on this post, the majority of best-selling magazines in the UK – and many lesser ones – are produced by publishing houses on behalf of organisations whose primary business is not publishing.

So every supermarket has a magazine with its name on it. Many other retailers and suppliers of consumer goods and services also want a print product as a part of their marketing efforts – plus, of course, a website, Twitter account, Facebook page and the rest.

If you’ve ever worked on such a title you’ll know that you have two masters – your line manager in the publishing house you work for, and the client who is paying for the mag. I once edited a magazine that was paid for by a bank. I discussed content ideas first with my publishing director, then with the head of marketing at the bank.

Both were hard taskmasters, and rightly so, because the task we were attempting was a complex one – even more complex than trying to create a good magazine that didn’t also have to serve the ambitions of a brand.

But we were all working towards the same goal: to create a magazine that reflected the broader lifestyle of the customers of the bank, and which covered their range of interests.

For the magazine to justify the bank’s expenditure on it, the title had to make customers feel it was interesting, relevant, and a reward for their custom. It should make them feel good about being customers of the bank; to show them that the bank understood them and their interests and concerns.

Brand journalism only works for good brands


But there was only so much it could do on its own. If customers liked the magazine but strongly disliked other aspects of the service the bank gave them: mis-selling products, making them wait hours when they rang a call centre, then the good work the magazine did would be wiped out. Lesson: brand journalism only works for good brands.

Journalists know that to run a successful publication, you have to satisfy the reader. You also have to satisfy your editor. There shouldn’t be a conflict between the two but sometimes there is. Working as a brand journalist, you have to satisfy the reader, your editor plus the brand, organisation, charity, cause or whatever that ultimately pays your wages.

In both cases, who is the most important person to please? The reader. Because if you fail to please the reader you won’t please anyone.

There are also challenges for marketers, public relations professionals and brand managers in understanding how to make brand journalism work for them.

Brand journalism = communicating without selling


Here is a definition, from the Content Marketing Institute, that seeks to explain to marketers what they are calling content marketing, but which we can call brand journalism, is and how it works:

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

“Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent [I think they mean better informed, we can’t actually raise IQs with this stuff]. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

I like this key phrase from the above: “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.”

That’s something many traditional public relations and marketing people find hard to do. PRs are still often wedded to the old-fashioned press release that waxes lyrical about the product or service they want journalists to write about. Marketers try the hard sell.

Those approaches don’t work any more.

Largely because of the growth of social and online media, and the way people use those tools, brand journalism or content marketing is a much better fit with the needs of the modern audience.

So how do we do brand journalism well?


We’ll take a brief look at that in this post but that’s just a very brief introduction. For the full picture, you’ll need to refer to the Brand Journalism textbook, which covers the subject in great detail.

But first I want to tackle head-on the opposition to brand journalism, and then mount a defence of it.

If that debate doesn’t interest you, go to the third link below, If it does, click on the first

The case against brand journalism

In defence of brand journalism

How to do brand journalism well