How brand journalism fills the void as media outlets dwindle

The ‘news hole’ at print publications is shrinking, and there are ever fewer bodies to cover your sector, much less your organization. There’s another way to tell your brand story: Do it yourself.

The erosion of staffing at newspapers and other media outlets presents a problem for PR pros.

As newspapers have disappeared or shrunk, PR staff and agencies have fewer opportunities for media placements. Yet corporate communications teams have found a solution: creating their own publications to deliver their messages unfiltered by reporters and editors.

Rather than praising the company and its products in marketing-speak, the company-owned print and online publications maintain a neutral tone, cover a broad range of industry news and offer helpful advice to customers and consumers. As they report company news, they write in a journalistic style, cite industry experts and emphasize facts over fluff.

Brand journalism—sometimes called corporate journalism or corporate media—can increase website traffic, educate stakeholders, publicize the organization’s good deeds and attract customers.

In addition to following recommended best practices of brand journalism, PR and corporate communications can study the following examples of exceptional brand journalism.

Pittsburgh International Airport. Pittsburgh International Airport delivers information for travelers in its Blue Sky news service. It offers news and commentary on the aviation industry, advice for travelers as well as news about the airport itself. Recent stories include what happens to deicing fluid after it is applied, Thanksgiving travel predictions and regional airlines opening new options for travelers.

Airport staff members, many of whom are former reporters or freelance writers, write the articles. Following journalistic protocols, the staff holds daily news budget meetings and follows an editorial process like a newsroom, according to PRSA.

“We want to communicate directly with travelers and the public, unfiltered,” says Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis in the Blue Sky article announcing its debut. “As the traditional media landscape continues to change, we want to be at the forefront of sharing the latest news. This isn’t about PR spin. This is about informing the public with real news stories like any other media outlet.”

REI. Outdoor gear retailer REI recently launched its print magazine, Uncommon Path, which promotes outdoor living and solutions to environmental issues. For instance, the first issue reported on outdoor preschools, a bike ride through Atlanta with Civil Bikes founder Nedra Deadwyler, and the landscape of the United States-Mexico border.

The company is taking an uncommon path. Many organizations create online news sites; far fewer publish their own print magazines. A large team of in-house journalists produces the magazine, which is available at REI stores and selected newsstands.

Marketing and PR consultant Arik Hanson calls the publication a work of art, with first-class photography and entertaining articles. The magazine also supports the brand’s PR and marketing strategy. It urges people to enjoy the outdoors and takes a stand on battling climate change. Naturally, the publication mentions REI’s favorite outdoor gear with subtle yet effective product placements. One article explained gear needed for rock climbing.

“The features don’t beat you over the head with the products; they do tell a story,” Hanson says. “In the end they are, essentially, advertisements—subtle advertisements, but advertisements nonetheless.”

Adobe. Adobe’s CMO, which has its own subdomain, seeks to inform chief marketing officers.  It aggregates online articles relevant to CMOs.

Editors review this content every day, picking only the best and most pertinent for inclusion on the site. CMO.com also produces its own exclusive content, which is either assigned to and written by some of the best business journalists around, or obtained through industry contacts, such as brands, agencies, consultant, and researchers, Editor-In-Chief Tim Moran told HubSpot.

Topics include customer experience, emerging technology, the future of work and other marketing trends. It provides a single source where CMOs can keep up to date, differentiating itself from other marketing sites by serving high-level marketing executives, he adds.

Plenty of other examples of first-class brand journalism exist:

  • American Express’ Open Forum started out as a forum for small businesses, but it has grown into a leading brand journalism site.
  • Walmart Today provides articles about employees and suppliers, in addition to corporate news.
  • Red Bulletin, published by Red Bull, targets adventure-seeking young men with stories on topics like skydiving and kite-surfing, with an emphasis on visual storytelling. The stories don’t focus on the company’s energy drink, but instead speak to its target audience and aim to associate Red Bull with excitement and adventure.
  • Coca-Cola Journey provides news about the company’s soft drinks, and the company’s social responsibility activities, such as encouraging good health habits and collecting plastics. The 125-year-old company also digs into its archives for interesting story ideas.

A version of this post first appeared on the Glean.info blog.

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