Don’t call it an exodus – how journalists fuel brand publishing

March 11, 2015 7:56 am

It was saddening yesterday to read about GigaOm, another well-known publication in the tech sector, shutting its doors. It leaves a good number of talented journalists looking for their next gig.
But it’s not uncommon. Newsrooms everywhere are cutting costs, shrinking staff numbers, slashing freelance budgets or giving up the ghost completely as print pounds have been replaced by digital pennies – seriously, some of the rates we’ve seen professional journalists take on work for recently would make you weep.
Journalist at workSo it’s perhaps not a surprise that we are increasingly seeing more journalists dipping their pens into the commercial world – what used to simply be called ‘corporate writing’ but is now more commonly associated with brand publishing and the wider world of content marketing. For a journalist, being part of that world often comes down to a purely financial need – content marketing budgets are on the rise and this kind of work can be well paid.
There are many journalists – and we work with quite a few – who manage to successfully balance pure editorial work for media publications with wearing a commercial hat some of the time for brand and corporate work. That might be something quite traditional like writing a whitepaper but also increasingly means bylined content – features, news, blogs, interviews.
Some are going the whole hog and crossing the divide completely, working directly for a brand as head of content or other similar job titles. There have been some high profile examples such as former BusinessWeek columnist Steve Wildstrom who now writes for Cisco’s publication The Network, and Fake Steve Jobs creator Daniel Lyons who used to be a senior editor at Forbes and writer at Newsweek before joining HubSpot in 2013. And both myself and my colleague Tony Hallett here at Collective Content spent many years as reporters and editors in the world of B2B tech journalism before crossing over into content marketing.
In fact Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, predicts the majority of journalists in the future will be hired by brands. He said: “Large enterprises need to tell a lot of compelling stories in a lot of niche areas and they need experts to help them.”
Whether hiring a journalist as a freelance or as an employee (and make sure you know the difference between a copywriter and a journalist), that step has obvious benefits for a brand – a respected subject-expert journalist in their sector will have built up a following and credibility over many years, something the brand will hope to rub off on its content and with an audience.
That also presents potential pitfalls and it can be a steep learning curve for some brands. Too much marketing meddling in the final article and the writer, quite reasonably, might withdraw their byline from it not wanting to risk their own reputation on what they see as a compromised piece of content.
As Rob Yoegel of Gaggle and former content marketing director at Monetate says: “You have to let the writer write. You have to allow them to have their own opinion and allow them to be not just a brand but also a person. People aren’t buying the company anymore. They’re buying the expertise and trust and thought leadership.”
This is a trend the PR community also needs to get to grips with – and fast. As we found in our new report PR’s love-have relationship with ‘brand journalists’ – and why it matters [free to download below] many PRs remain sceptical about requests for comment or information from someone writing for a brand publication. About half of respondents said they don’t ever think brand journalists will ever be treated on a par with traditional journalists.
One not untypical comment among the survey responses about dealing with requests from someone writing for a brand publication was: “They are not the same as regular journalists and usually have different ideas and values.”
What that misses is the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship and two of the more enlightened responses in our survey were:
“In my experience of responding to requests from brand journalists, they are highly qualified, experienced and respected print journalists, who have taken on brand journalism because it offers a higher income than traditional editorial roles.”
“They are often the same journalists we deal with on publications, that is factored in when dealing with them on brand journalism commissions.”
For those PRs who have good relationships with journalists in their sector then that relationship should carry across whatever content they are producing. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and a PR who helps out on a brand content commission might find that favour being returned when the journalist is putting out a request for comment on an editorial piece further down the line.
The bottom line is there are good reasons for everyone to make this work – for journalists it’s a more simple equation of portfolio and money; for brands it’s the cache of having a ‘star writer’ and quality content; for PRs it’s about nurturing a mutually beneficial relationship.
Download the full PDF report (after you request it, a link will appear at the foot of this page). Look out for more analysis of our findings over the coming weeks.
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*photo credit: Journalist via photopin (license)

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