Does Brand Journalism Suffer from Integrity Issues?

Branded content has a problem these days. While AdAge calls brand journalism a modern imperative, it may becoming the next frontier of bad PR. For every great effort like GE Reports, lesser efforts produce nothing more than spammy dressed up blogs.

As Rich Becker noted, the move to circumvent journalists often becomes a top down messaging exercise as opposed to a means of improving relationships between customers and brands. Can companies resist the opportunity to serve up endless messaging and sales pitches with their content? Can they maintain editorial integrity?

It’s a tough question. As we know while relationships are important, ROI is the literally the bottom line for all marketers, including corporate communicators. It takes a long-term view to build “top of funnel content” that genuinely serves people while creating nurture paths that empower lead generation and sales. Frankly, it also takes some sense of how to create good content that doesn’t feel like a constant pitch.

Nurturing and usefulness are overall communications problem, not just the domain of brand journalism. Consider how little people like spammy email.

Brand journalism more than anything feels like a term that marketers and PR pros use to sell internal stakeholders on the nostalgic angle of content with integrity. “Brand journalism” forces brands to think outside of the message, in theory. It’s almost an acknowledgement that messaging kills them.

What Brands Can Learn from Pubs

Brand Journalism Integrity - Red Bull Ad

Most brand journalism efforts point to style as a means to create content that serves readers rather than messaging. Some hire former journalists, too. If they are successful in maintaining a Chinese Wall between the content and heavy salesmanship, then yes, it is likely that the articles, podcasts and videos will strengthen relationships.

But there is more to learn. When you consider publications, they do more than just write stories. Yes, they sell advertising, but they also market their own deeper content experiences. They market advertorials, special sections like their 40 under 40 lists (which are sponsored), and events.

Inevitably, these deeper and often revenue-related initiatives blend in like seamless content. When you design your brand journalism effort, do so in a manner that helps you nurture.

PR-driven content can work towards relationships while the site design itself generates leads. Protect the content, but create space to place ads. Develop deeper quality content initiatives that require people to identify themselves, and as you go deeper into the sales cycle continue to impress customers with strong content.

The point is keep the content and the site design separated from marketing to maintain integrity.

Perhaps the best brand in this corner of the world, Red Bull (See image above) actually features other brands’ advertisements on their site. How crazy is that? I love it. The adidas ad makes Red Bull’s site even more relevant.

How Design Impacts Integrity

CMO.Com - Brand Journalism Integrity

Journalistic integrity varies with these content sites. Design can move from full branded efforts like Cisco’s The Network to well-veiled magazines. With design comes a message about intent.

IBM has a great blog called Smarter Planet. It is well-written and has great focus, but it is also very corporate looking, and is clearly an IBM vehicle.

In other cases they can become more thinly disguised sites that appear to be a magazine, but still serve the company’s needs. Microsoft’s Stories is a great example. It is reminiscent of a branded magazine from the days of print.

There are semi-branded efforts that act more like true journals. Adobe’s CMO.com (See image above) has its own URL and masthead, but has ads and Adobe branding. The site has a clear editorial mission and focus beyond the corporation.

What do you think about branded journalism and editorial integrity?



  • April

    The industry I am in (Beauty Industry)
    I have always tried ad nauseum, to be an independent voice of my industry –staying fair and balanced when it came to using tools and ethics that were tried, true and tested to work and touting products on a “purpose for use” basis.
    Ha! Good luck to me in THAT category.

    If you’re not backed by a brand or representing the latest trend (meaning it doesn’t nec. have to even work, or be a great product…or even available to the market yet) or bowing down to Lord L’Oreal… you are simply not heard in a day where more than half the purchasing stylists are independent…
    and need this kind of info–how sad it is that companies like L’Oreal won’t allow their forums or sites to house this sort of information that is so crucial to who their audience is
    what can you expect to a company that sells out its a** to.the consumer and out its elbow to its salons and stylists

  • April

    The industry I am in (Beauty Industry)
    I have always tried ad nauseum, to be an independent voice of my industry –staying fair and balanced when it came to using tools and ethics that were tried, true and tested to work and touting products on a “purpose for use” basis.
    Ha! Good luck to me in THAT category.

    If you’re not backed by a brand or representing the latest trend (meaning it doesn’t nec. have to even work, or be a great product…or even available to the market yet) or bowing down to Lord L’Oreal… you are simply not heard in a day where more than half the purchasing stylists are independent…
    and need this kind of info–how sad it is that companies like L’Oreal won’t allow their forums or sites to house this sort of information that is so crucial to who their audience is
    what can you expect to a company that sells out its a** to.the consumer and out its elbow to its salons and stylists

  • April

    The industry I am in (Beauty Industry)
    I have always tried ad nauseum, to be an independent voice of my industry –staying fair and balanced when it came to using tools and ethics that were tried, true and tested to work and touting products on a “purpose for use” basis.
    Ha! Good luck to me in THAT category.

    If you’re not backed by a brand or representing the latest trend (meaning it doesn’t nec. have to even work, or be a great product…or even available to the market yet) or bowing down to Lord L’Oreal… you are simply not heard in a day where more than half the purchasing stylists are independent…
    and need this kind of info–how sad it is that companies like L’Oreal won’t allow their forums or sites to house this sort of information that is so crucial to who their audience is
    what can you expect to a company that sells out its a** to.the consumer and out its elbow to its salons and stylists

  • April

    The industry I am in (Beauty Industry)
    I have always tried ad nauseum, to be an independent voice of my industry –staying fair and balanced when it came to using tools and ethics that were tried, true and tested to work and touting products on a “purpose for use” basis.
    Ha! Good luck to me in THAT category.

    If you’re not backed by a brand or representing the latest trend (meaning it doesn’t nec. have to even work, or be a great product…or even available to the market yet) or bowing down to Lord L’Oreal… you are simply not heard in a day where more than half the purchasing stylists are independent…
    and need this kind of info–how sad it is that companies like L’Oreal won’t allow their forums or sites to house this sort of information that is so crucial to who their audience is
    what can you expect to a company that sells out its a** to.the consumer and out its elbow to its salons and stylists

  • April

    The industry I am in (Beauty Industry)
    I have always tried ad nauseum, to be an independent voice of my industry –staying fair and balanced when it came to using tools and ethics that were tried, true and tested to work and touting products on a “purpose for use” basis.
    Ha! Good luck to me in THAT category.

    If you’re not backed by a brand or representing the latest trend (meaning it doesn’t nec. have to even work, or be a great product…or even available to the market yet) or bowing down to Lord L’Oreal… you are simply not heard in a day where more than half the purchasing stylists are independent…
    and need this kind of info–how sad it is that companies like L’Oreal won’t allow their forums or sites to house this sort of information that is so crucial to who their audience is
    what can you expect to a company that sells out its a** to.the consumer and out its elbow to its salons and stylists

  • April

    The industry I am in (Beauty Industry)
    I have always tried ad nauseum, to be an independent voice of my industry –staying fair and balanced when it came to using tools and ethics that were tried, true and tested to work and touting products on a “purpose for use” basis.
    Ha! Good luck to me in THAT category.

    If you’re not backed by a brand or representing the latest trend (meaning it doesn’t nec. have to even work, or be a great product…or even available to the market yet) or bowing down to Lord L’Oreal… you are simply not heard in a day where more than half the purchasing stylists are independent…
    and need this kind of info–how sad it is that companies like L’Oreal won’t allow their forums or sites to house this sort of information that is so crucial to who their audience is
    what can you expect to a company that sells out its a** to.the consumer and out its elbow to its salons and stylists

    • geofflivingston

      I am sure their customers see through this, though. When everything is a promo, you see it as an ad.

  • Daniel Hall

    I was a full-time business journalist for many years. I freelance now sometimes, but I focus more on PR now.

    I covered many industries, companies and products and services. I sometimes wrote about marketing and merchandising activities. I often wrote profiles of companies and executives. At no time, did I think I was doing anything just to promote a brand.

    If that had been obvious, I probably would have been fired.

    I guess if persons can’t get real journalism jobs, they try to get paid promoting brands. Good choice now. But such persons to me are not Journalists.

    They are copywriters. I have known several copywriters and took an ad copywriting class while working full-time as a Journalist. I found out directly that Journalism and copywriting
    are really very different.

    The term brand journalist is a contradiction.

    Copywriters focus on selling. They take client data and maybe some research data about the product and its target audiences and combine that with imagination and clever writing to create copy that will sell brands in varied media channels.

    A real journalist does varied research on her/his own to tell an interesting, hopefully unbiased news story or article about a person, issue, community, etc. that will
    interest a variety of persons. . .

    If a person wants to make a lot of money, copywriting is more suited to that usually compared to Journalism.. If I was young again, I would become a copywriter, not a Journalist..

    • geofflivingston

      I don’t know. There is a difference between copywriting and journalistic storytelling. Copywriting inevitably draws the customer to a call to action. A story is simply a story that informs. In theory, there is no hidden objective, rather the story alone is the reason for the article. So someone who writes stories for a brand without a call to action is simply writing stories. You may not like the fact that is aa journalist’s style, but nevertheless it is not sale oriented copy.

    • geofflivingston

      I don’t know. There is a difference between copywriting and journalistic storytelling. Copywriting inevitably draws the customer to a call to action. A story is simply a story that informs. In theory, there is no hidden objective, rather the story alone is the reason for the article. So someone who writes stories for a brand without a call to action is simply writing stories. You may not like the fact that is aa journalist’s style, but nevertheless it is not sale oriented copy.

    • geofflivingston

      I don’t know. There is a difference between copywriting and journalistic storytelling. Copywriting inevitably draws the customer to a call to action. A story is simply a story that informs. In theory, there is no hidden objective, rather the story alone is the reason for the article. So someone who writes stories for a brand without a call to action is simply writing stories. You may not like the fact that is aa journalist’s style, but nevertheless it is not sale oriented copy.

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