We’ve been hearing for years that journalism is dead – and indeed, it’s bad news when there are websites devoted to tracking newspaper layoffs and the death of entire papers. Ann Handley and I are both veterans of the Boston Globe who have migrated into marketing (she’s now the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs). And though the profession of journalism has suffered in recent years, Handley told me during a recent interview at the New Media Expo that a dose of the journalistic mindset is exactly what marketers must embrace today to succeed.
“In an era where every brand is a publisher and a content creator, you have to have a point of view and a compelling voice. You have to know how to tell a story,” she told me. “Journalistic training gives you an ear for story; you learn how to draw a reader in. The biggest mistake companies make is not thinking about their reader first. There’s still the corporate voice –and the CEO loves it, but the customer doesn’t. You have to create content the customer will thank you for.”
Handley, the co-author (with C.C. Chapman) of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business, says “the notion of story is uncomfortable for businesses: they’re not trained in it.” But journalists are, and their ethos of “allowing customers to be the hero of the brand story” – a point echoed by author Jonah Sachs in my recent Forbes interview with him – can be valuable. (She cites Google’s minute-long “Parisian Love” video, which tells a long-distance love story through Google searches, as a prime example.)
Of course, “brand journalism” differs from traditional journalism in that it doesn’t profess objectivity. But it still must be authentic and truthful, because otherwise readers would immediately reject it. Citing former business reporter Jesse Noyes, who joined the company Eloqua as a “Corporate Reporter,” Handley says, “It’s clear who signs his paycheck, but there’s a journalistic sensibility.”
The format – blogging, podcasting, video – doesn’t matter as much as the quality of the content created, she says. With gatekeeper institutions less relevant these days, “the social piece is huge. It makes creating content that people want to share that much more important.” And to do that successfully, it’s time to start thinking like a journalist.
Does your brand embrace “brand journalism”? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on February 8, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.