At least this is the one thing today’s panel at the Global PR Summit in Miami agreed on.
Morgan McLintic, EVP at LEWIS PR, was joined onstage by a mix of practicing brand journalists and communicators. With viewpoints from Nissan, Eloqua, Cisco and Silicon Valley Watcher, it made for lively viewing.
Morgan set the scene with an overview of the media landscape and the rise of journalists moving into PR. It was then over to the panelists to give their standpoint on brand journalism.
John Earnhardt heads the corporate and social media team at Cisco. As a brand, Cisco has been generating content for around 10 years and uses journalists to create some of its brand content. He says: “PR people are not trying to become journalists. Brands are producing content to tell their stories. There is appetite for those stories and content that brands care about. If we have a good enough story, we’ll tell it. We use professional journalists and employees but those employees
don’t consider themselves journalists. Our content is not always, in fact not often, about Cisco. We just have two rules, don’t hurt Cisco and don’t help a competitor.”
For Simon Sproule, VP corporate comms at Nissan Motor Co, brand journalism became a focus around two years ago: “Our content journey began because the CEO of Nissan wanted to see more storytelling. Now we average around a story a day and we’ve just launched a longer format broadcast show called ‘The Dashboard” which isn’t just about Nissan but the whole industry. We started by saying ‘death to the press release’. We’re going to just tell stories. Our ability to tell stories could be seen as a threat to media.”
Jesse Noyes runs content marketing at Eloqua, where he joined as a former business reporter to help steer content to be more editorial and broad: “It grew into a role overseeing all content, and now includes white papers, eBooks and blogs.”
Tom Foremski worked as a journalist, but moved from the Financial Times in 2004 because of fundamental changes in the industry. He became a “journalist blogger” and was looking from the inside out to the media industry. In terms of brand journalism he says: “It’s the most fascinating time to be in the media industry – bar none. We have the chance to shape the future.” He coined the phrase “every company is a media company” but doesn’t like term brand journalism and asks “Why not call it corporate media?”
Jesse agrees, “At Eloqua, we are in a way trying to become a media company. I hate the term brand journalism too as it is unnecessarily confrontational. It gets the media’s backs up and then everyone gets riled.” And admits that there is no way to avoid conflict between brand and reporters. But what does success look like at Eloqua? “How we measure success – that depends on content. We look at unique visitor time spent on page – but conversions are the ultimate end result – basically what kind of impact did it generate in the sales pipeline.”
For John there shouldn’t be a conflict: “There doesn’t need to be a lot of analysis in what we do. We get good media coverage on our news. We’re not going to compete with reporters because they are chronicling. We’re trying to fill in the gaps between the spikes. We’re not trying to make our own news.”
Simon looks at it from a consumer’s perspective: “My job is to sell cars. Create cool content for them to watch. We want stickiness, we want people to read and come back. But we know to do that content can’t always be about Nissan.”
When asked by an audience member about content curation both John and Jesse had an answer.
John: “At Cisco, we are already doing it – if there’s a great story out there we’ll send out to our audiences and we’ll drive traffic to it.”
Jesse was less enthusiastic: “Neither industry does curation well. They both do a lot of aggregation – loads of links on a page, but I don’t like calling it curation. That’s aggregation. Curation has a theme, lasting value and allows people to experience content in a new way. The next stage for curation will be less about who you follow, more about your interests.”
And the final thoughts from the panel?
Simon: “My concern is where broadcast media is going? Our betting is that people won’t watch 30 second spots any more. And there is nothing spooky about what we’re doing, there’s no conspiracy theory, so get over it. Whatever we do will live and die by quality. If it sucks no one will watch it.”
John: “The media has been in transition for a while. There is only going to be more content produced by other sources. I’m not saying we’re the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. We’re producing content that we care about.”
Jesse: “Don’t do brand journalism if you don’t have realistic expectations plotted out. No one in this room is going to supplant the media any time soon. None of us are going to pull it off if that’s our goal.”
And finally Tom left the audience with the big question of the day: “I’d rather have an independent media. We’ve failed to develop a value recovery system. Page views are the currency a lot of publications. Can corporate media be the solution? What is going to be the business model?”
But the stand out quote for me was from Tom: “Could corporate media win a Pulitzer? Why not?”
What do you think?