Five reasons why brand managers should think journalism first, PR second
Human beings are a savvy bunch these days. We’ve become finely attuned to Public Relations patter and overtly commercial hogwash, usually crafted under a marketing manager’s instruction. Some of the most established brands in the world are having to re-invent themselves because old marketing tactics, and dull traditional public relations, are falling on deaf ears. The tide of negative publicity and social conversation around their products, ethics and policies make more noise and catch light faster than any TV campaign could ever hope to achieve in terms of impact. You may wish to argue the point, but the basic fact is that it isn’t as easy to ‘pull the wool’ as it used to be.
And it’s for this very reason that brands need quality over quantity, a longer-term strategy of carefully crafted stories that deeply resonate with target audiences. Make no mistake, that’s a tall order. We’re all swamped by words and stories in various formats on multiple devices. But it is possible. South Africa’s The Daily Maverick or Mail and Guardian, or internationally, Vanity Fair and The Atlanticare easy examples to reach for.
Brand journalism – the practice of quality corporate storytelling, as opposed to deliberate PR product punting – is here to stay, simply because journalists and consumers alike demand so much more when it comes to allocating their precious time to a good story. It’s no secret most of us ‘click off’ without batting an eyelid at the slightest ‘ whiff’ of a sales pitch.
Here are five reasons why journalism is an essential component of ‘New PR’
- Research: A good journalist just loves to get his hands dirty digging around for the bigger picture of the industry and your brand. This unearths insights, perspectives, quotes and images, which paint a broader picture of the challenges, opportunities and industry issues. That’s a differentiator these days.
- Balance: With a panoramic industry view, your brand’s stories have more depth and breadth, more consideration or debate to fire up, and ultimately more credibility for the brand’s courage or authenticity.
- Tone: A skilled writer knows which brushes to choose when painting that picture, and knows which buttons the audience want pressed, merely in the simple tightrope walk of words. It’s a dance of subtlety and persuasion that must always add value, yet never offend.
- Credibility: Most of us can immediately appreciate a great piece of writing. And the fact that we can guess it was written by anyone other than a brand spokesperson, ambassador, or publicist scores the brand’s major brownie points. Why? Well, for the most part, we categorise stories in two categories – ‘seen it before, move on’ and ‘great insights, good read’. No question I’d rather be on the latter team.
- Interest: A top writer, working in the industry for years, will shape a compelling, multi-dimensional story – something that lingers a good while after you’ve turned the page or closed the window on your browser.
So what are your choices?
It’s at this point that we could go for a very obvious PR or content marketing product punt. But actually, that’s not what we’re suggesting. Our belief is that, whatever you decide to do, and whichever agency, freelancer or supplier you decide to use, you first need to be concrete in your content philosophy. Simply put, it is imperative that you are crystal clear on your target audience, what type of message rings true, which tone resonates (with the majority at least), and then adopt a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to developing stories that are really worth reading, saving, and hopefully sharing – with clear directions about what the reader’s next steps, thoughts or options might be. Choose a PR agency or seek a partner with brand journalism at heart.
If storytelling is essential to the way in which audiences remember, be clear on one thing: Humans are astute, give them the credit they deserve, and tell them a compelling story – they will not only salute you but reward you handsomely with their time and attention.