Brand publishing is having a moment in 2015
Lifestyle magazine Red Bulletin captivates readers with skillful writing, sharp reporting and beautiful photographs. On its best days, the editorial is on par with Esquire or GQ, or another media outlet of similar caliber.
What might surprise you: This publication is actually the branded content initiative of energy drink company Red Bull, a frontrunner in the ever evolving journalistic marketing space.
While branded content isn’t exactly new — the Ford motor company presented “a view of America through the windshield” with its first monthly magazine in 1908 — the discipline is certainly having a moment. Leaders in retail, education, and consumer services alike have all experimented in the world of branded journalism, and the space still holds untapped potential. Today, companies are trying to smooth out the kinks of this often-amorphous, evolving area of content strategy.
A quick look at LinkedIn reflects the trend. The largest brand journalism LinkedIn group houses more than 3,100 members. Around 200 people on the site identify as a “brand journalist” or “corporate journalist.” Fewer than 100 label themselves corporate reporters.
“Companies have realized the advantage of being their own publisher, without having to go through established media to try to get their message out,” says Brock Meeks, executive editor of BRINK, the digital publishing platform of the Marsh & McLennan Companies. The site is powered by Atlantic Media Strategies. “It’s another evolution of this genre called branded journalism.”
Part of that evolution involves hiring the right kind of people to execute on the journalistic approach. And part of it is about folding a publishing schedule into already packed calendars. By solving for both, brands are finding ways to produce steady streams of stories on their own.
Mattress company Casper is up to the challenge, planning to launch its own standalone web publication about sleep, and its effects on people’s lives, later this spring. The brand hired Elizabeth Spiers, former editor in chief of the New York Observer, as editorial director, and journalist Jeff Koyen as editor in chief. “The goal is to launch an editorial venture and standalone media property. I’m hiring journalists; not marketers,” Koyen told the Wall Street Journal.
Casper and Marsh & McLennan Companies are certainly not the first non-publishers to invest in content. Both Red Bull’s The Red Bulletin and Mountain Dew’s Green Label produce lifestyle magazines that churn out articles about sports, music, art and more. L’Oréal teaches readers makeup tips and tricks at Makeup.com and General Mills’ Tablespoon houses recipes and party ideas. And the list goes on.
“Companies that want to be seen as thought leaders can jump into that arena as publishers, and not only tell stories about their own companies, but begin to branch out and tell stories about the industry as a whole in ways that traditional media is reluctant to,” Meeks says.
That’s what Casper hopes to do: “Own the conversation around sleep,” according to Lindsay Kaplan, Casper’s vice president of communications. “Sleep is a growing subject that lacks a true editorial authority,” she told The Wall Street Journal.
“Smart content marketing is built on topics meaningful to an audience, without product placement. Home Depot, for example, may produce how-to content on fixing your home,” said Derek Sasson, Chief Operating Officer at Outbrain, a content discovery platform. “Of course, such content carries brand value to Home Depot, but that doesn’t change the credibility of their article. Marketers are acutely aware that authenticity, transparency and real substance are essential for this to work.”
Dollar Shave Club, a men’s grooming retail site, recently said it is in the process of revamping its editorial team with plans to either launch a new men’s lifestyle site or improve its existing blog.
Uber recently announced it is hiring an editorial director to lead the company’s branded marketing effort. The job posting lists job requirements such as “develop[ing] new channels as necessary to share and disseminate that content” and “focus[ing] on storytelling that brings the stories of riders, drivers, cities and Uber to life in inspiring, compelling and persuasive ways.” The company has not announced any plans to start a publishing platform at this stage.
“Companies have to make sure that they are hiring the right talent that are former journalists instead of those with a PR or general communications background,” Meeks say. “They need people that know how to really report and tell a story.”
This is just one of the ways that brands can turn out quality journalism, Meeks says.
“Just like brands build up customer loyalty by turning out reliable products, that they can do the same in journalism by following high standards,” Meeks says. “Readers will come to rely on that type of journalism and know that they can go there for industry leading information.”