PR isn’t “brand journalism” – besides, the term is an oxymoron

PR isn’t “brand journalism” – besides, the term is an oxymoron

Phil Szomszor

Phil Szomszor

Yesterday, journalist and Silicon Valley Watcher Tom Foremski wrote a piece on ZDNet posing the questions “Can public relations become 'brand journalism'? What is it?”

'Brand journalism' is a new, fairly self explanatory term which - unsurprisingly, as a journalist - Tom Foremski doesn’t like:

"I have little confidence in PR people becoming 'brand journalists' for the simple fact that PR is not journalism. There's no such thing as brand journalism, or innovation journalism, or anything-else journalism. Journalism is journalism."

For the most part I agree with him. Part of the problem is the term. Brand Journalism is an oxymoron - and a pretty horrible sounding one too. Branding is by its nature promotional and journalism should be balanced and probing.

Part of the background to all this is that media is becoming fragmented, brands are discovering that they can create their own content that consumers/business customers will engage with, and people want to get interactive with media.

Funnily enough, I don’t think the media’s ever been that comfortable with the interactivity element of citizen journalism, or blogging for that matter, and feels a bit threatened by the whole thing. It really shouldn’t. Journalism is essential for reporting, verification and analysis.

I disagree with Tom saying that the media isn’t involved in the ‘every company is a media company’ concept that’s being bandied around. The media itself is very, very happy to get into bed with businesses to fund content. While journalists are flocking to work in PR and marketing departments or agencies. The problem is that hiring a journalist alone doesn’t make content compelling.

Who controls the message?
The fact is that the dynamics have just changed. We can all see that the media doesn’t control the message any more. We now have a complex inter-dependency between three groups: the media, institutions (e.g. businesses, government, charities) and individuals.

All of these groups create content, conversations and stories - let’s just call it ‘stuff’. Stuff is created, shared and endorsed by various parties. For example, a group of people might attend an event organised by a business and tweet about it, which is also written up by a journalist and live-blogged by the brand (probably employing the journalist’s former colleague!).

We see this model in practice over and over. Whether it’s election debates, watching the X Factor or attending the a company’s product launch, these three groups are almost always present, vying for attention but equally dependent on each other.

Some people will like the stuff they read, hear or watch, others won’t. The question is how to decide - and measure - what is the most influential stuff. For me, a big factor is trust.

From the banking crisis to News Corp, or from expenses scandals to the Jimmy Savile affair, many of our institutions have had bloody noses this past year or so.

When it comes down to it, the question of brand journalism becomes irrelevant: the role of public relations is to try and marshal these three groups, measure what’s working and help various parties earn trust. It’s something we all need to work on together.

Share this story:

Read more from the blog

Charlotte Stoel

The Impact of AI in Journalism

How is AI shaping the future of journalism? We attended AI Summit London to discover the latest insights from Reuters and The Times. Moreover, what does this mean for the future of comms? ...Read more

Charlotte Stoel
Charlotte Stoel

Five Steps to Shaping Your Reputation Strategy

Looking to implement a reputation shaping programme? Here are five key steps you need to take into consideration. ...Read more

Selina Jardim
Selina Jardim

Professional Wrestling – Lessons for Successful PR Campaigns

At first glance, public relations and professional wrestling seem worlds apart. However, there are actually quite a few lessons the comms industry can take from the world of wrestling. ...Read more

Emily Royle
Emily Royle

Add a comment

Time limit exceeded. Please complete the captcha once again.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information