Is brand journalism news?

It’s no great secret that Australia’s media landscape has experienced great and unsettling challenges in the last decade or so.

The problems are well known; the river of classifieds gold has dried up, television advertising revenue has dipped markedly, and consumer’s attention span has waned as they divide their time between multiple devices.

In 2014, newspapers enjoyed just 10.4 per cent of advertising spend (down from 19.9 per cent in 2007) and the last couple of years has seen the arrival of overseas mastheads like The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed, which pose additional challenges for Australia’s great publishers.

Meanwhile the former dominance of free to air television is being challenged by the entry of international online streaming services like Netflix, which has so far crushed local rivals like Stan and Presto, both owned by Australian television providers.

The impact of the internet has had a profound effect on the news provider’s bottom line and has greatly impacted their ability to provide quality news.

This is highly problematic for both our cultural and democratic life. Easily accessible and widely available news is a crucial part of any successful society.

Media consumption on the rise

The good news is that while media outlets are seeing their year on year revenue drop dramatically, they have never enjoyed more eyeballs.

Although it has bastardised traditional media outlets, the internet has also given people greater choice. Media consumers are no longer as loyal as previously and are willing to explore new news sources and new ways of doing things.

It is for this very reason that the overseas digital entrants (all more or less in an experimental stage presently) have set up shop downunder. Now, as Australians shift to new news suppliers, is the time to strike.

The same can be said for brands, which for the first time have the opportunity to establish themselves as key and credible players in Australia’s news industry.

This phenomenon, often referred to as content marketing sees brands publish material on their own blogs, and in more developed cases, on a platform completely separate to their website. This is referred to as owned media.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing has exploded over the last couple of years.

Concerned with the gradually lessening impact of television, radio and print advertising, brands have started to redirect (or add to) significant parts of their marketing budget to creating their own stories.

AFL Media, with at least 116 staff that robustly defend their independence, is one example of a brand newsroom created from scratch. It’s coverage of AFL news is of high quality and individual reporters have been recognised for their efforts.

This is reflected by the numbers. In 2014, 84 million AFL media videos were streamed and the AFL’s in-house created newsletter was subscribed to by 400,000 readers.

CPA’s In the Black has also won awards for it’s effectiveness in content marketing and promotes itself as Australia’s highest circulating business and finance magazine.

It publishes a mixture of industry news and tips for accountants, opinion pieces, and economic news and enjoys a circulation of 152,987 worldwide, not to mention digital eyeballs.

ANZ is also leading content marketer, with a couple of dedicated channels. BlueNotes is targeted at the c-suite and publishes economic news and analysis relevant to the Asia Pacific. Your World meanwhile is designed to provide its readers with stories on people who have achieved remarkable feats or overcome adversity.

More and more brands are dipping their toe into the water and producing quality articles, both in terms of content and style.

Yes, but is it news?

The obvious rebuttal to any argument suggesting brands are credible publishers is the commercial agenda behind their enterprise.

There is no question this is the main aim of the game.

However the commonality between all the previously mentioned content marketers is that they do not push a sales agenda down customers throats. Content marketing would not be successful if it did.  

This is for two reasons.

The first one is practical. Google has changed its algorithm in recent times in a manner that rewards quality content.  No longer can marketers publish copy stuffed with SEO keywords and hope for success. They must produce content actually relevant to the specified search terms and of sufficient quality to entice people to actually stick around and read it.

The second reason is that the way we consume has change. As suggested earlier, people are no longer wedded to one source of news or one way of finding out what’s happening in the world (or, indeed, being entertained.)

Our addiction to technology has made our attention spans shorter, or boredom threshold lower. This means marketers must be supplying would be customers with content engaging enough to keep them occupied. In other words, there must be something uniquely compelling the reader or viewer has no choice but to hook in until the end.

In a world where we are constantly bombarded with advertising, most people are inherently suspicious of commercial messages.

The point is this: serious content marketers would be foolish if they are too overt about the purpose of their content. Yes it is intended to sell, but in the world we live in, you can’t sell without the customer identifying with your brand. You must tell a story or publish content that establishes you as an expert in your field.

In this context, consider our examples. Without exception they present as successful attempts at content marketing because they have thoughtfully worked out what their target audience would benefit from and have strived to achieve that knowing that once they have, their trustworthiness is established in the eyes of the customer.

Successful content marketing establishes brands as experts in their field by virtue of the original and newsworthy content they are publishing. In the content marketing context, this comes first and will organically lead to sales.

What about traditional media?

None of this is to argue that there is not still a place for the Fairfax’s, News Corp’s and FTA channels of the world. These big media outlets are still the dominant players when it comes to covering breaking news and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Their journalism is still an integral part of the Australian media landscape.

Where brand publishers can flourish, and where they play an important role is within the niche areas of interest to their customers.

And this is exactly how it should be.