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Can public relations become 'brand journalism'? What is it?

Public relations companies are increasingly having to produce a lot of media for their clients. Does that make them into some new type of journalist?
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

I'm in Miami this week taking part in the Holmes Report's Global PR Summit and the topic of "Brand Journalism."

I know nothing about the subject but no one else does either because it's a made up term that is in the early stages of being defined. Nothing wrong in that, I do it all the time but I try to think of concepts that make sense and this one doesn't make any sense at all.

Flacks that want to be hacks...

"Brand Journalism" is hot in the PR community and I can see why. PR people are hoping that they can re-brand themselves as Brand Journalists and the world will be a better place for it, and they'll feel better too.

"Hi, I'm a brand journalist, what do you do?"

But it makes little sense. Take a look at this potential introduction:

"Hi, I'm a journalist from the Wall Street Journal"

"Hi, I'm a journalist from Hugo Boss."

It sounds ridiculous.

Will the Hugo Boss journalist announce a new line with a fair and balanced perspective, with comments from Zegna, Ralph Lauren, etc?

Or will the result of brand journalism read like a press release or an advertorial?

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. When you see it you'll know it.

Back in 2004 when I became the first journalist to leave a major newspaper, the Financial Times to become a full time "journalist blogger" there was a lot of confusion over the difference between blogger and journalist. I've spoken at many conferences and over the years a common question was, "Are bloggers journalists?" and, "Should journalists be licensed to practice their profession?"

My answer has always been that journalism is what journalists do, when you see the result you know it. Some bloggers are journalists but they don't need a license to type. The only definition that matters is this: If someone produces journalism and does it consistently then that person is a journalist.

When you see journalism you know it for what it is. When you see a press release you don't see journalism. PR is not brand journalism we already have a term for it why invent another?

A Pulitzer for Brand Journalism...

If Hugo Boss journalists or Versace hacks, produce an investigative series into child labor in the clothing industry, or something like that, I'll eat a Hugo Boss pocket square. And the Pulitzer committee will give them a prize.

My problem is with the term not with the changes in PR and communications. I prefer words to be used accurately while many in PR tend to use words to promote and market.

I prefer the term corporate media. Corporate media spans the entire spectrum of publishing by a corporation. It can include material that is journalistic in its construct and intent. For example, large companies such as Cisco, IBM, and Intel employ people who used to be senior journalists and veteran broadcasters, to produce corporate media but is that journalism?

If corporations want to produce journalism they have to approach this goal in a different way. I think corporate media could win a Pulitzer prize if done right. And I believe it will happen -- I'd like to help make that happen.

But trying to rebrand PR work as "brand journalism" is not the way forward.

EC=MC - Every Company Is A Media Company

I was the first to talk about how every company is a media company - a concept understood far better today than 7 years ago. I'm glad more people understand this today and it seems that "brand journalism" is born out of that, and a desire to try to figure out what does it mean for a company to be a media company, which is exactly the right thing to do because it moves the conversation to the next stage.

A company that understands the concept that it is a media company, even if it makes diapers or energy drinks, has taken an important step forward. But that's just the start. The next stage is: How do we become a media company?

If you want to do journalism you have to instill and insist on journalistic principles being integrated into the culture of the company. And you have to have media professionals for this equation to work.

However, the conversation about 'every company is a media company' is exclusively being led by PR and marketing people. There are no media professionals involved. Which is why I must commend Morgan McLintic at Lewis PR, for inviting me onto the panel about brand journalism. Lewis PR is among the very few that understand the need to bring media professionals into this important conversation. And to do so as equals.

Many companies tell me they are bringing in journalists into their media ventures. I'm glad that they are doing that, however, if they work for communications and marketing heads, they are employees and will do as they are told. Marketing and PR will not able to resist tampering with the product.

That's one of many things that needs to change in the 'every company is a media company' story and how it moves to the next stage: execution.

I'll report more on this topic following my panel later this afternoon, with my host and moderator Morgan McLintic from Lewis PR, John Earnhardt from Cisco (my original inspiration for 'every company is a media company', Jesse Noyes from Eloqua, and Simon Sproule from Nissan Motor Co. [Nissan is producing a general news program]. Reserve your seats it should be a good one:

GPRS 2012 | Are PR People Ready to Become Brand Journalists?

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