The brand journalist is the one of the most compelling marketing concepts I’ve encountered in a while.
A brand journalist is an in-house newshound, preferably with professional reporting experience, who works for your company instead of an independent news organization. You unleash him or her to mine stories – from the inside – that make good corporate blog posts, video, photos, charts, e-books, white papers and the like. The theory is that the content, conceived and produced by a real enough journalist, will be compelling, polished, believable, persuasive and maybe even authentic.
“Brand Journalism is not a product pitch,” says marketing strategist David Meerman Scott. “It is not an advertorial. It is not an egotistical spewing of gobbledygook-laden corporate drivel. Brand Journalism is the creation of Web content … that delivers value to your marketplace and serves to position your organization as one worthy of doing business with.”
When I first learned of the practice, it was a eureka moment. Media consumers are starving for authenticity, and the business world is generally failing to deliver it. Brand journalism! This was the answer.
So leave it to BP to spoil a good thing.
The company has contaminated the Gulf with “BP reporters” writing eerily feel-good posts and coaxing positive comments from locals. Comments like “there is no reason to hate BP” and “the oil spill was an accident.” One ‘BP reporter’ actually characterized cleanup work as a “ballet at sea as mesmerising as any performance in a concert hall, and worthy of an audience in its own right.” Gag me.
Said media watcher Howard Kurtz, “There isn’t one person in America who is going to be fooled by this propaganda campaign. The reporting has been so positive you’d think they were on BP’s payroll. Oh, that’s right, they are on BP’s payroll. Maybe that explains it.”
Want authenticity? You’ve got it in Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, La., and force of nature. “You know, instead of hiring PR people to talk about ballets on the water, if we just do the right thing, sit down and deploy every piece of equipment, there’s something [for BP] to hang your hat on,” he said. “Look in the camera and say, ‘We’re doing everything feasibly possible to save coastal Louisiana, to contain this oil, to pick it up, to make this wrong right. There’s your PR. But don’t just say it. Go out there and do it, and the PR will take care of itself.’”
Pretty good counsel.
I still like the idea of brand journalism, but an unprecedented environmental disaster has somehow yielded an unprecedented PR disaster. So maybe BP should just give it a rest.