The Blurring Lines Between Journalism and Content Marketing

According to The Guardian, 86% of viewer skip TV ads. Mashable tells us 44% of direct mail is never opened. Companies have adapted to the decrease in advertising interest and scarcity of consumer attention, and instead are starting to refocus on new methods of customer acquisition.  There are three aspects to this shift: embedding the marketing message within the content through native advertising, hiring journalists with strong relationships with external press, and building media properties instead of relying on traditional press to attract clients.

Let’s start by delving into the progress of native advertising, where companies create interesting content to attract readers of traditional press.

Blurring Lines Between Journalism and Content Marketing

Native Advertising

For those unfamiliar, native advertising is similar in concept to sponsored content or the advertorial. It is a method of marketing designed to attract consumers by providing valuable content.

Financial services consultancy Capco created an interesting, relevant, and well-designed native advertisement for the Monocle magazine (seen in slide #6 of this Slideshare). In this case, Capco’s advertisement comes in the form of an article that talks about how factors such as investment contribute to urban regeneration. (It doesn’t hurt that Monocle can work closely with its sister branding agency Winkreative for creative work.)

In other parts of the world, the relationship is much more direct and difficult to discern; for example, this New York Times article highlights the practises of Esquire in China, which at the time of investigation charged around $20,000 per page. Any business leaders that wanted a profile to appear in this magazine could simply pay the fee and buy their way in. While it may not appear to be a big deal, this press appearance could have significant implications for seemingly unrelated metrics, such as stock prices.

The Executives are Editors of the Press

A couple of years ago, Salesforce’s founder Marc Benioff recruited veteran technology journalist Steve Gillmor to become the company’s Head of Technical Media Strategy. At the time, Gillmor was as the founding editor of TechCrunchIT, and still retains a contributing editor role with the company.

This presents an interesting opportunity for Gillmor to break Salesforce news first to TechCrunch to gain more exposure (should he choose to), and for him to continue observing how the state of technology and media is changing directly from the front lines. He can also continue crafting articles for TechCrunch and link back to Salesforce’s CloudBlog, which presents the opportunity to attract curious readers.

A quick word on Salesforce’s structure: Salesforce also has Peter Coffee as the Director of Platform Research (formerly from eWEEK), and Bruce Francis in the role of Chief Messaging Officer and VP of Corporate Strategy. Messaging and strategy, as Salesforce sees it, are intertwined.

Salesforce is far from the only company recruiting former reporters and journalists to help their cause. Hubspot recently hired Steve Lyons, better known for his writing under the name Fake Steve Jobs and as the former Editor-in-Chief of ReadWrite.

Building Media Properties

As Hubspot CMO Mike Volpe writes, “No one wakes up and says ‘I want to see an ad.’ Why do marketers wake up and say ‘let’s make an ad’?” Instead, Hubspot and many other companies focus on building media properties themselves and using it to attract customers. Marketing is evolving to the point where every company is a media company.

This is clear in the responsibilities and past histories of each media team’s leaders. Intel hired Benjamin Tomkins, previously the managing editor of InformationWeek.com and editor-in-chief at InformationWeek SMB, to be the managing editor of their media property called The Intel Free Press. According to Digiday, Cisco has over 15 journalists contributing to its technology news site, The Network. According to Business Insider, IBM recruited Ben Edwards, a former reporter at The Economist, as their VP of Global Communications to help grow its Smarter Planet property.

Journalists and reporters are leaving traditional publishers to take up similar editorial and publishing roles at corporate-sponsored media initiatives. Will this transition from editorial interest to corporate interest be a cause of concern?

Closing Thoughts

As former Businessweek columnist (and now a regular contributor to companies such as NVIDIA and Cisco) Steve Wildrom writes:

“But the world of journalism that I have known for all those years is dying fast. We are going to have to find new models to survive, and, unless a miracle occurs and we can find a way to get readers to pay directly for content,  those models are going to have to include sponsorship arrangements of one sort or another. In truth, journalism has always involved sponsorship. In the old world of advertiser-supported conventional media, an elaborate infrastructure separated the sponsors–advertisers–from the sponsored–journalists. The arrangement was never as pure as we liked to believe, but for the most part it worked.” [Emphasis added.]

Traditional press no longer commands the advertising money it used to; rather, corporations are shifting their spending into building their own media properties and connecting directly with their audiences. Corporations are finding new ways to attract attention in the press, journalists are finding new roles as marketing or communications leads at companies, and companies are building the media properties themselves. The convergence of journalism and marketing has already begun taking its first steps, and following this trend is the key to continued business success.

(Image Source: Flickr)

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