The media landscape is blurring, with blogging, social media, and now, “brand journalism”. Just how do we keep up with the changes?

I have been on both sides of the fence – as an accredited journalist reporting news for broadcast and print, a technology commentator and analyst, as well as a marketer and now publicist. Both sides are stimulating and challenging, and increasingly, made even more challenging with citi journalism and social media blurring the boundaries even more. And then there is “brand journalism”.

As a journalist and commentator, with a leaning towards objective reporting and analyses, my first knee-jerk reaction to the concept of “brand journalism” might be skepticism. Many of us might just call it as it should be – public relations (PR).

And yet, as someone on the other side of the fence, I might find the concept of “brand journalism” somewhat enticing. It may have a commercial slant, but it may just mean that we have to work harder to make such content acceptable to readers. In short, think like a journalist.

How should companies grapple with brand journalism and do it acceptably to the discerning public? And what are the pitfalls to avoid?

Lewis DVorkin commented that it might be good for the news business with the emergence of brand journalism. In a nutshell, brand journalism, or perhaps “PR 2012”, can help traditional media become more conscious and conscientious than ever before. The public are warming up to the use of the social media and even citi journalism sources as sources of information, and sometimes circumventing traditional media altogether. The rise of the mobile and smartphone space is also changing just how the public retrieve news and other information sources. It is no wonder almost every traditional media source (print and broadcast alike) are also going to the mobile app space (whether native or Web-based).

One thing marketers must have no illusions about, is that “brand journalism”, or however others may label it, will find some skepticism from mainstream traditional media. However, as marketers, one of the things we can do is to present the information in as much a journalistic style as mainstream media, following as much as possible ethical and quality standards. This makes the presentation accountable to ourselves, as well as to the public, who would come to expect accurate, objective, useful and entertaining information, just as they would expect the same from more traditional sources.

One great example is Cisco, the network technology vendor. They did not set out to compete with traditional media, but rather, simply to create engaging content that would interact with their users and stakeholders. The result is a great site known as “Cisco Newsroom: The Network”, which taps on engaging video segments about various relevant technology adoption, produced in a manner that has immediacy, relevance, and high-quality production values. You can find some of those here.

Next, marketers may need to realize, that setting up such content and web properties may mean serious commitment to production, on a sustained manner. One simply cannot produce a few and then give up. Social media engagement relies on a continuous and sustainable process much like public relations (PR). Social media and in this case, “brand journalism”, are very unlike advertising, which can be short bursts of exciting campaigns. So, marketers need to keep pace, and keep up with the ongoing development of quality and engaging content for this space to keep users engaged on a long-term basis. If at first it makes sense to engage third parties to produce the content, do so. If the company feels the need to develop an in-house team, do so, seriously as well. The kind of equipment is not trivial. If you are putting together a roving crew and setup, you are looking at HD DSLR or HD video gear, and maybe even chromakey screens and desktop editing suites, with good and extensible data storage to keep your footage and edited content, and maybe even offload to the cloud for archival.

Third, do something different from the mainstream media. For a company, instead of simply producing b-rolls of the same content that would have been sent to the media, why not consider producing educational and entertaining short films that have the word “viral” built into them. These films can have subtle hints of the products of the company, but would be fast-paced, emotive, and have a good storyline. This is certainly not something that one can hack together over a weekend, but might require professional assistance to put together, including writers, editors, camera crew, post-production crew, etc.

Here is a superlative example from Audi, known as ShapeShifter. The production is superb, and has a graphic storyline anyone can follow. Here’s another, from competitor Nissan, about 2 lovers, in the “Bollywood” style.

As a marketer, we may not necessarily pursue the idea of “brand journalism” to the fullest extent as some of these companies would, but it is something we need to keep in mind when progressing with our marketing programs, or as publicists who need to give timely and relevant counsel to clients. It is a phenomenon we cannot ignore, and yet, demand a great deal out of us, financially, physically, and infrastructurally. Take time to study what can be done, what needs to be done, and how best to approach this concept moving forward. And, may you have fun engaging your audience!