Textual & Visual Media

Revista de la Sociedad española de periodistica

Spanish journalistic society journal

Brand journalism in Spain. Profiling the brand journalist

Sumario

3. Origen and development of brand journalism: a conceptual approach

From the beginning of this decade, so-called brand journalism has come into its own as a means of communication between brands and the general public. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, large corporations around the world created information web portals that since then have managed to reach unprecedented visitor rates and popularity equal to that of prestigious and consolidated media outlets. Some solid examples of this are technological webs such as The Network (owned by Cisco), CMO (Adobe) or Freepress (Intel), financial webs like The Financialist (Credit Suisse), Openforum (American Express), or business webs like Businesswithoutborders (HSBC) or general information webs like Coca-Cola Journey (Coca-Cola).
This phenomenon is not exactly new, since many companies have been using blogs or other online social outlets for some time as a direct and disintermediated way of connecting with their public and creating links that are more than just transactional. In 1994 Balasubramanian already referred to hybrid messages as any corporate attempt to pay for influencing audiences with a commercial goal using communications that do not project any commercial appearance. Thesecontents must be «able to incorporate the commercial message without being intrusive». To achieve these results, it is fundamental to maintain a «balance between the brand (its identification) and the content (the presentation of the information or entertainment that provides the consumer with a positive experience) » (Aguilera Moyano, Baños González and Ramírez Perdiguero, 2016).  
In the same way, producing company magazines has also been a common strategy for developing external communication, together with press releases, memoirs, brochures, etc. However, Barciela states (2013, 24th February), brand journalism has almost nothing to do with company magazines as we have known them: We are seeing information portals that are accessible worldwide (written in English), offering information similar to and even superior to traditional publications, updated daily, with excellent design and with first class collaborators and editorials. Content quality is one of the keys to earning customer loyalty and reaching that sought after engagement with the public. In brand journalism, brand names find an excellent opportunity to «set up a participative, bidirectional, continuous and pleasant connection under the standards of acceptance and enjoyment with their targeted public» (Rodrigo Martín, Sánchez de la Nieta and Hernández, 2014: 1.622).

3.1. Definition and characteristics of brand journalism

The birth of brand journalism should be situated in the United States, although determining an exact date or even founder is not an easy task. In a sense, many  companies had already been practising brand journalism for some years, even before the concept was invented. But theorists and professionals from this sector have searched for the milestone in the history of publishing, marketing and journalism, where we can begin to talk about brand journalism, per se.
There seems to be some consensus that the founder was Larry Light, former director of marketing for McDonald´s, when in 2003 he began a successful campaign to save the floundering company from its noticeable decline. At that time, Light decided they had to reinvent the concept of their brand, experimenting with brand journalism through which they managed to communicate in a more direct way with the customers of McDonald´s that the company had changed for the better, that its food was healthy and that they were working on measures of corporate social responsibility (Bull, 2013). Another sector however, situates Mike Brown as the earliest founder of brand journalism around the year 1983 when he took over the communications at IBM and hired a dozen journalists to explain their brand in another way. (Campo, 2015).
In any event, brand journalism came to light as part of the strategies of commercial communication based on the idea of Balasubramanian´s hybrid message. A postmodern interpretation of this concept according to Aguilera Moyano, Baños González and Ramírez Perdiguero (2016), would allow us to identify these messages as those which successfully combine a commercial message which favours the brand with a non-commercial content which is not orientated towards sales (transactional marketing) but towards the user´s experience (relational marketing). Basically, brand journalism is a discipline based on the creation of «means of communication» within a brand or non-informative company. As Foremski, former journalist for the Financial Times and editor for syliconvalleywatcher. com said «every company is a media company» (2012). In this way, companies have developed web pages or blogs where they share information about events or affairs that are not necessarily related to their company. This modality goes hand in hand with content marketing but here companies attempt to show themselves in a more rigorous and honest light. In fact, Foremski himself is convinced that «the term «brand journalism» is used by corporate PR and PR agencies to confer a higher status to the content marketing they produce» (2015).
The nature of brand journalism requires showing how principled, credible, relevant and pertinent content will reinforce the brand´s reputation. Here we can find an element that positions this approach somewhat further away from  the already mentioned branded content, whose objective is orientated towards  enhancing the notoriety and affinity of the brand by generating thematic content. This does not point to mere sponsorship, but to a recreational nature that appeals more to emotion, to humour, to art, etc. Despite this, brand journalism does position itself closer to infotainment using «new technological resources and transmedia narratives successfully, (…). And seeking the virality of their contents, including elements that facilitate this and tools that bolster their presence in social networks» (Rodrigo Martín, Sánchez de la Nieta and Hernández, 2014: 1.617).  
It would seem that more and more the idea of a type of brand communication that is less intrusive and disruptive and more useful and entertaining, is taking hold. Thus, the classical «push» communication is loosing sway to the growing «pull» of «attraction, mutual knowledge and dialogue» (Ramos, 2006).This coincides with the logic of the also notorious «inbound marketing», whose goal is to attract customers by providing value, through the use of varied digital actions such as SEO, participation in social networks, web analytics or the aforementioned content marketing among others. In the end, brand journalism is presented to us as a new way for brand names to connect with their audiences where they combine «elements of traditional public relations, marketing, corporate communication and 360 degree communication, virality and crowdsourcing » (Rodrigo Martín, Sánchez de la Nieta y Hernández, 2014: 1.622).
To be able to comment on its characteristics we should undertake to distinguish between the two models of brand journalism: one based on the concept of «owned media» (Pino, 2014) where the presence of the brand is constant and visible in the design as well as in the contents; the other where the brand is minimally embodied or with an inexistent appearance and is positioned under «independent media brand» (Navarro Lozano, 2014). In any case, this communicative practise should correspond more to a transparent exercise than to an independent one, since it will only win over the public´s confidence through sincerity and honesty.
Customer loyalty is fundamental in this brand journalism that, however, should not make direct reference to the brand, and if they do, the ratio should be five independent news items to each brand news item (Foremski, 2015). Credibility will be the main tool in making the public´s trust possible, and for this reason, brand names tend to resort to their knowledge and real experiences (know how) to build up this information. We should remember that the purpose of this strategy is to consolidate and improve the brand´s reputation in the medium and long term, outperforming a notoriety whose reach may only be timely or short-lived (Fernández García, 2016).

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