In a blog post today, Ian Burrell, the media editor for The Independent, offered fresh evidence that, at least in the UK, the growth of brand journalism (i.e., journalists moving into content marketing) is more than theoretical. Though Burrell never names it as such (a “web version” of “customer publishing” is the closest he comes to labeling the trend), it’s clear from his opening that he’s talking about content marketing:
“Get used to it. The big publishers of the future may no longer be the news organisations of old but companies that want to sell you stuff: shoes, gadgets, holidays. Companies that have a story to tell and the money to get it told.”
Because these new types of publishers want to avoid “clunky advertorial, laden with overt brand value and PR messages,” they will be hiring experienced journalists to build an audience of loyal customers. As evidence, he cites three hirings in the last month, all in the fashion sector:
- Jeremy Langmead, editor of Esquire UK to online fashion retailer Net-A-Porter
- Melissa Dick, digital editorial director of Elle UK to Asos
- Fiona McIntosh, Grazia founding editor, to My-Wardrobe.com
It remains to be seen whether what these editors produce in their new roles is remotely journalistic. Fashion retailing has always thrived on telling stories, but usually not real stories.
Burrell observes, however, that the trend is not limited to the fashion business, but is “part of a wider pattern that is greying the boundaries between journalism and marketing.” He points out that, as has been noted on B2B Memes before, traditional publishers want to play the content marketing game as well. His example is News International, which hopes to enhance its traditional publishing business with “a stronger commercial relationship with readers.”
Whether these high-profile moves in the fashion industry are leading or trailing indicators of brand journalism growth is unclear to me. Though I’ve heard stories here and there of similar trends in B2B, for instance, I haven’t seen any examples as definitive as those Burrell cites.
In other words, the brand journalism trend is real. It’s just not clear yet what stage we’re in.
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