The Breakdown: With the success of our first SXSW Q&A series last year, we kick off our 2011 series featuring notable speakers at SXSW Interactive with Kyle Monson (@kmonson) of JWT. Kyle’s panel aims to tackle the subject of Brand Journalism. We asked him to give a brief overview of his panel “Brand Journalism: The Rise of Non-Fiction Advertising” below.
S/G: What is Brand Journalism?
Kyle: Brand Journalism is, in short, a method of engaging our audience in discussions about the brand. This is done by creating compelling content and messages as well as by incorporating the audience’s own viewpoints. We’re teaching brands to mimic publishers and journalists in how they produce content, and to mimic humans in how they communicate with their audience.
It’s often confused with what we call “branded journalism,” but they’re very different. Branded journalism is journalism that is sponsored by a brand, and there are several campaigns that do this very well. But Brand Journalism is journalism ABOUT the brand, crafting a brand narrative using journalistic techniques.
S/G: When is Brand Journalism most effective?
Kyle: As I see it, there are two main criteria for a successful Brand Journalism campaign: 1) the company has to have something interesting to say; and 2) they have to be willing to say it. These are high hurdles to clear. In order for a brand narrative to be interesting and resonate with an audience, it has to be bold, even surprising in its honesty—and saying bold, surprisingly honest things is not something brand communicators are necessarily trained to do.
S/G: Have you found that businesses resist using Brand Journalism? If so, why? What are their concerns?
Kyle: In my experience, businesses don’t resist Brand Journalism—in fact, CEOs often WANT the kind of candor and openness that Brand Journalism provides. But it does require dedication, effort and willingness to take risks. Setting up a Brand Journalism campaign is a bit like the first week of weight training; it’s a bit painful, because it requires muscles that marketers aren’t used to flexing.
For instance, a good campaign requires near-real-time content creation, which requires nearly immediate approval processes. Also, Brand Journalism requires involvement and commitment from a company’s business leaders, PR team, marketing team, and in some cases even the engineers, developers and partners. Most businesses aren’t used to working like that, even if they recognize that they should.
S/G: How does Brand Journalism differ from public relations/corporate communications?
Kyle: I don’t think Brand Journalism differs from PR or corporate communications. It is just one approach to it. When you think about what “public relations” actually means, it’s fairly obvious that businesses by and large don’t do a very good job of relating to their public. The press release, the business speak, the ghostwritten or canned responses to legitimate inquiries—these are things that keep brands from being relatable. So I think we’re way overdue for a redefinition of what “public relations” really entails, and Brand Journalism is just one aspect of that.
S/G: Who is on your panel and what can people expect?
Kyle: We’ve got some brilliant people on the panel, including JWT’s Worldwide Digital Director and CEO of North America, David Eastman. Brian Clark runs GMD Studios, a shop that has done some pioneering (and award-winning) Brand Journalism work with us for Ford and Microsoft. The moderator is Ad Age’s Bob Garfield, so we’re all coming at this topic from different angles. I’m expecting a spirited debate.
S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
Kyle: This will be my fifth or sixth year at SXSW and, honestly, my favorite thing about the show is the heroes you randomly run into at parties. Every year, I end up coincidentally meeting and making friends with people I idolize within the tech, film, and music communities. I’ve come to expect that sort of thing to be part of the SXSW experience, and really look forward it.
Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.