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The gradual convergence of journalism and content marketing

Journalism and content marketing is slowly converging. Photo: John Einar Sandvand

Media companies are cutting staff. Brands are ramping up content marketing. In sum there is more production of quality content than ever.

Three pieces of news in the small Norwegian media landscape made me reflect about how we see a gradual convergence of journalism and the buzz term content marketing. Here are the stories (links to Norwegian sources):

Money moves from journalism to content marketing

Here is the reality the three stories reflect: There is bigger need for great content than ever. But the position of media companies in this huge market of content and storytelling has been weakened. The willingness or ability to pay for content producers (read journalists) in the media is diminishing, but increasing among brands.

Content production has always primarily been financed by brands, usually in the form of ads. But what they pay for is changing.

  • In the classical media model advertisers primarily pay for distribution of promotional messages about their products. The fact that they by doing this also finance journalism is a side effect.
  • In content marketing the same brands pay for the content itself – and use the content to shape customers perception of their brands and products.

In this process many brands are moving some of their marketing budgets away from promotional advertisements to content marketing. This makes them start acting more like publishers themselves.

For media companies it is a somewhat ironic dilemma: Some of the money being moved away from ads in media products is instead being spent in an area where media companies have the biggest competence: Content production.

Content marketing versus journalism

A large portion of my career I spent as journalist, most of the time in Norway´s largest newspaper Aftenposten. This included three years as correspondent in Asia and several different roles as editorial manager.

I have now started in a new role as Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland. It is a programming hub for companies in Schibsted Media Group.  I have been strongly involved with the company since it was started in fall 2011.

Taking on my new role I have spent some time studying the concept of content marketing and how brands with great success use compelling content as a way to reach their goals.  The most important source of inspiration has been Content Marketing Institute. It has struck me how much their model is inspired by journalism.

Content marketing is not PR as such. At least not only that. Of course the long-term purpose is clear: To promote the brand  and eventually sell more products. But there is a basic realization that people are tired of ads and having promotional messages pushed on them. Socalled “branded journalism” is no longer just advertising in editorial disguise, but often compelling high-quality content that many newspaper editors would wish their journalists could produce.

How journalism and content marketing is gradually converging

To me it seems that we are witnessing a process of gradual convergence between journalism and  content marketing, whether we like it or not.  They are still two separate disciplines – and will probably remain so. But the competence areas and tools and even principles shared between the disciplines are growing quickly. And both content marketers and journalists learn from each other.

Some points to take note of in this process:

  • Brands start looking at themselves as publishers. They think as professional editors when planning content that their users will find attractive. The purpose of the content is the same as what media companies always have tried to achieve: To engage readers!
  • Content from brands can have a very high professional level – and brands are hiring professional journalists to ensure that their content production is flawless.
  • Many media organizations experiment with “branded journalism” as a new source of revenue. It is usually labelled as advertisements, but still integrated into the editorial product in a way that sometimes blur the lines.
  • Media brands are starting to use the credibility of their editorial content as a way to go into new business areas, such as events or ecommerce.  This is in fact very close to the concept of content marketing.
  • Media organizations are often looking to brands to learn how to distribute their content in the new digital media era.
  • Both brands and media companies strive to have content that strengthen their credibility.

I am not saying journalism and content marketing will merge. For sure I hope not. Journalism has a crucial role in a democratic society in investigating wrongdoings and exposing abuse of power. And it is founded on the principle of independence, both from political and commercial powers.

But the fourth estate has no longer monopoly in producing great journalism. And brands seem sometimes much more willing to pay for quality content production than the media companies. It is indeed a sad result of the challenges media companies are facing.

 

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About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

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