Dear Andrew Essex,
Your book, The End of Advertising , was on our summer reading list and we’ve been talking about it since. The title was perfectly provocative and the book rational. Yet, while Heroin and Aspirin make for a good story on artifice versus authenticity, as our friends at Publicis Media highlighted in their recent paper, published this week in CB News, creativity and added value are not new concepts in advertising, and the book might have lacked strong arguments and persuasive data.
However, the book did spark a larger conversation about an issue we care a lot about: what to do with the rise of adblockers and a whole lot of noise. Informed, customer-oriented content becomes central, and we’d like to open a conversation about what that looks like.
Today, as you put it, brands are fighting for attention in a cluttered space filled with “toomuchness.” The current model won’t last, and the end of advertising could take place anywhere from the next 5 minutes to the next 5 years, so brands need to consider other options. Winning a customer’s attention and love cannot consist of interruptions; we must court them with consistently good, valuable content if we expect them to want to listen to us and desire to enter into a relationship with us.
The Other Options: Add Value by Turning the Current Model on its Head
The work we do at Relaxnews falls among those other options, notably: brand journalism. You see, we’re a news agency and we believe that brand messaging and editorial are inseparable. So our team of journalists, art directors, editors-in-chief, creatives, editorial strategists, and tech developers make branded editorial content easy by providing tech-inspired solutions for brand journalism and content marketing initiatives. It is for this reason that two years ago we were acquired by Publicis Groupe and now proudly work alongside the talented teams at Publicis Media.
As journalists by trade, we believe in the power of storytelling, particularly when it comes to bringing audiences updates on trending news. Brands have understood the power of journalism for a long time (hence the public relations department), but journalists have traditionally been considered gatekeepers for brands.
However, something huge happens when brands bring the journalists in-house and turn the model on its head: they become those who share the stories readers see every day, as opposed to passive bystanders hoping to get noticed from the sidelines. This means that the audience comes to them for information, instead of them trying to track down the audience. This is brand journalism.
Brand journalism goes beyond native; instead of requiring brands to insert their message in a publication, it allows them to become the publication. Brands that practice brand journalism take content researched, written, and produced by journalists and publish it like the media would. Their brand message is not explicit (“Hey we sell stuff, come buy it”) but rather implicit (“We have great information for you and also happen to sell products you might like”), so it doesn’t require journalists to “sell their souls” or trade their art for copy writing, the problem with “native” that you pointed out in the book. Rather, it helps brands add value to the lives of their consumers, while authentically showcasing who they are and what they care about. This is where the conversation that you spark in your book about replacing ads with value and authenticity intersects with our work.
How Does Brand Journalism Conform to Brands’ Needs as “the End of Advertising” Nears?
Toss out the content produced by journalists and you become the guy who lives under a rock. It should be noted that since the invention of the printing press around 1440 and the creation of a news agency in 1835 (which, as a fun fact, debuted in France by Agence France Presse), news has remained a key addition of value to people’s days.
Given your background as a writer, you, better than anyone, know that while some may argue that our field is dying, let’s face it, a life without writers is about as useful as life in a cave: uninformed and uninspired.
Today, as readers seek out information, journalists still have the vocation of bringing factual, newsworthy stories to the public, and the public still expects it. In the past year, following “fake news” accusations, the New York Times experienced a 46% increase in paid subscriptions (compared to 2016). On the same note, after creating specialized newsletters and improving page load time, The Washington Post increased their website traffic by 129%, proof that readers not only want factual, information that is relevant to them, but also that they want it fast.
If the increase of traffic and subscriptions for traditional news sources tells us anything, it’s that “the end of journalism” is not near.
[easy-tweet tweet=”If the increase of traffic and subscriptions for traditional news sources tells us anything, it’s that “the end of journalism” is not near. via @relaxnews” user=”#Relaxnews #EditorializerDays”]
The value that brands could offer their customers by transforming their communication using brand journalism, perhaps coupled with the effort of rebuilding infrastructure, as you recommend, is as informational and useful as it is inspirational. It allows brands to be “always on,” keeping their audience engaged by offering tips, advice, explanations, and breaking news. As an illustration, GE, who is currently practicing a great example of brand journalism with GE Reports, doesn’t have to tell its customers, “We’re GE and we provide energy and the engines to go with it. Our products and services are innovative” (typically, if someone has to tell you that they’re innovative, they probably aren’t). After reading GE Reports, we understand not only how the company thinks, but also what their innovations are.
Discovery, exploration, and added value are human needs, and it is the responsibility of brands and the media alike to facilitate those processes
Brand journalism represents an opportunity for brands to propose editorial content that speaks the need of the public to read, learn, and discover without being directly sold to. It provides a way to share information with a subliminal message: we are here to help and inform you. It provides an authentic image of the brand and helpful information to those engaging with it.
In closing, we bring you good news. You may have thought both of your former careers were dying, but they’re actually finding new life in brand journalism. As you have pointed out, “effective advertising is becoming the thing, not the thing that sells the thing.” Our “thing” is brand journalism, and we’re leading efforts on it not only via the brand journalism task force within Publicis Groupe (led by Scott Donaton of Digitas LBI North America), whose goal is to help brands tell better, more informed, and more valuable stories, but also through efforts to make the practice more accessible to brands during the Editorializer Days.
The time for brands to begin using editorial content to tell their stories in the right context, with the right content is now. We’re holding the first annual Brand Journalism Summit Conference to talk about not only how to do it, but how to make your message relevant, ethical, and valuable to your audience next Friday, December 1st.
It’s a challenge, but we’re up for it. Are you?