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How legitimate are brand publications?

The legitimacy of brand publications, such as BA’s High Life, is growing in the PR community claims latest research carried out by marketing agency Collective Content and PR service ResponseSource, but there are still major differences between traditional journalism and brand journalism and probably always will be.

The research found:

  • The number of PROs saying they remember being contacted by someone creating content on behalf of a brand publication fell – from 67 per cent in 2015 to 58.1 per cent in 2016.
  • But this year the number saying they treat brand content enquiries the same as those from the media rose – from 39.4 to 53.6 per cent.

Discussing the thinking behind the study, Tony Hallett, managing director of Collective Content, says: “We started this research last year because we saw a need for the content bar to be raised – there’s too much rubbish being produced by brands. To get up to what I call ‘media-grade’ content, we think those creating content for brands need to engage more with the PR community. You know, like journalists do.

“Many of us were previously journalists. This approach doesn’t feel weird. But to some PROs it does, we found.”

Hallett lists figures that demonstrate that brand journalism still has a way to go before it is accepted by PR: “Some PROs told us they’ve never had contact with brand journalists – 37.7% said as much this year, believe it or not – and of those that have, some are saying they don’t treat us the same way as the media (43.1% told us so). So that’s a challenge.”

However, Hallett is optimistic that brand journalism has a strong future: “The good news is the flip side. Over half of PROs who get enquiries treat people like us just as they would media enquiries.

“What’s more, we found those at PR agencies to be more receptive. More report treating journalists and brand content creators equally (57.9% do so versus the overall figure of 53.6) and they’re generally a bit more savvy about the way this new world works, the terminology used and so on.”

So why are PR agencies keener on brand journalism? Hallett answers: “We’re not entirely sure. One theory is that PR agencies are increasingly seen as the content-creation arm for brands. This isn’t unique. Media agencies, general digital agencies and even media owners with custom publishing units (who doesn’t have a ‘lab’ or ‘studio’ these days?) are often given the content brief, with varying degrees of success.

“But think of the ex-journalists working in a PR agency. You don’t get that expertise so much at ad-buying shops. And maybe less so in-house at companies? Arguably that will change as brands set up in-house newsrooms and appoint an editor-in-chief or chief content officer, often with a hotline to the CMO.

“The area keeps on evolving.”


There were 309 UK respondents from the ResponseSource database to an online survey during the month of February 2016. Of these, 266 were in PR, with 197 (74%) at agencies and the remaining 69 (26%) in-house. The other 43 were not in PR but often in related fields such as marketing roles. The focus of the report is on the PR community in the UK. Download the full report: PR Uncertainty around brand content and journalists

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