While new generations and different demands disrupt public relations practices, brand journalism and PR remain essential for small and large companies. Brand journalism approaches may change with time and digitalization, but building trust and transparency always stays in style. In recent years, the demand for straightforwardness and exposure and the need for PR practices that differ from the traditional model has increased. We address the importance of PR and its nuances with Harriet Trevor-Allen, Head of Copy and Communications at pr.co.
1. As you make PR tools more accessible and newer generations value transparency, what is the role of PR firms? What is the role of brand journalism?
- Our mission is to make great PR available to every company—including those without the budget to hire an external PR firm. But that doesn’t mean that PR agencies don’t have a crucial role to play. In fact, our tools are made to be scalable and adaptable for every PR setup. Whether you’re a startup founder or a huge corporation using different agencies in multiple markets, we can make your PR processes smoother and your campaigns more effective. Many of our customers hire agencies when they grow to new markets. We help them manage their workflow with agencies and make delegation, translation, and localization easy.
PR still has a reputation for being all spin and sleaze in some circles, but we are passionate about its ability to create positive change. PR allows brands to communicate their values and impact on the world around them, which is exactly what customers want to know these days. As you suggest, this is especially true for Gen Z, whose consumer behavior is rooted in their search for the truth. These digital natives are used to having information at their fingertips, so researching you is a no-brainer. As an ambitious brand, why wouldn’t you want to influence what they find when they do? PR helps brands influence the public narrative about themselves, inspire trust through their transparency, and grow their business.
The very existence of brand journalism demonstrates just how important the ethical behavior of brands is to most consumers today.
Like all journalists, brand journalists seek to serve the common interest. They write and talk about the issues that their audiences care about—from Apple’s supply chain to Google’s free lunches, how a company conducts its business is just as newsworthy as the business itself. Brand journalism plays a crucial role in building consumer trust because it shows consumers the truth about brands in a way that they don’t trust advertising and brand-owned content to do for them.
2. How does your Newsroom tool redefine old-fashioned PR practices?
- pr.co online newsrooms flip traditional PR on its head. Old-fashioned PR is too often a synonym for media relations. That’s a huge missed opportunity., In today’s world, it's not just journalists that are interested in a brand’s news. Local residents, consumers, future employees, activists, investors…Most people want to know how the brands they support impact the world. Our newsrooms help brands connect with all their audiences.
We focus on enabling our customers’ audiences to come to them. Of course, outbound PR and press lists are still important, and we help our customers to deliver great outbound PR campaigns. But we also recognize that relying on outbound techniques limits your audience, your brand awareness, and your growth.
In the past, there was a lot of competition between marketing and PR teams as they jostled to show off their ROI. At pr.co we have a much more collaborative approach to communications. Our solutions benefit everyone, marketers and PR pros alike. Our focus on inbound PR, for example, increases traffic to corporate websites, boosts SEO, and improves the domain authority. We ensure that content created by PR teams strengthens and adds to all other marketing efforts. We redefine old-fashioned PR by recognizing the interdependencies between all areas of communications and aligning them to achieve a brand’s goals, whether that’s rapid growth, entering a new market, or thought leadership.
3. Is brand journalism suitable for controversial corporations such as Shell?
- From Shell’s perspective, yes. So long as they can find journalists who will report accurate stories in a positive light, then brand journalism can help them advance their goals. How accurate and morally sound this reporting can be, is another question.
Journalism should be based on facts, and if you accept the facts of climate science, you will know that fossil fuels are the leading contributor to global climate change. According to the United Nations, fossil fuels account for “over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions.” So, while Shell produces content around their good progress on journey to net-zero emissions and their climate-related advocacy, brand journalists publishing these stories without reporting Shell’s current impact on climate change arguably fail to serve the public good. This is where we see the fine line between brand journalism and corporate propaganda. Journalists must take some responsibility for ensuring that they report the truth. Brand journalism should always be honest and vulnerable and cover all sides.
Brands should share both what’s going well and what they still need to improve. This is challenging, but it is the only way to build trust through brand journalism. Let’s not forget that people, especially younger generations like Gen Z, see through one-sided messages. In McKinsey’s recent report on Gen Z and its implications for companies, we learned that Gen Z expect transparency from a company’s entire stakeholder system:
“In a transparent world, younger consumers don’t distinguish between the ethics of a brand, the company that owns it, and its network of partners and suppliers. A company’s actions must match its ideals, and those ideals must permeate the entire stakeholder system./
Gen Z consumers are mostly well-educated about brands and the realities behind them. When they are not, they know how to access information and develop a point of view quickly.”
Any company can use brand journalism, but most audiences, especially younger generations, recognize one-sided propaganda when they see it. Attempting brand journalism without true transparency, therefore, risks further damage to your reputation.
4. What have you learned about the power of brand journalism? Is this any different for companies with an international consumer base?
- To answer this, I want to make sure that we agree with what we mean by brand. At pr.co we recognize that a brand is more than your typography or logo. It’s the sum of how your brand is perceived by others—it’s what they think when they hear your name. So, firstly, brand journalism is powerful because it helps to reveal what your brand really represents to the people who experience it. Once you know this, you can be much more strategic in your brand management.
The second power of brand journalism lies in storytelling. Journalists are expert storytellers. And, as humans, we have been hard-wired to pay attention to good stories from the dawn of our existence. Stories help us understand the world and our role in it and build emotional connections with people, places, and things—including brands. Brand journalists help to shape your brand story and the ability of your brand to emotionally connect with your audiences, inspiring brand love and loyalty.
The third power of brand journalism is its contrast to advertising. Unlike advertising, journalism is, at least, meant to be unbiased. This factual approach, combined with our over-exposure to advertising today (the average consumer is bombarded with 4000-10000 advertising messages a day), means that we pay more attention to journalist content than advertising content. We are suspicious of and exhausted by advertising, whereas brand journalism continues to capture our attention—for now.
All of these principles apply in every market, but for companies with an international customer base, it’s important to understand the cultural difference at play. Localization is key. A story that boosts sales in American culture might be seen as crass and damage your reputation in Japan. At pr.co we offer local newsrooms so that you can tailor each newsroom to each of your markets and create a coherent but localized marketing and PR strategy.
Local newsrooms also make collaboration across borders and time zones easier. Our customers use local newsrooms to grant newsroom access to local agencies, collaborate in-app, and still maintain approval rights should you need to.
5. When a brand works with you, how are they more accessible to journalists worldwide?
- Media relationships are an essential element of PR but if you rely on this strategy alone, you will limit your audience to the journalists you are able to foster meaningful relationships. In today’s world, however, you simply cannot predict who will be interested in your brand and when. A journalist on the other side of the world, writing for a publication you cannot even pronounce, might be poised to provide you with the coverage of your dreams if only they knew more about you. Having a pr.co newsroom means that anyone, anywhere, can read your latest news on their terms. As a result, you need to ensure your news is findable.
Every pr.co newsroom is search engine optimized, which means that anyone searching for news about your company, industry, or related products has a high chance of finding your newsroom. Once there, we use inbound marketing techniques to ensure journalists and any other interested parties can sign up to receive your latest news straight to their inbox. We help our customers build press lists, inbound. This differs from traditional outbound PR because, as a PR professional, you know that these subscribers have actively chosen to hear from you—which is a much better way to start a relationship than intruding on someone’s already overflowing inbox.
All of our features are built to make life easier for both PR pros and journalists. For journalists, this means communications on their terms, easy-to-download media files, and access to virtual press events from anywhere in the world. Not only do brands working with us become more accessible to journalists, but they also become a brand that journalists love working with and, therefore, much more likely to land the coverage they need.