- Talented journalists and writers are increasingly considering leaving the grind of working for media companies to join brands instead, tempted by bigger salaries, greater flexibility and increased predictability.
- Brands are poised to take advantage of the compensation imbalance that’s existed at media companies for years.
- If brands want to attract top-tier talent, they have to offer challenging roles, some level of editorial autonomy, and greater compensation than media companies.
The competition between brands and media organizations for journalism talent is heating up fast. But unless media organizations find ways to better attract, challenge and compensate content creators, the emerging war for editorial talent could rapidly turn into more of a bloodbath.
Instead of media organizations competing against each other to find and keep the best reporters and editors, executives inside journalism companies are finding that they’re increasingly competing with tech startups, consulting giants, VC companies and fintech behemoths.
And based on our work with media companies, brand publishers and recruiters, the competition is feeling increasingly one-sided
Looking back over the past decade, the majority of my time, energy and brainspace across every role I’ve held has been dedicated to hiring and keeping talented reporters, editors and content creators. As anyone who has been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to climb the ladders into management knows, it’s often people management — the care and feeding of teams and the constant, consistent cycle of recruiting — that ends up being the biggest and hardest part of the job.
Why? Because finding and keeping people in media is difficult. There are many people unwilling to get onto the hamster wheel of journalism and media, and the realities of salaries inside media are well documented. Making ends meet for media companies isn’t easy, but few media companies have attempted to align journalists’ incentives and compensation with the work and value they create. In hindsight may have been a short-sighted approach that’s helped sprout a new breed of employee-owned media company — including Defector Media, Puck and others — Elsewhere, the same dynamic has manifested itself in a wave of unionization that has swept digital media companies recently.
But the fact is things aren’t changing fast enough within media companies for many journalists and editors. And that’s a problem that may spell bad news for journalism organizations and good news for brands getting into publishing.
First, a caveat: Going in-house inside a brand isn’t for everyone. Journalism purists will argue, that brand publishing isn’t, and can’t be, journalism. There is an obvious loss of independence when you write content that is funded by a brand — and content that is invariably being producedin service of driving revenue for a business, at least indirectly. And for many that do cross over, there is a realization that editorial isn’t a product in itself for those companies, and is therefore unlikely to ever be the priority or primary focus.
But for most people — particularly those at the middle or later stages of their content careers — brands are beginning to look a lot more attractive as places to land, particularly as so many become more serious about publishing.
- Salaries tend to be higher: In our experience, they’re often 1.5 – 2x what the same roles command inside media organizations.
- For startup or tech company roles, equity and performance-based compensation is regularly offered.
- The grind of creating content remains the same, but brand publishers are not under the same pressure journalists are to produce clicks and subscriptions — (as writers who escaped the content mines of the mid-2010s to join brands will attest.) Brand publishing tends to be more strategic, less reactive, and optimized to very different goals and outcomes.
One takeaway from the rebundling of media that we’re currently experiencing –where creators and writers are going to work for media companies — is that working independently is only feasible for a handful of people.. For most, there are benefits to a steady paycheck, vacation days, healthcare (and, I daresay — coworkers) that they miss. For all the talk of “passion” for journalism, it’s hard to eat passion for lunch. It has been interesting to see brand publishing become a viable career path for many journalists, particularly those fed up with low salaries and stingy perks.
Brands looking to hire journalists will do well to remember they can offer many positives that media companies don’t, or can’t. But they should ensure they:
- Offer challenging roles: There is no point even attempting to embark onbrand publishing initiatives if a company isn’t committed to it. Plenty of brands are investing in brand publishing simply because a competitor has, but aren’t following through when it comes to resources and budget, as well as the mindset and organizational shifts brand publishing requires. Brands who want to be successful at publishing must offer staffers roles where they can make a difference and do good work, not simply be an extension of marketing or public relations.
- Pay people above-market compensation: Brand publishers will need to step up salaries and not look to media companies as benchmarks. To be clear, this is already happening, and one big reason so many talented journalists have flocked to brands in recent years. Based on our experience, brands are paying close to double what media organizations do for executive-level roles, and in the case of some companies, offering equity that makes the total package far more valuable. Perhaps more importantly, it aligns incentives much more appropriately.
- Recognize that journalists bring new expertise into the fold. Brands do not typically know how to create compelling publishing content. This is a new muscle for many. Would-be staff inside branded publications will be the experts inside the organization, true masters of the craft in their specific field. Recognizing this and making space for a different point of view is imperative for brands.
For more guidance and practical tools to hiring for brand publishing, refer to the Guides and Resources in the Brand Publishing Toolkit.