Interest in brand publishing has surged in recent months as a handful of high-profile companies loudly announced or launched their own publications and content initiatives.
- Netflix launched “Tudum,” an editorial publication that covers the ins and outs of Netflix shows, including behind-the-scenes interviews with showrunners and stars.
- Salesforce built out Salesforce+, a video streaming destination that features original programming about entrepreneurship and company building.
- Venture capital giant Andreessen Horowitz launched Future, which it said will focus on “future-focused” informational content that dovetails with its own investment priorities and view of how technology relates to the world.
- Lyft said it would launch a new publication that will “bring the Lyft story to life” and be aimed at riders, drivers and the press and public.
- Cryptocurrency platform Coinbase announced a new content initiative called Fact Check, with which it intends to “combat misinformation and mischaracterizations” about both the company and cryptocurrencies more generally.
- Marketing software company Hubspot purchased entrepreneur-focused media company The Hustle to bolster its already significant brand publishing operations.
- Publishing is rapidly emerging as a tactical priority in sectors such as sports betting: DraftKings began building a team to evaluate media acquisitions and content efforts, while casino operator Penn National Gaming purchased a stake in high-profile sports media company Barstool Sports, which it says has helped it lower customer acquisition costs.
The intent behind these initiatives will vary. For Hubspot and DraftKings, the goal is likely to attract audiences that can be monetized directly by selling them software, games and other products they create. But for Andreessen, Lyft, Netflix and Salesforce, the stated outcome is a little more nuanced: to build channels that enable them to “go direct” to audiences without relying on third parties.
These companies join a growing list of brands investing in their own publications and brand publishing teams in an effort to disseminate the types of content and information they believe “traditional” media companies can’t or won’t.
As far as some business leaders are concerned, media companies are often unwilling to publish objective and fair content because of ideological, cultural and philosophical biases and agendas that inevitably surface in their work — consciously, or otherwise. Journalists also gravitate instinctively towards whatever topics and issues have cultural relevance or feed into the zeitgeist at any given moment, businesses may argue.
But perhaps most significantly, media companies are often hemmed in by business models that simply do not enable them to cover certain companies, issues and topics — or to produce some types of content — in a sustainable way. They must therefore prioritize investment in content that makes economic sense for their own businesses (to some degree, at least) and steer their coverage in directions that generate the most interest from advertisers, potential subscribers and other customers.
As a result, a growing number of companies now see promise in brand publishing as a means to:
- Fund content that explores the themes, topics and trends that are most relevant to their interests and priorities. If media companies must gravitate towards content that suits their business needs, brand publishing can help ensure important topics are not overlooked or ignored by adding additional content and voices to the conversation.
- Go deep into specific themes and topics. Media companies are often incentivized to generate clicks and page views with short and snappy content, rather than unpacking complicated and nuanced ideas and concepts. Brand publishers can add value by serving targeted audiences in a manner that many media companies’ strategies and business models do not support.
- Add knowledge, expertise and context in areas where it’s lacking. Media companies often lack resources to hire staffers with the knowledge, skill sets, context and experience to tell stories and relay information in a sufficiently accurate, detailed or nuanced way. Brand publishing grants companies with expertise and knowledge the ability to contribute to — and help advance — critical conversations.
- Offer audiences an alternative to traditional media outlets. Trust in news sources is at an all-time low, while audiences are increasingly open to consuming content from new sources. As a result, many companies see diminishing value in being featured in media outlets via “traditional” public relations strategies, and increasing value in building relationships directly with their own audiences instead.
- Ensure their viewpoints, perspectives and actions are being represented accurately. Brand publishing gives companies far greater control over the positioning of their viewpoints and stances, rather than relying on journalists and media companies to characterize and communicate them accurately.
Brand publishing vs. Journalism
The recent surge of interest in brand publishing has been met with exasperation from some journalists and media companies, who argue such initiatives could be attempts to displace or undermine objective media coverage of companies’ actions.
In reality it’s unlikely most brand publishing initiatives are intended to replace or directly compete with traditional journalism. Most companies investing in brand publishing are hoping to establish additional lines of communication with audiences in order to add voices, viewpoints and context to conversations in ways traditional publishers most likely will not.
Ongoing investment in brand publishing could even result in a reversal of the “blurring of the lines” between marketing and journalism that’s accelerated over the past two decades, as media companies refocus their efforts on areas in which other entities cannot legitimately participate, such as investigative journalism and deeply sourced original reporting.
For detailed practical guidance on how to build and operate successful brand publishing initiatives, see the Brand Publishing Toolkit.