Lately, I’ve been categorizing my editorial consulting work as “corporate journalism” – the practice of creating balanced, fact-based content for marketers. It’s a more authentic alternative to the usual PR drivel and marketing fluff that companies have traditionally used to annoy customers, journalists and other target groups. The content can take many forms: white papers (reported with real-person interviews, not made-up quotes), articles, blog posts, video, etc. – all the stuff you’d see on a typical media site. The content development work is also similar to traditional journalism: understand the target audience (customers vs. readers), identify the experts (internal and external), and get them to help you tell the story (through interviews or direct contributions). The result is more engaging, more believable marketing communications. (And it’s a good next career step for disgruntled, aging journalist types.)
I take no credit for coining the term. I first heard it from David Churbuck when talking about the time we spent together at McKinsey helping to re-do the company’s knowledge management platform (a Herculean task). He may or may not have borrowed the phrase from the 1999 book “Beyond Spin.” From the publisher’s description:
In Beyond Spin, three experts detail the techniques of corporate journalism–an ingenious communications model that hinges on open, accurate, and strategically weighted reporting inside a corporation.
I wouldn’t go so far as calling the practice “ingenious,” but corporate journalism is an important step away from traditional PR/marketing. Churbuck takes a broader view of the concept than the book’s apparent (I never read it) focus on internal mar-com; he uses the phrase to refer to the lens through which companies must view external communications as well:
Organizations need to report upon themselves with the objective eye of a journalist, holding any statement or action up to the same skeptical, unconflicted scrutiny that an outsider would hold, to determine how it will sit with the most important segment of its public – its customers.
I found another good post on the topic at Contentious.com, this one dating back to 2004:
It takes courage on the part of the corporate communications/PR people to step beyond the simplistic goal of persuasion – to acknowledge and address controversy, shortcomings and skeptical or critical perspectives without being dismissive. In short, to try to fairly present more than just the preferred corporate view.