Fifteen years ago, there was one journalist for every two PR people. Today, according to 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that ratio is about one to five.
Magazines that once featured full-page ads from a company now often have compelling feature stories written by someone from that company.
Respected international news agencies, such as Reuters, are sustaining themselves, in part, through offering content marketing solutions so that major companies can capitalize on their editorial and publishing experience (and the news agency can have a side revenue stream).
With the rise of Facebook Live and Snapchat, it can seem as though the written word is taking a backseat.
Written stories matter more than ever, and the worlds of journalism and content marketing are finding new ways to sustain each other, learn from each other, and ultimately get your attention.
While most are familiar with what journalism is and looks like, this description from Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute is a great way to understand what content marketing is:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
On the surface, the fusion of journalism and content marketing isn’t all that surprising to consumers or readers on the web, who by now are used to seeing brands developing their own publications, and sections on their favorite news sites, such as the global development section at The Guardian, be supported by a foundation (or major brand).
From the lens of history, it all makes perfect sense.
In 1895, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were locked in a fierce battle for journalism supremacy. The New York World, published by Pulitzer, and the New York Journal, published by Hearst, were jockeying for attention, one-upping each other with ever-more sensational headlines—even when it meant sacrificing the kind of ethical reporting that Pulitzer had built his reputation on.
Interestingly, this landmark year in journalism is also held up as a landmark year in content marketing. This is when The Furrow magazine was launched, a publication by John Deere that is still going strong and is often held up as the supreme example of content marketing.
As the titans of journalism, Pulitzer and Hearst, were fighting for the general audience’s attention, deploying every tactic of marketing they could muster, here came a company (John Deere) that created a niche publication perfectly suited for its own audience. As Pulitzer and Hearst spent fortunes covering the Spanish-American War a few years later (they would nearly run their newspapers financially into the ground as a result) there was The Furrow, quietly but quickly growing its readership (they hit 500,000 by 1907), all while not having to rely on magazine subscriptions (let alone newspapers that cost a penny or two) in order to fund their content efforts.
With this as historical backdrop, and a realization that these two fields have always been linked, it’s important to cast our gaze at what the future of this new wave of their fusion might mean for business. Here’s a small glimpse:
1. Companies will continue buying out (and saving) media companies. Jeff Bezos of Amazon bought The Washington Post, Verizon acquired The Huffington Post when it bought AOL, and Alibaba bought the South China Morning Post. This trend of powerful companies buying up influential but struggling media outlets will likely continue, as it creates points of customer access for the company, grants them greater degrees of control over the media than they would otherwise have, and allows the media company to do at least some of the important work the world needs it to do.
2. Incredible journalists will increasingly find themselves in marketing departments, often bouncing from company to company as they pick up short-term gigs. By 2020, according to Intuit (PDF here), an estimated 40% of American workers, 60 million people, will be independent contractors. If you’re a growing business, at some point you will likely hire a former journalist or snatch one away from whatever media company they’re working for. If you’re a journalist, you may see more job openings related to your skillset at tech companies than at media outlets.
3. Companies will become their own media source, leaving the rat race of pitching journalists to cover their new product or releases in the process. They will churn out niche-driven news that their audiences love, while media outlets begin learning how to nurture (and gain data from) their audience. Additionally, as happened after the Spanish-American War, media companies creating broad content and hoping it will grow a huge audience (rather than evolving, targeting and segmenting their audiences), will have multiple rugs swept out from under them as company-owned, niche-based publications become the go-to source for particular topics.
4. Elite publications, as Joseph Pulitzer’s World did years ago, will be forced to recalibrate their ethical compass in order to stay alive (we’re already seeing this as reputable news sources cave to sensationalism and speculation). Coupled with this, the growing freelance industry will mean journalists have many more (and often better paying) options and may choose to work on short-term gigs for a business rather than keep trying to build their credentials in the notoriously difficult and low-paying arena of traditional freelance journalism. This means the nature of what it means to be a journalist will change, or at least take on new dimensions (dimensions of marketing).
5. Ads interrupting you will steadily become stories following you. As readers continue to look down upon companies using intrusive pop-up ads, and as ad-blocking software becomes more savvy, businesses will transfer a major percentage of their traditional advertising budget to a budget for content—content that increasingly learns how to follow you like an ad but offer value instead of a pitch.
And of course all of this means C-suite titles such as “VP of Content” or “Chief of Content” will steadily grow to become the new norm. Media companies will increasingly seek journalists with marketing chops, or marketers with journalist chops… until the near future when the fusion simply becomes expected in a candidate.
It’s important to note that this fusion is not and will not be without conflict. Some of those in journalism are and will continue to cast blame on their readers, citing how they are choosing catchy, click-bait list articles over some of the most important investigative stories of our time. And some companies will erroneously think waging a war against ad-blockers is integral in order to reach their targeted audience.
But businesses, those I believe most likely to find success, will dissect and study the wave of this fusion. They will learn the tenets of how the best in the journalism industry create content and how the best in content marketing amplify and measure the impact of that content. And maybe, as Hearst bought Pulitzer’s best editors and writers, business leaders will go beyond their two-channel hiring lens—MBA grads and those with impressive traditional marketing resumes—and toward seeing the transferable skills of those who have studied and worked in journalism.
If, as Seth Godin said, “Content marketing is the only marketing left,” the future of their business might depend on it.
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