Jay Hansen

Jay Hansen

Director, Brand Journalism

What Is Brand Journalism?

Jay Hansen

May 08, 2018

As a marketing discipline, brand journalism is the new kid on the block.

While no longer in its infancy, it's only about 10 years old. Brands are only beginning to learn how journalism-based techniques can help them reach audiences and increase engagement.

Ohio State formed its brand journalism team two years ago. We're the people who find, polish, write and edit stories you see on osu.edu, in the Alumni Magazine and on the Insights web site.

Since 2016, we've taken a closer look at how and why we create storytelling content. As marketing professionals, we all encounter great stories on a daily basis. But telling those stories through the lens of brand journalism can take those great stories and turn them into great Ohio State stories.

As the Marketing Content team has defined how we see brand journalism, we've landed on a brief description of this relatively new field:

Brand journalism is purposeful storytelling that enhances Ohio State's reputation and helps drive choice for our key audiences.

It's a fairly straightforward statement, but there are some elements to it that we can unpack a bit. Let's do that.

What do we mean by "purposeful storytelling"?

Any story we tell at Ohio State must have a goal in mind — whether that's to create awareness of the university, engage an alum to give, inspire a student to visit campus. That goal must be at the forefront of your research and reporting. While this may seem obvious, it's easy to get moved off your mark when an interview subject goes on an engaging tangent that takes them away from the story you are trying to tell. Be disciplined and always keep that top-level goal in mind.

As marketing and communications professions, we seek to enhance Ohio State's reputation every time we create a content. But this can get tricky. There are a lot of things that are great about Ohio State, but whenever possible, we should be selecting reputation-enhancing facts that differentiate us from others who could be vying for an audience members' time and attention.

Driving choice is central to our work.

We aren't telling stories just for the heck of it. Ultimately, we want the content we write, the videos we produce and the social media posts we share to encourage an action. This doesn't mean we're creating an instant cause and effect. Sometimes you have to share that content in a consistent and persistent way over time as a way of shaping perception and sharing the message you want to convey.

We create with an audience-first focus.

Much of University Marketing's focus right now is on prospective students and alumni — two audiences who may choose Ohio State, albeit for different reasons. Prospective students can choose us as their college destination, while alumni can choose us as a place to share their time, talent or treasure.

As we've established content goals with these groups, we've started with research, not anecdotes or gut feelings. This is important and something I'd recommend to anyone. Content can be subjective, so making storytelling choices that are rooted in research and concrete goals can remove some of the subjectivity from the process.

The brand journalism plans we've outlined for our team will undoubtedly evolve and shift as we learn more about what our audiences need from us. What won't change is the overarching need for this kind of content to keep them interested, entertained and engaged.

About the author