The New Brand Publishing

A millennium or so ago — or maybe just a few years — the people who made content (let’s define this as stuff people actually want to read, watch and listen to) and the people who bought and sold ad space weren’t even allowed to talk to each other. Not openly at least.

That’s over.

Now, the most ink-stained of ink-stained writers are finding outlets for their creativity that are funded by beverage brands and hotel chains.

And brands are asking themselves whether they should, in fact, remake themselves and their processes in the image of the publishers they used to cut deals with. Should they start to “act like publishers”?

For all those still asking that question, here’s the good news and the bad news: You — your brand — already are a publisher. The people you want and need to reach are looking to you for content. If they don’t find it, they will look elsewhere and will likely wonder if you’re truly serious about reaching them.

The paradox of the decade is this: At the same time that people are spending billions to avoid seeing advertising (think ad blockers and premium streaming subscriptions), they expect more content and more engagement from brands more than ever.

In other words, “content generation” — the overused cliché of the decade — is no longer enough. Impact comes through true brand publishing — disseminating content in a way that is meaningful and timely for your target audience. This is where the reporter and publisher mindset are crucial to the world of brands.

If all brands should be publishers, then, the only question left is: Are you a good one or a bad one?

To find out, ask yourself this:

1. Are you a good guest?

Think of the last dinner party you attended. The conversation may have gone something like this: “Did you hear Hillary turned her server over to the Feds?” “Yeah, no coincidence she got that out of the way before Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Was your response to proclaim, “Pace Picante Sauce puts the spice in taco night!”

No. You’d be a fool.

Brands need to follow the same dinner party rule: Listen more than you talk and join the conversation only when you’ve got something truly relevant to add.

How do you know when you’ve got something useful, meaningful and wanted to add? This is where brands have the decided advantage of access to insights and analytics.

2. Have you found the right partners?

You can’t do this alone. And you really don’t want to. Out there, right now, are publications and outlets that need you more than you need them. Find those outlets, treat them like true creative partners and create unique experiences together.

When Indian Motorcycle launched a new bike, it could have just bought some time on the History Channel (the favored channel of middle-aged men, by far). Instead, they said, “Wouldn’t people who love motorcycles rather watch a whole week of programming on the history and culture of bikes?” The History Channel agreed and Bike Week was born. Everybody won: Indian, the History Channel and definitely motorheads. (Bike Week surpassed Shark Week among the target demo, by the way.)

3. Are you still waiting for viral fairy dust?

Sorry, Virginia, while there may in fact be a Santa Claus, there is no such thing as viral.

Think of the last inspiring video your mother shared on Facebook. Maybe it was about throwing like a girl. Or believing in your own beauty. Your mother doesn’t trawl through YouTube while drinking her morning tea, looking for things she thinks you might like. She saw that video because someone shared it with her, but someone shared it with her because a brand put millions — tens of millions — of paid media dollars behind it.

Be ready to support your content. It takes paid media to support earned media — and that includes an up-to-the-second understanding of all the vagaries of the search engine world.

4. Does your audience feel duped?

This is where the world has really turned upside down. In decades past, a brand would never have claimed a byline on an article because no one would have read it. Today Tic-Tac (yes, the tiny candy) has national bylines that would make seasoned journalists a little jealous (although they might never admit that).

And people read and share Tic-Tac’s musings and lists on BuzzFeed. What if the tiny candy brand had turned the byline over to some hungry young Woodward or Bernstein of listicles and hidden its involvement? Astute readers would have called them out and possibly ridiculed them to the world.

Put your name on it. Your readers will thank you. And become your fans. 

5. Are you hiring the right talent?

Look around your staff, your agency partners and your own self. Are you still hiring based on past positions on a resume?

Or, are you surrounded by people absolutely subsumed with curiosity and a drive to make and do? Does your team have a “nose for news” — an innate understanding of what makes a story a story? Can they turn on a dime and make a page-12 story into a front-pager?

Those are the native skills that used to get fresh, eager cub reporters hired into big city newsrooms. Be the place people where those skills want to work and they’ll make a publisher out of you and your brand yet.


Tricia Cornell is a senior content developer at ColleMcVoy.