The Melding of Journalism and Marketing

Last night I attended the annual Nevada Press Association Awards dinner at the historic Piper’s Opera House  in Virginia City, NV with my husband, Matt, who is the editor of Nevada Magazine.  Having an undergraduate degree in Journalism myself and a grandmother who was a foreign news correspondent, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the presentations, engaging with fellow journalists, and seeing the awards that the various publications and individuals won in such categories as “best feature story,” “best photo essay,” “best investigative or in-depth story or series,” “best information graphic,” “best interview,” “best blog,” and “best multi-media story.” Throughout the evening there was no shortage of references to the casualties that the journalism industry has experienced due to changes in the economy, loss of ad revenue, and the re-structuring of journalism’s traditional business model. But despite these challenges, certain publications have still managed to persevere, deliver engaging stories, and thrive.  In a word, the difference between the winners and losers has been in mastering the art of storytelling.

As I watched the awards ceremony unfold, it became apparent to me that good journalism and marketing have a lot in common. The task at hand for both journalists and marketers is to engage the end viewer with content that communicates a story. (Joe Pulizzi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute and has written a lot about content marketing here.)  In the case of journalism, the purpose of storytelling might be to right a social wrong through investigative reporting, to inform about the latest local news, or to entertain. And in the case of marketing, the overarching purpose is to tell a story about a company, to build a brand, or perhaps how or why to purchase a particular product or service.

Last night the publications, editors, section writers, columnists, art directors, and advertising sales people who won awards are still connecting with their readership, still telling stories that are of mass interest to the public, still presenting information in a thorough, fact-checked, and engaging way. The trick for them has been and will continue to be to match story-telling with an audience in such a way that creates demand and ultimately, revenue. On the flip side, the emphasis for marketers has moved from simply selling a product or service to now telling a story about that product or service in a convincing way.  Over time, journalists have had to become better marketers and marketers have had to become  better journalists. For journalists, telling a story in print alone no longer sells ads. For marketers, relying on traditional sales channels no longer leads to purchases.

Over the past several years, there have been hundreds of magazine casualties.  But for those publications like Nevada Magazine that are re-inventing themselves through creating value, building brand awareness, and repositioning their product by staying current with new trends, attempting to adapt in whichever ways turn out to be the most relevant and sustainable, they are managing to earn their keep.

From the October 2011 Reno Gazette Journal article entitled “Nevada Magazine reinvents for new era, budget cuts,” the author writes:

This year, Nevada Magazine is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a series of issues devoted to Las Vegas, Indian Country, Cowboy Country and other parts of the state … But times have changed since 1936. Today, Nevada Magazine is a glossy, full-color publication that costs $4.95 per issue. It also is on the Internet, even available for free on one website. And you can read about the magazine on Twitter and Facebook. Creating an online presence is one reason that the magazine still exists, officials said. Another is that the magazine, faced with the threat of outsourcing this year by state officials trying to deal with a deep recession, has become self-funding.

Since 2006, the magazine has adjusted its primary focus of telling stories about Nevada in print, to telling stories about Nevada in not just a heavily re-designed print publication, but through a thoroughly revamped web site, a business fan page on Facebook, an account on Twitter, a photo album on Flickr, an e-newsletter, blog and historical calendar. In 2011, Matt was credited with assisting in that transition. You can read more about the process here.

5 comments

  1. The parallels between marketing and journalism are definitely becoming even more obvious. I think the main distinction continues to be on the revenue side. While marketing generates revenue simply by providing exposure, building brand, raising awareness; journalism needs one more step to occur to generate revenue — readers need to act on advertising. That has become very problematic for media companies in the digital age. unfortunately, few newspapers and magazines have figured out great ways to convert their increased reach through digital means into any commensurate increase in revenue. In fact, many media companies I believe jump on the digital bandwagon without any strategy for generating profit from it. Tweeting, Facebook updates and other forms of digital interaction is often never tied back to revenue. For a publication like Nevada Magazine, whose mission includes promoting Nevada tourism, this strategy works well. For many other publications and media companies, who have no promotional goals, the idea of giving away content through social media without coming up with a plan to tie that readership back into some revenue-producing model can lead to increased costs and no long-term increase in revenue. This dilemma becomes even more problematic for small media companies with limited geographic reach and modest potential for online readership. The online revenue models for these companies are miniscule compared with what they made off of print display advertising. An increased online profile may grow their readership slightly, but that may only be enough to pay for the increased costs associated with that online exposure.

    • David, I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a really good book I just started reading called Social Media ROI by Oliver Blanchard. His whole point is that many companies don’t tie social media efforts together properly to reach desired end goals. Many people think they need to be on social media, undoubtedly because they want to be a part of the larger conversation, but they’re not sure why, how to use the tools, or most importantly, how to tie their efforts to any sort of meaningful, measurable, or revenue-generating metrics. As journalism is able to sort this out, perhaps the very definitions of journalism and marketing will change!

    • Jumping into social media without a means to generate revenue could also have something to do with editor-types leading the charge. They don’t always have revenue on the brain. Look at me — I took the initiative to start and manage our social media sites, but, I’ll admit, it’s because I want more people reading our stories, looking at our photos, and generally interacting with Nevada Magazine. The Catch 22 is that if you’re always selling, selling, selling (subscriptions, calendars, etc.) on social media, people are going to be turned off by that approach. Summary: Very challenging times for magazine and newspaper publishers, indeed.

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