All the Self-Promotion That's Fit to Print

By Scott Signore

Ever been tempted to pay for a PR placement? You pitch the perfect story and the editor just won’t bite.  You go back a second time with no luck, so you think to yourself: “Man, I wish I could pay to slip this story in. The readers will find it valuable.” Unfortunately, you can’t do that (at ethical pubs) so you go back to the drawing board, dreaming up fresh angles and more inventive ways of reaching the targeted reporter.

If, as a PR pro or an in-house communications person, you’ve secretly wished you could do a pay-for-play deal with your dream publication, then the emerging trend of brands (read: companies) publishing their own magazines with fresh and journalistically legitimate content should perk your ears up. And, you might be surprised to know the trend is gaining a heck of a lot of steam. The sagging publishing industry is now competing with brands for the same eyeballs.

Tessa Wegert of ClickZ blogged recently about the success a number of high-profile brands are having with periodicals of their own – including P&G, SAP and Urban Outfitters, to name only a few.  A commonality among these branded magazines is not just the quality of their content, but the fact that the publications are developed by experienced and credible writers and editors. Writers and editors who have made their career writing for significant media outlets now write for some of the world’s most established brands, and they’re supplementing their respective incomes handsomely.

I’m conflicted about it, frankly. To me this approach is potentially inappropriate and simultaneously brilliant.

Marketers can leverage this channel as a way to deliver key messages to interested consumers. (I like that.) And the depth of interest goes beyond the brand itself and includes the category in which the brand is established. Interested, self-identifying consumers read content-rich stories pumped out by journalists hired by brands looking to sell stuff – kind of perfect, really.

And yet it’s disturbing in the sense that the delineation between “story” and advertisement becomes increasingly blurred, potentially duping consumers who may not understand the nuance. Basically, brands are “selling stuff that people want to look at,” which is straight out of a basic advertising playbook.

But the evolution is undeniable in the sticky muck of an ever-intersecting digital world. Resistance is futile. Adapt or die.

Rather than being “off to the side” marketing tools, branded publications have become key components of overall marketing initiatives. They have become widely-accepted communications tools, with solid editorial teams who craft, create and publish news and feature stories that consumers want to read. It’s a smart approach, and one that I may recommend to clients here at Matter.

What’s your take on brands publishing periodicals – are you on board?