Arment Dietrich

Branded Content: Tales From the Dark Side

By: Arment Dietrich | September 2, 2010 | 

As a former journalist and current manager of Spin Sucks, a proud outpost of branded content, many of my old colleagues would probably say that I’ve gone over to the dark side.

When I was a cub reporter at a small newspaper on the central coast of California nearly a decade ago, a respected veteran reporter on staff, upon resigning from her post, left me a note saying she was certain I would run a publication one day.

While I was flattered that she saw such potential in me, I shrugged off the message. I was only interested in getting out and covering the stories, and I had no aspirations to become part of management.

I remained in journalism for several more years, but I eventually left the industry, disheartened with where it was headed.

Now, four years after my last newspaper job, I’m working at a digital marketing agency, where I find myself managing the company’s blog and thinking about audience and content and how they relate to marketing and growing a business.

In the past, media content and advertising were black and white. On TV, we tuned in for the content and we accepted that, in between segments of content, we would be subjected to a certain amount of advertising. It was the price we paid for enjoyable programming, and there was no question which was the content and which was the advertising.

While that model is still alive and well, today the idea of advertising and content being one and the same has become more accepted. And while there are many purists who bemoan this model, there is no question that it opens up many new possibilities in how we receive our information and entertainment.

But when you add in another advance in media – the opportunity for interaction, not just between creator and consumer, but also between consumer and consumer – things get really juicy.

This is where the content you produce takes on a life of its own and where one plus one adds up to more than two. Because not only are you creating quality content for your audience to enjoy, you’re creating a place where relationships form.

And when relationships begin to form between members of your audience, you’ve officially built something much stronger than a mere publication. You’ve built a community.

I was proud to be part of the editorial staff of a newspaper back in my journalism days. I felt we were doing important work. It was a huge responsibility to deliver the news to people in a balanced way to keep them informed about what was happening in the world around them and how they might be affected.

Most journalists would probably scoff at what I’m doing now and how I refer to myself as the manager of a publication. But I honestly believe I’m helping to bring more to people’s lives here, as part of a branded blog, than I ever did as a “legitimate” journalist.

I’m proud to say I am indeed running a publication and a community …from the dark side.

Photo courtesy of Forum One Networks

  • Krista

    Great post, Daniel– as a fellow reporter turned PR professional, I can relate! I think my background in journalism has helped ground me in PR with sound writing and critical thinking skills. And with everyone participating, sharing, and creating content online, it levels the playing field even more.

    • Thanks, Krista. I’ve always said journalism experience is a great foundation for countless other career paths.

      The community aspect of blogging makes it extremely gratifying — much more than the usually more negative letters to the editor at my old newspaper!

  • Amen! And good for you!

    I did a lot of work as a journliast over the last ten years but got fed up with great editors being laid off, budgets shrinking and a general dumbing down of some former bastions of news reporting. So I don’t really regret moving online.

    I LOVE the newspaper industry and journalism, but nowadays it doesn’t simply pay the bills. I think the emergence of iPad-like tablets and apps gives newspapers a chance of creating great online content within a walled environment (I’m thinking the Guardian’s iPhone app here), but by the time the industry reinvents itself a lot of “traditional” journalists will be working in PR, online media or creative content creation.

    PS: When I let my subscription go to Dagens Nyheter’s paper edition 2 years ago I knew my 25 love affair with print media was over. I still get pangs of guilt though.

    • I appreciate the support, Jon! People treat newspapers like they’re sacred cows, but I get much more out of reading blogs like yours and others I respect, even though they’re mostly promotional tools for our businesses.

      But newspaper content is promotional, too. Just like blogs like ours are intended to help build our businesses, newspaper content is there to draw bigger audiences in order to charge more for advertising. So what makes it so much more pure?

  • Welcome to the dark side, bwa ha ha!! Unfortunately, this discussion will always be pretty prevalent. When I worked at FH, we’d hire former journalists to work in the editorial department and to also help the account service teams better understand how the media works…from an insider’s view. The journalist always made at least double what they were making as a reporter and we gained valuable insight. To your point, if you look it at less as joining the dark side and more about the kind of content you’re providing, it will seem less evil.

    • Thanks, Gini. It’s good to be here! And I can tell you I personally don’t feel evil at all. In fact, I’ve never felt better.

      I think a big difference today between journalists coming over to the “dark side” is that when they get here, they are no longer necessarily tied to their old world in terms of needing those who are still journalists to help them with placement of stories, etc.

      It’s now much easier for us to create our own publications and our own stories, and that, to me, makes it feel more similar to actual journalism. And, of course, the direct interaction with the public also adds to that feeling.

      Because we’re not attempting to address the audience of another publication, but rather our own audience, the opportunity to interact and forge relationships is that much greater.

  • Luke Martin

    If opting for progress & quality is the dark side, then I say, the darker the better!

  • Pingback: The Dark Side and The Fourth Estate « PR in Pink()

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