MIAMI BEACH — Brand journalists can use corporate platforms to produce in-depth analysis and feature stories, filling a void that traditional, resource-strapped media outlets are unable to, according to panelists at the Global Public Relations Summit  yesterday.

The comments came during a session entitled “Are PR People Ready to Become Brand Journalists?” led by Lewis PR.

John Earnhardt, director of corporate communications at Cisco, says the company’s editorial team primarily tells long-form feature stories because, increasingly, traditional media are focused on chronicling specific news, such as product announcements, M&As and earnings reports. Rather than sponsor content on traditional news sites, the company has built its own directory of blogs.

“If a story is not being told, we tell it,” says Earnhardt. “We’re not competing with [conventional] reporters and if a story is good enough, we’ll pitch it to them.”

Simon Sproule, corporate VP of global marketing communications at Nissan, describes his company’s media content as “in between CNBC and the Discovery channel.”

“We could be seen as a competitor to traditional media, in some instances, if we use our own video crew to shoot the CEO visiting a factory” rather than inviting independent journalists to cover the event, Sproule points out.   

While praising the role corporations are taking in filling media gaps, Tom Foremski, editor/founder of “Silicon Valley Watcher,” took issue with the term “brand journalism” maintaining that journalism specifically refers to independent reporting.   

“Why should corporate media only write about their industry? Could corporate media ever win a Pulitzer?” Foremski asked, noting that corporate media could potentially expand into full-fledged publishing outlets because they are supported by a different business model than traditional media companies.

“Never say never, but right now, we do not use [Cisco’s blog] to compete,” says Earnhardt when asked how the company deals with competitors on its blogs. “We have just two rules for our journalists, don’t hurt Cisco and don’t help competitors.”  

“Our journalists know they are writing for Nissan and we are transparent about that,” says Sproule, adding that as their coverage expands to industry news, competitors are increasingly being mentioned. “People will get bored if all the content is about Nissan.”

 "There is nothing to stop Nissan producing a film like Senna in the future," added Sproule.

“There’s no way to avoid conflict – it’s always there, even with traditional media,” said Jesse Noyes, managing editor at Eloqua. 

Aarti Shah is an account manager at March Communications