Toronto-based Digital Journal
, which began as a print magazine in 2001, has since gone digital and is leveraging its growing worldwide contributor base to tell stories on behalf of brands.
Digital Journal has brought on marketing veteran Sabaa Quao as chief marketing officer, who will lead the company's newly-launched /newsrooms division. The division's clients (there's eight so far) come to Digital Journal for custom content and social media strategies to increase their own audience engagement.
Digital Journal wouldn't tell us what fees they charge for this service, as it's a "custom arrangement" for each brand, said Chris Hogg, chief executive officer.
"Brands have looked to a model that makes sense to communicate to the public," said Hogg. "Journalists have a very specific skill set of being able to engage an audience and tell stories over time. Most advertisers and marketers will cluster around a campaign that is heavily promoted for a month, then it falls off a cliff."
Brands are looking to be publishers to reach customers directly, but even big companies don't have the capacity to do so, according to Hogg. "They weren't built to do that," he said. "A brand needs to tell a certain story, and people are looking for engaging content. When you become a publisher, you can develop an audience that sees you as a leader. It's not about jamming your product down someone's throat."
He stresses "content is king," and added, "advertising has banner blindness, it's not an effective way to reach people."
Branded content doesn't have to mean promotional "puff" pieces, it can be useful information, said Hogg. He said technology giant Cisco, for example, has been running its own newsroom
, and "90% of the time they don't even mention their own products, it's more advice-based."
Real content "allows brands to build something larger than a campaign. Campaigns go viral, and then they stop. Publishing never does," he said.
Any content created by Digital Journal on behalf of brands will be published outside of digitaljournal.com
, added Hogg.
Meanwhile, Digital Journal has seen some big changes itself over the years, and Hogg said it used its own business approach to grow into what it is now referred to as a "global digital media organization."
It has a network of more than 40,000 paid contributors (based on revenue-share agreements) including citizens and professional journalists in 200 countries, he said. Digital Journal was named one of the Top 20 most promising companies
in Canada by C100, a non-profit organization comprised of top executives.
"We are not a bricks and mortar company. We have a cost-effective scalable business model," said Hogg.