Brand publishing: time to get gonzo

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth


Antony Mayfield is on a bit of a blogging roll right now, possibly spurred on by the long bank holiday weekend, with some excellent posts on mental health and the future of TV.

Today’s offering caught my attention for obvious reasons:

In the excitement and head-nodding that discussion of “brand publishers” has stirred up we have not often enough paused to question the role model we are taking on. You know that all is not very rosy in the publishing garden, right? This is an industry being ravaged by web-based disruption as much, if not more, than any other.

Antony’s background is in that dark, suspicious place we journalists like to call Brighto marketing. It’s an interesting point because many people from both the marketing and journalism side of the fence have cited “brand journalism” as the future for many of today’s practicing journalists as the traditional industry sinks.

I’ve been poking the “content strategy” business with a virtual stick over the last few months, and while there’s some good thinking out there, there’s also a heck of a lot of what looks to me like traditional publisher mindset badly hybridised with SEO-driven strategy. That creates content with, uh, sub-optimal value.

I think the key here to to distinguish between the tools and the behaviours. The web has brought to the tools of publishers to brands (and, indeed, to anyone with internet access and a bit of creative spirit), but simply emulating the behaviours of traditional publishing is diminishing the value of that change. Imagine using your iPad in exactly the way that 1950s corporations used mainframe PCs, and you’ll get the general idea… Those behaviours were constructed in a different age, one that was less content-rich and attention-poor, and are slowly dragging too many old publishers down.

Antony’s point is a good one, and one that anyone now in the business of “publishing” should be focusing on: start with the notion of who you’re trying to reach, and perform for them:

  • Build an audience: Harking back to the post about audience management I wrote on the Brilliant Noise blog, the main concern of talent has to be to build an audience. The only way to do that is to be performing, creating, out there getting attention, even in a small way. If you’re smart you’ll be getting people on that mailing list, following you on Twitter and Facebook to find out more.
  • Find its voice: As well as building a fan base, getting out there with your work helps you develop your own voice. A lot of talent starts out copying others, then evolves their own way of doing things as they build confidence and learn from feedback.

The content creator as performer – where have we heard that idea before in the publishing business? Ah, yes, that’s right: gonzo journalism. I’d say that what he’s advocating here is essentially “gonzo brand journalism”.

Doesn’t that sound fun to create? More to the point, doesn’t that sound fun to interact with?

antony mayfieldbrand contentcontent strategygonzoJournalismmarketing

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.