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Communications Innovation: Brand Journalism and Cisco’s Corporate News Site

Brand journalism. Depending on what hat you wear in your organization,  you’ve likely heard, read or even followed the buzz around this relatively new trend in communications. Maybe, you’ve even tried it.

“At it’s most basic level, brand journalism involves honest brand storytelling that invites audiences to participate” says Kyle Monson, former tech journalist and editor at PC Magazine in a his article Dispelling the Darkness with Brand Journalism.

While brand journalism, or brand content as some prefer to call it, is talked about quite a bit, it is not as easy to find it in practice.  I know this, because I lead the content efforts on The Network, Cisco’s technology news site.

Several months ago we started “experimenting” with brand journalism (although, at the time, we really didn’t call it that…we just saw an opportunity and went for it). We began working with a team of seasoned journalists, names you no doubt know and have likely followed for years if you are a true technology enthusiast. Our expectations of the writers were, and still are, very simple: pitch and produce good, solid stories around topics that we, Cisco, are interested in such as collaboration, video, core networking, cloud, mobility and security to name a few. There is no requirement to mention Cisco at all, in fact a vast majority of the stories don’t…and that is just fine. Our goal is to lead the conversation, to spark engagement, to identify trends relevant to our business and the industry.

So that is the “brand storytelling” Monson refers to. As for the stories inviting “audiences to participate,” that is where sitting on the social media team really kicks this effort into high gear. Not only is social woven into everything we produce from commenting to social actions…we encourage our fans to take our content, republish it, share it…all we ask is that we’re credited. I’m telling you…this is the best deal around. We are offering FREE content from award winning, noted journalists on topics you are interested in. It might very well be the best deal of the decade…in my humble opinion.

I don’t think it can be stressed enough, this is a very different way of communicating at the corporate level. It looks and feels different and, to be very honest, we as a team get challenged, at times, on our approach by our own peers as they try to understand this new way of communicating. But, to me, this is where it gets exciting. This is where the real innovation starts to happen. I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a senior engineer at Cisco. He told me, if you have an idea and everyone around you supports it right off the bat, then it is not innovative…it is too obvious and likely has already been done, or soon will be. Alternatively, if you have an idea that causes a bit of disruption and you get some push back…you are likely onto something.

I’d say The Network is onto something. We’ve designed a very social site chock-full of solid content that is aligned with the company’s overall communications goals. While still in the experimental stage, we have gained recognition in the industry, most notably 2012 Webby Awards Official Honoree and Best Online Newsroom of the Year (Silver) 2011 Bulldog Digital/Social PR Awards. And, it’s not just Marketing and Communications pros taking note, top journalism schools are asking to learn more about what we are doing as they prepare their students for an industry in flux.

See for yourself what we are doing. Visit The Network. Read our stories. And better yet, Take. Share. Engage. The stories are there for the taking.

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12 Comments.


  1. Brand Journalism might honestly be the future of brand growth and recognition, and is a Win for everyone involved. The user gets top-quality content for free, the journalist gets further exposure, and the company becomes the authority on the topics at hand. Very exciting stuff!

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  2. David Deans

    Karen, this is a very timely topic, as Cisco further transforms its corporate communications talent pool.

    I prefer the term “commercial storytelling” — because when marketers think about their brand as a focal point, the editorial tends to be more like a press release posing as a blog post. Then it’s unlike a meaningful story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

    Regarding your point about encouraging others to use and republish Cisco’s content; it would help your goal of sharing if you used a “Creative Commons” license on published content, and if all Cisco blog RSS feeds included the whole body text — rather than just an excerpt.

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    • Karen Snell

      David, Thank you for the comment…and yes, I think anywhere we can insert the word “storytelling” to remind communicators of this…is a good thing. As far as our guidelines on republishing, we do ask that when our content is taken that the following is used: “Used with the permission of The Network, Cisco’s technology news site (link to The Network).” Can you expand upon what it is you mean by “Creative Commons?” I’m familiar with the site…but not so much on what they offer in full. I imagine others would be interested in learning more as well.

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  3. David Deans

    Karen, the various forms of Creative Commons license were created to make it easier to define the attribution characteristics of content — how others can republish, with the appropriate assumed permissions.

    As an example, when we launched the Business Technology Roundtable, it included a Creative Commons license in the footer http://business-technology-roundtable.blogspot.com/

    Back in 2008, when we launched, this was the best way to incorporate independent co-authors and also make the content readily available for open syndication — to sites such as SysCon-Media http://daviddeans.sys-con.com/

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  4. Brand Journalism might honestly be the future of brand growth and recognition

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  5. So if I understand this right, this is on a giant scale what people do when they write content, mentioning their website or linkin to it, and put a creative commons license on it so others will use it on their site, therefore spreading the message of the website mentioned or linked.

    Except here, you are taking it to a whole new level, giving away content with your brand plastered into it. A large amount of free, genuinely useable and well written, content all containing mention of your brand. A new form of advertisement is born.

    Am I getting this right?

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    • Karen Snell

      M Massey, You’ve got it just about right, the only difference I would point out is that our brand is NOT “plastered” into. The content is sponsored by Cisco, and we are proud of that, but the stories that are told and the articles written are about industry trends and though leadership in the industry as opposed to our products and services specifically. And what we are saying is that, we are producing this GREAT content written by named journalists…if you are interested in this area of tech and business…then take our content and share it.
      Hope this clarifies it a bit.

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    • It wouldn’t work, as a concept, if the brand and its messages were plastered over the content. It has to be more subtle than that, otherwise the audience it’s aimed at will see it as a clumsy attempt to sell to them and they will be put off.

      I do find the term “brand journalism” problematic though.

      Should any brand that embarks upon this strategy ever find itself in the position where one of its tame journalists writes something overtly critical of that brand, its products/services etc, it is highly likely that piece of content would never be published.

      It’s not really journalism. It’s the one thing about this whole approach that has the least credibility, sadly… the name “brand journalism” as it’s an attempt to apply a veneer of authenticity to something that actually doesn’t need it.

      It’s PR. Good PR. The kind that addresses a wide range of audiences and attempts to communicate with them via a range of channels.

      And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

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  6. Honestly, this is the first time I’m really getting how this really works. I had liitle knowledge prior to reading this article. I think I’ve got an idea from here! Great article!

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  7. Brand Journalism might honestly be the future of brand growth and recognition, and is a Win for everyone involved. The user gets top-quality content for free, the journalist gets further exposure, and the company becomes the authority on the topics at hand. Very exciting stuff!

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  8. Brand Journalism might honestly be the future of brand growth and recognition

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  9. It’s always best to create a brand that people are familiar with. I think someone is a lot more likely to read an article on yahoo.com than yourblog.com unless you build your blog up so that it is a brand.

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