Brand Journalism, Disclosure and Sponsored Content

In this video, SAP’s CMO Jonathan Becher (@jbecher), discussed “brand journalism, disclosure, and sponsored content” with one of the leading independent analysts in the IT industry, Jon Reed (@JonERP).

I was thrilled that they discussed the launch of our Business Innovation website where I am the chief editor (disclosure: I am a paid SAP employee.)

But I was more excited about the open discussion they had around the importance of full disclosure, about the need for brands to get involved in the conversation, to become like publishers and to reach out to new audiences with quality content.

Here is a summary of the discussion, a link to the video, along with a few tips to keep in mind for your own content marketing initiatives.


Jon and Jonathan spoke about a few very specific SAP examples. So I will summarize their points at a more generic or abstract level since I believe they apply to any brand or marketer or content contributor.

As additional background, I wrote this article called “Will Content Marketing Destroy Social Media” based on a Tweet during the Superbowl from a different analyst but on this same topic of sponsored content. With 47 comments, it was one of the most active discussions that have taken place here at B2B Marketing Insider.

Video Summary

Jon Reed framed the discussion by outlining that there is a big shift in media. There is brand journalism. Brands often sponsor content, alongside advertisements and this raises issues of disclosure, transparency and authenticity.

Jon mentioned that there is some criticism of brands who produce great content as members of an active community and then also produce sponsored content which “has a whole different vibe.”

According to SAP CMO Jonathan Becher, everyone is struggling with the question of what is our message vs. what is someone else’s message. “The lines are blurring,” he says. Everyone agrees that brand employees should be part of the conversation and interact with the community.

But should brands censor their own “promotional” messages or certain voices? Jon Reed said “we’re all being paid by someone.” And so they both agreed that employees and other evangelists should all be part of the conversation as long as they achieve this full disclosure: explain who is paying you and for what?

But then Jonathan explained that brands are always looking to achieve greater reach. To achieve that, to participate in new conversations on other communities, brands need to reach out to third-party channels.

When a brand participates on a third-party site, there should be full disclosure that you are a brand employee. And if the space is paid for, that should also be disclosed. Bottom line is that authors of content should disclose their employer and should disclose if they are getting paid to write an article.

The pair also discussed the need for brands to become like publishers and magazine editors and develop sites that “earn eyeballs” through use of thought leadership, featured content and news. These sites should set the bar high for the quality of the content. And they need to be meticulous about disclosing transparent relationships and presenting a balanced view.

Key Messages

  • A strong brand will have active and socially engaged employees
  • Contributors on any site should fully disclose their employer and any paid arrangements
  • Companies are beginning to realize that in order to reach a larger audience, they need to think like publishers
  • Leading companies are creating content destinations that provide high-valuable content to potential customers
  • Disclosure is an important issue for these sites as well

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

4 thoughts on “Brand Journalism, Disclosure and Sponsored Content

  1. This is an interesting conversation, but overlooks an important fact: SAP doesn’t really sell software, it sells INTELLIGENCE – software is simply they end product of that intelligence. Almost all products today are the result of intelligence. Talk to an organic farmer about growing anything and you will have a more intelligent conversation that just “well, I buy the seeds, put them in the ground, and see what happens.”

    I don’t know why either the company or media maintain the desire for “gray” areas at all. As Jonathan Becher rightly pointed out, why would SAP really want to be “sneaky” about disseminating and imparting their intelligence? The “free markets” these days are defined by the competition of ideas and intelligence, not products – they are reflective of the end result. Particularly “professional” buyers are aware that their decisions will be based on how well the intelligence fit their needs.

    Many years ago, when I worked for a financial publication, I made a presentation to a major German bank to buy a page facing the cover story every month, on which it would provide intelligent insights into the German economy, because the magazine’s editorial content didn’t. The CMO asked me if they were going to have to put “advertisement” on the top of the page. I said no; they’d have to put the name of the bank on the top of the page. It was, after all, THEIR intelligence behind what was written. That campaign, approved by the board, ran for over 25 years and expanded into dozens of publications in many languages, and was featured in its annual reports.

    The pigeon dance between PR and advertising is not only blurred today because of social media and other outlets, it should be done away with. Corporate culture and brand reflect the mission and values of a company throughout its organization and products in fulfilling their economic purpose. Unless all of that is nefarious – definitely hard these days, too – there is nothing wrong with an intelligent conversation, paid or unpaid.

    1. Thanks Patric, I appreciate your comments. You should be a blogger?! I agree that we live in the information age and just about everything can be boiled down to that commodity. And you have to give equity to get equity. The trick is to give it freely and with the intention of adding value not with the expectation of value in return. That is what we’re striving for. Customer success will bring company success.

  2. Good one. An absolutely critical issue as the lines blur between… well, between everything and everything else.

    A reputation for scrupulous honesty and fair play will pay dividends. The opposite will bite you in the ass. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day.

    1. That’s right Doug. The grey area occurs when a publisher offers an employee of an advertiser the opportunity to blog. Maybe the publisher is doing so to influence an ad buying decision. And if the advertiser already pays the publisher for ads, should they disclose the relationship on the blog? These are the questions we faced with one publisher where the authors are all labeled as employees of the advertiser and the blogs are labeled “AdVoice” = “voice of the advertiser.” Some of our influencers felt that we should have gone further. It’s not always completely clear in all these kind of situations.

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