Highlights from our branded content panel


Kicking off our first event of 2017, the Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association (RJAA) brought together an expert panel to discuss one of the industry’s dirty phrases – branded content.

Unlike more traditional forms of advertising such as advertorials, branded content doesn’t typically come off as a marketing ploy. Brands involved in these kinds of campaigns typically approach mainstream news outlets, asking the outlet to create and share branded stories, videos and other content. The huge success companies have had through this method of marketing is mainly due to effective storytelling. Pairing up with reputable outlets allows companies to create positive brand awareness and build relationships with potential customers.

The outsourcing of journalists to create branded content has raised many ethical questions, including whether marketing content should be allowed to blend in with regular content. The RJAA’s panel — Pacific Content’s Chris Boyce, The Huffington Post Canada’s Sasha Nagy, freelance journalist Andrea Janus, Key Media’s Joe Rosengarten and moderator John Shmuel, of LowestRates.ca  — tackled the ethics of branded content on April 6. Here’s what the audience of budding journalists and media professionals learned:

“Consumers don’t care”

Credibility is everything. For outlets and journalists, remaining loyal to their audience is essential. So when it comes to getting paid to produce branded content, it’s no surprise that one of the most pertinent questions journalists ask is – what will the audience think? As Boyce said candidly, “Consumers don’t care.” The reason for this, Nagy said, is that brands need to meet a standard before they can work with many media outlets. The quality, authenticity and credibility of good branded content needs to be on par with regular content. As long as that standard is met, the panelists agreed that consumers don’t care if they’re consuming regular or sponsored content.

Transparency is key

A lot of discomfort about branded content is about ethics. In some cases, branded stories appear beside regular content and are hard to tell apart. “You do need to make sure you’re being very transparent,” said Janus, who has worked on numerous content assignments. Any work should be clearly labeled as sponsored or have the brand logo attached, she said.

Journalists are the ultimate storytellers but have competition

There’s a reason why brands choose to pay media outlets big bucks. Journalists understand how to connect and inform audiences in a way that few companies have traditionally understood. But, as Boyce noted, an increasing number of brands have created their own departments to generate content. This new trend may create some competition for outlets profiting from branded content. Profit generated from creating branded content goes towards producing actual journalism, Nagy noted. The panelists agreed that as brands move to in-house content creation, media outlets need to stay competitive, or risk losing a source of revenue.

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