Meredith Red, vice president of public relations firm Casey & Sayre Inc. in West Los Angeles, was looking for a jazzy new-media way to get the word out about client AT&T Inc.’s water conservation efforts in light of the state’s drought.

So she made a two-minute video about mobile apps that help consumers conserve water and weaved in AT&T’s own water-saving strategies.

She sent the video off two weeks ago to her media contacts, and it was picked up by two local TV channels in Bakersfield, which aired it as part of their news segments.

It used to be that PR firms would cast out a press release to hundreds of journalists and hope some of them would do their own story based on it. But today, many firms are creating their own stories and videos to promote their clients – a controversial practice called “branded journalism.” These videos and articles mimic regular journalism albeit with subtle but distinctly favorable treatment of paying clients. They tend to get picked up by bloggers, various websites and small-town media outlets.

Casey & Sayre has even built a video studio inside its new office in West Los Angeles so that it can do more of these projects.

“Being able to shoot my own video and then going straight to the editing bay and being able to cut that myself, I’m an all in one,” said Red, who is also the firm’s director of technology and digital media.

Michael Sitrick, founder of public relations firm Sitrick and Co., also built a studio inside its Brentwood office after moving there last year. The agency has muscled up its digital practice, adding six executives last month.

But, Sitrick said, branded journalism isn’t the same as getting coverage from traditional media outlets.

“One is voicing an opinion and the other is the third-party, independent reporting that looks at all the facts and makes a determination,” he said. “I’m not saying blogs don’t have their place (and) they don’t have impact. They do, but they don’t take the place of what I call independent media.”

Red, who writes a tech blog on mobile apps called App Chick for the firm, agreed that traditional media is more effective but noted that branded content allows for additional engagement. She also makes it clear to reporters and her audience that the content is branded.

“It’s a bit of a gray area,” she acknowledged. “But I always wear the AT&T shirt so they know I work for the company and there’s no confusion that that’s why I’m there. I’m very clear and up front.”

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