Category Archives: Content

Corporate Journalism: When Marketing and Media Collide

I spoke last night at a CMO Club dinner in Boston on the topic of Corporate Journalism. (Many thanks to Pete Krainik for the opportunity.) I’ve written about some of this before, but here’s the gist of what I talked about:

In early 2002, I was working at McKinsey in a newly formed internal communications group called Knowledge Services. The group formed to develop new methods to capture the intellectual capital the consultants were creating through their client work.

Our first task was cleaning up an internal document repository called PDNet, which contained more than 11,000 documents, most of them PowerPoint decks that were relevant only to the people who wrote them. The problem? The documents had no context, just a bunch of bullet points and factoids. Without the consultant to provide the story around the slides, their usefulness to anyone beyond the authors was limited.

Our group was asked to audit those documents, weed out the outdated, irrelevant and redundant ones, and add context to the rest.

For the latter task, we came up with a basic approach: get the authors on the phone, get them to talk through the slides, and ask them a few questions to fill in any holes. We then transcribed the conversations, edited them, and appended the text to the slides. Instant context. The documents were now much more valuable to new associates coming on board, or anyone else who needed to get up to speed quickly on a topic.

An interesting thing happened during these calls. The consultants we interviewed about documents they wrote 3 or 4 or 5 years ago would often respond, “I’m happy to talk to you about this document, but what we should really be talking about is the current work I’m doing with X client.” We had tapped into a vein of intellectual capital that hadn’t been mined – it was bouncing around inside the consultant’s heads or on their hard drives, and they hadn’t had time to develop it further to make it sharable.

This led us to create a new service line: creating articles and white papers that the consultants could share directly with clients or pitch to external publications. It was basically the same process as described above: We would interview the consultants, have them walk through whatever supporting PowerPoint deck they had cobbled together, ask a few clarifying questions, do some additional research, and deliver back to them a first draft of a paper.

The consultants loved it, because the process was easy for them – spend an hour on the phone with an editor, then review/revise two or three drafts until the paper was client-ready. It was a very efficient way to capture and share the firm’s learnings and enhance McKinsey’s already impressive thought leadership on key topics.

This was the beginning of what I and former colleague David Churbuck dubbed “corporate journalism.” We didn’t invent the phrase, but we glommed onto it as a way to explain to people how our approach was different from traditional mar-comm.

(The phrase may have been coined in a book called “Beyond Spin: The Power of Strategic Corporate Journalism,” by Markos Kounalakis, Drew Banks and Kim Daus in (2000). More recently, consultant David Meerman Scott applied many of the principles of corporate journalism in his book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” which talks about new methods for marketers who now have the power of digital media to communicate directly with their target audience.

In a broad sense, “corporate journalism” means applying journalism skills –writing, editing, objectivity, interviewing, research, and a good bullshit detector – to marketing communications.

Corporate journalism is an effective method for uncovering hidden pockets of knowledge within your organization. It can be used to capture the expertise of your subject matter experts – from the CEO down to the front-line worker – and publish that information in ways that better position your company as a trusted resource in your market or industry.

There are three main benefits to this approach.

1. Influence – aka thought leadership. By tapping into the knowledge across your entire organization (not just from your executives), you can develop fresh insights about your company, your products, your customers, and the industry you serve. You can then package this information in a way that establishes you as an expert in your market space.

2. Credibility. The concept of corporate journalism also means unleashing journalists inside your company to ferret out the trouble spots. In this time of transparency and authenticity, corporate journalism means presenting the bad with the good. Otherwise people will just view it as more spin.

I’m not talking necessarily about taking all of this information public, but you’d be well served to uncover pockets of discontent among employees or customers before someone else blogs or tweets about it.

Being open and honest in your communications will build trust among your customers or prospects.

3. Reach. If you create content that is authentic and believable, and you openly share that content with your community, good things will happen:

  • Others will link to it.
  • They will comment on it.
  • They will share it with friends or colleagues.

As a result, your sphere of influence will expand. Your website will become a destination. You can actually host a conversation instead of (or in addition to) chasing it around the blogosphere.

You will give customers, prospects, or any other constituent a reason to come to your site, and a reason to return.

What makes for compelling content?

There’s no real rocket science here. It has to be:

  • Informative
  • Timely
  • Relevant
  • Accessible

For all of your target groups.

The accessibility piece is key, and often overlooked. It’s often hard to find useful information on a corporate website. That’s why more marketers need to treat their corporate site as a living, breathing media site – lead with your best/most timely content, offer user-oriented navigation, and make it all searchable, sharable, and ratable.

What kind of content can you create?

The good thing about capturing the insights of employees and executives across your company is that it can be packaged and distributed in many ways. In the early days of digital media we called it “skinning the pig” – how many ways can you package a single source of content? For example, from one on-camera interview with a subject matter expert, you can create a video or podcast that can be published on your site. You can also use the transcripts as the basis for:

  • Q&A’s
  • White papers
  • Website copy
  • Articles for external placement

    You can then promote and link to those assets via:

    • Blog posts
    • Twitter tweets
    • Facebook groups
    • Social networks specific to your industry

    That’s a pretty broad set of assets from a single source of content. And it’s a much better approach than sending out press releases and hoping that someone writes a story about you. (A quick aside – journalists generally don’t read press releases – and just because the search engines pick them up doesn’t mean anyone else reads them either.)

    This combination of corporate journalism and social media can be a powerful platform for exchanging ideas and information, across your company (internally) and outside your organization and with partners, suppliers, customers.

    Corporate Journalism in Practice

    I just wrapped up an engagement with Manpower, the global employment services agency. Their corporate website is about as pedestrian as it gets – lots of traditional marketing copy, some press releases, a few white papers or research reports. Nothing inherently current, and nothing remotely compelling to the thousands of temps and contract workers that the company places with clients.

    Manpower’s business is fueled by corporate clients who hire Manpower to fill gaps in its workforce, either temporarily or full time; relationships with the individual workers are mostly transactional (give us your resume, we’ll match you with an employee). But the company decided it needed a better connection to these job candidates. Two years ago, it commissioned a new web property that would serve as a career management resource for professionals, specifically those in IT, engineering and finance – a key focus for future business growth.

    I was brought in as part of a team of consultants with Truman Company to help Manpower develop the content strategy for the new site.

    Our first step was to audit their existing content. We asked the marketing team for their content; they gave us white papers and press releases. They weren’t thinking about content the same way as we did – so we cast a wider net to gather any material that drove their business – executive presentations, the reference guides given to job candidates at local branches, sales support materials, and so on. They had a boatload of useful information about interviewing skills, resume preparation, local job markets, workplace diversity issues, etc., but they had never published most of this material anywhere electronically.

    The next step was to re-cast this content and make it Web-ready and suitable for the target audience.

    Next, we recruited a group of internal subject matter experts – career counselers, diversity experts, HR professionals – to blog for the new site.

    We also filmed corporate executives on the topic of career management, and posted the videos on the site.

    We also conducted formal and informal interviews with a broad range of internal stakeholders to identify the top-of-mind issues from their dealings with clients and job candidates – and turned those insights into articles or online discussion forum topics.

    The site, called MyPath, is currently in public beta. There are still plenty of kinks to work out, but this site represents a HUGE cultural shift for Manpower. They are embracing the concept of engaging directly with a core target audience. They are attempting to shift their business model on the fly to serve them well into the future. And they’re doing it by embracing the fact that they’re now a media company that can create compelling content to engage directly with the people who use their services.

    The last example comes from the public sector and is referenced here.

    Any marketer can learn from these examples. There’s inherent value in talking with your constituents – be they internal employees or external customers or prospects – to find out what they really think about a topic, an issue, a brand, a strategy. 

    It’s not easy. It often requires a culture change – specifically, how introspective are you willing to be? How much of the onion are you willing to peel back to find out how people really feel about your company and its products or services? And how much of that knowledge are you willing to openly share with your constituents?

    Corporate journalism is a great way to:

    • take the pulse of your target audience,
    • develop insights that can be packaged and served back to the community,
    • engage and build credibility with the customers and prospects who will help your business grow well into the future.

    The good news: There’s no shortage of out-of-work (or soon to be unemployed) journalists who have the skills to assist any marketer heading down this path.

    MySpace the Media Company

    As traditional media companies attempt to turn their Web properties into social networking sites, it seems that MySpace is evolving into a media company. The New York Times makes that point in an article explaining how MySpace, though still operating independently under News Corp., is taking on many of the characteristics of traditional media companies as it builds out its own content. The site has “become very mainstream. It’s about consuming content and discovering pop culture,” co-founder Chris DeWolfe told the Times, which goes on to say:

    As a result, the MySpace site resembles a portal like Yahoo or AOL as much as a social networking site. Peter F. Chernin, the president and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, called MySpace a “contemporary media platform” and said the site existed to “create content and connect people to one another.”

    A quick view of the homepage shows that the portal comparison is correct. New sections devoted to news, politics and celebrities all feature original or licensed content (in addition to the site’s traditional user-generated content, including, for example, links to celebrity MySpace pages). It’s a pretty clear indication of where MySpace is going, since the new content is a way to attract advertisers – the lifeblood of any media company – without soiling the personal profile pages of MySpace’s gazillion members.

    I don’t know if the “mediatization” of MySpace spells doom to the purists who just go there to connect with friends. And there are plenty of people pointing to MySpace’s slowing growth as a sign that the site’s appeal has peaked, but if I were AOL, MSN or Yahoo – or any other media company trying to reload to stay competitive – I’d be plenty worried.

    Corporate Journalism and the Benefits of Authenticity

    Lately, I’ve been categorizing my editorial consulting work as “corporate journalism” – the practice of creating balanced, fact-based content for marketers. It’s a more authentic alternative to the usual PR drivel and marketing fluff that companies have traditionally used to annoy customers, journalists and other target groups. The content can take many forms: white papers (reported with real-person interviews, not made-up quotes), articles, blog posts, video, etc. – all the stuff you’d see on a typical media site. The content development work is also similar to traditional journalism: understand the target audience (customers vs. readers), identify the experts (internal and external), and get them to help you tell the story (through interviews or direct contributions). The result is more engaging, more believable marketing communications. (And it’s a good next career step for disgruntled, aging journalist types.)

    I take no credit for coining the term. I first heard it from David Churbuck when talking about the time we spent together at McKinsey helping to re-do the company’s knowledge management platform (a Herculean task). He may or may not have borrowed the phrase from the 1999 book “Beyond Spin.” From the publisher’s description:

    In Beyond Spin, three experts detail the techniques of corporate journalism–an ingenious communications model that hinges on open, accurate, and strategically weighted reporting inside a corporation.  

    I wouldn’t go so far as calling the practice “ingenious,” but corporate journalism is an important step away from traditional PR/marketing. Churbuck takes a broader view of the concept than the book’s apparent (I never read it) focus on internal mar-com; he uses the phrase to refer to the lens through which companies must view external communications as well:

    Organizations need to report upon themselves with the objective eye of a journalist, holding any statement or action up to the same skeptical, unconflicted scrutiny that an outsider would hold, to determine how it will sit with the most important segment of its public – its customers.

    I found another good post on the topic at Contentious.com, this one dating back to 2004:

    It takes courage on the part of the corporate communications/PR people to step beyond the simplistic goal of persuasion – to acknowledge and address controversy, shortcomings and skeptical or critical perspectives without being dismissive. In short, to try to fairly present more than just the preferred corporate view.

    Random end note: Google “corporate journalism” and the Wiley book and Churbuck’s blog entry both trail a 3800-word Noam Chomsky Q&A with Radio Havana on conformist subservience, building a better world, and Cuba’s courage in the face of the repressive American superpower. I’m still trying to make the connection.   

    Wikipedimania

    I love Wikipedia. I rely on it almost daily for my research. The community-written encyclopedia is as comprehensive a resource as you can find on the Web these days, and it has become so popular that students and judges alike are relying on it. Which, of course, is generating some controversy.

    I was a tad surprised to read in the New York Times yesterday that more than 100 judicial rulings have cited Wikipedia as a source. Judges quoted in the story say they use the online resource for “soft facts” that are not critical to the case (to which the Times reporter rightly wonders, then why bother? But that’s a topic for a judicial blog). But it could set an interesting precedent.

    The eggheads at Middlebury College are concerned too – they recently voted to ban students’ use of Wikipedia as a source for papers or other academic work.

    The problems stem from concerns over the accuracy of the information, the agendas of the people posting the information, and the policies and procedures for correcting inaccurate entries. As neutral as Wikipedia claims to be, it’s hard to believe that everyone who contributes to it has no agenda other than to spread the glorious truth. Just the fact that such a small slice of the population posts anything to it – consider Jakob Nielson’s 90-9-1 theory about the inequality of participation on the Web – raises unavoidable questions about the points of view driving some of the entries.

    Marketonomy’s Christopher Kenton has an interesting observation:  

    The problem with Wikipedia is that eventually someone has to make up the rules that define how content is shaped into “fact”.  And to paraphrase an old saw, the reality with Wikipedia is that “Fact is determined by the rulemaker.”

    Of course, you can argue that the same point applies to any other textbook or edition of Encyclopedia Brittanica ever written: Some editor or group of editors determine the rules around the content being published.

    Kenton also cited the poopstorm brewing after a Microsoft employee asked a respected source in the software development community to weigh in on what the Microsoftie perceived as inaccuracies for an entry on a technical specification known as OOXML. This is more about the animosity the open software geeks have toward Microsoft, but it also shines a light on how groups with competing agendas may try to manipulate Wikipedia toward their version of the “facts.”

    Wikipedia’s founders have put in plenty of safeguards to ensure the accuracy of entries. Their Neutral Point of View is a fascinating if sometimes convoluted read, including this passage on how to present facts about opinions (as opposed to the opinions themselves):

    But it is not enough, to express the Wikipedia non-bias policy, just to say that we should state facts and not opinions. When asserting a fact about an opinion, it is important also to assert facts about competing opinions, and to do so without implying that any one of the opinions is correct. It is also generally important to give the facts about the reasons behind the views, and to make it clear who holds them. It is often best to cite a prominent representative of the view.

    Talk about an unenforceable policy! Considering the site’s growth – more than 1.6 million English-language entries and another 2.7 million combined in other languages – it will be increasingly difficult to keep bogus entries from falling through the cracks. That won’t keep me from using it, though. Thank God I don’t have to write any more term papers.

    Mobile TV Trends

    Do you dream of watching TV from your mobile phone? I don’t. But apparently others do, which is why handset makers, carriers, and the numerous other service providers that make up the mobile ecosystem are toiling like Santa’s elves to make mobile TV a reality.

    Actually, it already is real – a company called MobiTV has more than 1 million subscribers to its service, which streams programming from ESPN, Fox, MSNBC, The Weather Channel and many other cable channels to Sprint, Cingular and Alltel customers. Another company, GoTV Networks, produces original on-demand programming with channels like Hip Hop Official and College All Access for Sprint, Nextel and Cingular subscribers.

    It’s a complex environment, replete with competing technologies across multiple formats. Two standards are emerging for streaming TV-quality video to mobile phones. Nokia and other members of a group called the Mobile DTV Alliance are supporting DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds), which has been in test mode since 2005. Nokia recently launched its first DVB-H handset, the N92, in Vietnam and Indonesia. I read somewhere that the phone will cost the equivalent of $750 in Vietnam – immediately eliminating most Vietnamese consumers from consideration. Don’t expect to see the service in the U.S. until well into next year.   

    Nokia N92

    The other emerging standard is called FLO (Forward Link Only), developed by Qualcomm through its MediaFLO subsidiary. Qualcomm has Verizon Wireless in its corner for MediaFLO services, which were expected in the U.S. this year but are being pushed out to next year (at the earliest).

    I did an article on mobile advertising last month for The Advertiser (you can’t view it online, unfortunately) (posted here in PDF, courtesy of The Pohly Company, which published the mag for the Association of National Advertisers). The execs I interviewed spoke to the complexity of the medium. David Bluhm, CEO of GoTV, called mobile “10 times more complex than current channels,” adding, “It’s a nightmare, and it’s not getting better anytime soon.” The challenges stem from the form factor – it’s not easy getting quality video on a 2×2-inch screen – and the fact that video content must be optimized for all of the various handsets, accommodating different screen sizes, operating systems and various subfunctions.

    The complexity, of course, will be passed along to consumers in terms of monthly subscription fees, which will likely keep mobile video in its niche for the forseeable future. Expect advertisers to subsidize the costs, either through banner or in-video advertising or through a sponsorship model (less invasive). Advertisers have an opportunity through mobile video to develop the closest thing to a true one-to-one relationship with consumers – what’s more personal than a mobile phone? – but the technology also presents an opportunity for brands to royally screw up if they try to hijack the viewing experience.

    You can read the full Advertiser article (in PDF form) here, courtesy of The Pohly Company, which publishes the mag for the Association of Natin

    Online Video: The Empires Strike Back?

    Scott Kirsner wrote a thought-provoking piece for the San Jose Mercury News titled “As online video booms, the amateurs give way to big media.” The premise, as captured by the headline, is that Web-based video, once dominated by camcorder-toting and webcam-preening consumers, is in the midst of a takeover by big media, which is finally waking up to the importance of the Internet for video. Here’s a telling quote:

    “Pirated content and user-generated content was all that was available on the Web (for a long time),” says Albert Cheng, executive vice president of digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group. “Once you see media companies such as ours putting more content online, I think there will be a shift in what people choose, back toward professionally produced content.”

    Typical big media attitude. What Cheng fails to understand is that if the professionally produced content sucks (hello, “20 Good Years”), no one will watch it. And if amateur content is entertaining, viewers will flock to it. That won’t change.

    My one beef with Scott’s article – and he knows a lot more about this topic than I do – is that he focuses on the extremes, positioning the argument as studio content vs., as he describes, Chinese teens lip-syncing to the Backstreet Boys. Less discussed, and more important in my view, is the massive middle: professional-quality video produced by so-called amateurs. There’s a lot of great content out there that may not be mass-market enough for big media, but it’s high quality and highly relevant to a particular audience.

    As Kirsner does note later in his article, this is the Long Tail applied to Web video. Chris Anderson talked about this during his session last week at MPlanet: “There’s an assumption that amateurs produce amateurish content. That’s not true. There’s still an appreciation for quality.” He added, importantly, that quality is less important than relevance. Big media, as it plots its strategy to take over the web video space, would do well to keep that in mind.

    Web 2.0 and Marketers

    Dana VanDen Heuvel, director of business development at Pheedo, gave a nice primer for Web 2.0-challenged marketers. He used some stats to prime the pump:

    • 73% of adults are online (147 million people)
    • 106 million MySpace users
    • 60 million blogs (doubling every six months)
    • 195 million cell phone users
    • 87% of kids aged 12-17 are online
    • 6.98 billion video streams by 100 million Internet users in August
    • 61.4% of Internet users have connected to a social networking site
    • Online research influences 77% of the $25.1 billion in consumer electronics purchases

    The full presentation is here.