Ike Pigott argues that, as the number of conventional journalists plummets, corporations will have to hire their own “embedded” journalists to fill the void. As he puts it:
The embeds of the future will work for the company, and be paid by the company to provide news about the company in a multitude of formats. Print, newsletter, video, blog, podcast, moving billboards, tattoos — whatever it takes. Because the bits and pieces of Corporate America that have a story to tell will still have their stories – just no ready outlets.
How is this different than what you have today? Surely there are corporate PR departments and external agencies already doing these things, right?
What is required is an internal producer who writes in external voice — like the neutral point-of-view so often described by Wikipedia. People can smell marketing and propaganda coming around the corner, and they know when the pitches and puff pieces are missing that edge of neutrality. An accurate and fair piece is accurate and fair, no matter who writes it.
It’s an interesting theory, but it seems to presuppose dual marketing communication efforts, with separate departments of “Straightforwardness” and “Hype”. That may work at some companies, but in most cases I think it will be more practical to try to infuse straightforwardness through multiple parts of the marcom effort.
My more specific quick responses include:
- That sure sounds a lot like Robert Scoble in his Microsoft days.
- It also sounds like “community managers” at MMO game companies. (Both of the MMOs I’ve played have had great ones.) They often only use one or two channels (forums and the associated general website), but otherwise they fit the bill.
- Ike’s views fit very well with mine on the future of the information ecosystem.
- I’m getting ever more sympathetic to the idea that you need people whose main job is external communication of a straightforward kind. Reasons include:
- Senior executives who write great blogs commonly don’t keep them up. And even when they’re active, the blogging is pretty sparse. E.g., among companies I follow closely, Vertica, Aster Data, and Netezza have all done some outstanding blogging in the past, but do very little of it now. Only Dave Kellogg at Mark Logic really keeps going.
- It’s not obvious that senior executives are wrong to spend their time at something other than blogging. One of the greatest vendor blogs ever was Jonathan Schwartz’s at Sun. Umm — how sure are we that he actually did much good for his company with that effort?
- I frequently tell vendors “If you tell Story X in your own words, I’ll gladly point to it or post it for you.” They usually agree this is a wonderful idea — but then usually don’t free up the rather limited resources that would be required to take me up on it.
- That said, the kinds of people who provide customer support (pre- or post-sales) are often very well suited to fill the role Ike is describing. At least, that’s the case in enterprise tech companies.
- The media mix isn’t really as complex as Ike was suggesting. It basically falls into two groups: Text, and audio/video.
- That said, text/graphics and audio/video media people are increasingly the same. (Just think of sports media, where the newspaper folks make their big bucks on radio or TV. That’s a harbinger of the future. Or think again of Scoble.)
- One flaw of Ike’s idea is that in its pure form it only makes sense for companies large enough to have multi-person PR staffs. Other firms would have to use part-timers, or outsource. And if you’re going to do that, might it not make more sense to pay part of the cost of sponsoring, you guessed it, an independent blog?
- I know that’s text/graphics-only, or at least text/graphics-mainly, but I happen to think audio/visual business news/PR is minor anyway. People may give enough attention to, for example, listen to audio from a company if it purports to teach them something. But news ABOUT a company? Who’s so interested in that to sit still for audio/video, unless they happen to be employees, or investors in its stock?
Bottom line: I think he’s wrong about some of his detailed views, but Ike Pigott is directionally very right in suggesting that newsmakers will increasingly become content creators for news about themselves.