It was almost a year ago that I interviewed Ira Basen on The intersection of public relations and journalism in the digital age on PR Conversations, a post that was quite popular and seemingly influential.
In my most-recent Conversations Byte on Maximize Social Business, I provided a case study about Conversations2013 doing a rethink and a reboot as a “social” public relations conference. In the latter portion I focused on Basen’s keynote: DIY News: Content Marketing and the Future of PR.
Because it was through social that I learned his thinking has evolved regarding the terms brand journalism and content marketing, I’m now sharing pertinent information here.
The long-awaited “Brand New World” CBC Radio documentary on aired in early September 2013. Although exact content is unknown, I do know that Ira Basen has settled on the term corporate media.
This term was one of the most retweeted pieces of information during his Conversations2013 keynote.
Who influenced Ira Basen re: the corporate media term?
I know numerous subject experts have been interviewed, primarily under the umbrella term of “content marketing.” However, it was another journalist, Tom Foremski (of Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! fame), who proved the decisive influencer in shifting Basen’s terminology to corporate media, primarily because of his October 2012 post and argument:
If Hugo Boss journalists or Versace hacks, produce an investigative series into child labor in the clothing industry, or something like that, I’ll eat a Hugo Boss pocket square. And the Pulitzer committee will give them a prize.
My problem is with the term not with the changes in PR and communications. I prefer words to be used accurately while many in PR tend to use words to promote and market.
I prefer the term corporate media. Corporate media spans the entire spectrum of publishing by a corporation. It can include material that is journalistic in its construct and intent. For example, large companies such as Cisco, IBM, and Intel employ people who used to be senior journalists and veteran broadcasters to produce corporate media, but is that journalism?
If corporations want to produce journalism they have to approach this goal in a different way. I think corporate media could win a Pulitzer prize if done right. And I believe it will happen—I’d like to help make that happen.
But trying to rebrand PR work as “brand journalism” is not the way forward.
In light of the above extracts from Can PR People Become Brand Journalists? What Is It? (provided to me directly, following his keynote), I invite you to read the Storify version of Ira Basen’s keynote and spot the corporate media influence.
It’s also useful to watch the interview Kristine Simpson (of Young PR Pros) conducted with Ira Basen:
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Post-conference corporate media thoughts
In a retrospect, reading/watching of the Storify version and Young PR Pros interview, I found it interesting that corporate media was not highlighted; however that speaks to the subjective decisions made by individuals relating or curating events and/or interview questions asked as to what information is deemed the most important.
Of course the same subjectivity can be applied to my interest in this topic….
But even if the corporate media term was not used, the premise is evident in concepts found in both the Storify version and interview, such as:
- there’s now an opportunity for every company to be a publishing entity, with less need to get past the gatekeeper role of traditional media
- reach [and amplification] is extended as social media can distribute content all over the world (through SEO and various channels), meaning the possibility exists to create and own a [corporate media] news channel that will be valued and trusted.
- there are ethical challenges in being your own corporate media publisher, with a need to “step up your game” in regards to honesty, openness and transparency. [i.e., per Tom Foremski, stop thinking of corporate media simply as a means to promote and market; tell real news about your company, including the bad with the good]
- with direct publishing power comes great responsibility; remember that stereotypes about public relations developed for a reason
- [per the above point] the availability of corporate media should not give way to that propensity [by some practitioners] to spin things, lie or play fast and loose with the facts
- focus on practising honest and ethical public relations, so that over time the image and attitude about your company [and the PR industry’s] reputation will change
- a primarily role of PR practitioners may be persuasive communication and advocacy for your organization, but this can be done in an ethical way [including through corporate media publishing]
Jennifer Shepherd did a Living Tapestry of Ira Basen’s keynote session that is featured here:
I asked Bob Geller, who writes a great column on content marketing for Maximize Social Business (and who is a past contributor to this blog), what he thinks of the term. His response:
“Brand journalism” has always struck me as somewhat of an oxymoron, as true journalism is general, i.e., not so starkly held captive by commercial interests.
‘Corporate media’ doesn’t have this problem; it seems more neutral, expansive and accurate.”
Like Bob Geller, I also give a thumb-up to the concept of corporate media. That is, as long as the “fidelity to the source” principles demonstrated by global brand leaders like Cisco, IBM, Intel, Starbucks and Virgin are followed (companies I look to as mindful and agile thought leaders for the long term).
I do have a growing concern about perceived “influence manipulation” regarding content by industry-specific, for-profit vendor/supplier companies who sell products and services to PR practitioners (in-house or agency-side), particularly companies whose core services relate to various media.
How are they doing this? By predetermining who are the most influential marketing/PR practitioners relating to content marketing/corporate media (often consultants or small agencies active in social media), and giving them lucrative contracts and/or sponsorships. In return, the selected practitioners are expected to promote those same corporate media initiatives and platforms; for example, involving a select group of bloggers to influence decisions about housing your content marketing on a subscription-service site, rather than your own.
Can it really be corporate media if a third-party is involved in the hosting and/or influencers’ decision making?
There’s nothing unethical about entering into a partnership with a consultant. What is more murky is to reward those “paid” practitioners in kind, not only with monies and sponsorships, but by placing them on lists (without acknowledging the ongoing relationship), knighting him or her with a company-sponsored webinar or Twitter chat profile and gig, etc. In my post, I provided suggestions on how to make the process more transparent and accessible to be part of an organization’s social capital (or corporate media) in an honest fashion.
Regardless of these practices by some companies, I would recommend “owning” corporate media in its entirety, including the “licence to operate” communication and influencers that are highlighted. Or follow the modus operandi articulated by Ira Basen for both journalists and PR practitioners, in the above Young PR PRos interview or here on PR Conversations (including his 2007 speech linked to below).
Traackr has produced The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing and Influencer Strategy: How to build relationships and create content that drive business impact.
Although this document is oriented towards marketing and influencer strategies, many of the suggestions could be applicable to (non-transactional communication) corporate media initiatives. For example:
- co-author a white paper
- invite influencers to be involved in product development
- co-host webinars and presentations; and
- co-produce a web TV show
Once a firm date has been established for Ira Basen’s corporate media CBC Radio documentary, I will attempt to provide information here on PR Conversations, including subject experts highlighted. Plus link to the archived audio version, so that its reach and influence can be extended to an interested audience outside of the Canadian airing zone.
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Additional recommended reads
Ira Basen addresses challenges facing both public relations and media representatives (May 2007) Determine how Basen’s thinking has evolved since his initial appearance on PR Conversations.
Young PR Pros: Episode #56 – Answers to the negative PR stereotypes Young PR Pros speak to Conversations2013 subject experts regarding ways to overcome negative stereotypes about public relations.