Goodbye brand journalism and content marketing…hello DIY corporate media!

Evolving to corporate media

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.

For example, it was due to this late July 2012 interview that Ira Basen was invited a year later to be a keynote speaker at the CPRS Conversations2013 conference.

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 The Sunday Edition 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 CommPRObiz Part II 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).

Another resource

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

Access a copy here or register for /download your own (PDF file).


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.


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44 Replies to “Goodbye brand journalism and content marketing…hello DIY corporate media!

    1. Indeed, that was an interesting experience, seeing my information from a variety of places and times (including the wide-ranging interview from one year ago) cherry picked (sometimes mischaracterized–for example, I don’t think anyone but Ms. Piety thought the above post was a second interview between Ira and me) for a very specific argument against a documentary and its central theme, that has yet to air, purely based on the choice of the words “corporate media.”

      Definitely visit and have a read of Ira Basen and Tom Foremski’s comments over there, but as Tamara Piety has not debated me anywhere but on her own (now heavily edited post), I’d also invite you to comment here on PR Conversations, rather than over there….. 😉

      1. P.S. The trackback originally landed in the Spam filter. It’s only because I was more diligent than usual that it didn’t get automatically deleted.

  1. Judy – I know you may feel the following is marketing rather than corporate media, but it was interesting to hear Dominic Burch, head of social media at supermarket Asda (Walmart) talk at yesterday’s PR & Disruption conference about the need for companies to act like media owners.

    He explained how the use of ‘owned’ channels was a vital part of the company’s issues management as it enabled the direct communication with customers (and importantly, those who are advocates) where previously the only route to a large public would have been through a press contact on a national newspaper.

    As he said, six million people read Asda magazine and its in-store radio station has 19.5 million listeners each week (which is larger than the two most popular BBC stations). As well as this ‘corporate media’, there is a focus on the company’s facebook page for engagement of 1 million followers ( Rather than having chased the numbers, Dom argued in favour of connecting with those who really care – whether that’s about what we might think of as superficial things like the perfect filling for a toasted sandwich or supporting charity campaigns. The focus on connecting with their core advocates apparently was really helpful in communicating positioning around the recent horsemeat issue.

    What was also interesting is the focus on Facebook in respect of research that its main customer base of women with children check Facebook dozens of times each day and the quick approach of engaging them (even in whether they like red or green apples), is popular.

    Probably not an example of what Ira and you may be considering as quality corporate media, but interesting to hear someone with a PR description talk about the work which in many ways echoes the same approach that is used by PR agencies trying to get ‘fun’ coverage in newspapers.

    1. At the front end of his research I suspect Ira Basen was hearing about exactly this type of program and marketing communication. There’s nothing wrong with it–my main beef is the idea that all communication is marketing related.

      It sounds like a very interesting and (corporate) useful use of social media. Did anyone challenge Dominic Burch about whether Facebook could actually be considered an Asda “owned” channel? (In the words of Valeria Maltoni, Asda is actually a “sharecropper” on Facebook, not an owner.)

      1. Thanks Judy – one of the interesting things was precisely that ‘owned media’ was about more than marketing, but here I felt in a more credible way than perhaps the type of corporate (customer) magazine which are generally produced by publishing houses but where non-brand content (eg travel features) are used to engage readers or create an air of a wider interest magazine. Perhaps they fill Ira’s observations elsewhere about companies such as Nissan generating journalistic content, although here it feels more about puff than acting as a news or traditional media channel.

        Dom did not present Facebook as ‘owned’ (my lack of clarity in merging this with the in-store radio and customer magazine), however, the way Asda uses Facebook is very controlled, ie it generates all the posts. I believe the reason for considering Asda as ‘owned’ would be this, but also there is a pragmatism in going to where people are – but Dom undoubtedly is well aware of the issues of harvesting on someone else’s land, as this piece in Marketing Week shows:

        BTW on (honest) outcomes-based measurement reporting – as we’ve reached the thread limit there – undoubtedly any corporate media requires measurement and evaluation against clear outcomes. By this I wouldn’t mean the usual reach and reader satisfaction surveys that are conducted eg for brand magazines, but putting them into the mix of influencers on cognitive, affective and behavioural outcomes.

  2. Hi Judy — I pop in from time to time. To answer your question, no, I don’t think that the broader profession would see themselves under the umbrella of “corporate editor”. I was being facetious.

    I tend to agree with Sean on this one.

    Of course, corporate media are “biased”, but I think we’d all be better off if we understood that “media corporations” are biased too. There is no such thing as objective coverage, and I think the best information comes from sources that acknowledge their biases so you can interpret what they say in that context. For example, The Economist is very clear about promoting liberal economics and most mainstream media are acknowledged as being sympathetic with either the left or right on the political spectrum.

    When I started preparing my doctorate, one of the first things they started to drill into our heads was to become aware of our biases and explicitly address them in our writing to explain how they don’t weaken our argument, or if they could weaken our argument to suggest how those biases might inspire additional research.

    I have a great respect for journalists who are aware of their biases, acknowledge them and then try to challenge their own biases in their research and writing. The same would hold true for a writer for a corporate info source, a university or any other institution.

    1. Totally agree with you about bias, Kristen – and not only does a lot of mainstream media have an agenda that reflects political (or other) positioning, but decisions are often made on basis of funding considerations. Where once advertising and editorial may have been more separate, today the lines blur and we see coverage that is little more than puffery presented as news (especially in the hugely popular Mail Online). Additionally, there is consideration of advertiser income (arguably one reason for the sacrifice of the News of the World in the UK by News International).

      1. Kristen/Heather, of course we all have biases. But the ethical journalist (or corporate communicator) will still attempt to research and give space to thoughts and opinions on the other side of the bias spectrum. Particularly as sometimes you discover the “other side” holds (some) opinions close to yours (at the front end).

        For example, at my SABEW workshop yesterday, the lunch hour speaker detailed her investigative articles about (Canadian HQ’d) Barrick Gold’s Pascua-Lama project (for The Montreal Gazette), Catherine Solyom was provided with several local contacts (as well as airplane transportation, because the location is quite remote) by Barrick., to show how the company was working within the community.

        She indicated although many of the contacts were well-versed on the benefits, they also were as literate on the con aspects, particularly regarding the environmental impact.

        If interested, here is one of the main articles (which won a SABEW award this year):

        Precious Water, Precious Metals

        Although it’s unlikely that Barrick would produce on its own corporate media an article more negative than positive, acknowledging the impact its “extraction” has on both the environment/land and culture/people would demonstrate more corporate social responsibility (and less purely commercial bias).

        BTW, one of the best lines (at the reception at day’s end) was by Kevin Hall, chief economic correspondent for McClatchy News Service:

        Today the media is the world’s largest involuntary non-profit.

        (I’m paraphrasing.)

      1. It wasn’t just journalism schools, Don. The Enlightenment ushered in an era of Positivist thought that everything could be quantified and rendered objective. Without wanting to take this conversation way off track, an excessive focus on quantitative measures and objectivity is part of the cause of current economic woes and problems related to sustainability. There is a growing appreciation of the need to reintegrate quantitative and qualitative measures and to re-inject subjectivity into the workplace, but we’re still very far from achieving the right balance, especially at a societal level.

        1. Kristen,

          What I term ‘the myth of rational management’ includes this thinking that there are simple linear models of how the world works (including PR) and so easy causal relationships for measurement. Hence the biggest ‘disruption’ at the conference I attended yesterday was around Oyvind Ihlen’s statement that he didn’t believe in PR measurement. His point was more about how most measurement is reductionist and illusionary. This I believe includes ignoring the subjective and qualitative elements that you mention. So less that things cannot be ‘measured’ (although I would prefer to look at understanding rather than simply measuring), but that surveys and other more numerical approaches are often not helping when we need to look at meaning and other constructivist aspects.

          That could include the critical aspects required to consider the value of the best ‘independent’ journalism, the more subjective or even biased sources, and corporate media. Again discussion yesterday around how PR should support public broadcast journalism by Richard Bailey relates to this idea. Not to say that that type of media doesn’t have bias also as the BBC definitely does have certain agendas (some more obvious than others).

          I always love how a discussion can meander in different areas from an initial post, so thanks for bringing these aspects in Don and Kristen.

          1. Meander away, Heather. After all, I wrote:

            Of course the same subjectivity can be applied to my interest in this topic….

            Although the discussion hasn’t meandered into this area, here, what I’ve found interesting is on secondary platforms (for example, Twitter) some marketers are feeling threatened that corporate media might replace their precious “content marketing” term. Of course I’ve been told (quite definitely) that content marketing, both as a term and as a concept is here to stay.

            Of course marketers would be inclined to have that bias.

            Re: the statement from Oyvind Ihlen that he “didn’t believe in PR measurement. His point was more about how most measurement is reductionist and illusionary. This I believe includes ignoring the subjective and qualitative elements that you mention.”

            Reminded me of Philip Sheldrake’s recent correspondence: “I’m afraid my engineering training makes it very difficult for my blinkered mind to understand these sorts of formulae. For example, within a second of looking at it my mind was trying to see if the units ‘balance out’ eg, like Force = Mass x Acceleration 🙂

            But of course there are no units. And without units of magnitude, what does “divide by” mean?”

            Public relations measurement should be outcomes based, particularly in regards to (impact on) reputation and behaviour, which of course is much harder to measure than simple units, such as sign-ups and sales.

            Do you think corporate media would lend itself to (honest) outcomes-based measurement reporting?

  3. I’ve long come to terms with the fact that there is no good descriptor for our profession. If “corporate media” becomes common, than perhaps IABC should change its name back to the Association of Corporate Editors? 😉

    1. Nice to see you back commenting on PR Conversations, Kristen!

      Do you think IABC members who focus on other areas–internal communication, investor relations, government relations, community relations, crisis communication, etc.–would want to go under the “corporate editors” umbrella? I’m not so sure.

      And remember it was two journalists, Tom Foremski and Ira Basen, who are promoting the term corporate media. It would be up to the in-house communication staff (particularly at the leadership level) to decide if that terminology worked for them.

      I bet many companies (especially those focusing on consumer marketing) will continue to default to “content marketing.”

  4. Thanks for an insightful post once again. I was a bit skeptical to begin with (baggage from my journalistic background), but as struggled to be open minded about the term, I asked myself a simple question: what reminds me of corporate media. These would be publications published by firms but the content is such that it could have been published by a quality paper.

    I came up with the annual reports of two consulting firms; McKinsey & Co and Cap Gemini Sogeti — a French consulting firm. Of non consulting firms I think IBM and HP have also had some publications that could fit the bill of corporate media.

    1. I’m glad you appreciated the post, Don. And I really do think that is a good proviso or caveat in terms of how to view corporate media:

      “the content is such that it could have been published by a quality paper.”

      I agree that McKinsey & Co produces great stuff. I don’t know Cap Gemini Sogeti–is its information available in English?

      Another example could be John Paluszek’s Business in Society offering (which I believe is a separate endeavour from his regular work at Ketchum).

      1. They seem to have dropped Sogeti from their brand name. Here is a link to the current site: Remember them from my days in the computer industry when they had annual reports that looked like a work of art both in content and design.

  5. Judy – another thoughtful post. Thanks for writing it.

    The subject of what we call ourselves is fraught. As you know, I follow the lead of the Institute for PR in claiming the public relations mantle for all aspects of what we do, including internal communications. I have thought that most people know what public relations is, whereas calling it “business communications” as per IABC creates confusion with those who make sure the organization has telephone service, internet, etc. Brand journalism leaves me cold as does corporate journalism (remember a few years ago the book calling for “strategic corporate journalism”? ), and even corporate media seems too focused on the output (the stuff to send out…)

    In the end, I’m not sure it matters too much — one problem is the perception of accuracy. With the news media mistrusted and seemingly advocating for a certain bias, and with companies spinning and “no comment” -ing their way along, people don’t trust (and really cannot trust) anything. The temptation for a corporate media practitioner to obfuscate or spin in service of her company’s business objectives is great, and we’re not built to be fair to any constituency but our own. The Grunig model may claim otherwise, but where is it practiced?

    I don’t see how renaming ourselves leads to better outcomes…

    Cheers for now.

    1. Sean, I would invite you to give another read to last year’s interview to mark how the evolution of the term Ira Basen has chosen—following almost a year of research—took place. Note that it moved from the concept of brand journalism to a focus on content marketing; this was at least partially because content marketing is a better known term/concept than brand journalism. Also note how Ira provided Cisco’s mindful platform as an example of doing it right. “…a good brand journalism site like The Network….”

      I think in choosing corporate media, the intent is to put a more ideal focus on non-transactional communication. Per the Tom Foremski example, perhaps the internal investigative journalism related to less-desirable business practices in other countries where your company has production or other involvement. And, in being proactive, not only in outing it, but in helping to make positive changes, going forward.

      I noticed you didn’t mention content marketing, so may I assume that corporate media is preferable to that term…?

  6. Judy – thanks for bringing this thinking (and more Ira work) to PR Conversations. A few thoughts come to mind.

    The first is that ‘corporate media’ will always be ‘owned media’ and so it is to be expected that it will portray a particular perspective (undoubtedly favourable, but hopefully accurate and willing to engage with debate about an organisation, even if that is challenging).

    This brings to mind a concept that I’ve mentioned before from Derina Holtzhausen’s work on the internal (or corporate) activist. This idea of being the grit within the organisation and willing to challenge and explain, engage, etc is one that I find very interesting and positive, rather than solely using ‘owned’ or corporate media channels for positive promotion.

    My third point relates to the research that Kevin Ruck and I did on our paper at the International History of PR Conference where we looked at the rise of internal communications. In looking at the role of the organisational publication, we came across debate in the 2nd half of the 20th century relating to the concept of the industrial editor (or journalist in residence as could be termed). Back then, they also argued against being the mouthpiece of the company and sought editorial ‘freedom’ (a word we came across a lot in trade publications), but pursuing a professionalism agenda. Our conclusion was that this focus came at the expense of truly engaging employees and ensuring a strategic focus of their work.

    There is potentially a danger that the new ‘journalist in resident’ or PR practitioners focusing on creating editorial and news for owned/corporate media will adopt the same approach. I expect they will find it as difficult to adopt the conventional journalistic belief that Ira notes (we saw such debate in our research).

    1. ​Heather, definitely it would be naïve to think of corporate media as anything but a wholly owned property. Per your “hopefully accurate and willing to engage with debate about an organisation, even if that is challenging…” is indeed the biggest conundrum, and speaks to the final bullet point about attempting to use persuasive communication and advocacy in an ethical fashion.

      When I wrote my Extraction Byte column about the Masters of Disasters book, I received a bit of pushback (on G+) about this concept:

      The authors mention a few times how online tools provide ways for organization to put information out on their own or (third-party) social media platforms—a form of aggressive, yet positive brand journalism—which means that if or when asked, the organization can point to the fact that it was proactively and affirmatively disclosed.

      “We had one nonprofit client that, due to its own diligence, became aware of an issue regarding the efficacy of one of its programs, and they self-reported that issue in a document that was put right on the organization’s website. Predictably, several months later a reporter called because they had been “tipped” to an incipient scandal. We pointed them to the website, noting that the organization itself had made the issue public on its own, and that it was posted and available for all to read. We never heard back from the reporter and the story never ran.”

      I was thinking how this could be taken one step further with social media accounts, if a regular roundup of new items on a website or blog is issued. The self-reporting, less efficacy-favourable items can be included along with other items of more general interest, also lessening any later “cover-up” allegations—proactive potential damage control.

      There has been a few times, in an advisory role, I’ve advocated putting at least some of the negative information on the owned property first. One included the decision to issue a media advisory about an individual (then member) being sought by the police for business fraud against clients. Legal was a bit skeptical, but deferred to my advice. The police appreciated the public cooperation.

      The result? The media focused on the individual, rather than his association relationship for the most part (as he clearly violated the Code of Ethics and, in fact, lost his designation and membership status very quickly, per a discipline tribunal of peers). Secondly, this was adopted as standard practice by the other associations across Canada.

      I’ve been thinking how a similar concept of corporate media could have been used in a few instances in terms of getting the story out first and ethically/accurately. For example, Lululemon and its explosive growth meant increasing offshoring of work to meet demand, and not having the same quality standards in place as in the past. If Lululemon had voluntarily reported the “too-sheer pants” discovery and production challenges in corporate media, perhaps it wouldn’t now be facing lawsuits from (American) shareholders about decreasing value (at least from its meteoric rise of the last few years).

      As you said, being some of the grit—not just the glosser—on the running of a successful company.

      From an association perspective, perhaps if IABC had been a bit more forthcoming about its change management regarding administrative leadership via its corporate media (rather than third-party LinkedIn), maybe the situation would not have unfolded as it did and maybe the outcomes would have been somewhat different.

  7. Judy, thanks for your continuing interest in the stuff I’m doing.

    On the subject of “corporate media”, while I think the term is clearly an improvement over brand journalism, it is also true that the New York Times, Torstar etc. are all corporations too, and they obviously produce media.

    I think the critical distinction is whether the content ultimately serves a promotional purpose, even if that is not the immediate goal, or whether its purpose is something more conventionally journalistic such as “the public’s right to know” or “speaking truth to power”, and by successfully accomplishing that objective, the corporation’s bottom line will be served as well.

    1. Thanks for leaving these comments here, Ira.

      I definitely do recognize that outlets focusing on journalism as the end product are corporations, with stakeholders and shareholders and a variety of private interests, goals and objectives, revolving around remaining economically feasible/increasing mindshare. It’s interesting how many people—both PR practitioners and other disciplines and members of the public—seem to have this notion that traditional media is a non-profit enterprise, without pesky economic factors and interests to taint the output, i.e., a form of pure journalism for journalism’s sake.

      Of course the same thing could be said about public relations associations (who increasingly are finding the need to reinvent themselves to remain viable and valued)—albeit they are deemed non-profit in most countries for tax purposes—the idea that they exist for the public good and/or all public relations (and marketing!) practitioners, rather than primarily serving and assisting those who join and pay the annual membership fee.

      Per David Estok, Free (Still) Costs Too Much:

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