But, for years, innovative companies like apparel giant Benetton Group have pioneered the concept. In 1991, it launched its oft-controversial Colors magazine, each issue of which focuses on a single topic and is published in four languages in 40 countries by its Fabrica research center. Or consider leading industrial design firm frog (www.frogdesign.com/), which last July launched Design Mind magazine, now in its ninth issue.
Why are companies as diverse as an apparel manufacturer and an industrial design firm investing so heavily in becoming "media companies?" NYU professor Clay Shirky put it succinctly. "[In the era of social media], ... every company, no matter what industry, is essentially tasked with gathering and distributing information to employees and external audiences." In other words, content, media, and conversation with all key stakeholders are key.
Examples are more numerous by the day as this trend rapidly gains traction across business channels. We're witnessing a paradigm shift in which traditional media companies are moving towards becoming software/digital companies (i.e., The New York Times) while manufacturers, service and creative firms are becoming media companies. The shift is one of both strategy and format driven by necessity -- the consumer's demand for information.
Show by Telling
Take frog's print magazine, which is but one component of a broader effort to invest in proprietary media channels to produce and disseminate its own content as a showcase for frog's thought leadership. As frog says, we "transform by doing," and in their media channels they "show by telling."
Frog hasn't fallen into the self-serving trap that snares many companies' by just telling the frog story. Instead, it tells ever-changing stories from multiple perspectives by many authors because "if you want to have a true conversation, you've got to change the message." That's why it is the voices of frog. And that's why they don't talk about frog, per se, but rather articulate what the contributors see, feel, and think. Design Mind is an invitation to write, to co-create, and to invigorate the brand.
Signs of the need for change in BtoB and BtoC conversational patterns are everywhere. The fast-evolving consumer preference for uncensored content and open conversation over corporate speak and web site cant was documented in 2007 by Cisco's Dan Sheinman, who showed charts/stats highlighting how the companies' web traffic has switched from page views to RSS feeds and blog posts.
The media revolution continues to accelerate, moving into video (YouTube and its imitators) Facebook (social networking at large), Twitter (instantaneous messaging), and emerging platforms. Every day, more businesses awaken to the realization that they must become media companies if they hope to engage consumers in a productive and profitable dialog/relationship.
So what does this bode for the PR profession? It means PR, too, must be revolutionized if it wants to lead the new media management process. PR must educate clients to understand, accept and adopt this new dimension of communications. Tom Foremski said in the April issue of Silicon Valley Watcher, "Every company has to learn how to publish using the new (two-way) media technologies, to reach their customers, their employees, partners, local communities, etc. And one role of PR is to help companies become media companies and help them tell their stories."
The unfortunate reality is that the majority of companies, even in light of recent research findings that most executives get their news online, still mandate that PR focus on generating big stories in major print media. Certainly, this is one leg of the PR stool but it ignores the importance of a creative, open and on-going conversation between source and audience.
Marketers today face a revolution in communications, a near-perfect storm in changing style and channels. Consumers with their personal brands are battering down the walls of the old communications regime, while PR, if it is to prosper, must find courage to lead client companies into the promised land where every company is a media company and everyone is a marketer -- but that's a subject for another day.