Is every company a media company?

By Edward Pimenta

Editora Globo

São Paulo, Brazil


By Tiago Afonso

Editora Globo

São Paulo, Brazil


In 2012, journalist Tom Foremski gained notoriety for an article in which he provocatively stated, “Every company is a media company.” He believed the crisis in the media industry and the democratisation of access to content production would make companies become media companies to some degree in the future.

Nearly 10 years, Foremski corrected his statement: “Companies find it hard to produce media content of every kind. Companies struggle with the editorial process. A single article produced by a company can involve weeks of meetings with stakeholders that can veto it at any point,” he wrote in a column in May 2022.

“Companies now have access to incredibly powerful media technologies: For example, they can outfit a high-definition video and recording studio for very little cost including sophisticated software editing tools. But it is not enough,” he said. “Companies still need to produce compelling content on a regular schedule and it has to compete in a world of compelling content — which is why companies struggle to be media companies and generally do a very bad job.”

Many people believe thought leadership content is too focused on selling products.
Many people believe thought leadership content is too focused on selling products.

This diagnosis is quantified in the September 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, conducted by Edelman and Linkedin focused on B2B chief marketing officers.

According to the report, 46% of respondents say content is excessively about products rather than conveying information of value to the audiences. Forty percent of respondents also agree their content initiatives lack original ideas.

Moreover, Foremski said companies need to improve a lot if they want to act like media companies. He mentioned Intel, HP, SAP, Tibco, and Infineon as examples of tech companies that have done well in taking on the role of publishers: “Change happens slowly but it happens.”

It happens, indeed. Some companies have a natural vocation to act as publishers, but not all of them. In fact, many already know the best way to make content is to hire a publisher with expertise in the production and distribution of content within contexts that favour engagement and message reach.

In lectures on content marketing, one company that always is always mentioned is Red Bull Media House, the energy drink brand’s media company that employs more than 1,000 employees who are responsible for large content production in several formats. You may have seen the co-branded video GoPro: Red Bull Stratos, which record a free-fall jump from the stratosphere. It has 23 million views to date.

But behind every successful initiative, there always seem to be two defining attributes: authority and vocation.

Here’s an example: In the late 19th century, John Deere, a leading agricultural machinery and heavy equipment manufacturer, decided to launch The Furrow, a magazine for its customers. Now digital, the magazine introduced itself as “the journal for the American farmer.” Its goal has always been to print good stories and, at the same time, share knowledge applicable to those who work in the field.

John Deere is a pioneer in what we now call brand publishing, the production and distribution of its own content to attract new customers and generate business. The Furrow is successful because it translates the company’s expertise in agriculture-related topics, consistently offering well-thought-out curation over time and focusing on readers and measurable results.

The Furrow consistently publishes high-quality, helpful content for its readers.
The Furrow consistently publishes high-quality, helpful content for its readers.

Content at its heart

Until the emergence of the Internet, brands’ primary communication strategy was limited to buying or trying to gain space in media outlets, as it was the only space to communicate with consumers and customers.

Web 2.0 opened the possibility of publishing content on blogs, social media, and collaborative platforms. From then on, people and companies started to communicate directly with their audiences. This does not necessarily mean that all people and companies have become publishers. In fact, there are several difficulties brands face when they want to act like media companies.

The fact is that companies’ communication strategies have changed with the improvement of the digital sphere, thus elevating content as the centre of attention. In a world where people search online for everything, content is more king than ever.

Notably, the way of planning communication changed accordingly. In the past, brands only emerged when they created one-off campaigns to communicate with their consumers. Today, they can establish ongoing conversations with them through content. “Owned media” started to play an important role in these conversations.

In a cookie-less world, which should happen by the end of 2023, leading Web browsers will disable third-party cookies and Internet privacy rules will be stricter. Content produced, distributed, and controlled by the brand itself can be helpful for companies in acquiring and retaining customers.

In this sense, inbound marketing — a set of strategies that uses content marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) to attract potential customers — has been shown to communicate effectively with users directly, creating lasting relationships. Branded content, also called native advertising, is often produced by a company in association with publishers or influencer. It is a great inbound marketing tool, as it helps brands to stock content in favourable contexts with editorial endorsement and reach guaranteed.

The growing number of successful cases points to a consolidated model in the Brazilian market.

What does a publisher look like?

The publisher knows what its audience wants and needs to know, combining the experience and knowledge of its specialised editors with a thorough analysis of the data.

A communication vehicle understands the public’s expectation for a topic by evaluating, among other things, its exposure level, the expertise of the speaker, and its intrinsic relevance. It is also the same with brands producing their own content. Before creating and distributing the content, they calculate its potential to generate interest and, consequently, reach.

The modus operandi of a publisher can be translated into a simple method, applicable to the universe of brands, which considers three attributes:

  1. Expertise: Who is this brand to talk about the topic? Does it have the know-how to address the issue? Is it an expert on the topic?
  2. Exposure: Have we heard enough about the topic? Is it saturated? Is there any other brand appropriating this theme? Has the media covered the issue regularly?
  3. Expectation: Does the topic generate interest? Do people want or need to know more about the topic? Why should they pay attention?

If a subject has been exposed to exhaustion, it theoretically has low attractiveness. If the brand doesn’t have the expertise in how to approach it, it may have difficulty garnering attention.

However, the analysis of these three attributes defines the best formats, approaches, and editorial contexts for content. Eventually, a brand with little expertise can count on the endorsement of the vehicle to talk about a topic with high exposure and still be relevant. Relevance is given by the ability to deliver value to the user, in the most appropriate editorial context, with the greatest possible reach to the target audience.

Furthermore, what defines a publisher is not the simple fact of publishing and distributing content, but its independence, exemption, and social responsibility to inform.

A publisher has the mission of delivering reliable content with volume and frequency defined in an editorial plan with clear criteria. It must maintain historical coherence, feeling the pulse and responding to audience feedback 24/7.

None of this is possible without considerable investment in professional, experienced, and qualified teams that are capable of producing content that finds the best audiences in any context or platform.

Brand publishing risks and opportunities

There are two reputational risks for a brand that starts to present itself as a publisher. The first is that you publicly assume responsibility. The second follows from the first: It is difficult to calculate the risk of everything ending up in failure.

But how do you identify if a brand has the vocation to become a publisher? Start by checking if it:

  • Takes good care and revisiting its institutional narrative in the light of new developments.
  • Has its corporate communications department as part of the company’s strategic decisions.
  • Has internal, external, and marketing communications aligned.
  • Produces knowledge (like studies, reports, and analyses) and manages it well.
  • Is competent in communicating its mission and values to its internal and external audiences.
  • Is recognised for its authority and technical capacity when commenting on the segment in which it operates.
  • Encourages its ambassadors and spokespeople.
  • Demonstrates digital fluency.
  • Is willing to develop content that interests readers in addition to its institutional communication.

Many Brazilian companies meet the above requirements. Even so, those interested in brand publishing face significant challenges.

Brand publishing challenges for brands

There are several challenges brands might encounter when creating content.

First, building an audience from scratch, depending on the project’s ambition, requires an essential financial investment and a reasonable time of many months. It is necessary to study the main competitors in the industry and design goals for all the channels that generate traffic to the Web site.

Link-building is also difficult. Being cited by publishers with a high authority score on Google, through backlinks, helps the new publisher build a reputation in the search engines. Consequently, that generates organic traffic, which is crucial for success.

Technology and infrastructure must also be considered. Defining and investing in the best content management system and hosting solutions depends on a good understanding of the editorial plan and the project’s ambition. Long-term agreements can pose risks if the scope is not 100% decided from the start.

Obviously, the content itself matters: Content that is useful, informative, educational, engaging, and curious attracts more people and has more significant potential to generate recurring views. On that front, volume and frequency also matter. Editorial relevance is perceived from a correct calibration of the volume and frequency of content and, mainly, quality in the curation. It’s a long-term job.

Also, consider expertise. If the brand is not perceived as an expert on the subject it intends to talk about, it is better to associate with someone who is.

The multi-media structure matters too. The new publisher needs to make its brand express itself in any format, context, or platform. Getting the video and audio production model right is vital.

Its important to measure results. Without a clear definition of the project goals (such as those related to audience, engagement, awareness, brand lift, and conversion) all efforts will be in vain.

Finally, quality is key. If the content experience falls short of the other dimensions of the brand, then all the effort is not worth it.

Large publishers such as Editora Globo offer complete content solutions for companies. Some of the case studies from the branded content studio G.Lab below include examples from Investe Safra, Discovery Commerce, and Impacting the future.

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