“The community of discourse is the market. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.” —The Cluetrain Manifesto, 1999
Alexander Jutkowitz wears a couple of hats. He’s the chief strategist at the public-relations giant Hill & Knowlton, and he sits on the board of the Columbia Journalism Review. That makes him particularly well positioned to opine on the great PR-journo mashup otherwise known as content marketing. “The success of content marketing has radicalized the way companies communicate,” Jutkowitz writes in the Harvard Business Review. “For innovative brands, an award-winning Tumblr now carries serious clout; hashtag campaigns have become as compelling as taglines; and the Digiday Awards are as coveted as the Stevies. The content marketing revolution signals more than a mere marketing fad. It marks an important new chapter in the history of business communications: the era of corporate enlightenment.”
The next stage in the era of corporate enlightenment is a full-scale move into publishing and broadcasting, as businesses establish the means to push their voices into the center of the culture, into the center of the conversation. “Today, large corporations are becoming their own media companies, news bureaus, research universities, and social networks,” writes Jutkowitz, noting how “big brands are poaching top-talent journalists in droves and implementing the most successful aspects of the traditional media house.” He goes on:
Trained journalists and writers are in the best position to synthesize information, capture a reader’s attention, and uphold a critical editorial standard. … Yet, it would be misguided to assume that corporations are simply transplanting the traditional newsroom. Branded content is a brave new world and a brand’s editorial team, regardless of how it’s organized, must learn to live and breathe a company’s bottom line while also being mindful of the kinds of stories that appeal to readers. The editorial organization within a corporation has to be independent enough to form unique perspectives, but embedded enough to access exclusive information. This kind of commitment to storytelling and editorial integrity, albeit shaped by sponsorship, is undoubtedly how content marketing has begun to encroach on the whole of marketing. Content, it seems, has miraculously given brands a greater purpose. Brands are no longer merely peddling products; they’re producing, unearthing, and distributing information. And because they do, the corporation becomes not just economically important to society, but intellectually essential as well.
Feeling nauseous yet? Ex-Googler Tim Bray is. He says the article “smells like concentrated essence of evil; an unironic paean to the take-over of journalism, and public conversation, by marketeers. I recommend reading it, if only for shock value.” But if, as the Cluetrain writers declared with such innocence at the turn of the century, “markets are conversations,” should anybody really be shocked? If markets are conversations, then conversations are markets, and markets are where marketeers tend to congregate.
No, Jutkowitz isn’t kidding about “the era of corporate enlightenment”:
The Age of Reason in the 17th century was defined by the promotion of ideas and intellect. Considered a revolution of human thought, the Enlightenment bore world-changing advances in the form of ideas, discovery, and invention. Like the philosophers and scientists who populated the salons of that era, corporations today can and should participate in the dynamic exchange of innovative ideas, unique knowledge, and expertise.
He provides an example:
Red Bull is proof of the extraordinary results great brand publishing can bring. The company’s top-notch content resulted in the creation of an in-house content production arm, Red Bull Media House. Red Bull crafts content that isn’t just compelling, but lucrative in its own right, launching an entirely new ideas-based business for the beverage company.
Red Bull is our new Voltaire. Let the intellectual buzz begin.