THE BLOG

As Newspapers and Magazines Struggle, Companies in Other Industries Are Hiring Journalists, Getting Into the Media Business. Why?

Aug 05, 2013 | Updated Oct 05, 2013

Not long ago the idea of a journalist going to work inside a company to do anything other than PR was pretty much unheard of. But lately every time you turn around you hear about another reporter take a job with a title like "director of content" and a role that involves leading some company's publishing efforts and/or becoming a writer of record for their brand.

IBM hired a reporter from BusinessWeek. Qualcomm hired one from USA Today. GE and LinkedIn hired journalists from Forbes. In the past few months Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, two big venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, hired journalists from the Wall Street Journal and Wired, respectively. Full disclosure: I'm the former technology editor at Newsweek, and now I'm a "marketing fellow" at HubSpot, a software company in Cambridge, Mass.

You know the old saying, Content is king? Apparently it's true. These days a lot of companies are getting into the media business, no matter what their core businesses might be -- making jet engines, or investing in startups. Maersk, the Danish shipping company, has built a news operation, as has Nissan. And some are creating legitimate journalism, stuff as good as what you'd read in Time or watch on CNN.

Some people call this corporate journalism, or corporate media. I think it's a new form of marketing, and I believe that over the next 10 years, more and more of what we call "marketing" is going to look a lot like what we used to call "media."

Why? Because business itself is changing. A lot of companies aren't focused on one-off transactions and instead are trying to build relationships. They don't have customers; they have subscribers.

Look at Salesforce.com and the hundreds of other companies that sell "software as a service." They don't ship software in a box. Instead they sell subscriptions, and deliver their software from the cloud. The entire software industry is moving in this direction.

Even companies that make physical goods now view customers like subscribers. Car companies don't just sell you a car and move on. Now they lease you a car, and then try to sell you monthly services and even apps.

You know who's good at building an audience of subscribers and keeping them informed and engaged? All those people from the editorial side of the media business -- reporters, journalists, editors, producers, photographers, art directors, and so on.

Traditional marketing was created for a transactional world. Marketers used the metaphor of a funnel. Their job was to capture "leads" and "prospects" and push them down the funnel so they could be turned into customers.

Marketers were carnival barkers, luring suckers into the tent. Thus traditional marketing was all directed outward. It was all about buying ads, issuing press releases, building huge booths at trade shows, and hiring PR agencies to schmooze journalists.

That approach has become as old-fashioned and out-of-date as the three-martini lunch.

Today you're trying to attract subscribers and build lasting relationships. To do that you create media. You publish blogs. You make videos. You create events. You do things that provide a service and attract an audience. And you make money by selling goods and services to that audience -- not by selling ads.

Some companies aren't even worried about making money from their media. It's just a way to build brand awareness, to set them apart from their competitors, or to tell stories the way they want them told. And it costs relatively little, considering what journalists get paid. (Ahem.)

Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz hired Michael Copeland, a Wired editor, to write about its portfolio companies and explain new technologies to a general audience, says Margit Wennmachers, a partner at the firm.

"When the browser first came out, you could find any number of articles everywhere, all up in arms saying it was a silly toy (cat pictures!), dangerous (OMG, there will be porn!). Fifteen years later, nobody questions the value of the technology. I'd like to skip those 15 years," Wennmachers told me via email.

Sequoia Capital, another top VC firm in Silicon Valley, recently hired longtime Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Worthen. "We couldn't get Ben in the door fast enough to help our partner companies tell their stories," says Andrew Kovacs, a spokesperson at Sequoia. "Content marketing has gone from nice-to-have to table stakes."

Some companies build a news operation simply because they operate in areas that the mainstream press doesn't cover very much, like semiconductors and microelectronics. It's no wonder that chip-makers IBM, Intel, nVidia and Qualcomm all run newsrooms.

The big question for journalists like me who are making the jump is whether you can really be a journalist if you're part of a marketing department. Some companies will allow reporters more independence than others, but I think it's possible that one of these companies will end up creating a genuinely great media property.

That may sound nuts, but look, the world is changing. Back in 2005, who could have guessed that the Huffington Post would become as big as it is today? The media business is being disrupted and transformed. All we know is that 10 years from now it will look nothing like it did 10 years ago.

Dan Lyons is a marketing fellow at HubSpot, a software company in Cambridge, Mass. Previously he was the technology editor at Newsweek, and before that spent a decade writing about technology at Forbes. He's also known as the creator of "Fake Steve Jobs," a satirical blog about Apple and the world of tech.