Edelman, the world biggest PR agency, made news today with the announcement that they’ve hired Richard Sambrook to be Chief Content Officer and to lead their crisis and issues practice. Why is this news? Because it points to how the web has turned both traditional media and traditional communications practices completely upside down.
The first point to note is that Edelman has a Chief Content Officer at all. What does it mean? To over simplify, Edelman sees the writing on the wall for traditional media in their role as distribution channel of choice for corporate propaganda news and opinion. And it is certainly not prepared to allow consumers to ‘own’ the dialogue about its clients (via social media) without putting up a fight.
Edelman’s vision (still startlingly unique among major communications players) is that direct engagement with consumers and other stakeholders is increasingly the most effective way for companies to be heard (and hopefully trusted) in this era of media fragmentation and social media dominance. In other words, companies must use the web to tell their own stories and become the media rather than piggyback it…or at least have an appropriately equipped agency (Edelman) do it for them.
The second point is that Richard Sambrook is a very big deal indeed (hence all the wonderful PR garnered by Edelman today in the very media they seek to disrupt). Sambrook’s current role is Director of the BBC’s Global News Division. This is no journalistic hack or 30-something ‘creative’ neophyte. Sambrook has 30 years senior level experience in one of the most fiercely competitive and independent companies in the most diverse media market in the world. He’s a serious player. His hiring is a statement that not only does Edelman have a vision of corporate content as the future of PR, but that it believes this content must be executed at a level of quality and integrity that would make your average ad agency feel pretty damn shallow in comparison.
I think (just my view) that Richard Edelman has a strategy that just might achieve a pretty incredible trifecta:
- Reinvent his own industry
- Protect his company from the dismantlement of traditional media power
- Marginalize (or worse) advertising agencies
This is a story any PR agency would be proud to spin.