Every Company’s a Media Company

A documentary crew is taking a long look at Ford Motor Co., and the camera does not flinch from the bad news. Footage shot on July 20, 2006—the day the struggling automaker reported a $123 million loss for the second quarter of last year—shows Kevin Tynan, an analyst with Argus Research, explaining his “sell” rating on Ford stock, and predicting that it will be difficult for the company to meet its turnaround schedule. Barron’s senior editor Jay Palmer then appears on screen, noting grimly that Ford must stop the bleeding to survive. And Mark Fields, president of Ford’s North and South American business, admits he was surprised by some of the external factors that hit the bottom line.

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The documentary, Bold Moves: Documenting the Future of Ford, is a 30-part program that launched on the Web last June and completed its run in January of this year. The earnings-report segment is titled “Fist Full of Doubters.” Other portions of the series include looks inside Ford business meetings and production facilities, historical clips, auto-racing footage and glimpses of future technological advances, and a segment dealing with prospects for laid-off workers.

Given the scope and sometimes dour tone of the documentary, it may be a surprise to learn the identity of its producer, host and distributor: Ford Motor Co. But the Bold Moves series reflects a new reality of the Internet age: Every company is now a media company. Every organization now has the ability to create and share video, audio and text communications with external and internal audiences; just a few years ago, such productions would have required expensive, specialized equipment and training, along with big budgets to disseminate the product via advertising, direct mail or other channels.

Ford engaged its longtime ad agency, JWT, along with the production house Radical Media (which made the documentary film, Some Kind of Monster, about heavy-metal band Metallica), to help on the project. Not every Web venture will match the ambitious length or glossy production values of Ford’s effort, with its multiple locations and theatrical release-quality editing. But whether it’s Microsoft Corp. with its Channel 9 video site for corporate news, or General Electric Co. using podcasts to share earnings calls and analyst reports with stakeholders, or investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein making extensive use of blogs and wikis for internal communications, the media meme is widespread.

Any company with a Web site is already at the starting line. The technology needed for producing, hosting and sharing that can translate an organization’s Web site into a media hub is the easy part, relatively speaking. What takes serious work is creating a culture that allows the level of candor about internal difficulties that Ford managed, or handing over a brand message that has been tightly controlled to multiple parties, including, perhaps, people outside the organization itself. “For some people, it was uncomfortable, but sometimes you have to push people to embrace change,” says Whitney Drake, a spokeswoman for the Ford and Lincoln Mercury brand communications group, which collaborated with other groups across the company on the project.

Becoming a media company means making decisions about who best represents the company via new media. It also means determining how much they should say, how often, to what audience—and why, with what expectations. How CIOs and other business leaders navigate those questions, along with getting a handle on the technology issues, is critical to making the promise of new media a reality.

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