B2B Companies Should Not Become Media Companies – Here’s What To Do Instead
May 11, 2023
B2B Companies Should Not Become Media Companies – Here’s What To Do Instead
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This article was originally published in February 2023 on RevGenius.
I was scrolling along on a well-known content-marketing Slack community the other day when I saw a sponsored post for a tool stating “Every company is becoming a media company.”
I was intrigued. I’ve heard the aphorism tossed around on social media here and there, but never in such a peremptory fashion.
But, “Is every company a media company now?”
- If this is true, what does it mean for the future of … business?
- If it isn’t, then what are they trying to say?
- Should every company want to be a media company? Why?
The idea has started popping up more and more in my own filter bubble (B2B SaaS Marketing), and I don’t find that particularly true.
What is a media company?
The EC=MC (Every Company = Media Company) saying seems to be attributable to Tom Foremski back in 2010 – almost 15 years ago.
Foremski doesn’t define what he means by “media company” in the post I linked above.
Fortunately, other EC=MC advocates have, like Michael Brito from Britopia:
“A media company ideates, creates, packages, and distributes content across multiple platforms, including social, video, web, long-form, short-form, video, audio, and more. They are storytellers, designers, copywriters, and analysts and have extensive knowledge of making content travel fast and far on the internet. They operate much like a traditional newsroom. They produce relevant content quickly and efficiently and have agile teams.”
I think I agree with this definition of “media company.”
A company whose primary mode of operation is content production at large, whatever the medium.
And since Britto’s article is fairly new (late 2021) and by someone who’s written a whole book about the idea, let’s settle with this for now.
Foremski’s latest take on the matter for Zdnet also leans towards defining “media companies” in a similar fashion.
What do people mean when they say EC=MC?
Now that we know what a media company is (yes, I know, we did before, but now we agree), let’s explore what people mean by EC=MC.
In his 2010 post, Foremski’s argument can be summed up like so:
The internet has made publishing easier, and more accessible. Companies need to seize this opportunity, which goes beyond social media. Every company is a media company because it needs to produce content.
Foremski’s idea was pretty novel, and in hindsight, he was right. I can get behind that.
Now if we look at Brito’s thoughts, they’re a little less “avant-garde.”
Content production has become a staple of marketing, sales, brand, and PR. Companies have to scale their content production to meet modern marketing standards, and traditional companies are pretty slow at producing content. Media companies have since forever had the structure to produce content at scale. Therefore, EC=MC.
And this is where I stop agreeing.
As much as I want to follow this reasoning, I think there’s something worth challenging here:
Are media companies characterized only by their content production output?
In other words, does “being a media company” just mean “producing content at scale”?
What makes media companies special?
There’s one thing that’s very important to me in Brito’s definition of a media company:
“[media companies] operate much like a traditional newsroom.”
When I hear “media company”, this is what I picture.
Half-drunk reporters in a busy newsroom with telephones ringing, and cigarette smoke in the air. Like you see in Zodiac, SpiderMan, or countless other movies.
This is what Brito describes.
And this is what’s been disturbing me all this time.
Media companies have a specific business model
These “traditional newsrooms” have operated on a specific business model.
- Sell ads, in the form of sponsorships, print ads, or “advertorials”.
- Operate on subscriptions – a model a lot of modern media companies are trying to switch to.
- Sell their content directly, in the form of magazines or newspapers.
- Are funded as instruments of soft power (think France24 as a TV channel).
Or a combination of the above. Their content production is influenced by this business model.
They are biased because of their business model – and this is perfectly fine. They must please their advertisers, subscribers, investors, or sometimes all at once.
To do this, they are incentivized to use … questionable tactics:
- Sensationalist angles & reporting
- (Very) biased reporting
- Political views
Media companies engage with their audience on a particular playground
Media companies engage with their audience in 2 very particular ways:
- They want to rack up as much viewership as possible, whatever the cost
- They sometimes (i.e. when you don’t pay to consume) have a “hidden” agenda – they want to show you ads or sponsor their content.
Their content does not exist for the sake of being “good” or “out there”. It serves as bait for you to come in and consume, so you can be shown ads.
You pay for that content. Either with your own attention (ads) or with your hard-earned money.
Again, nothing inherently wrong with this, but … is this what you want from a B2B company?
Why B2B Companies Should NOT Want To Be Media Companies
So we’ve established that media companies gather audiences by producing content that the audience will engage or interact with, whatever the cost, in order to monetize that content – either directly (subscription, selling a physical object), indirectly (ads, sponsorships) or both.
And we’ve established that the content they produce is made to be monetized – directly or indirectly.
Let me get this straight: I do agree that content is a big part of B2B now. I own a content marketing agency.
It’s a big part of our world, after all – so it makes sense that it should exist in the business world too.
So why am I fighting this idea? It should fit my narrative.
Saying that B2B companies must become media companies (or that they already are) is misrepresenting reality.
- B2B companies do not want to be political.
- B2B companies do not want the largest audience possible.
- B2B companies do not want to mislead their audience.
- B2B companies do not make people pay for content (unless this is their primary MO, of course).
At least not in my book.
Valuing viewership over audience and message quality and not being totally transparent about what people are in for is not good B2B marketing/brand building.
By saying that B2B companies should be media companies, we encourage them to take the good side of it (broadly, ContentOps) but totally forget about the ugly.
You don’t want to be a media company.
You want to be good at content marketing, brand building, copywriting, and brand narrative.
I don’t think any of that is new – that has been around forever.
So why do people package it like that?
They want you to be a media company … because you have no idea how to become one
This is my personal opinion, but it’s seen time and time again in B2B marketing.
When Foremski first coined the concept, he was trying to describe a revolution in the making.
Until then, companies were satisfied building a brand through their network, an ugly website, trade shows, and traditional print and TV advertising.
Foremski wanted to describe that they now had to take the internet into account and that this went beyond the realm of social media.
It wasn’t a new concept – he was reporting on the situation.
In 2023, most people who want companies to become media companies are people who want to sell you stuff, plain and simple.
It’s a marketing plan.
Agencies and service providers who want to sell you expensive content and strategy services ride the “media company” train because it’s an advantageous narrative for them.
They manage to get people on board, but they don’t give you the keys to the castle.
I mean … how does an industrial manufacturer become a media company? Where should they start?
“John, I think this is a great idea and I love it. But we’ll need some help to make it work.”
What brands can do instead of rebranding themselves as media companies
There is a weird trend in B2B marketing.
Companies – or should I say, people in companies – value “theory” over “execution” most of the time.
They think the difference is made by whether they launch a podcast, invest in demand generation, become a media company, or whatever else is trending on social media.
I get why – it’s gratifying to be the one to come up with the genius idea.
But here’s the hard truth: there is no genius idea to be had.
There is nothing to revolutionize. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
B2B marketing, at its core, is dead simple:
- Find out why people buy from you (i.e. the problems you solve).
- Find out how they express these problems.
- Say it back to them.
- Say it everywhere they hang out.
That’s it. The “theory” part of marketing is over.
What’s hard is the execution of all of those pillars.
But marketing a service by saying “I’m going to go interview your customers to figure out the problems you solve, and then plan a strategy to say it back to them” isn’t as sexy as “We’ll help you become a media company”.
These noisy concepts are to marketing what diet pills are to fitness: false promises, too-good-to-be-true shortcuts.
Do they work for some people and some companies?
Of course, they do – I’m not saying you shouldn’t become a media company – do so if you’re so inclined.
What I’m saying is that “being a media company” is not what you are after.
EC=MC operates on the idea that content is needed to connect with audiences – and I agree with that 100%.
Content is an essential part of the modern marketing stack (should I coin that term? I’m kidding of course).
But buyers don’t buy from brands because they like them. Buyers don’t buy because you have the best logo, the best content, or the best design.
They buy because you appear as a solution to their problems.
This is what every company should be focusing on.
Every company should be a problem-solving company.
See what I did there?
Identify the problems you solve, and create content that helps solve these problems.
And the problems you solve are sometimes not the ones you think.
Let me take an example.
I own an SEO & Content Marketing agency. Most content agencies market their services by saying “We’ll grow your revenue” or some other form of “we’ll make you rich & famous”.
Is “growing revenue” the problem that we solve? I don’t think so. Is “quality content” the thing people are after? Not necessarily.
Everyone knows they should be doing some form of content marketing and SEO. Whether they pride themselves on being a “media company” or not, brands know they need content.
The reason they don’t invest isn’t that they don’t need it. It’s not because they have better ways to “grow their revenue” or “fill their pipeline.”
It’s because they’re aware that 98% of vendors out there are garbage, and that it’s easy to get burned and lose a pile of cash.
So they postpone.
That is a problem.
Knowing that and having identified a problem in the market, I can make a marketing plan to solve that problem.
“I’m going to be the reliable guy in the top 2%. I’m going to remove THAT pain.”
My marketing (you’re reading this, you’ll tell me whether it worked on you) should be focused on making me appear as a reliable partner.
It’s not about the grandeur of the promises, or who has the biggest stick in the room. It’s about knowing who’s going to deliver, and who isn’t.
There are lots of ways for me to achieve this goal (writing stuff like this is one of them), but none of them involve “becoming a media company”, “shifting from leadgen to demand gen” or “optimizing for dark social.”
Because all of that is theoretical noise.
The hard part is what’s missing in my reasoning above: market analysis, industry insights – figuring out why people buy or don’t buy – and making sure you’re right about that.
But none of it is sexy. It’s nitty-gritty execution.
Too bad it works.
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