Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Meeting Cisco's M&A Chief And Realizing Every Company Is A Media Company

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 7, 2010

After I left the Financial Times in mid-2004 to begin publishing Silicon Valley Watcher, I was worried that I wouldn't have the same access to top executives as I enjoyed at the FT.

I needn't have worried and soon found that I had the same, or even better access, because now I had built some notoriety by becoming the first journalist to leave a major newspaper to become a professional "blogger."

Intel held an emergency meeting by its corporate communications staff based on my leaving the FT, to discuss how they must now have a strategy of working with "bloggers."

I still thought of myself as a journalist, since as far as I was concerned, I was still writing the same type of stories I was writing at the FT. Just because I was using a blogging software platform, Movable Type to publish my stories, didn't make me a "blogger." But "blogger" was a scary word in those days as companies struggled to understand what this meant.

Interestingly, Intel held an emergency meeting when CNet's was launched in the mid 1990s. The corporate communications team wondered if online news reporters should be treated the same as print reporters.

But it wasn't just Intel that struggled with such definitions, of who is or who isn't a journalist, all companies have, and many still do. Intel made the transition very quickly.

One of my first top interviews on Silicon Valley Watcher was visiting Cisco and meeting with Dan Scheinman, who was at the time, head of mergers and acquisitions at Cisco. This was one of the most powerful jobs in Silicon Valley because of the tremendous number of acquisitions Cisco was making -- and continues to make. (Here's the list.)

What was extra interesting about Mr Scheinman was that he was Director of Corporate Communications and head of acquisitions, spending billions of dollars a year.

I found this combination of two very important jobs fascinating. He could use the considerable publishing might of the Cisco corporate communications machine to make sure that startups were working on developing technologies that Cisco needed to fuel its tremendous growth.

(IBM does something similar - its VC group led by Drew Clark let's entrepreneurs know what technologies it needs. It's a VC group that makes no capital investments.)

I had no idea that our meeting would reveal some fascinating insights into the nature of media and the new challenges that companies now had to meet.

[email protected]

Mr Scheinman was particularly proud of the [email protected] team. This is a large editorial team staffed by former journalists and top editors at newspapers and magazines. It produces articles focused on Cisco and its customers.

This is a team that produces high quality media in a variety of formats that meets the highest journalistic standards. It's not a typical corporate comms department pumping out press releases and white papers.

Also, Cisco was already using media technologies such as RSS to syndicate its content. Five years ago it already had more than 200 RSS feeds!

And when Mr Scheinman shared with me the online traffic figures, I was shocked: Cisco was getting more traffic to [email protected] than any of the top IT publications, such as ComputerWorld, InfoWorld, and many other huge computer trade publications! I was amazed.

Cisco is a large media company...

I realized that something truly phenomenal was happening here. Here was an example of a corporation as publisher and publication. Cisco makes network gear but it is also a media company -- one of the largest in the world.

I quickly realized that this was a peek into what was happening now -- not in the future. Every company is now a media company. It doesn't matter if it makes network gear or diapers, every company needs to publish to its various communities, its customers, its staff, it's neighbors.

Every company needs to know how to produce compelling content, great video, podcasts, etc.

And now with this emerging two-way Internet, of which 'social media' is its most visible component, every company also needs to learn how to listen, how to respond in online discussions, how to behave on Facebook and Twitter.

Every company needs to master the media technologies of RSS, blogging, and more.

Cisco was doing it by employing professional journalists, it was acquiring those skills in-house.

But how does a company become a media company?

Companies know how to do what they do, to make diapers, steel girders, provide healthcare. They are experts at doing what they do. But how does a company know what it takes to be a media company? It's not easy being a media company.

Companies need to do what Cisco does. Companies need to bring in media professionals to help them become media companies.

And this is something that I'm expanding as part of my work, advising companies how to be media companies, how to master the many media technologies that are available, help companies develop media/business strategies, and much more.

I'm a member of the Intel Insiders, a small group of online media professionals advising Intel. I am also a founding fellow of the Society of New Communications Research, a Palo Alto based think-tank, which performs research in this important field.

Mr Scheinman is now head of Cisco's Media Solutions Group. He is also helping companies become media companies, by making sure they have the hardware and software they need for this role.

The fact that every company is a media company is extremely important because this is what will drive tremendous amounts of sales of hardware, software, and services of all kinds. This will increasingly become the point of the spear in terms of driving new business for Cisco, IBM, HP, Intel and a host of other tech companies. And it goes beyond tech...

There are many services that companies will need, consultants, experts, etc. This changes how companies recruit, how they develop products, how they offer customer service. It's beyond corporate communications, it goes beyond "social media."

Every Company is a Media Company, or EC=MC - becomes the transformative equation for business in our times.

It will require many people and I have set up a web site with colleagues to publish articles on this topic and we are looking for contributors. You can contact me at [email protected]

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The Holmes Report names Tom Foremski one of the top 25 Innovators of 2013.