Letterman, Cara Delevingne and the lure of corporate journalism

At his peak in the mid 90s, David Letterman, the American talk show host, had around eight million viewers for his nightly variety act. Eight million people tuning in at the same time, households together around a TV screen.

An advertiser could readily see the audience reach. And Letterman's guests, the talent, the actors, singers, performers, politicians, nondescript celebrities, could see that reach too. They needed him to reach an audience, he needed them for content.

"What happens now when traditional media no longer has the audience, no longer has the production resources, no longer even has the space to showcase the talent?"
Andrew Cornell, Managing Editor

When he signed off a few weeks ago, Letterman had three million or so viewers. And the audience was time shifting and watching multiple channels. His advertisers too were on multiple channels, segmenting their target audiences more and more finely, creating their own content.

Meanwhile the talent today are their own producers, their own Lettermans – they have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WeChat, Weibo, LINE.

Letterman is traditional media and that same fragmentation and disintermediation is just as true for newspapers and radio as it for television. The “talent", the content, whether that be business media or celebrity, can't ignore the fragmentation.

To follow the analogy for the emerging realm of corporate journalism, ANZ – and every other organisation which believes it has a story to tell and an audience potentially interested - is the talent. For ANZ in the past, the traditional business media held the audience and had the space and resources to deliver content about the bank.

So what happens now when traditional media no longer has the audience, no longer has the production resources, no longer even has the space to showcase the talent (assuming there is value in that talent)?

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

The supermodel Linda Evangelista once famously said she didn't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. That was the value of real talent in her world of modelling.

Today the (business) model has flipped: if Linda Evangelista didn't have her own Instagram following of at least 10,000, no agent would contact her – no matter how well the designer labels hung on her. Indeed that following on social media would need to be at least in the hundreds of thousands.

The Financial Times recently had a fascinating feature on how social media has reshaped the profession of modelling.

The FT noted a campaign for Calvin Klein in 1992 built Kate Moss's career, turning an unknown teenager from Croydon into a global icon. The CK campaign is currently fronted by Kendall Jenner, who has 27 million Instagram followers and is part of the Kardashian reality TV dynasty.

Now I'm prepared to concede ANZ is not exactly Linda Evangelista. If we were a celebrity, we might be a character actor – not the star but critical to the economic story. But corporates like ANZ still offer valuable content, content which has long filled the business pages and shows of the traditional media.

We know there is an audience for that content – when it is compelling. We know that in the social world, if we are going to be part of the conversation – and we need to be, otherwise our brand suffers – we now have to be our own publisher as well as talent.

Corporates in the new media landscape, the social and digital landscape of fragmented audiences and myriad channels, need to be their own Letterman, in a niche way and recognising no one anymore holds the centralised power Letterman once did.

The daily challenge with BlueNotes is to produce ongoing, quality content which will keep the right audience returning.

Having shifted from mainstream journalism to corporate journalism in my career, it is vital to understand the fundamental components of the message remain the same – audience, content, distribution. The three must work together.

We have a team of three on staff and the actual content is only ever the start of our conversation. The bulk is how do we get this to the right audience? Which social networks would it appeal to? Who are the influencers? How do we design the story to suit that audience? What illustrations? Should it not even be written, should it be an infographic?

Audience, content and distribution are all necessary. None are sufficient. Fantastic content is no good if no one reads it or watches it.

In the old days of newspapers we used to worry about missing deadlines because then the papers would miss the trucks which took them to the newsagents where people could buy them – and maybe read the stories.

Today, one challenge is we tend to get carried away with distribution – the latest platform, the latest toy. That is necessary – we have to get to our audience – but not sufficient. You don't become a supermodel – or a character actor – by just focusing on the distribution channels.

In the supermodel world, the talent are now “brand ambassadors". Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm Model Management, which looks after some of the industry's top Instagram talent, told the FT: “We have monetised it. If Cara Delevingne does a big campaign, you quote for her to model and then you quote separately for the fact that she has 13 million followers."

That's a spectacular demonstration of content, distribution and audience.

So how can you take the content creation production line from the creative media and bring it into a corporate newsroom? Quality content takes time, resources and talent.

As corporate content creators, we have to find a way to fund journalism – for our own production base but also to support the content creators. Great journalism takes great journalists and I think learning how to build strong relationships will be critical to corporate journalism.

What is the audience interested in? Are we actually adding any value to the discussion with our content? We don't want to produce content just because we have pages to fill or because some event has happened or – worst case – the bank has a new product.

Equally, we don't want to simply chase numbers driven by sophisticated analytics. 

Our total universe of potential audience is not huge: business, policy, academia, financial services in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. The numbers of those we really want to talk to are in the tens of thousands, not millions.

We've had a first year at BlueNotes we're very proud of. We've gone from zero to over four thousand subscribers, more than 200,000 unique views, over 3000 followers on twitter. We've won global awards, just this last week a Gold Quill at IABC2015 and a Gold at the 2015 PRWeek Asia Awards.

But a video interview with our chief financial officer dissecting our profit numbers may be read by only a few hundred – however we basically know those few hundred by name: it's the business media, the analyst community, the major investors in ANZ.

If we want to influence and participate in important conversations, we don't need to do it in football stadiums.

There is an opportunity to produce compelling journalism in a corporate environment – if you get those same fundamentals around content, distribution and audience right.

And by the way, you'll note the most fascinating insight I shared today about supermodels came from the FT – a traditional newspaper. But I read the story on Fast FT, one of their new channels designed expressly for mobile.

This is an edited version of a presentation delivered at IABC2015 on June 15 in conjunction with BlueNotes publisher Paul Edwards. For a version of Paul's presentation see here.

Photo: Featureflash /

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

03 Jun 2015

Valuing quality journalism in corporate publishing

Paul Edwards | Manager Operations Strategy, ANZ

Two events in the past week have had me thinking about journalism and the new world of social, digital and mobile. The traditional homes of journalism are being eroded while new opportunities in corporate publishing and the collaborative economy are yet to establish sustainable funding models for quality journalism.

17 Jun 2015

The four pillars of the new world of marketing

Carolyn Bendall | Head of Marketing Australia, ANZ

There's been a longstanding debate about whether marketing is primarily an art or a science. To a large degree it's always been a mix of both.