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Operations Management Viewpoints

Every Company Is a Media Company

by Richard Sambrook

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Richard Sambrook was an influential and senior BBC executive and leading manager of its news services before joining the Edelman public relations company in 2010. Born in 1956, he was educated at Maidstone Technical High School, the University of Reading (where he gained a BA in English), and Birkbeck College, University of London. He joined BBC Radio News as a subeditor in 1980. He was a BBC journalist and news executive, becoming successively director of BBC Sport, BBC News, and, latterly, director of the BBC World Service and Global News. During this time he was responsible for merging radio and television news, as well as domestic and World Service news-gathering, resulting in the world’s largest broadcast news operation. He oversaw a major restructuring of the World Service and the opening of Arabic and Persian television, as well as of commercial interactive services.

The Challenge of the New Media

Every company is a media company, no matter what its business or activity. I believe that engagement with the internet is critical to the company that wants to ensure that its message is heard. Equally, a company must be alert to comments on its products, brands, or personnel on the web so that it can produce its responses as quickly as the bloggers produce theirs.

To achieve such a role, a company must undergo a cultural change. This involves two key strategic attitudes. First, it must gear itself to the transparency of the new media. Second, it needs to remove hierarchies from its own media and communications structures.

The need to be transparent is based on the fact that readers are now much better informed about a company’s activities across its various organizations due to the amount of information in circulation on the web. Information is not so easily lost in one remote newspaper or media outlet, as it used to be, because of the activities of websurfers and search engines. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that there is always someone out there who is much better informed about a story than the journalist. The advent of communications technology like the internet, which is so widely available, means that commercial organizations, like the media themselves, need to have greater respect than ever for the consumers of information.

I believe that the speed and efficiency of the technology is a catalyst for corporate change. This produces great challenges for big organizations, which, because they’re big and unwieldy, take time to get themselves together. If there’s some allegation somewhere out there on Twitter, which for some reason is getting picked up and circulated, you haven’t got two days to go into a corporate meeting to sort out your response; you’ve got an hour or two at most. Big organizations struggle with being able to respond that dynamically. They need to find a way of doing it, and they need to have people who understand this new environment, who are empowered to do that.

A rumor can gather momentum with great speed on the web, especially if it is championed by a skillful blogger or commentator. It was Churchill who said that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

I believe that slicker and more efficient processes for preparing responses to a journalist’s critique of a company are critical. The old and laborious top-down processes will be too cumbersome to reverse the momentum of criticism. Communications functions need to be shaken up, ensuring swifter communication between the company’s knowledge centers and its media and news dissemination functions. Senior management needs to understand new communications technology. Managers need to be aware not only of the information that is in circulation, but also of the company’s own communications strategy and media. The media-orientated company is very inclusive, unhierarchical, and engaged. New communications technologies are also highly challenging to the stratified institution that puts media into a discrete department that does not adequately communicate with hands-on management and staff.

I would argue that the same media that have the scope to damage a company through reputational loss also present the company with some extraordinary opportunities. It can, for example, have its own journalists who blog on the web to enhance the company’s presence. Companies can also launch their own television channels to compete with independent stations. Finally, they may wish over time to link up with other companies across many sectors to launch an entirely separate corporate internet, a most radical and speculative proposal!

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Further reading


  • Gillin, Paul. The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media. Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, 2007.
  • Gillmor, Dan. We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2004.
  • Kovach, Bill, and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.
  • Tapscott, Don. Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009.

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