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Should We Really Think Like a Publisher?

Thanks to my good friend and “publisher” Mike Azzara for putting together the following thoughts on, of all things, the word “publisher”.

Joe’s recent post admonishes non-media brands to believe that they are publishers. In fact, he says, “Believing that you are a publisher is the first rule” (of success in modern marketing, I assume).

But I worry whether the word “publisher” can be resurrected.

Gene Barry in the 1968-1971 television series The Name of the Game shaped my understanding of the word publisher. Barry played Glenn Howard, publisher of People magazine (long before there was a People magazine), a character who was, for all intents and purposes, a publisher as superhero.

I wanted to grow up to use the power of the press to fight for what was right, too. As a grown up though I often no longer know what is right.

I rose up through the ranks of editorial and in 1995 was named Publisher of CommunicationsWeek, then the weekly tabloid bible of the telecommunications industry. And then I was robbed.

By 1998 the Internet had made the word publisher suspect. By 2000 you could get away with calling someone a media brand manager, but if you made their title publisher, their resume was on the street immediately – showing only their previous title. Shallow media troglodytes viewed the word as tied to the past, as tied to print, as a death knell to their careers.

But I still loved the word, the title, and what it meant to me — understanding the needs of your audience, inventing content to serve their needs and, whenever necessary, advocating, crusading or even fighting for their needs. And rights.

Today, I’m a “content strategist” — sometimes even a “chief content strategist.” Don’t get me wrong, I do important work helping non-media brands make meaningful and authentic connections with their audiences. Ironically, I can do that (and they can’t) because of all those “publishing” skills I picked up in the course of 25 or 30 years in the newspaper business, including a good decade or more online.

If I call it publishing, however — well, let’s just say my kids would have to go to cheaper colleges. I had one client for whom I had to change “think like a publisher” to “think like a content brand.” So it goes.

All this is why Joe’s recent post struck such an important chord for me. And why I have always noticed, and admired, every time he admonishes non-media brands that they have to “think like a publisher.”

The truth is, no other word encompasses all the necessary elements of content marketing like publisher does, or carries all the positive connotations. My hope is that brand marketers who see themselves as publishers won’t be able to help themselves — they’ll become advocates for their audiences, i.e., their customers. And by so advocating, they will help those audiences get the information experiences they need. And by so helping, they will earn their brands the authentic customer relationships that lead to extreme success.

No longer a publisher, Mike Azzara is a recovering veteran online media executive who is now a mercenary: he develops thought leadership content for any brand that needs it, primarily as Chief Content Strategist for Stein Rogan + Partners, New York. He can be reached at mike[at]