Cisco and the Trailblazing Interviews

Journalists make the best interviewers. I’m sure that sounds biased, given that I’ve spent most of my life as a journalist. But have you ever gone to a conference, for instance, where a non-journalist interviews someone on stage? The interviewer either lobs softballs that elicit rote answers or spews out multi-part questions designed to show how much the interviewer knows.

Long way of saying: If you’re a brand, and you want to build content around an interview format, bring in some journalists.

This is what Cisco has done, and it’s an interesting venture into the land of branded journalism. The company decided it wanted to collect interviews — to a large degree they are oral histories — from many of the pioneers who helped create the networked technologies we use today. To make these interviews as interesting as possible, Cisco is pairing the pioneers with veteran technology journalists who then do the interviewing. The tagline of the series: “Insights from tech luminaries captured by noted journalists.”

Also interesting is Cisco’s hands-off approach. I just did my first of these for Cisco, an interview with MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte. Cisco did not guide me in any way. Didn’t ask me to ask anything. Certainly didn’t push any Cisco agenda. And once I brought in the video of the interview and the edited text Q&A, Cisco didn’t touch it.

In the end, I believe this benefits Cisco. Readers, hopefully, see these interviews as a public service — the capturing of important historical stories. And that should engender good feelings toward the Cisco brand.

Beyond that, by taking a hands-off approach, Cisco is able to get good journalists to do the interviewing, and convince people like Vint Cerf, Bob Metcalfe and Chris Anderson to participate.

What’s lacking in Cisco’s approach is presentation. The possibilities are so great for creating a rich and vibrant web page or app that would draw in students and technologists. Instead, the main landing page is just a text list, like something from the web circa 1996. A snazzier version would no doubt multiply the brand benefits.

Still, as branded journalism goes, Cisco has the right idea with this series.

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