I know what you’re thinking. Here comes another Maya Angelou tribute article. And even worse, one that comes a week late. This might be both, but while many have eloquently summarized her life and achievements as a poet, I’d like to take a moment to focus on her legacy as a communicator, and as a brand.
I haven’t read a Maya Angelou poem for the better part of ten years, but that doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with her work. Like many of my colleagues, I’m a devotee to the spoken and written word. I love the power of prose (I won’t bother you with another “content is king” rant), and its ability to inspire people with lasting messages. Maya Angelou’s work wasn’t written for a business, but it unavoidably built a brand. Some people may not know when “Caged Bird” was written, but most know they’ve heard it before, and many even know its famous refrain. Most brands would kill for that kind of reach and impact.
Today, many of us are also accustomed to reading all sorts of new media – blog posts, 140-character statements, video, and interactive content backed by a distribution plan dictated by paid, earned and owned media. Sound familiar? Content needs to be fresh, informative and quick while still packing a punch. Poets like Maya Angelou understood this long before digital media, or even AOL. Short poems like “Passing Time” (23 words) have an efficient word count, but have had lectures and lengthy analyses devoted to their message and meaning. This is a textbook example of what my high school English teacher labeled as an “economy of language.”
It’s a sad truth that sometimes the worst occasions like death compel you to think critically about these things. But figures like Maya Angelou endure through their words and communication. Media, as we know it, will continue to evolve. But its mission to convey a message, and engage an audience, will not change. Maybe that’s why, in spite our hustle-and-bustle society, we can always take the time to enjoy great content.
Jon Tashjian is a Director at Weber Shandwick, and Vice President and Blog Editor at the Publicity Club of New England.