Citizen Kane is considered by many critics to be one of the best films ever captured on celluloid. It tells the story of the titular ‘Charles Foster Kane’, a thinly veiled mirror image of William Randolph Hurst and a similarly entrepreneurial character.
Throughout the film, we get to witness Kane’s meteoric rise to prominence as told through a series of flashbacks from the perspective of a newsreel reporter who’s trying to work out the meaning of his final word: ‘Rosebud’. As well as being a tour de force of fantastic film making (and a showcase for the writer, director and star Orson Wells), the classic is also an amazing source of inspiration and caution for entrepreneurs and a testament to the power of the written word. For small businesses, web marketers, bloggers and anyone else trying to build an empire – there is a lot to learn from this story.
But how would Charles Foster Kane’s story (or Hurst’s for that matter) have been different were it to take place in the modern world? How would someone with the drive, determination and grit of this timeless figure go about rising in power and prominence in the digital age? Let’s look at how you could become a media mogul of the web, a digital Citizen Kane…
The Story of Citizen Kane
Kane’s life begins in poverty in Colorado, before his Mother discovers a goldmine on her property and he is sent away to be raised by banker Walter Parks Thatcher who is able to give him a proper education. At 25, he gains control of his trust fund and buys his way into the journalism industry. The type of journalism Kane gets involved in though isn’t the type you win awards for. This is ‘yellow journalism’ that is more interested in sensationalism than facts.
From there, Kane goes on to build himself and his new newspaper ‘The Inquirer’ up. He hires the best journalists available to rise circulation and from there goes on to manipulate the public’s perception of the Spanish American War. This along with his marriage to the president’s niece, ultimately leads to his running for Governor of New York. By the end of his life, Kane is the richest man in the world but living in complete isolation. When he dies, he utters one final, enigmatic word: ‘rosebud’ which results in the reporters attempt to deconstruct his character. Would it be nice if someone wanted to deconstruct your character after you were gone…?
The Moral of the Story
Of course the story of Citizen Kane is a cautionary tale of the potential that fortune and success has to corrupt us. He himself claims that ‘if [he] hadn’t been born rich [he] might have been a really great man’. Throughout the course of the story he is forced to sacrifice many of his values during his rise to power.
Here you could easily draw parallels with some of aspects of the world of digital marketing. What’s a better example of ‘yellow journalism’ than those clickbait ‘Buzzfeed’ articles? And who hasn’t been tempted to sacrifice their values when toying with marketing a less-than-stellar product?
Just as importantly though, the story also demonstrates the power of the entrepreneurial spirit. Sure, that goldmine certainly played its part, but really it was the cunning of the main character that led to his status and wealth by the end of the film. How do you turn that small initial investment into big money? It’s in the answers to these questions that the entrepreneurial spirit is found.
And equally, Citizen Kane demonstrates the power of the written word. When Kane buys into the newspaper business, he buys into the ability to lead the opinions of the public. Remember, this story may be fiction but it is based on a true tale. Throughout history in fact, media moguls have often held a huge amount of power.
Today, thanks to the power of the web, we are all publishers. We all have access to that level of influence and we all can grow in power and prominence from even the most humble beginnings. Will you become a thought leader like Citizen Kane?
Building Your Digital Empire
If you want to recreate the legendary success of Citizen Kane and the tycoons he is modelled after, then you need to leverage that entrepreneurial spirit and the power of the written word. For the first time in history, all of us can be publishers and all of us can become thought leaders.
If you can find your audience and sway their opinion enough, you can grow in power and influence just the same way that Kane did. And today it’s easier than ever too, thanks to the existence of software and tools that make it possible for us to reach even larger numbers more easily than ever. You can outsource, you can automate and you can systemize your output and reach millions of people overnight. Even those who can’t write can hire those who can – just as Kane rounded up the very best journalists for his paper.
Would ‘The Inquirer’ be a blog if it really existed today? Would Kane have spread his political agenda via Twitter? Don’t be afraid to think big: you can use these tools to grow your empire to gigantic levels beyond your wildest dreams.
Regardless, the question now is what will you do with this influence? Will you use them in a similar way to extend your influence and amass your fortune? Are you going to let this power corrupt you just like Citizen Kane? Will you sacrifice your values to the altar of success and end up isolated and alone? Or will you make your riches and then retire to a sunny tropical beach somewhere?
Well, that’s up to you – what you decide to do with the power you accumulate is your prerogative. But what’s exciting is that it’s now possible to have that kind of influence and to amass that kind of wealth. To try on that power for yourself and to see if you like the fit. And it’s partly the excitement of this Icarus-like story that many of us find so enthralling…