Content marketing is not a realm exclusive to inbound marketers. They do not hold primary rights to infographics, videos, visuals and blog posts. Today’s public relations (PR) professionals use those same content tools to drive engagement and earned media. PR just applies the content in different ways, and for different outcomes.
As the Content Marketing Institute says:
“PR encompasses any activity, online or offline, designed to improve communications and build relationships with audiences that matter to your business.”
PRSA has a similar definition:
“Public relations is a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Content marketing is just one such activity and process that helps PR professionals serve their stakeholders and build relationships.
Content Marketing With a PR Slant
While PR practitioners are being asked to demonstrate return on investment (ROI), their work still rests upon building awareness, engagement and relationships with target audiences and the media. It’s through creating and maintaining those objectives that PR professionals drive deeper interest in their brand as well as media coverage.
To drive that interest, PR professionals seek to create content that fulfills at least one of three considerations:
Is the content entertaining?
Is the content visually engaging?
Is the content informative?
Content that entertains is content that gets shared, perhaps explaining BuzzFeed’s mass appeal. The site’s articles can be found on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even Pinterest. BuzzFeed articles are simply fun and easy to read or watch, and even more fun to share. PR can take advantage of that entertainment value to capture consumer attention and media mentions; Captain Morgan certainly did when promoting its brand.
BuzzFeed-like articles aren’t the only way to entertain, but they do exemplify modern tastes and are a strong model to follow. People want to be entertained; however, they aren’t going to read 500 words before reaching the punch line.
They want short, pithy content, a goal sometimes better accomplished with video and visuals than with text. People then want to be able to share content regardless of the device they’re using. If the content fails in any one of those ways, it won’t ever reach the tipping point necessary to produce engagement and coverage.
The online world is visual. Striking content brings awareness and engagement and can initiate relationships. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty may have started as a marketing effort over 10 years ago, but its subsequent news coverage and increased brand awareness are PR outcomes.
National Geographic understands the power found in beauty, too. The brand is active on Instagram and posts beautiful photos from around the world. The initiative could be deemed marketing because it keeps current viewers connected with the brand. However, this tactic also generates awareness and buzz, while introducing the brand to a new generation of potential subscribers.
Both Dove and National Geographic achieve engagement and coverage because neither brand uses beauty for beauty’s sake. Their beautiful images are essential to building their brands. They encapsulate what the brands stand for and illustrate the stories they want to tell.
Informative content, which includes press releases and supplementary how-to articles and visual aids, can get shared, but tends to reach an audience already interested in the brand’s product or service. The specifications published in Nikon’s press release about the D810, for instance, would primarily be of interest to photographers and videographers, meaning coverage and engagement within a narrow, but deep and active audience.
Tom Martin, founder of Converse Digital, puts the situation this way: “Awesome gets shared. Helpful gets bought.”
Nikon’s press release may not be the most entertaining reading, but it’s helpful to the people interested in buying the product. The PR professional’s job is to create “awesome” content that gets shared, creating the necessary buzz, while paving the way for more helpful, insightful content that increases marketing and sales leads.
PR and Content Marketing: Where’s the ROI?
Business stakeholders don’t care much about advertising value equivalency (AVE); it actually isn’t that important to PR practitioners, either. The cost of a placement isn’t how value is determined anymore, since it doesn’t demonstrate relevancy or revenue. Getting the message or story in at the right time and at the right place is critical to success.
The right-time-and-place mentality leads to increased website traffic, more impressions and social media mentions and higher engagement rates. While some might label such metrics as “soft,” awareness and buzz are essential to achieving greater ROI.
As Forrest Anderson, an independent communications strategy and research consultant, says, “PR may not be able to measure sales or contribution to share price, but PR can identify outputs that contribute to sales growth and other critical metrics.” Today’s automation technologies can assist with tracking those efforts; they can show when and how a customer lifecycle began.
Real time marketing communications (RTMC) may be a case in point. This tactic typically is used to generate buzz and awareness. These two outcomes bring attention to a brand, but they also can lead people to landing pages or encourage them to sign up for an email newsletter via a Twitter Card. In other instances, RTMC can establish a brand as a thought leader within its industry.
Press releases and email newsletters can deliver similar results. Publishing them causes a spike in website traffic and media mentions. The increased traffic and coverage is a good thing, but for measurable ROI, the two have to push people toward additional content (click-throughs) or direct interaction (a call to action).
Optimizing Content Marketing for PR’s Audiences
PR has several audiences that include customers, employees, vendors, investors and the media. While a single content asset may be able to reach all the audiences, it’s unlikely. Audiences have distinctive needs and wants. They also prefer to receive content in different ways.
Optimizing for Potential Customers
Potential customers have diverse reasons for being interested in a brand’s product or service, and some have more buying power and influence than others. Some have different preferences and expectations for content and may even consume it differently.
One segment of an audience might view content mostly on mobile. Another might rely on the desktop, particularly if it’s reading informative rather than entertaining content. Shannon Byrne, content and PR manager at Mention, says:
“[PR practitioners] find where their audience is, build meaningful relationships with them, prove value with relevant and interesting content, then pretty much deliver it to their doorstep.”
Summary: How to Optimize for Potential Customers
- Develop detailed audience personas.
- Discover where, when and how your personas seek information and/or ask for assistance.
- Create content – written articles, visual media and video – and disseminate it where your personas gravitate online, not where you are.
- Measure the effectiveness of your content and fine-tune as needed.
- Constantly assess your personas’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviors and adapt accordingly.
Optimizing for the Media
The media is complicated, too. There are many types of news outlets as well as a variety of reporters, journalists and bloggers who each have their own beats, agendas and audiences.
PR professionals can’t possibly hope to create content for all those avenues, but they can pitch relevant, timely story ideas and content to interested reporters, journalists and bloggers.
Summary: How to Optimize for the Media
- Research news outlets that serve your potential customers.
- Build relationships through social media with bloggers, journalists and reporters affiliated with those outlets.
- Send relevant, concise, easy-to-read pitches.
- Accompany your pitches with rich media like photos and videos, much of which may already exist and can be used immediately or with some small tweaks.
- Tailor your pitches for other outlets. Coverage from a variety of outlets and angles is always better. To achieve that, you need unique pitches for each masthead.
- Continue to research outlets and build and maintain relationships. News outlets, particularly online ones, come and go. The same holds true with reporters and journalists who move to another publication or are assigned a different beat.
Content Marketing Is the News
PR professionals know not to publish a news release unless they have something newsworthy to share, but the practice does not help them produce regular, ongoing engagement and coverage. In the online world, no news is not good news. A brand is only as memorable as its latest story or infographic, neither of which lingers in the news feed or memory for long.
To combat the abbreviated news cycle, PR professionals have to rethink their strategies for generating news. Lee Odden, author of “Optimize,” advises,
“If you want to be in the media, become the media.” He continues:
“[The] declining readership of traditional media, exploding use of social and mobile technologies, shortened news cycles and an explosion in brand publishing make today’s media environment very different. […] To ensure your place as a trusted source for stories in the media, create content that demonstrates that expertise.”
Ann Handley makes a similar point. She says brands can’t wait for news to happen or to have a new product or service to publicize. They generate news by becoming the news, and by creating content that is “useful, inspired and honestly empathetic.”
PR practitioners can use any number of content marketing tactics to insert themselves into the ongoing news cycle, but they mustn’t forget their own. Odden says:
“Public relations professionals that are skilled in messaging, content planning, social media and promotion have an excellent base to become better content marketers than many of the people now calling themselves ‘content marketing experts.’”
PR professionals should complement content marketing with traditional tactics for increased engagement, reach and coverage. For example, they could place an infographic with a news outlet. They can also amplify a traditional event with digital media so as to gain increased attention and interaction.
Content Marketing as an Ecosystem
Just as marketing, sales and PR sometimes operate as independent fiefdoms, so, too, do content marketing assets. Rather than working together to achieve larger goals, they fragment, resulting in few, if any, goals being reached.
In addition, isolating content marketing assets can result in a duplication of efforts, meaning time, energy and money wasted. Keith Ecker, a content strategist at Jaffe PR, says:
“Content marketing seems like a revolutionary concept, but I believe it’s more a shift in perception. By viewing the lifecycle of PR and marketing as part of a continuum, we are establishing a framework that makes it easy for the parties involved in reputation management and business development to work together.”
Another potential problem is inconsistent branding. When multiple departments produce and publish content, branding almost always falls apart. Consistent, cohesive branding and more efficient workflows are largely dependent on departments and all their content working together rather than as isolated entities.
Shifting to an ecosystem mindset demands a change in perception; content marketing assets aren’t published then shoved into a box held in some dusty attic. They need to be placed into a content marketing lifecycle, one that can be thought of in terms of reduce, reuse and recycle.
Reduction can be thought of as “snackable content.” Content is easily consumed and highly shareable. For example, a clever line from a large content asset might be tweeted or turned into an Instagram post or Vine. The “snackable” pieces would lead the viewer back to the original content or other owned asset.
Content produced for PR can sometimes be used for marketing purposes and vice versa. Ecker says:
“Any PR success often can serve as kindling for the content marketing kiln through the process of repurposing. PR impressions, such as an article in a trade publication or a quote in a newspaper, can be converted into owned media with the help of a clever content strategist who can identify its repurposing potential.”
“Repurposed” or “reused” content always has to be modified; a blog post can’t be reused as a guest article to a larger publication without some revision. Ideas within a post can be converted into a thought leadership piece published on a guest site or pitched as a story idea to journalists and influencers.
Remember to take a few seconds to tag your content as you create it. Investing the time at the outset makes it easier to identify how to leverage specific pieces of content for reuse.
“Evergreen” content can have a role if the content is germane to a trending topic or news outlet. Such content, like “reused” content, requires modification before being placed elsewhere.
It may also require general rejuvenation from time to time to meet potential customers’ needs and expectations. Put an expiration date on your content and use that as a trigger to either remove outdated material or revamp it based on current industry trends. Not all content will have the same half-life, though. Some content may last for a year before needing a refresh, other content may need an update within a couple months.
PR and Content Marketing: An Engagement and Coverage Powerhouse
Content marketing might generate some interest and attention all on its lonesome, but its full capabilities become apparent when wedded with PR. Engagement and coverage are a result of pitching relevant and interesting stories, which PR professionals understand. They simply apply that knowledge to content marketing and supplement it with pitches and earned and paid media to achieve greater results, both the so-called “soft” and “hard” kind.