Jan 16, 2018 / by Lacey Miller

I just read a concerning article about the differences between public relations and content marketing. The descriptions of each function were adequate, but when it came time to talk about how success is measured, it went off the rails. PR, the article said is measured by media placements, press mentions, and impressions. While content marketing, on the other hand, is measured by backlinks, referral traffic, engagement metrics (time on site, social shares, comments, etc.), search engine ranking, and conversions.

Hold the phone.

I’d like to submit my formal disagreement with this notion on the basis of two crucial facts. First, much of what PR professionals do is content marketing, so the same measurement tools and objectives should apply. Second, if you want to be ignored by executive teams and see your budget disappear, go ahead and keep measuring media placements, press mentions, and impressions.

PR is Content

PRSA defines Public Relations as “A strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” How does that happen? Through creating content that supports the brand’s message and inspiring others to do so. A positive earned media mention, after all, is a piece of content that can be marketed in the same way that owned content is marketed. 

It works the other way around as well. If a brand develops a piece of content, say a video or an eBook, that asset can be used by the PR team to catch the interest of reporters and influencers in the space. The “if you build it, they will come,” strategy does not work for content. It must be promoted and amplified in order to be effective. That’s precisely what PR pros are skilled at doing. 

The PR team is also one of a brand’s best resources for content ideas and development. They have their finger on the pulse of the industry and know what topics are trending. With sophisticated monitoring in place, PR teams can be hyper-specific about what content will appeal to a particular audience or publication, helping brands get superior results from fewer, more targeted pieces. 

Metrics that Matter

These days, much of the work that PR professionals do is tied to the internet in some way. If you get an earned media mention, most people will consume it online. Your product reviews, social media followers, and brand created content are all on the web. Even if you advertise on TV, those spots are probably on YouTube as well. 

Because your content is digital, and people can interact with it, outdated metrics like impressions, mentions, and advertising value equivalency are no longer the best or only way to measure PR. Those metrics are not interesting to executive teams because they aren’t tied to measurable business results. So, you got a million impressions? What does that mean? There’s no line item for media mentions on the profit and loss statement. These meaningless metrics are part of the reason that PR teams often struggle to get a seat at the table and why budgets are so at risk.

The solution is simple. If so much of PR is about content production and promotion, why wouldn’t you apply the same metrics for success that content marketers use? Backlinks? Referral traffic? Engagement? SEO? Conversions? Aren’t those exactly the things that you want from both earned media and owned content?

The great news about this approach to PR measurement is that it can be tied to revenue. In fact, with the right analytics tools in place and with the help of your marketing automation platform, CRM, and Google Analytics, you can determine exactly how much revenue was influenced by PR. When you can prove that PR is directly contributing to the bottom line, you suddenly change from a cost center to a revenue generator. Instead of seeing PR as something that is necessary, executives will see it as an opportunity to invest in something that is helping the business grow. That’s a whole new ballgame.

I guess I never answered the question posed in the title of this post. Are PR professionals really content marketers? Reasonable people can disagree about that characterization, but there’s no denying that content is part of the foundation of PR. Successful pros know this and measure success accordingly.

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About Lacey Miller

Passionate about public relations and empowering practitioners, Lacey Miller found her dream job at TrendKite, where she carries the crown of 'word nerd'. With a background in public relations and technology, she's a great fit with her desire to innovate the industry! You can find her most days writing for PR Forward, PRSA, and other marketing trade publications.