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Why Content Marketing and Public Relations Need Each Other


It was a good pitch.  Timely, tailored, and fitting for both the journalist and the publication.  But the reporter didn’t respond, despite my experience, intuition and persistence.

Yet I knew it was a good story – a story with legs.

After several unsuccessful attempts, I re-worked my pitch into a blog post and published it on the company blog.  The post gained traction in social media, which was the intended effect, but then something else happened: it earned links and mentions from several news outlets.

The year was 2009 and I had a very special epiphany that day. This new trend some were calling content marketing had the hallmarks of a soft and subtle pitch.  Owned media had clear implications for an earned media strategy – and beyond the conventions of just crisis communications.

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Media Changes mean PR needs Content Marketing

The democratization of media has had a profound impact on the influence of information on the sales cycle according to keynote speaker and author Dan Pink. Brands used to have a controlling influence on information about their products.

Mr. Pink’s example is the car dealership and its salespeople. It used to be that the salespeople, knew far more about a vehicle than the consumer ever could. The web has obviously changed that – a few quick product searches on a mobile device leads a buyer to reviews and commentary from sources other than the brand.

Today, those sources go far beyond pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book or reviews like Consumer Reports. For example, a buyer can solicit instant opinions friends on Facebook the micro-moment before a purchase.

Forrester Research says buyers are somewhere between 60-90% of the way through the buyer’s journey before they talk to sales.  In B2B, the Corporate Executive Board puts it at precisely 57%.  We can quibble with the precision, but whether you are selling cars, or quarter million dollar software subscriptions, the implications are clear.

This content marketing thing isn’t going to fade away like some fad.  It’s only going to get harder.

Credibility and Content Marketing  

Certainly, brands need content marketing, and PR can help build trust and credibility, but there is something more urgent: communicators need content marketing.

Why?  Because the media landscape – and by extension, the audience – is fractured.

For example, a top-tier news outlet covered a story I had pitched and included a link to our website.  I was worried as to whether or not the servers would hold up with all the web traffic surely headed our way.

That worry was wasted because that traffic never showed up.  At least not in the volume I had anticipated from such a credible placement.

Where five years ago, a placement like that would have sent us tens of thousands of visitors, today it sends just a few hundred, or perhaps a thousand.  As with the landscape and audience, the associated influence too is fractured.

Years ago there were only a handful of top-tier media outlets.  In broadcast television, you had three choices – ABC, CBS or NBC.   These outlets had a controlling influence on information, not unlike Dan Pink’s car salesperson. Today, are many more options both on the television – and on the web.

The same is true in print.  Where the major daily newspaper – even the online version – was the single most influential local publication in any American city, today it’s just one among many.  The audience is divided among the many media choices. As a result, the ability of any single media outlet to influence outcomes or behaviors is diminished.

This means content marketing, should be at the center of all external communication.  Every time an organization rents, borrows or earns attention in someone else’s channel, you want a little bit of that audience to join yours.


The Best Kept Secret in Content Marketing

As content marketing gains traction in the larger marketing organization, there’s increased pressure to ensure every piece of content has a call to action, a hard-sell and a means to tabulate last-action attribution.

This is a sure-fire path to fail in content marketing, and a central theme of a piece by the analyst firm Gartner on content marketing, stemming from an interview with Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute.

The piece says organizations that fail “focus on campaigns, not conversation.” They also tend to be “more about the brand than the audience—where marketers focus on their value proposition more than their values; where the brand—not the audience—is the hero in the story.”

By contrast, the classically-trained PR professional knows that markets are conversations. It’s an inherent philosophy for being helpful, with a predilection for storytelling, and the patience to build trust and the knowledge that relationships take time.

If brands want to put some jet-fuel in content marketing, invite the communicators to the table because PR is the best-kept secret in content marketing.

10 Ways for PR to Add Value in Content Marketing

No greater opportunity exists than in repurposing content.  While repurposing is tactical, it’s naturally a stepping stone into the strategic aspects of content marketing.

Studies suggest that especially in B2B, upwards of 70% of content goes unused.  This is because even as marketing invests time or budget in developing content, the furious pace of work means as soon as a piece is complete, they move on to the next thing.

Few businesses realize the full potential of the content they’ve already created.  It’s a continuous effort to produce more and more, without really thinking through distribution.

It’s important to note, that repurposing content does not mean regurgitate. Rather PR should apply the editorial filters that come second nature, weave insight from other sources and generally, add value along the way.

Here are some easy ways to get involved and make a significant impact:

  • Break sections from existing white papers into guest blog posts.
  • Re-write white papers as long form contributed articles.
  • Get to the latest infographic before it’s published – and pitch it to a media outlet first.
  • Thread contributed content into blog posts.
  • Weave media placements earned with a case study for blog posts.
  • Review webinars for pitch ideas, contributed articles or guest posts.
  • Repurpose archived webinar recordings for blog posts and contributed content.
  • Mold two or more existing blog posts into a comprehensive contributed article.
  • Round up 10, 20 or 50 customer comments from product surveys into a blog post.
  • Canvas previous published contributed content for evergreen pitch ideas.

Content marketing represents an important opportunity for communicators because it augments an integrated communications strategy and adds an incredibly useful tool to the kit.   It isn’t one more thing, it is our thing.  The next time you have a solid media pitch that goes ignored, take a shot at transforming it into content.

* * *

Note:  An earlier version of this piece was the lead story on the Communication World Magazine website during the month of September 2016.  Communication World is a publication of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)

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Photo credit: Flickr, Shawn Carpenter, Peanut Butter & Jelly (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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