Some time ago I pitched a reporter, who was looking for sources, on social media for a client. The pitch was about a study they had done. The reporter responded she hadn’t seen the study yet and would review it.
She did review it and ended up writing about it too. The interesting thing is, I had pitched her on that study by email already. In fact, I sent several personal notes – spaced out so as to not be a nuisance – about the study over the course of six weeks and she never saw any of them.
This isn’t unusual today. It’s hard to get a bona fide reporter’s attention – and even harder to get them with enough free brain space to genuinely evaluate a story idea.
I’m not alone in that viewpoint. A survey I teamed up with Ned Lundquist to conduct of PR pros last year found 51% said media relations was getting harder. I’m crunching data from the second annual survey now, and while the results aren’t finished yet, I can tell you that number has grown.
This is why content marketing plays such a crucial role in media relations, among many other aspects of PR and corporate communications. Still, confusion persists, and I’d like to take a whack at dispelling some of those myths.
Myth 1: Content is a commodity.
There are a lot of rocks in the world, but diamonds are still valuable. It takes an effort to mine, cut, polish, export and package for resale. If you try to pawn off a rock as a diamond, you aren’t likely to have success.
The same is true of content. Some argue content is king, and others say it’s a commodity. Both assertions have degrees of truth, depending on the context.
Well-research and well-written content that fills a niche is still quite rare. If you try to pawn off cheap content as worth more than it is, it won’t take long for people to see through it, and that trust is hard to regain.
The quality of the content is assumed, and it is subjective, but audience identification is a fundamental of public relations. PR is well suited to figure that out and because of the experience working with editorial contacts and content.
It’s also one of the highest value skills PR can bring to a business – audience building.
Myth 2: Content marketing doesn’t yield credibility.
A short while ago, a contributing author from venture capital (VC) firm published an article in a trade publication and cited my client’s blog as a source of data. What better source of credibility is there than to have your content serve as a citation?
This isn’t an anomaly and it doesn’t happen by accident. Survey research shows reporters say one of the top ways they find sources and stories is through search.
How do you get into search? You have to have something for search to index! You have to publish content – and it has to be good enough that a) a reporter is willing to read it, report it or link to it or b) a contributed piece with a link will make it past the editorial review.
To that end, links, shares, subscribers and comments are all social proof and inherent markers of third-party validation. That backlink has a lot of value too. It sends referral traffic – potential subscribers – and the residual value of backlinks works like compound interest in search.
So, content marketing does bring a level of credibility and it can help you earn more in the process.
Myth 3: You can’t pitch reporters with content.
There have been countless times when I’ve taken a pitch that was ignored by the media, turned it into a blog post, and wound up with a mention in the media anyway. The first time that happened to me was 10 years ago – so it’s not new – and it caused me to re-think media outreach.
A PR approach to content marketing is like retargeting for media relations. A reporter can see an idea in a published context, alongside the traction it earns, and understand that it’s relevant for their audience too.
In other words, your company’s blog is like a natural focus group. It’s a stepping stone, like using smaller media references to make a case to the bigger ones, which is a tried and true media relations strategy.
Myth 4: You can’t build relationships with content.
PR professionals, especially agencies, are prone to overstate the relationships, but there is an element of being a familiar, diligent and reliable source. I’ve always found reporters value a PR person that can speak in commanding detail to technology, industry or trends because it’s an important part of cutting to the chase in evaluating a story idea.
You can build relationships with content too. You can subtly pitch and educate reporters with content – while building an audience at the same time. It’s all in the approach, which is why PR can and should have a role in content marketing.
In an era of fake news, your willingness to put your name, or your brand’s name, on an idea in a public forum isn’t a scoop, it’s a vehicle of trust.
Myth 5: White papers are content marketing.
PR people know that if you ask 10 people for a definition of PR, you’ll get 10 different answers. The same seems to be true in content marketing as well. While PR is harder to define, content marketing isn’t yet many see it as an opportunity, so the varied definitions are a landgrab.
Just the other day someone was telling me “I’ve been doing content marketing since 1997!” What he meant to say is that he was writing white papers in 1997. That is admirable and white papers still have a role in marketing, but is not content marketing.
Those with successful content marketing programs know that content marketing means something very specific. It is when you act like a publisher and have a framework both for growing subscribers and publishing content consistently over time.
This is why you can run a campaign, even a white paper campaign, inside a content marketing program, but that a white paper by itself is not content marketing.
Myth 6: Content marketing replaces media relations.
Does this mean good old fashion pitching is over? Of course not. A concise and timely pitch note on a relevant topic can still draw interest in a story – and news coverage is still valuable.
Moreover, content marketing will make your pitches better. It gives you a forum to test ideas. It provides the social proof to re-visit a pitch idea that was initially rejected, or worse, ignored. It generates analytics so you can better understand what resonates and what doesn’t.
Content marketing doesn’t replace media relations, done well, it *is* media relations! These two ideas are complementary and work best when woven together. Indeed, PR truely is the best-kept secret in effective content marketing.
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Content marketing augments PR in so many ways, but it also complements many other communications and marketing functions across a business. As I wrote for Business 2 Community, Robert Rose has likened content marketing to butter: you wouldn’t eat it by the spoon, but it spread it on almost everything else and those things taste better.
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