At the heart of content marketing is storytelling, the main strategic approach informing the development of content which enhances brand equity and reputation. The telling of stories in business is the prime responsibility of public relations, so it is a natural progression for PR to take the lead role in content marketing.
When we talk of storytelling, we are speaking of stories (or narratives) told in a positive sense, not the fabrication of lies, semi-truths and inane exaggeration. Generation of the latter is not infrequently ascribed to PR as being a common characteristic of the discipline. But this is the result of public relations’ reputation often needing some good management in itself, rather than what it actually does.
Even in the area of issues and crisis management, an effective strategy will focus on getting truths in the public domain, ensuring there is balance to the dialogues and narratives being developed and, importantly, admitting fault and liability when it is appropriate to do so.
What’s new for PR in content marketing?
The popularity of content marketing, and its seeming emergence as a ‘new’ tactical element in marketing and communication, is deeply ironic. In fact, content marketing has been embedded in business communication since the first time a street seller starting yelling out across the marketplace about his wares; since the first advertisement; since the first billboard.
What, in fact, is the Bible if not a wizard piece of content marketing? (Don’t shoot; clearly it is a lot more than that, but you get my drift…)
The generation of stories and messaging underpinning efforts to enhance brand equity and reputation has been apparent in PR-driven media campaigns, thought leadership pieces, conference presentations, publications and even events for many years.
The emergence of social media and its voracious need for more content (driven by digital consumers), due to the plethora of platforms such as blogs and Facebook, has given the term ‘content marketing’ a gravitas it perhaps doesn’t deserve.
It’s not like content marketing is a new thing
Then again, equally, the sheer volume of social media platforms means that perhaps content marketing is deserving of the hype.
That, and as the number of journalists and traditional media titles dwindle, there is more demand for corporate-driven content, accompanied by an attendant opportunity for brands to communicate more directly, creatively and meaningfully with their target audiences.
Public relations’ moral responsibility in content marketing
With the reduction of traditional media’s power and influence comes, naturally, greater responsibility, as we can’t rely so much on the media to help keep the – organisational – bastards honest. This emphasises (rather than increases) the moral imperative on organisations to make their storytelling/content truthful and not be manipulative.
Being honest and morally consistent with target audiences beliefs is the constant counsel effective public relations provides to organisations. This is a very important reason why PR should be the organisation’s chief storyteller and/or be consulted with in the generation of this content. This is a reflection of the need for organisations to use senior public relations professionals as moral counsellors for their actions and to test the likely impact of their actions on target audiences.
Visuals impact on content marketing
One of the most important characteristics of this new world of content marketing is its visual dimension. Undoubtedly, the impact of visuals to tell and enhance stories has existed since caveman days. It’s reflected in the way visual arts have come to mean so much to people.
But the continuing emergence of digital communication has seemingly galvanised consumers as to its importance. Perhaps it is also a reflection in how our lives have become busier and busier and more and more saturated with information.
Visuals are a short cut to communication. Like platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and Google + which tend to rely on short amounts of text, rather than platforms such as blogs which support longer forms of content, arguably they are a manifestation of our evidently shrinking attention spans.
There are many forms of visual content
There are many forms of visual communication which are actually very subtle and contain volumes of narrative. One example which comes to mind in Australian Aboriginal art.
The power of visuals in online communication is leading to a whole sub-set of PR practitioners, those that are just as handy with video storylines and a camera as with the (metaphorical) pen.
What won’t change
What won’t change, however, is the need for communicators to understand the nature of stories which need to be told to enhance brand and reputation.
What won’t change is recognising the importance of what platform should be used to best tell the stories and which are most likely to reach and impact on target audiences.
And what won’t change is the moral responsibility and strategic intelligence public relations practitioners need to provide in the formulation and articulation of content marketing to help ensure organisations are attuned, relevant and responsive to stakeholders and their needs and wants.
How is content marketing helping your business communication?
How has content marketing impacted on the practice of your efforts in business communication, whether it be marketing or public relations? Is the ‘shrinking’ of attention spans and the popularity of ‘snapshot’ communication mediums such as Instagram and Twitter influencing your communication strategies and content – if so, can you give an example?
Guest author: Craig Pearce is a public relations strategist with nearly 20 years experience in the field. He has been posting at his blog, Public relations and managing reputation, for almost five years.
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