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Should Public Relations Claim Control of Content Marketing?

Should Public Relations Claim Control of Content Marketing?

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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  • jonny curran

    Great Article Craig on
    Public Relations and Content Marketing!

    agreed with all the points and especially visual media impact on content
    marketing. Yes, peoples are so much busy in their life and graphics is a good
    option to short cut to communication. Visual
    can make a better impact on the user mind in a quick time. Thanks for sharing!

    • There are certainly many benefits to using visuals in communication, Jonny. In many cases, however, images can’t convey as many subtle aspects of an issue the written word can capture. Nor can it be as easily customised to different sorts of people who have their own preferences for information ‘digestion’. Clearly, they are both of value. Thanks for your comments.

      • jonny curran

        I agree with you, Craig. They are both of value.

        Thanks for your response over my comment.

  • Great Article. Story is the core of everything.
    To me, everything that is communication and marketing is one continuum and the lines are more blurry than ever. The main problem with the traditional approach to marketing and communication is to separate PR, social media, content marketing, advertising…etc from each other. This causes the message to become fuzzy and the positioning to lack focus.
    I think the challenge is less about the discipline and more about the people who apply it and ignore the power of an authentic story.

    • Thanks Hussein. Of course, as you rightly imply, getting the organisational teams (marketing, social media, HR, PR – however works on content!) on the same page regarding content is absolutely fundamental. This is to get the best possible ROI, ensure content is used appropriately and for consistent messaging.

  • JerryDRoss

    Thanks for your insights on public relations in content marketing today. I like how you boil it down to really being about telling a story that is attuned and relevant to the stakeholders and their needs. It’s about giveing content that is beneficial to your followers or customers and using the medium that is best for reaching your audiance.
    Thanks for your post.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jerry. Getting the balance right in providing information of relevance to stakeholders but also getting organisational messages across will always be a balancing act and, also, one of the joys of this area. Bridging knowledge and needs/interests gaps will always be a worthwhile undertaking.

  • This was a thought-provoking post, and the comment I started to pen ended up as a response I just published to my blog. The gist: I agree with Craig’s assessment and suggestions – PR should be taking a lead role in content marketing. However, in my day to day interactions with others in the biz, I see four hurdles that are preventing many PR pros from fully leveraging digital media. The four hurdles I see are a wholly separate PR and marketing strategies, messaging that doesn’t put the audience first, a reluctance to really embrace social media and the persistent problems around measurement. We have to lock those four things down if PR is going to own the content space. Here’s the link to the full post: http://blog.prnewswire.com/2014/02/14/4-things-pr-must-do-to-leverage-digital-media/

    • If anyone hasn’t read Sarah’s post I suggest they do – as it’s excellent!

  • Lyndon

    The suggestion that companies, “…use senior public relations professionals as moral counsellors…” sends a shiver down my spine. The traditional PR model is devoid of any morality.

    PR should only be in charge of content when the content is focused on building relationships with the various publics. On the basis that most PR people don’t understand public relations, let alone marketing, so the idea that they will control all content troubles me.

    Most PR agencies sell media programs [publicity] where there is no conscious effort to build relationships, or get an audience to take any action of note. It is probably just as well, because without a relationship in place, the chances of successfully getting anybody to do anything – as many who have invested in publicity under the guise of PR will testify to – is slim.

    Lyndon Johnson
    Founder http://thinkdifferently.ca

  • Jason

    I know that I am a year late to this discussion but the topic is still extremely relevant today (I’d say even more). It is more relevant due to the increasing need for content and visuals to help meet customers and your audience where they are.
    As it is mentioned, our attention span has dwindled over the years and if you are not providing these short forms of content, you’re missing an opportunity with your customers, partners, prospects and employees.

    If you look at the content that has been shared with you by your network (and what you have shared) I would venture to say a good amount is the new type of content – video, infographics, GIFs and even email. Traditional news articles and long form content has taken a backseat to what is being shared by individuals because most of the time we’re viewing it on a mobile device in our hand and it comes down to simple convenience.

    There was also a point below made by Lyndon stating “Most PR agencies sell media programs [publicity] where there is no conscious effort to build relationships, or get an audience to take any action of note.” I couldn’t disagree more with this generalization. There are agencies and internal teams out there that keep these four actions top of mind with all of their programs: identification,
    engagement, creation and action. In today’s 10-minute news cycle, everything
    needs to be tied together and integrated so that the story that you’re telling
    to your target audience is flowing correctly. And your PR and marketing teams
    need to be smart enough to know when and where an audience tone or place in the buying / advocacy cycle has changed because you need to then address their needs, where they are.

    In short, yes, the PR agency or team should claim control of content marketing. If your PR team is able to bring in the senior counsel that calls out the opportunity through true market and customer insights, a data analytics team that can show you the numbers and the team that will execute (media relations, writers, community managers, designers), you’re sitting in a really good position because these areas are exactly what PR has been built on – now there is just trendy name for it. PR is content marketing and content marketing is PR in today’s world of communications. Why not stick with the team that knows where, what and when to create content that will further your message?