Modern marketers must cater their messaging to a generation of consumers who expect quick fixes and instant gratification .
PR professionals will be the first to tell you—content marketing is not a new practice.
Brands’ demand for a steady supply of high-quality content and expectations of predictable results via new distribution methods brings both opportunities and challenges for PR firms.
Companies have been investing in the creation and distribution of high-quality content for marketing purposes for centuries. (Literally. Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company debuted The Locomotive, a content marketing initiative, in 1867.)
“A common misconception about content marketing is that it is something new that entered the marketing arena a few years ago,” says Danielle M. Cyr, vice president of integrated marketing at Co-Communications, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in New York and Connecticut. “Great content has always been the key to educating prospective and current clients and building brand trust.”
Although content has long been a pivotal component of businesses’ communication strategies, there’s no denying that the explosion of digital media and social media, content marketing’s proliferation and marketers’ shifting media budgets have dramatically altered the playing field.
The demand for a constant stream of content
Savvy companies have become publishers in their own right, pushing out content on owned channels such as blogs, newsletters and social media. Journalists and editors are no longer the media gatekeepers, a shift that has changed the value proposition of PR firms a bit. Thanks to the digital epoch, if you have something to say, you can basically say it. But you’ll have to say it well if you want to be heard over all of the noise you’re competing against. Everyone, PR professionals included, has to work hard to make sure their message breaks through the cacophony created by a multitude of content sources.
“We live in a world where nearly every individual, company and cause is manufacturing their own unique content. In order to stand out and grab your online audience’s attention, you need to be creative, strategic, timely, and relevant, and sometimes, a little bit quirky. The challenge is that you need to do all of those things while making sure quality is your top priority,” notes Cyr.
PR companies certainly benefit from businesses’ increased demand for content, regardless of where it runs. But producing enough effective content can be challenging. “Developing the deeper understanding of their clients’ markets and solutions that is needed for content creation is a big challenge for many PR agencies,” says Mike Smith, partner, Montner Tech PR, a technology PR firm based in Westport, CT.
The three-prong distribution strategy
These days, coverage on a niche blog can be as valuable as press in the mainstream media. But although there’re more outlets to choose from, PR firms are actually working with a smaller pool of journalists, says Smith. “Broadly speaking, the entire digital marketing and search-driven advertising trend caused traditional media advertising to decline. That, in turn, reduced editorial budgets and has made the PR industry much more competitive because there are fewer reporters writing fewer stories. I’m not sure which one was the chicken and which the egg, but faced with these changes, media turned to sponsored content to drive new revenue streams and replace articles they had been paying staff to write. The silver lining for PR agencies with strong writers and deep domain knowledge is that creating fresh content to feed the marketing machine can drive new revenues for our industry, too,” he says.
Media and companies’ embrace of sponsored content, or native advertising, affords opportunities for PR firms willing to go full-throttle with their content marketing offerings. Some PR firms have expanded their services beyond earned and owned media and are helping clients explore paid placements, as well. The challenge is navigating these new distribution methods and ensuring they have the in-house resources needed to execute these strategies.