By now, content marketing has become an important part of almost every PR’s arsenal. We’ve become an army of bloggers and article writers.
And why not? Content is the motive force for today’s noisy internet. It offers more runway to tell stories, share messages and drive thought leadership than the typical press mention.
Plus, content seems like the path of least resistance. There are plenty of places to publish and syndicate. With fewer reporters covering more beats, our pitches are increasingly easy to ignore amidst a sea of social chatter and other competing noise. This makes it harder to earn coverage, as Frank Strong pointed out in his post This is How the Sorry State of Media Relations Ends.
It’s a situation that seems to frustrate all sides. Journalists dislike getting end-run by tweeting execs who communicate directly with their audiences. But many shun the kind of trend and feature pieces that used to be great homes for client and brand stories. They’re covering big news and top names that can move the needle on readership and social sharing. Frank wrote:
“Unless your story today is about Google, Facebook, money or scandal, the traditional, bona fide reporters are not interested.”
So, many in our profession have blithely gulped the content Kool Aid, been swept up in the flood. But after fielding the 10,000th byline request, hearing one too many prospects put off a PR program because they’re going to go it on their own with content and cheap writers, and surveying results from a field of content heavy programs, I thought it might be a good time to sound an alarm.
You Own it, You Break it
Not to dismiss the power of owned and social media channels; but these can be too much like the sound of one hand clapping without the credibility and validation of earned media.
Public relations’ stock in trade has been the ability to persuade and get ink for our news. How can you convince others that your brand rocks, your product is a breakthrough, or to take a fresh look at the world if you are not in fact getting others on board?
This had been done since the birth of PR by getting the media to understand the need for your company, product or service and cover your stories.
Conversely, most of the types of content that PR generates (barring press releases) are by design not overtly promotional. The soft sell of a vendor byline can be too subtle and go unnoticed in today’s media maelstrom. It is all too easy to generate a sea of bland content that goes ignored.
A great product review; a nice company profile; articles that argue for the type of change that your company provides – that is great PR that is admittedly harder to get but is still vitally important.
A new Era of Media Relations
If some doors seem more tightly closed, other avenues are opening. Earned media is no longer just relegated to traditional media. Bloggers and social influencers can count too. It all gets back to social proof – with the major media brands at the top of the heap.
And if you are finding it difficult to scale that summit, perhaps now would be a good time to reset expectations and reevaluate your approach. Mass blasts, the PR rep as a glorified pitching machine – these archetypes have never served our field well. Yet it is a mode that too many still work in (I know this – as a blogger I get a ton of irrelevant pitches).
The true pros are looking beyond the transaction, building relationships with reporters beyond a single story or pitch. They are keeping their ears to the ground and staying close to reporters by reading their stories and social musings.
They are finding ways to be helpful and serve the media’s needs – and getting out of the way when there is not a clear fit.
Those who stick to the old mode will not succeed in this business; or perhaps they will continue to double down on owned and earned media channels (as I said above, these things are all great but not enough).
Instead of the end of media relations, perhaps we will see the start of a new and more productive era.
Thanks for continuing the conversation like old days, Bob. And I agree with your assessment. It is a new era both in how PRs approach media relations and the role content marketing can have in earning media. In my observation, there’s a lot of PRs dabbling in content, but not so many dedicated to it. Those that do will find their background in working with editorial contacts to be like a magical power awakening. For those that don’t, well, in truth, I don’t really mind.