I work with a lot of PR agencies and departments within companies and many times the sentiment seems to be that “we’ve been doing Content Marketing since we began. Aren’t we doing content marketing?”
And, by the way, marketing departments and ad agencies aren’t immune to this feeling either – where they say something like “ we create content, and we’re in marketing – so aren’t we doing content marketing?”
The answer is “no”.
Certainly content marketing used to be a big piece of what PR did. The department used to be the “corporate storyteller”. But PR is truly a practice that is in full disruption and identity crisis at the moment. Now, I’m a huge fan of the practice of public relations and have spent many years on both sides of the table (client and agency). But what PR has become over the last 15 years, more broadly, and the last 8 more specifically, is simply a different way to “describe the value” of the company’s product or service. PR, in many respects, has become a mouthpiece of product marketing – only with a very specific audience (press, influencers and analysts).
Now, to be fair, many are quite skilled at this. Whether it’s helping a company manage a crisis, or developing core relationships with media outlets – and even helping to develop a more conversational tone across social media, many PR agencies have become truly “digital first” or “social first” in their approach.
But what hasn’t happened – and this is a trend even in marketing and communications more broadly – is the evolution of content as a function in the organisation.
Today, in most businesses, content (and thus communication) is everybody’s job and no one’s job. And, thus, it gets created, managed, published and measured in ever more stratified ways across the channels each department manages. Brand managers manage content for television, radio and print. Digital managers create content for the Web. And PR teams are – well, in many cases – left managing press releases, analyst relations and maybe the social channels.
Content marketing as a function
The distinction, and way forward to some extent, is that content marketing is truly about creating content-driven experiences that deliver value separate and distinct from the product or service being offered.
They are stories that are created, told, promoted and ultimately measured with a drive toward delivering value and building audiences that can be ultimately monetized by the business.
I absolutely believe that PR can be the driver of this approach. You can even argue that PR is the one department that SHOULD drive this approach given their perspective across the entirety of the business.
But this will only happen when PR agencies and departments stop giving lip service to what “content” really means and actually step up to reclaim their strategic position in the organisation. It will happen when content marketing, as a strategic approach worth managing well, can become a function in the business instead of a byproduct of what every department creates as part of their “sales support”.
The new, evolved public relations team and practice will really start to take root when we stop looking at content as merely a way to support “campaigns” and instead look at content as a means to build sustainable, differentiated platforms that build increasing value over time. Once agencies can start to re-position their offerings in this way – and empower their “client stakeholders” to actually cross the silo and deliver value – that’s where they can start providing differentiating value.
Not only saying they do. But actually doing what they say.