For decades, the public relations industry relied on the media to publish clients’ stories and help them raise visibility to achieve results. An agency would pitch a news outlet on a potential story, and that news outlet would either run the story or not.
As publicists, we were all at the whims of reporters who could determine whether our message was ever heard. For that reason, it was imperative to think like a reporter — finding out what a given reporter finds newsworthy and then fitting in the client’s message accordingly. What was deemed newsworthy was different every day of the week depending on what else was happening in the world. In truth, this is still important, but the world of public relations today barely resembles the one from even a decade ago.
With the rise of the internet, more and more people are seeking information about a variety of topics, but are trying desperately to avoid advertising and other forms of overt marketing. After all, barely one-third of global consumers claim to trust “most of the brands they buy and use,” according to research by Edelman. And 56% report that they’re able to spot “trustwashing,” a term used to describe when “brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell more of their product.”
This breakdown in trust leads to skepticism of self-promotion — brands telling you how wonderful they are. And it leads people to consume content differently. Think of websites like BuzzFeed, which has attracted a loyal following by, in their words, “creat[ing] authentic audience engagement that fosters real-world impact.” BuzzFeed reaches hundreds of millions of people worldwide, but they don’t do it by flooding readers’ newsfeeds with sponsored content. They do it by rewarding their readers with content they’re actually looking for. In other words, they attract and retain their audience by building the right kind of audience first — an audience that knows, likes and trusts the brand. POPSUGAR is another example of a news outlet that has built the right audience — millennial women — for itself. Or what about Tasty, which serves up videos of food, cooking and kitchen fun?
In the words of marketing guru David Meerman Scott, “You can buy attention (advertising). You can beg for attention from the media (PR). You can bug people one at a time to get attention (sales). Or you can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free.”
The same logic applies to public relations firms. Companies that previously only specialized in PR and advertising are now turning to content marketing to get the word out to earn attention.
I know firsthand: My PR agency has morphed into a media company with the production of The PR Maven® Podcast (that’s me!). Between the podcast itself, website updates, email newsletters, social media posts and Alexa Flash Briefings, we are producing tons and tons of content on a weekly basis. And we’re giving it away for free!
The internet now allows PR agencies to share their expertise in small servings, so that clients will come to your agency when they are ready for the larger dose — let’s say, an entire media outreach campaign or a yearlong ad blitz. However, only by establishing yourself as a thought leader — a go-to expert in the field — will clients trust you to get the job done. And that’s where content marketing comes into play. You, too, can become that expert.
Of course, the key to success is not just pumping out a lot of “stuff.” Content marketing needs to be based on a strategic action plan, whereby you pinpoint your key messages and your target audience, and then determine the best methods to connect those messages with that audience. The platform may change depending on the audience. Some consumers may value a print magazine or newspaper, while others may gravitate toward a series of YouTube videos or Instagram stories.
For my agency, a podcast was the content of choice because I love to speak with my guests and share our conversations with my audience. It’s all about finding your niche and creating a tribe of loyal fans and followers.
Long gone are the days of simply pitching reporters and hoping for the best. As PR experts, we pride ourselves on thinking outside the box, and content marketing is perhaps the best example of that. Trust me: It’s worth your time and money.