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Why PR Needs to Join the Content Marketing Mix

Mark Yeow
Jan 21st, 2015

Public Relations

Global Partnerships and Finance Photo Credit: violetkaipa Bigstock.com

Public relations isn’t typically considered part of marketing, but it should be. As social and digital channels grow—often at traditional media’s expense—PR continues to, ironically, suffer a perception problem. Unlike marketing, it’s seen as unable to deliver the hard results and ROI that businesses need.

This perception is damaging for both PR and marketing. That’s because PR brings to the omni-channel table the single most important skill for building and sustaining brands: the ability to present stories that earn and maintain trust from audiences.

Communications concept of people in the global networkOur goal is the same as marketers—that of growing sales and market share of the brands we serve. We just do so by focusing on trust instead of the transaction. And in a world where consumers wield unprecedented power over brands thanks to social media and globalized marketplaces, trust is an increasingly valuable and rare commodity.

PR’s storytelling mindset has the potential to enrich all facets of marketing. And the content marketer’s way of understanding big data insights, channels and their expertise are all essential for the PR industry to both quantify its value and increase it. So it goes without question that it’s sometimes necessary to incorporate a variety of skill sets to your organization by way of new consultants, partners, and suppliers that have almost nothing to do with media. But to truly bring PR to the CMO’s table, we as an industry need to rebrand ourselves with some big changes like the ones below.

LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF ROI

The average day in a PR agency is peppered with jargon about clips, coverage and, once in a while, the cringe-worthy and outdated concept of advertising value equivalency, or “AVE.” The trouble is, none of this means much to an executive who wants to grow sales, their pipeline and an annual bonus. We call ourselves communications experts, but we need to start treating business decision-makers as our audience. That means acknowledging PR-lingo is going the way of Latin, and that it’s now about learning to describe results and rationale in terms businesspeople understand.

Content marketing agencies, on the other hand, have grown up fluent in the language of business ROI. They know how to discuss lead generation, conversion and the sales funnel as well as where and how their work makes an irreplaceable contribution.

PR people need to learn this language and adapt it to their own areas of excellence, namely building the brand awareness, engagement and trust that precede any successful sale or relationship. While this language can’t express everything we might want it to, such as the correlations between quantitative metrics and qualitative sentiment, it at least strikes at the problems businesses and brands hire us to solve.

EXTEND THE PR TOOLKIT

Many PR professionals see their toolkit consisting of the press release, the feature pitch and the media event—which, when you invite a blogger or two, miraculously becomes “influencer engagement.” This would be fine, except the direct audience for all these tactics—media outlets—is shrinking faster than China’s GDP. At the same time, social and digital communities, from LinkedIn groups to email subscriber databases, are continuing to grow in both influence and complexity.

Stage lights on metal frame in the darkIn order to keep getting its stories in front of audiences, PR needs to build and incorporate marketing skills into its strategies and campaigns. This doesn’t mean we all have to become experts in everything from microsites to marketing automation. Nor does it mean we should discard our heritage in earned media, particularly the focus on storytelling, which gives PR its unique value.

But we do need to acknowledge that our traditional channels of influence are waning, and that it’s worth investing time and effort in learning how to tell stories by leveraging opportunities such as social and influencer engagement, content marketing, paid search and email, just to name a few.

These skills and approaches all have one thing in common that differentiates them from your average marketing campaign: They’re fueled by a desire to tell stories that directly address what audiences want and need, including the channels they prefer.

SELLING OURSELVES WITH BIG DATA

Let’s say you’re talking about PR campaigns in business terms, and you’ve built the skills needed to tell engaging stories across any channel. The final challenge is proving to the business that it’s all worth it, which is something PR pros have typically wrestled with. After all, you can’t track the impact of coverage on sales.

Or can you?

The PR industry needs to combine its focus on storytelling with an appreciation of big data analytics. By tracking data and correlating it to different tactics in each campaign, PR pros will be increasingly confident in demonstrating the results of their work as well as understanding how to make their stories more effective on an agile, iterative basis.

While you can’t track who’s reading a weekend paper, you can track if advertising click-through rates or visits to a microsite went up after a feature was published. Maybe after that, you mightstart A/B-testing your press releases to see which messaging gets the most pick-up in publications. Then you adjust and test this messaging in blogs, eDMs, and other direct-to-audience channels, so and so forth.

To demonstrate our true worth to businesses and brands, PR people must embrace the skills and mindsets of today’s top marketers. Clear, compelling stories are more important than ever before for brands, and our history of media relations gives us an edge when understanding what’ll “stick” with audiences. But if we can’t tell our own story effectively with the right language, skills and data, we suffer a slow demise alongside the marketers we partner with. We’ll only stay relevant if we start practicing what we’ve always preached.

This article was written by Mark Yeow and published on HyperText.

HyperText is brought to you by Text100’s consultants. Their blog is a forum for discussion on emerging and mainstream communications trends and how they are being embraced, challenged and championed.