PR and Content Marketing: The Inevitable Marriage

Contrary to popular belief, the pre-internet world was not the Dark Ages of advertising. Traditional methods succeeded (and they still do). Working with a PR professional gave you the opportunities you needed to connect with journalists and editors.

But, it’s like they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Blogging and social media rose along with the new culture of tech startups and transformed the way companies sought attention. Startups took their hacker mentality and applied it to marketing. With that, growth hacking was born.

Growth hackers developed their own methods for getting the attention of big-name blogs, the traditional media, and their ideal audience. The methods included using SEO, social media, and content marketing.

Now everyone is a media creator. Naturally, that lowers the barrier to entry. If you can create your own media, you don’t need journalists to do it for you, right?

If that were true, then the PR industry would be irrelevant. But, that’s not what has happened. Now there’s more demand for it than ever.

PR still connects you with media gatekeepers, but it uses different approaches than in the days when traditional advertising was the norm. It’s had to change to keep pace with new forms of marketing and the techniques of changing roles, like growth hackers. But don’t be fooled. PR is not going anywhere.

The New Digital Face of PR

PR is evolving fast to keep up with the times:

  • PR professionals connect with journalists differently. Gone are the days of simply hustling on the phone. Every journalist has their own communication style. Some still prefer phone calls, while others would rather have publicists tweet them a new story or drop them an email.
  • PR professionals have to work a whole lot harder. With all the noise on the internet, they have to go the extra mile to stand out.

The fact that publicists are being pushed to show the ROI of PR and work backward from a long-term goal to do bigger and better things is a great reflection on the PR industry. It means the real creatives are the ones who thrive.

  • Publicists have to show why professional PR matters. Everyone thinks they can do PR themselves. This is partially true. (There are some DIY tips at the end of this article.) But, it’s up to publicists to bring the value of professional PR in a marketing campaign.
  • PR professionals need a bigger, broader contact list. Breaking a news story is no longer the prerogative of journalists. News often breaks first on blogs or on Twitter. To keep up with these changes, PR pros have to build connections with influencers on new media, as well as maintain their contacts in the old world of traditional journalism.
  • Publicists are making the most of new technology. For example, rather than hosting a press conference, companies now can get their message across – often more effectively – with Twitter and Facebook. Publicists need to use these social tools not only for amplification but also for listening.
  • PR professionals manage perceptions. Getting attention is one thing. But once you have attention, what do you do with it? You need to change the way your audience sees you. But, you can do this only if you already know what they think of you in the first place.

Perhaps most important of all, publicists are shaping the content that’s created online. In other words, the best PR firms are creating and placing the stories worth telling.

PR and content marketing have amalgamated. And, it appears to be turning into a long-term relationship. I’d go so far as to say that marriage isn’t only in the cards, it’s inevitable.

Why Content Marketing Needs PR (And Vice Versa)

If we’re all content creators these days, what’s the point of PR? Actually, the fact that we’re all content creators makes PR more important than ever.

Think about it this way. Good marketing, whether that’s content marketing or PR, is about making your brand visible. It’s about getting your brand in front of the right people.

The ways we communicate have changed, but people, at a fundamental level, haven’t changed. We’ve all still got only 24 hours in a day, and a limited amount of attention. (Arguably, we’ve got less attention to give, as attention spans are shrinking.)

With so much content being created online, it’s even harder to stand out. That’s why content marketing needs PR behind it to thrive. Because unless your content is being seen by potential customers, it will be doing nothing. It’s invisible, and you might as well have not created it.

You can look at it like this. Before the internet, it was always far better to get national news coverage than a two-line story in the back pages of a local newspaper. The same difference exists online.

So how can you stand out?

Content marketing is the way forward, but only if you’re creating visible content. To be visible, your content must be either published on a major blog or linked to by influencers. That’s why content marketing needs PR.

Mint became one of the most popular personal finance apps around by creating an awesome blog with consistently great content.

This content helped them to become the number one blog in personal finance. Yet, they needed media coverage for their content to get the attention it deserved.

As Jason Putorti, who worked as one of Mint’s lead designers, explains:

“I believe Mint owes much of its fame to Gawker Media, the owners of world famous blogs such as Lifehacker and Gizmodo. They have a large audience of power-users and evangelists who generate all the traffic to other social media tools, bookmarking it on Reddit, StumbleUpon, and talking about it on Twitter, etc. The bump and exposure from Gawker gave them so many users it crashed their servers repeatedly.”

Better Together: Why PR and Content Marketing are a Powerful Combination

For content to create the biggest possible splash, it needs to be backed up by a strong PR campaign. On the other hand, the PR world is embracing content marketing as one of the tools of its profession. Great content means telling good stories, and PR pros who ignore that fact will do a below-par job for their clients.

So why are PR and content marketing better together?

PR is all about reaching out to the right people. PR pros create and maintain relationships with editors, journalists, and influencers.

Content marketing is all about getting attention by telling awesome stories. When you create content that helps or entertains your audience, it gets shared and can even go viral.

Combine PR and content marketing and you’re putting ready-made stories into the hands of editors, journalists, and influencers. They can give your content the powerful boost it needs to go viral. On top of that, the more quality content you produce, the easier you’ll find it is to get the attention of editors. They may even have noticed your content before you reach out.

As PR professional Siân Gaskell puts it, PR agencies are now the “custodians of content” for the brands they represent. It’s always been their job to create engaging stories. They are the original growth hackers, finding the shortcuts to getting attention. Content marketing just means they have to be even better at their jobs.

What This Means for Startups and Entrepreneurs

So, how can you bring a PR approach to your content marketing and create the greatest possible media buzz? Hire a professional. There is no way around it. You can’t bootstrap your way into good PR without a professional by your side. They’ll give you instant access that can take months or years to cultivate yourself.

But, if do want to do it yourself, there’s a simple strategy for beginners you can follow.

First, use social media to research and discover influencers in your industry. Study the content they share, what’s important to them, and what they like to talk about. Then, when the time is right, touch base. Offer them the help they need, such as angles or story suggestions. Create content that they can quote or link to.

Once you’ve helped them, you’ve established a firm relationship of trust. When you need their help, you’ll be able to lean on them.

By bringing together content marketing and PR, you can get the attention you need for your startup. This combined demand marketing approach will help you cross the channel from early adopter to early majority.

About the Author: Heather Anne Carson is the President and Co-Founder of Onboardly, a demand marketing agency that works with venture-backed startups to help them with visibility and customer acquisition. She manages PR strategies for a variety of clients and has helped them secure coverage in publications like Inc, Entrepreneur, Shape Magazine, New York Times Magazine, BetaKit, TechCrunch, PandoDaily, Tech Cocktail, Mashable, and many more. Follow her on Twitter @heatheranne.

  1. I like the argument being made, but one thing about is driving me a little nuts – The article keeps using “publicists” and “public relations” interchangeably. Media relations and publicity is just one component of PR!

    This is especially important to startups to remember because it absolutely changes how (it they’re ready) they approach a PR agency to fell them out. If a startup engages a PR agency just for media coverage, that might work, but they are completely missing out on the bigger picture.

    Agencies can be a great partner for startups when it comes to message development, creating content (beyond press releases), and telling the overall narrative of the company.

    Also worth keeping in mind that most agencies that are worth their weight offer services across the communications landscape – might be worth considering especially if the startup has limited bandwidth, financial stability, and a need to focus on polishing the product offering.

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