It’s tempting to see content marketing and public relations as entirely different concepts; as x and y on the same timeline, if you like. Public relations is labelled as an outdated, dying art, while content marketing is the new trend that every business must now focus exclusively on. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. Content marketing and PR borrow aspects from one another to achieve their end goals.
The differences between content marketing and PR
Both public relations and content marketing focus on the relationship between a business or organisation and its core audience. As Tamara Franklin points out in her blog for Calysto
“at their cores, content marketing and PR are both storytelling disciplines.”
It is in the way in which they tell their stories that these disciplines differ. Traditional public relations is centred around how you portray what you have to sell, whether it’s a product, a business or even a person, to the media, who face the public and tell your story. It is therefore very closely linked to, and shaped by, journalists, broadcasters and other outside influences, who have a large say in defining the reputation, good or bad, of a business. This is why we often call exposure gained through public relations ‘earned media’.
Content marketing removes the media from the equation, jumping the gun and communicating directly with end users the ‘stories’ that they want to hear. These stories effectively sell the brand, while simultaneously educating the audience. Content marketing places power, not in the hands of what PR people call ‘organisation stakeholders’, but directly with the organisation itself, with ‘owned media’ (corporate blogs, social media accounts, company websites etc.) acting as the initial channel of distribution.
Adapt to survive?
While public relations and content marketing are fairly similar in terms of end goals, the advent of the latter practice has meant that PR executives have had to adapt to keep up. These professionals now employ the tactics used by content marketers to tell their tale. To quote Emma Gilbey of Mediavision Interactive:
“In the past, PRs had to rely on a product, press release or the brand itself to tell a story and captivate journalists and influencers. Now, with strong content, PRs can tell a real story in order to secure press coverage.”
The notion of ‘earned media’ has shifted
The mainstream media is one of the most influential ‘noises’ in everyday life. On the whole, people believe what they read in the papers, hear on the radio and see on the television. They are less inclined to believe an announcement posted on a corporate blog, by the director or chief executive of that corporation. As Jean Spencer, writing for Content Marketing Institute bluntly puts it:
“corporate blogs carry a stigma of self-serving promotion, and the general public is still more likely to trust traditional news outlets.”
Therefore, public relations professionals, due to their contacts with influential media personalities, are still useful in terms of getting that big ‘earned media’ break for your company. However, the way in which they do this has changed slightly, and that’s down to content marketing.
Content marketing has proved that, if brands publish quality content that holds value for the consumer, this content will soon gain traction and could reach mainstream media in a more organic way, such as through writing guest blogs for publishers. This is a content marketing tactic now commonly used by PR professionals, as communications director Frank Strong recalls in this blog post. Strong is not alone in terms of having to think outside the box.
Quality content convinces
According to the Content Marketing Institute, the recent entrance of content marketing on the scene mirrors the increased ambivalence consumers have to the traditional world of marketing. Audiences, so they say;
“own a DVR to skip television advertising, often ignore magazine advertising, and now have become so adept at online “surfing” that they can take in online information without a care for banners or buttons.”
Consumers don’t just want to sit there passively and be sold products, they now demand content that is relevant and valuable; they ‘scour the internet for information, reviews and credibility‘ themselves. Once they’ve found this information, they are far more likely to convert. Of course, they think that this decision has been made on their own terms, because the brand-generated content is strong enough to convince.
“One of the governing principles of content marketing is think like a consumer — is this something I would click on? Is this content I would share?”
We’re all consumers ourselves, so when we do publish content, quality and insight should be at the forefront of our minds and content marketing – brands publishing their own content – has undoubtedly helped with this. This was a problem in traditional public relations, as PR professionals frantically attempted to reach as many media outlets as possible with press releases and the like, without really paying attention to what the people on the other side actually wanted to read.
As you can see, there are conflicting ideas and opinions on how PR and content marketing link in with one another. Some would say the latter is an update of the former, others believe the two have always existed as separate disciplines, while a few people see content marketing and public relations as two sides of the same coin. Perhaps everyone’s right.
What is clear is that old tactics of advertising and marketing products, services and businesses to the general public have changed immeasurably, with different areas in marketing adopting the ideas that have previously worked so well for their peers. The lines have become blurred.