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The Evolution of Digital PR Through Content Marketing – PRSA 2012

Posted on Oct 15th, 2012
Written by Lee Odden
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    Public Relations Content MarketingContent has always played an essential part of effective Public Relations. However, PR pros that don’t sink their teeth into content strategy, development and measurement quickly and effectively, will be left behind as the future of PR evolves. That’s a fairly strong statement, but it’s incredibly important and timely.

    Over the past 12 years of running a digital marketing and PR agency, we’ve seen major changes in the world of PR and media relations as social technologies, devices and ubiquitous internet access have opened the doors for all-the-time, “everywhere” connectivity to the web.

    That connectivity enables consumers and brands alike to:  Create, Consume, Publish, Interact and Transact anywhere, anytime. From tablets to smartphones to getting digital content via your car, the relationship between technology and people has had a major impact on how information is discovered, consumed and shared or acted upon.

    These significant changes represent challenges, but especially opportunities for the public relations industry in several categories:

    Who Are the Media? – It’s no secret that news media publishing models have experienced dramatic changes in the past 5 years with strong shifts to digital and new business models to meet consumer demand of real-time news and information on any device.

    The ability for individuals to develop social networks and publish information to an audience that can match or exceed a traditional publication means that influencers are no longer limited to industry news publications and media. Connecting with and creating value with many niche influencers, whether they be journalists covering a specific topical beat to a passionate blogger with an engaged community, can be as impactful as a hit with a mainstream publication. Being useful with content further enhances niche influencer relations and provides more mutual value than relying on the “big media hits’ alone.

    Content is the currency for building social relationships that can boost earned media.

    Brands as Publishers – Companies are increasingly leveraging content marketing (9 out of 10 B2B marketers used content marketing tactics – CMI) to boost owned media as well as the effectiveness securing earned media. Companies are hiring editors, corporate journalists and editorial staff to create a publishing environment not unlike many publications.

    If you want to ensure your brand gets in the media, then become the media.

    Emerging Technology and Consumer Behaviors – Consumers being connected to the web all the time from anywhere and the normalcy of sharing on the social web has allowed mainstream media to tap into their own audiences to capture and report news (CNN iReport). Consumers are audiences but also publishers. Expectations have changed and many consumers expect not only to be informed but to participate with the news. Co-creation of content with consumers as well as industry influencers can lead to mutual satisfaction all around.

    Ubiquitous connectivity has turned consumers into publishers and they expect participation.

    So, what do these changes mean for public relations? Here are three key areas to consider:

    1. Convergence: The roles, of PR, Marketing, Customer Service and other disciplines are increasingly integrated.

    • PR needs to cross train for skills, collaborate and integrate
    • PR can tap into other resources in an organization to reach mutual objectives
    • PR can show more value for its own efforts


    We started incorporating SEO best practices with Digital Public Relations in late 2001, winning an engagement with the U.S. division of BT because no other PR agency was pitching the value of push and pull PR.  By optimizing corporate news content for easy discovery via search, more journalists and bloggers were finding client information to use in news stories independent of, and sometimes in coordination with, outbound media relations pitching.

    Being able to achieve increased media placements AND significantly increased web traffic from the media and buyers alike to the corporate website and newsroom created a significant advantage in demonstrate value for the “optimized” PR effort.

    Now with the prevalence of the social web and connected mobile devices, there are even more opportunities to leverage cross functional resources and skills to connect influencers and buyers alike with corporate content.

    2. Become the Media: Brands are adopting publishing models in their efforts to establish better connections with customers, and to achieve a competitive advantage.

    • PR must consider it’s ability to leverage earned media as well paid, earned and shared media
    • PR is no longer a gate keeper to content, but a creator and participant in the content ecosystem
    • PR can establish credibility with other media when it it has it’s own well know media property


    Media Relations can be a tough game. Journalists and increasingly, bloggers are bombarded with pitches and it’s difficult to stand out, let alone get in the door. When the end objective is exposure, awareness and influence, why rely soley on 3rd party media? Why not become the media?

    I realized this after a few years of blogging when I discovered that our humble little blog had more web traffic than most of the business publications in our region. If I wanted exposure to business professionals in our target market, I didn’t need to pitch an overworked, uninterested journalist on a deadline, I just needed to write and publish a thoughtful blog post. With one click, the post would be exposed to our tens of thousands of subscribers plus thousands of new daily visitors from search and social channels.

    Companies are investing significantly in the “brand as publisher” model to create a web presence that satisfies consumer needs for information and allows the brand to info-tain, educate and persuade with content. Some companies, like American Express and General Mills are so successful at this, they are able to monetize marketing editorial with outside advertisers and syndication.

    3. Adapt & Optimize. Repeat. Technology and consumer behaviors are evolving quickly and the ability for businesses to attract, engage and persuade their public requires strong adaptability and a continuous effort towards optimizing PR effectiveness.

    • PR needs to continuously monitor consumer and technology trends
    • PR must develop a cycle of objective, audience, approach, tactics, measurement and refinement.
    • Continuous efforts to improve performance of how PR content is discovered, consumed and acted on will be essential


    As our online marketing and PR work with companies evolved, we were often at a disadvantage when having to rely solely on client’s limited content, promotion and measurement resources. As a result, we provide ongoing training to clients to improve their cross-functional skills but also proactively share industry shifts translated into strategic or tactics so the business can adapt it’s marketing accordingly.  A real-time example of adapt and optimize is the practice of Newsjacking combined with social media promotion nd SEO.

    When a competitor launches a new product and gets major media coverage, a brand might decide to parody something in that message or provide a counter point and promote it through social channels as it gains momentum. Knowing people will look for more information than what’s covered in the initial story, content about the story can be optimized for search to make it the best answer and easiest for people to find.

    A diversity of content types that build in social and search optimization is essential, while considering the limited content production resources. Here are a few content types that when integrated into an effective content marketing strategy, can add tremendous reach for Public Relations and Marketing:

    Evergreen Content – Create content that is timeless and can serve as a resource to the media, to bloggers, or end consumers at any time.

    Co-Created Content – Leverage industry and niche thought leader relationships by co-creating content in partnership with the brand. Participants self interest in exposure provides a built-in social promotion component to the content object. Prominent customers and partners could also participate in co-created content.

    Curated Content – Some companies produce a significant amount of content but it’s not curated in a way to take full advantage for exposure opportunities. External content can also be curated to aggregate news as a help resource. Curation with added brand narrative provides a useful resource to the media and gives an indication of perspective that could be useful for their own publication. It also provides an opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership.

    Repurposed Content – It’s one thing to repost a press release as a blog post, but it’s another thing entirely to plan repurposed content in an editorial plan to maximize and optimize the reach and value of the information.

    If a business creates a substantial amount of content, there are many opportunities for repurposing to specific verticals or across horizontal publishing channels like email, social networks, blogs and byline articles.  If an organization doesn’t create a lot of content, then repurposing may serve the purpose of extending the value of resources and gain additional reach without a corresponding increase in resources.

    I challenge public relations professionals to take a bigger picture look at how these changes and the integration of content marketing with PR can empower the role of PR to have greater and more significant impact on bottom line business goals. Think about how content marketing can create more owned assets with which to attract, engage and inspire earned and shared media. Those same assets can work with paid media for customer acquisition objectives as well.

    Along with tips and tools, the topics within this post are what I’m presenting on at the PRSA International Conference in San Francisco this week. Here are the details:

    Content Marketing for Public Relations
    Tools & Techniques Track
    Tuesday, 10/16/2012, 8:00 a.m.–9:15 a.m.
    San Francisco, Calif.

    Content is King in Marketing and Public Relations but is your content getting the exposure it deserves? By incorporating best practices search and social media optimization, you can improve the reach and influence of your key messages to journalists, bloggers and end consumers. Break free of mechanical content promotions and start planning, producing and optimizing meaningful content to attract and engage your target audiences. This presentation from Marketing and PR industry veteran Lee Odden will teach you:

    • The Content Marketing Trilogy to transform your strategy
    • 3 steps identify target audience segments
    • Development of an Optimized and Socialized Content Plan
    • Modern Search and Social Media Optimization tactics
    • Essential monitoring and performance measurement
    I hope to see you there!

    How do you think content and content marketing will change the role of public relations in the future?

    Update! Below is a Slideshare embed of my full presentation: