Feb 14, 2014

4 Things PR Must Do to Leverage Digital Media

Should PR take control of content marketing?”

That question was posed by Craig Pearce on Jeff Bullas’ blog today. My answer is a qualified “Yes.”

As a content marketer who has spent the last two decades in the PR realm, I am wholly convinced that PR should be marching in lock step with content marketing (as well as its cousin, social media.) Commingling content tactics and strategies to achieve brand objectives and fully capitalize on the digital media environment is an imperative for communicators.

Join us on Feb. 26 for a free webinar on press release tactics that will drive results.

Join us on Feb. 26 for a free webinar on press release tactics that will drive results.

More specifically, PR should have a primary role in shaping the brand’s content strategy: PR teams are the story tellers, they are the influence-wranglers, they are the strategists who build reputation and chart the communications course for the brand when the going gets tough. Craig offers great advice for pumping up PR messaging with content marketing tactics in his post, and I’m in complete agreement with his suggestions.  This is a green field of opportunity for PR pros to expand the value they deliver to their organizations, garnering influence within the organization and budget for the department.

But not everyone is PR is jumping on board the digital media bandwagon.  From my vantage point here at PR Newswire, where I talk to PR pros daily, where I scan press releases continually and where I spend a lot of time following conversations about PR on various forums, I see four hurdles that could keep some PR pros from leveraging content marketing as a PR tool, and instead wind up ceding ownership of external influence to their colleagues in marketing.

Hence, the qualification in my answer, which is this: PR must leverage content marketing and digital media, but to do so, the public relations team must do the following:

  • Align content to the organization’s prospects’ buying cycle  
  • Develop messaging that serves the audience first (and in so doing, serves the brand.)
  • Fully understand and embrace social media
  • Get really serious about measuring outcomes, not output.

Here’s what I mean.

Alignment with the buying cycle:  It’s not unusual to hear PR pros eschew outcomes such as lead generation when talking about publicity strategies. But let’s face it – in an era when we can map the course each new prospect took across the web and social media before winding up in our marketing funnels, ignoring the opportunity to influence the organization’s success and to quantify the PR team’s efforts is a losing proposition.  Smart PR pros will use the personas, buying states and other content marketing data points to inform their own editorial calendars and content creation strategies.

Audience first messaging:  One lesson PR can really learn from content marketers is how to speak the audiences’ language.  Content marketers trade heavily in information that is interesting and useful to their target markets, and they’re generating social proof and even earning media with that content. I’ve heard numerous accounts of content marketers who have approached their PR teams with a pitch or idea, only to be shot down when the information isn’t deemed “newsworthy.”   If PR is going to own content marketing, the definition of “newsworthy” needs to expand dramatically to encompass that which is interesting and useful to the audience.

Social media as an influence engine: While traditional earned media still carries enormous value, social proof is playing an important role in shaping opinion – and driving search engine results.  The savviest public relations professionals are making deft use of the influential power of social channels by building engaged brand presences and fostering interaction with their audiences – and winning loyalty and lasting visibility as a result.  PR pros who fail to embrace social and digital media are in effect abdicating their organizations’ most influential attention markets and influence networks to other communication disciplines.

Measurement: It’s time to abandon vague numbers once and for all.  Estimations, impressions and (worst of all) equivalencies are relics from an era when measurement was difficult if not impossible.  That’s no longer the case.  The data our organizations have allows us to set starting benchmarks and then chart subsequent growth and change.  We can measure things like branding and awareness – which seemed pretty vague a few years ago – with a mix of metrics relating to social conversation volumes, mentions and search term use (to name a few) – enabling PR teams to accurately describe how their efforts changed audience behavior.

But wait, there’s more.  We can now understand the quality of the attention generated, as measured by the subsequent actions of the newly acquired audience.  Did the people who read your press release take another step, sharing it with their own social networks (and thus amplifying your message, a new metric worth charting) or clicking on a link you embedded?

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Read about Jive’s success (and see other real-life examples) in this free eBook.

One PR Newswire client, Jive Software Inc., was challenged by their CMO to improve the conversion rate of their press releases.  We tweaked their formatting, and the changes resulted in a 200% increase in traffic to a web page the company was promoting.

Another client, SecureState LLC, shared with us that the press releases they use to promote their blog posts are a leading source of new prospects, as measured by new names in their marketing database.

These are a couple examples of smart PR teams fully leveraging outbound communications to generate qualified inbound traffic.

It’s crucial to realize that all content published by a brand is easily found and consumed by a variety of audiences. Prospective customers are reading press releases.  Journalists are scanning marketing materials.  Regulators read blog posts.   Your organization may be siloed still, but your digital content isn’t.  This is why it’s so important for public relations teams to embrace new outcomes, and not be afraid to embed a landing page in a press release or to add marketing-type measurement to the department KPIs.

In my mind, truly, content marketing and PR really do belong together.  Audience interest and earned attention are at the core of each.  Rather than pursuing separate strategies, many brands are finding success by merging the two, using interesting content to earn media and using the attention PR wins to drive new customer acquisition.
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and  New School Press Release Tactics.  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

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