PR has traditionally been dependent on the voices of journalists to broadcast brand stories and serve as unbiased influence. But as newsrooms shrink and brands compete against the latest viral stories for media attention, digital channels have created more opportunities for communicators to take control of their messages and place them directly in front of audiences. The evolution of PR to brand journalism was the central theme of the 2014 PR Daily World Conference. Make no mistake, the industry’s move towards brand journalism does not mean the media is no longer important. Rather, brand journalism is founded on the principle that the content communicators are producing must be held same standard as the publications they wish to appear in.
“If we tell our stories the right way, we have the ability to become legitimate publishers in our own right,” declares Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications.
A common misconception today is that PR tactics, particularly the often maligned press release, are no longer effective in driving earned media–which is patently false. The medium is not the issue, the quality is: if you move away from corporate jargon and lip service and toward meaningful content and storytelling, you’ll find continued success. Ragan highlighted this shift by posing the question, “Why don’t we write the stories the first time?”
Visual storytelling is at the core of effective brand journalism
“Content that creates conversation today is what Google considers good content,” says Michael Pranikoff, global director of emerging media at PR Newswire, “Good PR is good SEO and good SEO is good PR.”
Part of what comprises good content, good PR, and therefore good SEO is the speed at which information can be translated to the audience. Audiences are willing to read very little text in today’s social media driven world where according to Pranikoff, “The social velocity of a story is just as important as getting on the front page.”
The good news is that less words have a better ability to convey something visual and tell a story more effectively. Three distinct advantages of visuals that text does not have are the ability to convey emotion, simplify ideas, or breathe new life into topics that would otherwise come across as dull. Using visuals in brand messages are frankly no longer an option – in fact, the AP news desk requires every story that comes across their desks to feature an image.
A recent survey by PR News and PR Newswire revealed that a majority of communicators dedicate less than 5% of their budgets to producing visuals, but the opportunities that arise from visual content cannot be ignored. Whole Foods’ Public Relations and Public Affairs Manager Michael Sinatra divulges that using visuals in the company’s PR efforts have allowed them to pinpoint their target audience more accurately. For example, reporters are using Twitter professionally to discuss what they’re writing about or researching, but image driven platforms like Instagram give PR practitioners a glimpse into a journalist’s personal life without crossing a boundary. For the Whole Foods PR team, following food journalists on Instagram reveals what food they are eating, and gives the brand an opportunity to match their pitch to specific interests.
Brand journalism is building bridges between PR and the media
Tools like social media help get the job done more efficiently, but the fundamentals of media pitching remain the same. Information gathering today goes beyond looking at an author’s older articles or searching through databases to target a pitch appropriately. “What they’ve written about in the past isn’t what they’re going to be writing about in the future,” adds Sinatra, “There’s more value in learning about a journalist’s personal interests for what they might want to write about.” Using this tactic helps uncover hidden stories that go beyond a typical consumer experience and stand out.
For IBM, content makes building the relationships with journalists easier because the content has to have news value. “Content marketing breaks down IBM to tell the story of different IBM businesses,” explains Brandi Boatner, digital experience manager at IBM, “From a technology standpoint, content marketing helps us to convey stories more accurately to reporters.”
According to Brett Savage-Simon, senior media manager for PR Newswire, the fact that brands are producing their own editorial content has broken down the barriers between PR pros and their media counterparts. “There used to be definitive lines between journalists, PR, marketing, and advertising, but now all of that is overlapping,” Simon says, “It has created new opportunities for journalists to work in new environments. Now journalists have a stake in the stories they are covering if they switch to content marketing.”
Distribution is the key to getting your messages seen
“We’ve become arrogant in thinking that people want to hear from us – that the content we’re creating is naturally pushing through,” states Andrew Bowins, SVP of corporate and digital communications at Mastercard, “but as Yogi Berra said, ‘it’s hard to get a conversation going when everybody’s talking.’”
Creating content that is only pushed out on a singular channel such as a company website or social media limits the opportunity for that information to be seen, shared, and ultimately drive business. As Bowins says, take a step back and think of your content marketing strategy as an ecosystem, then tool that ecosystem to optimize discovery of your content. Using a mix of tactics including press releases, social media, email campaigns, and the company website makes use of every possible opportunity there is to interact with your audience.
For related reading on why content marketing and distribution are key to a successful communications strategy, click to download the free article The Distribution Effect: Bring Your Content Marketing to the Next Level
2 Comments on Blog Post Title
In today’s fast paced dynamic, I often feel that the most efficient way to create content that captures attention is through storytelling,coming from journalism or PR .The topic matters,but it truly lays on how you are telling the story the power to make someone stop and read it. You need to be straight forward and yet engaging in a short narrative. It really is about connecting with the reader, independent of the channel bringing you the story.
Well said, I completely agree! Thank you for your comment Alessandra!