Rethinking Your Marketing Communications and PR Strategy
Public relations professionals face an unprecedented challenge—and opportunity—to strengthen their position and increase their revenues. Buyers favor what PR firms and departments can best deliver—informative, story-driven content—but PR professionals must improve and rethink the way they create and distribute their messages, aligning them with the buyers’ journey.
Buyer 2.0: Informed and In Charge
Buyers are influenced more by their own research than they are by traditional sales pitches. By the time a buyer contacts a company, the buyer has already made many decisions, including the elimination of potential vendors. In fact, much of the buying cycle has already taken place.
Buyers seek advice from their friends and peers, whose opinions they trust more than advertisements, according to an article in “Harvard Business Review.”1 They also look to traditional and online media for information—consumers consult more than 10 sources before making a purchase, and nearly 9 out of 10 reach what Google calls a “zero moment of truth” before making a final buying decision.2
While we’re consuming more and more content on mobile devices, brands need to be cautious about how they use those platforms in their marketing campaigns. Buyers don’t trust a lot of the messages they receive from brands in the form of text messages, banner ads, mobile apps and emails. Text messages garner the least amount of trust—9%. Banner ads are trusted by 10% of their audience, apps by 12% and emails by 18%, according to research by Forrester.3 Adding a high-priced celebrity to an ad doesn’t help much either. Ad Age says no more than 12 percent of buyers trust a celebrity endorsement.3,4
Buyers—businesses, consumers and governments—are changing their behaviors, driven by changes in the communications channels and technologies they use to research purchases and share information with peers. Advertising and public relations agencies are struggling to keep up with the change—and hang onto clients—while battling with each other for a bigger share of marketing budgets.
Consumer and professionally-written reviews fare better—46% and 55% of U.S. buyers trust them. But one type of marketing earns as much trust as family recommendations: branded content.3
Seven out of 10 buyers trust branded content, more than twice as many as trust what they read in newspapers, according to Forrester and U.S. News.5,6 Branded content includes articles and blogs posted to a company’s website as well as white papers and webinars—virtually any form of non-advertising content that provides consumers with facts, research and expert opinion rather than a sales pitch.
Evidence suggests that reaching customers with information that fosters confidence makes more sense than bombarding them with messages they distrust. Companies are shifting their ad budgets to new technology—mobile ad spending is expected to reach a record high of $31.45 billion in 2014, eMarketer reports. But buyers are largely ignoring those ads.7
Buyers have evolved. Public relations professionals must keep up with— or ahead of—the transformation.
Challenge and Opportunity for PR Professionals
PR professionals can no longer rely solely on their traditional media contacts to get exposure for their clients and are additionally faced with the daunting task of both creating and distributing content. The marketplace is clogged with content—some 27 million pieces of content are shared daily, according to AOL and Nielsen.8 And newspaper and TV space is shrinking—2,600 newsroom jobs were lost in 2012.9
Fortunately, brands are not stuck with traditional media and the occasional publicity stunt to build awareness and convey brand messages. The web provides innumerable channels with which to reach, observe and influence audiences. And the filters have multiplied. Fifteen years ago, a journalist and editor were the primary filters of a brand’s message. Thanks to the web, today’s influencers and disseminators include bloggers, forums and anyone with a social media account. The number of people who can shape public opinion are too many to schmooze over lunch or cocktails, and their names and contact information cannot be comfortably filed in a Rolodex.
Simply put, PR is a much bigger job than it was 10 years ago. There are more influencers, more communities, and more ways in which people connect and interact. Every one of these is a potential touch point for a PR message.
The ebb and flow of information and the transparency of today’s digital environment means that the audience, not the brand, is in control of information. Buyers expect to consume information when and where they want it. Brands without a presence are overlooked. It’s not enough for brands to build episodic campaigns around product launches and other newsworthy events. They need to create and publish interesting content that earns attention, sparks conversation and keeps the brand relevant and on top of people’s minds at all times.
“Marketers now have the power to connect with their customers in ways they never could before, as branded content can bridge the gap between TV’s emotive power and digital advertising’s measurability and efficiency,” notes Forrester Principal Analyst Tracy Stokes. “But for every Old Spice and Oreo success story, there are hundreds of unseen messages and videos.” As of yet, notes Stokes, most marketers are struggling to build content at scale— to get the right message to the right consumer at the right time.10
“Marketers now have the power to connect with their customers in ways they never could before, as branded content can bridge the gap between TV’s emotive power and digital advertising’s measurability and efficiency...”
PRINCIPAL ANALYST FORRESTER
Deliver the right message
Buyers crave informative content that will support and affirm their decisions. Brand storytelling—wrapping a compelling narrative around your product or service—delivers the message buyers want and produces the results that companies need if the message reaches a brand’s audience.
Reaching an audience and providing them with the content they want are critical. B2C shoppers reference more than 10 different information sources before making a purchasing decision. And B2B customers progress 60% of the way through a purchase decision-making process before engaging a sales rep, writes Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO of PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency.11
PR professionals who don’t engage a company’s customers will lose out to those who do. Some 90% of B2Cs and 93% of B2Bs use content marketing. But just 42% of B2Cs and 34% of B2Cs say they use it effectively, research by the Content Marketing Institute found.12, 13
There is plenty of opportunity, then, to become one of the top engagers. And it doesn’t take a content marketing campaign as notable as those by Oreo and Old Spice to achieve results. Travelocity and Whole Foods, for example, deliver consistent content about issues that matter to their customers and effectively use tools such as weekly press releases to expand their reach.
Reaching relevant audiences
Producing brilliant content is one thing. Getting it viewed by a company’s target audience is another hurdle altogether.
A blog posted to a company’s website could sit there forever, reaching only the coterie of regular readers—people who already know the brand well. An email sent to selected recipients will be opened by somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 5 recipients, according to research by Mail Chimp and Constant Contact.14, 15
One way to expand reach is to share a blog on social media, but competition is fierce and the feeds move rapidly. Twitter users post 500 million tweets per day. Facebook users send 10 billion messages daily and share about 4.75 billion of them.16, 17 The reach of social media is also largely limited by a company’s number of followers. While this number can increase, a single post on social channels is not an effective way to quickly reach a new audience.
Here’s another way to deliver a brand’s message to a widespread audience that includes people unfamiliar with the brand: consider the wire services as a content syndication engine.
Just as buyers and technology have changed, so have the power and purpose of the press release. Back in the day when newspapers, magazines, TV and radio were the primary media sources, the main value of a press release was to reach editors and reporters on a large scale.
A press release can deliver a brand’s message to a large audience, and a PR professional can take advantage of this opportunity in three key ways:
1. Write for your intended audience and speak to their interests within the press release.
Do the research and perfect the writing so that an understaffed media outlet can use information from your press release as-is. Publications, both online and off, need material. They will use content that meshes their desire for interesting content and the reality of their time and staffing constraints.
2. Find the news angles in your organization’s owned media.
Highlight data points, expert opinions or unique use cases and use those hooks to develop a compelling piece of branded content that can spark news coverage. Packaging your hook and story into a news release and distributing it online via services such as PR Newswire will garner more exposure for the content and potentially earn media attention that will drive even more visibility.
3. Don’t forget to include visuals.
Infographics can communicate stories quickly and win attention that plain text can’t. Videos— especially when provided to media outlets in an editable format that enables journalists to pick and choose scenes to use—are useful for both winning more attention for your message and earning additional media.
PR Newswire’s service includes PR Newswire for Journalists, a service used by more than 30,000 credentialed media and bloggers; direct delivery to newsrooms; RSS and social media feeds and syndication of content to more than 10,000 websites worldwide.
Right Message, Right Channel, Right Result
Today’s consumers are savvy and discerning. They don’t want to be tricked or misled, but they do want to be informed and entertained. They trust themselves to make smart decisions and respect companies—and the public relations specialists—who make it easy to access the information they seek.
Public relations professionals face a new challenge in the age of the Buyer 2.0. But the way to meet the challenge is clear: Deliver the right message on the right channel and you will get the right results.
“Think With Google, The Zero Moment of Truth Macro Study”
Harvard Business Review, “For Mobile Devices, Think Apps, Not Ads”
Media Post, “As Contempt for Push Grows, Branded Content Rises”
Ad Age, “Celebrities in Advertising are Almost Always a Big Waste of Money,” Jan 12, 2011
Forrester, “How Branded Content Will Unlock the Key to Consumer Trust”
U.S. News, “Majority of Americans Don’t Trust Newspapers and Television News”
eMarketer, “Driven by Facebook and Google, Mobile Ad Market Soars”
The Sunday Share, “50 Stats You Need to Know About Content Marketing”
Poynter, “ASNE Census Finds 2600 Newsroom Jobs were Lost in 2012”
Forrester blog, Tracy Stokes, “Don’t Push it. Connect Content and Conversation to Pull Consumers Into Your Brand.”
Content Marketing Institute, Paul Roetzer, “Mapping the Next Frontier in Brand Storytelling”
Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing 2014 B2C Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends–North America
Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing 2014 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends -- North America
Mail Chimp, “Email Marketing Benchmarks”
Twitter Usage Statistics
Expanded Ramblings, “By the Numbers: 17 Amazing Facebook Stats”