Public relations has been around for decades. In fact, some would say it existed centuries ago, if you include such earth-shaking communications as the 95 Theses that Martin Luther is said to have nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church and Samuel Adams’ propaganda that is believed to have helped inspire the Boston Tea Party.
Content marketing, however, is a relatively new term, though the concept also has quite a history, dating back to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, in which, to promote his printing business, he published thought-provoking content about everything but printing.
PR and content marketing are two disciplines that look quite similar, so what are their differences? And does your organization need one or the other, or both?
Let’s take a look at the key aspects of each and how they differ.
Definitions And Goals
The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute, “is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
As you can see from the definitions above, content marketing could be considered a subset of PR. That is, PR is the overarching practice of getting the right message to the right audience in the most effective manner, and content marketing is primarily a digital tactic — often used by PR practitioners — that focuses on developing and distributing content outside of traditional media channels. Essentially, content marketing is about establishing and then using your own publishing channels, although it can also incorporate channels such as social media.
Both content marketing and PR use writing, design and communication channels to communicate a message to a target audience. Each has the goal of causing someone to take a desired action, such as buying a product, voting for a candidate or visiting a website.
Some key PR tactics include:
• Publicity: Securing coverage in the news — print, broadcast or online.
• Crisis management: Preparing for and responding to embarrassing news in order to mitigate its negative effects.
• Event management: Developing concepts for, creating and managing events.
• Speaking opportunities: Researching opportunities for speaking, pitching a speaker, writing the speech and coordinating the engagement — including pitching news coverage of the speech and leveraging it via other channels, such as social media.
• Awards: Seeking and taking advantage of opportunities to win appropriate, reputation-enhancing awards.
Content marketing involves:
• Blogging: Writing keyword-focused blog posts to create an audience, convert prospects into customers or deepen customer loyalty.
• Case studies: Providing real-life examples about a company’s product or service in a specific, measurable and engaging way.
• Infographics: Creating visual content to describe concepts in a more engaging and shareable manner than is possible with words alone.
• Podcasts: Creating serialized audio content that captures a compelling story about a product or organization.
Again, most of the tactics classified under content marketing have been used by PR practitioners since they were invented. But they are certainly content marketing in that they involve creating and distributing content outside of traditional media.
Content marketing may seem less concerned with relationships, but in reality, this discipline just has a different approach to creating them. Content marketers establish meaningful relationships by providing quality content that answers important questions in order to create a trusting relationship between the person asking questions and the person (or organization) answering them.
The primary difference between PR and content marketing is that PR communicates with audiences that already exist — such as readers of a magazine or members of an organization hearing a speech — and content marketing creates its own audience. The advantage of using an existing audience is that the message being transmitted benefits from the authority and trustworthiness of a well-established channel. The advantage of creating an audience is that you “own” it and can tap into it whenever you like, versus being obligated to gain the permission of someone, such as an editor, to do so.
Because of their differing tactics, success will look slightly different for the two disciplines. In PR, success may be measured by the number of media placements and viewer impressions and the authority of the media outlet in which stories are placed, in addition to actionable metrics such as the number of website visits or leads generated from digital news media — which, unlike print and broadcast media, allows for the tracking of readers’ actions prompted by consuming the media. Content marketers focus more on the latter, measuring success by referral traffic, engagement metrics and conversion rates.
Do I Need PR Or Content Marketing — Or Both?
You may be wondering which of these is right for your business. In my experience, PR and content marketing actually work best when implemented together. Traditional media can be used to direct traffic to digital channels and vice versa. After all, we’re not always looking at a screen.
Here are my tips on how to combine PR and content marketing for better results:
• Pitch your infographics to the news media. They are always looking for great art.
• Repurpose bylined columns published in the news as blog posts, noting where each column was originally published.
• Post award icons on your website’s homepage. Blog about your awards, and put out press releases about winning them.
• Use the topics of white papers and case studies as the topics of your speaking engagements, and hand out printed versions of this content at the engagements.
• Turn news stories about your company into printed inserts in sale proposals.
A marketing effort that combines PR and content marketing brings the real world and the virtual world together for greater effectiveness in both.