In The New Age Of PR, Every Company Competes With Content

Journalists no longer have a monopoly on producing great, compelling reads. Everyone, start your browsers.

"For what it’s worth, I still have the 'PR is a sellout' journalist mindset. I would never do PR.”

So says Jessica Bennett, Editorial Director of Lean In, in a recent interview in The Strategist.

My ire always rises a bit when I read something like that since that visceral anti-PR thinking reflects what I consider to be an antiquated idea of public relations.

In fact, as journalists embrace branded content and PR practitioners cozy up to content marketing, the two disciplines are moving closer together. Journalists, in my experience (Confession: I’m a former reporter who at one point looked down my nose at PR people), often associate PR with spinning and propaganda, and journalism with fact-based reporting and fairness. However, as brands, whether B2B or B2C, encourage ongoing conversations with customers, they are becoming more transparent about their deficiencies. Smart brands, for example, allow customers to post negative, as well as positive experiences, in social media.

In fact, New York Life found that by allowing negative comments about its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender site (LGBT) its fans rallied around it with their positive comments far outweighing negative remarks.

Moreover, any brand that creates content can’t produce puff pieces and expect to get its articles taken seriously. After all, who has the time or interest to read about a chest-thumping brand? Brand content, like any good content, requires a customer-driven focus: whether that is to inform, educate, entertain. Or ultimately engage.

Forbes with its BrandVoice content is an excellent example of an outlet that seamlessly mixes company-created content with journalist-created pieces. As Lewis DVorkin, Forbes' Chief Product Officer, notes, “In the new world of media today, content is content.”

"Audiences want and value informative content from knowledgeable parties – that includes journalists, topic-specific experts and marketers," says DVorkin. "By clearly identifying the source you enable the reader to understand the filter through which the content was created."

“I believe that people gravitate toward content they trust and over the last three years, according to comScore, our audience has grown from 12 million unique users to 25 million,” DVorkin told the New York Times' David Carr this week.

Meanwhile, consumers are voting with their eyes and ears by flocking to well-done company content. The software company SAP, for instance, saw a story its CEO wrote rise to the No. 2 spot on Forbes’ list of its most popular stories.

At the end of the day, no one--not journalists, not brands--holds a monopoly on good content. If you want to be heard, It’s up to you to seize the content brass ring. I'd love to hear how you are doing so.

[Image: Flickr user Jyrki Salmi]

Add New Comment

6 Comments

  • Lee Odden

    There's a lot of attention on PR driving sponsored content and why not? That's where the money is. But it would be foolish (in my opinion) to rely solely on paid inclusion or paid media for brand awareness and engagement objectives. 

    Love your close - "no one holds a monopoly on good content". This is why PR is in an excellent position to advance marketing/PR convergence through content initiatives. 

  • Ammon Johns

    How did the editor let you follow a paragraph about LGBT content with one mentioning "puff pieces"?

    But aside from that, good article.

  • Wendy Marx

    Hi Jason,

    Thank you for your comments. My point isn't that there is no more "brand content" but that there is less distinction between content created by journalists and that created by brands. I agree with you that content needs to engage to be effective. And that helpfulness and expertise have become a form of organizational branding. Again, I appreciate your thoughts.

  • Blake Robison

    Wendy this is a great post addressing the importance of content creation and relationship to an audience on a large scale. I agree that "good content, requires a customer-driven focus: whether that is to inform, educate, entertain". I also think that it is important to implement a strategy to go along with these points. A strategy that I would suggest is the use of Q&A platforms to interact with consumers in which they can ask questions and receive answers from businesses. I work with Answerbase (www.answerbase.com) and they have clients that use Q&A for this purpose, but then utilize the interactions as a way to generate content! As they become aware of the questions their audience is seeking answers to, relevant content can be generated that is much more likely to stick and strike interest. Thanks for this, PR is rapidly changing and this is a great update. I'll be sharing it!

  • Jason Thibeault

    So I agree with all your points but I disagree with the distinctions you make. There is no more "brand content". Every single piece of content an organization creates is "brand content". Why? Because every piece of content develops a relationship. That's right. In the digital world, your PR or blog post or tweet or FB status update is like the "glance across the room". Eye contact has been made. And that is the opportunity to engage. To what you said, that's why the content has to be good. I'd argue, though, that it has to be helpful. Organizations have to get out of their own way. It's not about products anymore, it's about expertise and helpfulness. As a consumer, I buy from those people I trust. And I trust those people that are experts and that help me. Content has to participate in that process or it just gets glossed over.