Take Your Hints From Content Marketers — Lessons for PR Pros

Today, in the „everyone is a publisher” era, the playing field has changed dramatically. Cold emails sent out to as many journalists as possible are no longer effective. Offering them lunch could be helpful, but—unfortunately—not scalable.

“Those who have not yet fully embraced the new digital age that has swept the world by storm often still try to hang onto traditional marketing tactics and keep the search engines happy at the same time. In today’s world, this simply doesn’t work well. Content marketing can kill two birds with one stone—make your users happy and keep the search engines working for you,” says Lauren Frye at Fannit. Can’t agree more. So, what is it exactly that PR pros can learn from content marketers? Grab ten content marketing related practices that in my opinion influence public relations today.

1. Be more creative – communication goes digital, you should too

Your audience doesn’t know what it means to be offline anymore. Sometimes they are just away from the keyboard. Life is getting increasingly digital. And so is communication. Cannes Lions has even created a special Digital Craft Lions category last year. Just think about the things you do at work or at home – they all have gone online a long time ago, with technology driving the change at an accelerated rate. Gone are the archaic days of using the press release as the single tool to make buzz around your brand. Brands now need a lot more, and communications pros are uniquely positioned to fill this void.

Sabrina Horn, CEO of Horn Group, explains in her Forbes article: “Public relations is going through a fundamental shift that will change how marketers think about and deploy it forever. Simply put: PR can’t operate in a silo anymore.” Instead, PR pros must now be equipped with multi-disciplinary skill sets. They must be able to weave traditional PR into social media, interactive and even advertising. I personally think of this as a good thing. It provides us with an opportunity to be more creative in how we tell our stories and share them with our audiences. Brands that use different platforms and resources don’t seek out media attention through mass emailed press releases. They rather use them to publish their story with high-resolution digital photos, videos and downloadable, more engaging digital press kits [just take a look at Vimeo or Pixers newsrooms]. They understand that a well-designed brand site will draw journalists in by itself and give them all the data they need to make their communication and relations even better.

Speaking of new digital experiences—have you heard about The Van Gogh BnB project? It was designed primarily to promote “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms,” an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Just take a look at this video case study:

In the end, it turned out to be the highest-attended exhibition in the last 15 years. BTW: Last year, the Van Gogh BnB, where the Art Institute of Chicago joined forces with Airbnb to recreate Van Gogh’s Bedroom painting as a real room visitors could stay in overnight, won 14 Cannes Lions awards. This year it picked up the Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness.

2. Forget about AVE. Be more data-driven

AVE sucks. Here you have the definitive list of 22 reasons why it shouldn’t be used [delivered by AMEC] and one more provided by me in my latest article about CIPR . Apart from the new ways of reaching your audience and getting massive coverage in offline and online media, the digitalization of PR provides us, communications pros, with something extra—a wide selection of intelligent PR software solutions (check out this list of favorite 22 PR tools for Spin Sucks by Stephen Waddington) for creating customized monitoring and analysis reports, supporting company budgeting processes, pitch editing and distribution.

Excel spreadsheets with names, last names, telephone numbers, email addresses… Don’t we all know it—all your contacts stored in documents where it’s near to impossible to find the information you need, when you need it. What about that pitch letter you sent out to your target audience via email? You are not sure who opened these emails and which relationships need nurturing. And you’re much slower in getting on with your work with no real insight on the effects of your actions. Luckily for you, it’s already in the past. Digital tools provide valuable insights you can’t overlook.

3. It’s not a sin to be shameless when it comes to promoting our work

It is a truth universally acknowledged, but seldom questioned that PR agencies have problems with self-promotion. They will tailor best strategy just for you, they will drive more traffic to your website, build your audience’s trust and provide comprehensive instructions how to goals… but when it comes to their own PR they become the plumber with the leaky tap. Why should PR pros care more about promoting themselves?

Forbes recently stated that today’s landscape makes it much more difficult to get your message across: “The average American hears or reads 100 000 words every single day. Studies dating back decades have shown that 80% of what we learn is gone within 24 hours. That makes it much less likely that your message is the one that sticks.”

By talking openly about our accomplishments, we have a greater chance of being remembered and not forgotten. That’s why we should be a little bit shameless in self-promotion. Content marketers know something about it. Learn from them. But at the end of the day remember to thank the community members for social shares and other contributions. Show them that you appreciate it.

4. More promotion, less creation

Let’s say it loud and clear: content without the marketing part is not content marketing—it’s just plain content. I’m talking about “The 80/20 Rule” which basically comes down to this: use 20% of your time to create content, and dedicate the remaining 80% to reach your audience with this content.

Since we post 2 articles per week, tops (we used to publish as many as four) and spend more time on planning which channels (and how) should we use to promote a particular piece of content, we have better stats, including views. The same goes to all PR news. Target your efforts toward promoting your stories more efficiently than ever. How to do it? More tips you will find here.

5. Now open wide – multichannel strategy

From my perspective PR will not work without multi-channel publishing. This is what I have learned from dealing with content marketing. People use different channels to find information and get the news. It looks even more divided if we consider their age, professional experience, motivation, education and of course place and time.

That’s why you should be using more than just one channel. Writing a good story, publishing it on a blog, and maybe also on your Facebook page, and… waiting for the news to spread by itself while your blog continued to be competitive – it’s not that case anymore. Is it simple? No. According to Forrester’s research, the biggest hurdles in creating impactful multi-channel campaigns are the lack of enough people to manage processes (49%) and lack of the right knowhow (42%). Take your time and remember:

  • pick only relevant channels
  • adapt your message to the target audience of each one of those channels
  • set goals for each channel
  • capture customer journeys across channels in one place
  • rope in specialists wherever required
  • make sure your channels talk to each other

6. Sharing is… contributing now

I’m sure that you’ve been following at least several blogs and websites on stuff that interests you. Kissmetrics? HubSpot? Entrepreneur? Fast Company? The Next Web? We all do love them. This, for instance, is one of many lists of the best content marketing sources in my view. Obviously it’s not the only one. To be honest, there are so many cool articles posted on the Internet every day that my “Inspiration” file folder (with stuff that I store for better times) is bursting at the seams and no tools like Pocket can bring salvation to me.

Anyway, Shannon Byrne in her article for The Next Web notices that many authors are actually contributors—founders, CEOs, CMOs, Content Managers, Community Managers, PR Specialists, and so on. Well, you can’t escape from that. We do the same. BTW: here you can read a piece by our CEO Joanna at PRDaily. On the other hand, not a day goes by that I don’t get similar proposals on our Prowly Magazine inbox. What I do appreciate, is a fresh, high-quality, well-written and not overly promotional content plus some information on the kinds of topics you are really good at. (You’ll be getting some extra credit for supporting us in content promotion).

7. Influence matters

Publications – all that great webs that you are reaching out – want to publish work by people with large followings. Deal with it. This is life. Or – some would say – influencer marketing. This trend was on everyone’s lips last year, however, it seems as it is about to stick around for a little bit longer. Anna Lebedeva from SEMrush, in our last compilation of Trends that will shape comms in 2017, stated that “more and more companies will start discovering that their traditional PR and content marketing techniques won’t be as effective without well-established relationships with industry influencers.” Well, this is happening right now. 84% of marketers plan on executing at least one marketing campaign with influential social media (source). Also, Google Trends has shown the growth of influencer marketing over traditional marketing strategies over the past two years (2014-2016):

Content marketing Lessons for PR pros

What are the biggest two benefits for you here?

No. 1, according to Anna, is that you avoid skepticism that is heavily associated with standard marketing efforts: “The ideas expressed by well-known experts through social media posts are considered to be much more trustworthy by their audiences.” No. 2 is that your reach is much broader through influence marketing, and this opens up access to a whole new range of audiences. For the same reason publications want to publish pieces written by people who have an extensive follower count. Does it mean they don’t care about quality over quantity? No, most of them do. But it’s helpful for them to know that you’ll be sharing your piece on their site with your 100k followers, for example. After all, publications need readers and customers too.

Here some more tips on how to collaborate with influencers in six simple steps.

8. Your message, your media

Great storytelling and former journalists working on behalf of brands—this is something that in my opinion has changed PR in a tremendous way. Does it work? Hell, yeah. This is how they make their money. You might want to ask here: “Why not take these stories to the New York Times magazine, if they are so good?” That is what a PR pro would have done in the past. But not anymore. Now brands can do this by themselves via owned media. If so, do they need the mainstream media? Just take a look at these examples and check out (for starters) the four ways to make brand journalism work for your business. Here, on the other hand, you will find everything that you have to know about PESO model which takes the four media types—paid, earned, shared, and owned—and merges them together.

9. How about guest posts?

I really appreciate this kind of cooperation—guest blogposts on the top sites that cover our market and that reach our target audience are something every PR pro should try from time to time. It helps you increase brand awareness, reach new audiences and position yourself as an expert. But… it’s not a great strategy for generating traffic to your website.

Check out this case study by Tim Soulo, who wrote guest articles for many well-known blogs, such as Moz, Problogger, SocialMediaExaminer, SearchEngineJournal, etc. And guess what? Out of his 239 guest articles, 35% generated less than 10 visits and only 15% generated more than 100 visits:

Content marketing lessons for PR pros

Ok, so what should you be delivering to all the media outlets out there if you want to take your personal brand to a higher level? I don’t agree with experts who state: “Perhaps you don’t have anything overly newsworthy to share at the moment, but you do have a really great blog post that’s not seeing the traction you would like.  Send it to a relevant publication whose readers are going to love it for syndication”. I am rather keen on sending them something exclusive. Using other owned promotion channels is a separate matter.

Take Medium for example (yes, that Medium. I mean, why not share your best ideas and your best work with the community of 1,2 million+ people?) and use it as a secondary content platform. “There’s no way I would have had that traffic and that interest from my own blog. I just don’t have that level of readership. …You can’t get traction if you don’t get up the courage to put your ideas out there. What are you waiting for?”, asks Marie Poulin, digital strategist, designer, idealist, rock climber, and—more importantly—the latest Medium sensation.

10. Time for a sprint!

Last but not least—SCRUM. Built to improve management of the product development process and loved by startups. Fortunately, it’s not forbidden for PR pros. At Prowly we’re using it in our marketing team and we can’t imagine our work without it. SCRUM methodology improves our workflow, helps us measure effects or set up achievable goals. Want to learn more about it? Here are some SCRUM advantages that our Communication Head, Rafał, sees as key from the PR & marketing perspective.

And you? What’s the most important content marketing lesson you’ve learned this year?


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