Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

PR Pros beware Content Marketers are Coming

content marketingI remember few years back when Social media was in its infancy and people were just catching up with viral world, many in the PR business believed that it’s their right to rule this new found media as they are the ones who have an understanding of crafting messages that could communicate client’s business to its stakeholders. Many senior professionals on the other hand went ahead and proclaimed that this is just a fad and will soon be bust just like a dot com industry.

While the PR leaders were still undecided over investing money and resources in the new media, our advertising cousins went ahead and set up subsidiaries to exclusively focus on the digital business and offer integrated services to their clients. In between there were some tech savvy or just opportunistic young and smart entrepreneurs who started their own standalone digital shops from a garage kind of a setup.

Today these standalone agencies, having started small, are the ones generating maximum billing and also have a very impressive client roaster. While PR agencies tried to pitch their content generation capabilities in driving engagements on social media, advertising agencies focussed on their creative side to engagement with their client’s audience. The standalone agencies tried to create a best of both world approach by poaching youngsters from both businesses and offering solutions that addressed most requirements of brands on the digital platforms.

PR agencies who then believed that Social media can only be driven by content and clients will be happy to sign their digital wings to take advantage of an integrated approach are still waiting for the windfall.

And now there is another wave of business approaching us or rather already created its need within the marketing environment and that is Content marketing. We always believed and spoke aloud that ‘Content is King’, but never actually went on to either monetize or build & enhance our content creation capabilities. The result of this is that again talented entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity and have successfully grown their content marketing businesses.

PR Daily recently reported that organizations’ are creating their own media outlets. Companies such as Dell, Coca-Cola, and IBM are creating what looks like—and in many ways is—a journalistic product. Clients hire these firms to churn out by-lined articles, white-papers, advertorials, blog posts, and even Facebook and Twitter posts. Some agencies even deliver high quality video content, given the growth of video sharing platforms.

These agencies have also been hired by many publications and have outsourced their special supplements and supplements promoted by their marketing departments. Also given the commercialization of media and increasing influence of paid editorials, this business is heading only northwards.

It’s high time now, that we start seeing beyond media relations and start looking at more strategic requirements of brand and marketing departments on the whole. There is no doubt that many PR firms have established in-house capabilities for content creation, but that is rather sporadic than a norm within the agency. It is imperative for every PR agency to atleast have desk (like in the publication house) to screen and edit every piece of content that goes out to the client or to the media.

If we don’t act now, even this business will soon slip out of our hands and we will continue chasing only journalists. And wait, even journalists have been shifting to these content marketing firms, rather than PR agencies for better prospects and pay packets.


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Categorised in: Public Relations, Vikypedia Exclusives

27 Responses »

  1. Good read, Vikram.

  2. Hi Vikram. That is a very pertinent article. Content Marketing has the potential to knock the stuffing out of PR as we know it in India. I have written a blog on this which can be accessed through this link Would appreciate your making time to read it.

    Best Regards,

  3. Interesting Article Vikram.. Kudos!

  4. Nice insights. You are right about journalists gravitating to content marketing. I’m one of them and wrote this blog about 3 ways content marketing is not journalism.

  5. Vikram – this is a great discussion and thank you for it. We are doing more content in our consultancy but still not enough as this new segment is being serviced by specialists. Which ultimately means we in PR miss out. You are so right!

  6. Right on the money here

  7. It’s all about SEO. The only way to keep top rank is to provide content today that answers the questions your clients or customers are asking. A business can’t wait and hope that a media outlet will present the information they need people to see.

  8. There are a good couple of PR agencies in South Africa who have embraced the change. I’ve not only seen it in the past three years as being a PRISM judge, but I’ve also just finished a business transformation process with a 21 year old legacy agency, bringing social media and content management into the offering / operations / billing process.

    In my opinion there are many more agencies who acknowledge and agree with your sentiments but they don’t know how to transform their business, where to start and how to change operations to embrace the change. Resourcing is a big obstacle, as is the policy and procedure changes that are required.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with Cindy. I have experienced this as well. Either agencies want interns, or they expect experienced content writers and communicators to work for $10 or $15 an hour (or less). It’s ridiculous and insulting. But it seems to be the new way of the PR world.

  10. Good piece – and it is something we have been education our clients about – PR is absolutely not just about the press – its about creating good original content that can be disseminated through all the channels available- and crucially content that is not just read – but shared! PRs who don’t get this will become extinct. All our people have to eb able to deliver good content – we don’t hire interns to do it – its part of the day job!

  11. Thoughtful piece and comments – misconceptions exist on clent, agency and journalism side. For e very business that has a sophisticated social meida program there are 10 that do not have a clue. Think hiring a PR intern for $15 an hour is bad? How about using your restaurnat’s bartender, college kid and or out-of-work cousin?. How about setting up 4 social media pages and looking at them every three months? Or, hire an agency to set up a page on facebook to the tune of $3000 and never looking at it at all? We have two papers in the Pruiencton area geared to business and life style and their facebook pagees have not been touched in six months. I have worked with PR pros who still think its a passing fad or lock on to every flavor of the month.

  12. I object to the term “content marketing,” mainly because my mantra is, “all marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.” Marketing people have done a very good job of seizing the definition of communication to their own benefit, but marketing depends on a transactional relationship, and focuses on only the customer. A content strategy reaches past the features/benefits chant into a more holistic set of stakeholder-relevant messaging.

  13. Enjoy this discussion — it’s been going on for quite some time here in this group.

    Content marketing is indeed hitting the hype level right now, but this change has been years in the making. My firm does B2B and B2G work, and five years ago we did a pivot, we now do almost no media relations. It’s almost all content marketing strategies, promoted through social media channels straight to the right audience AND tied to the client’s marketing automation and new business funnel.

    That last piece is absolutely critical. Content for content’s sake, no matter how high quality, won’t be funded by most companies. I too have seen what Cindy is talking about, interns being assigned social media work. That’s a sure sign there is no strategy at that organization, just tactics. For content marketing to work, the client needs to adopt the attitude of a publisher, which is a culture shift.

    You have to demonstrate how you are moving prospects through the pipeline, enabling nurture campaigns, etc. Along the way you can point to other tangible benefits like organic SEO improvement, traffic growth and increased contact from industry influencers. But the backend sales piece is what gets the program funded.

    I think communicators with a PR background have an advantage here, b/c we know how to tell a good story. But there is a lot of vendor noise — web development shops, digital ad shops, social media boutiques. Firms that try to sell based on brand visibility and awareness alone will lose out.

  14. @christopher – Certainly a lack of strategy is going to create a tactically driven, less than optimal result. I think my beef is the reduction of all communication to that transactional view. We need to earn a living, so that’s not a criticism — good on ya to figure out the path to a brave new world.

  15. Vikram very nice Article…I don’t have work Ex like u all in PR industry but one thing I have observed that there are limited functions / Area of work in PR Industry compare to Ad Industry….We are more focus on coverages , interviews n crisis mgt… Angle of 360 Degree communication doesn’t complete in PR…

    Every business needs innovation to Expand n Enhance their services with time..Ad Industry has evolved over the years but PR industry still struggling to find their place… We have to push the boundaries to find New way to serve our clients. So many Industries spend their time ,Money & Manpower on researching and developing what their current and potential customers want.

  16. Interesting topic Vikram!

    In my observation its a hard and unpleasant fact that most of the PR agencies are happy in calling their work of media relations as BRANDING exercise. Media relations service in itself is incomplete in today’s competitive world. Further, it is even more alarming when the world is moving towards ‘Prosumerism’, PR fraternity is still considering and brainstorming on ‘content generation’. While it is a fact that business wise it may not viable for many companies to just add a new portfolio, but specifically for content generation and social media, PR agencies must look at developing verticles / departments. These are the bare minimum requirements of Clients today. It is like what was a luxury for us some years back, are now a necessity (for example – mobile phones, laptops).

    Further, expecting to get the work done from limited resource will only fetch limited recognition and attention of the client. Within an agency either the resources should be developed and trained or experts should be hired.

    Its time to go all out, experiment and innovate our offerings for our own good or become obsolete!

  17. Absolutely Vikram. In fact Edelman is one of the first few agencies to have a separate content team to craft high quality content based on in-depth research, understanding of the industry as well as media. The team, working along with the client servicing teams, ensures there is constant exchange of data and research, not just specifically client-related, but also industry-related. Thus, we are constantly up-to-date on what the trends are, which puts in a better position when interacting with the media, or with the client.

  18. Good read Vikram and academically very thought provoking.

    However I would like to differ while trying to agree with the presentation.

    And it’s my personal take in any case: that two traditional “content” animals — Advertising agencies and PR agencies will NOT cease to exist until I am dead (at 45, God willing, I think I have 15 odd years in me). And by the same token, social media specialists or content marketers will come up and do roaring business and all the four-five-six types of “content” animals will co-exist.

    Allow me to draw an analogy (however crude it may sound): for the period mentioned above, desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and SMART mobile phones will co exist.

    And the extended analogy if I have to present: wire agencies, newspapers, magazines, TV stations, online portals will co exist, at least in India for the above mentioned period.

    My two sons (17 and 11) read newspapers (which is a rarity, I must accept). But this IS the new crop of newspaper readers who also spend half their time on the internet (playing games, chatting etc and thereby “consume” some sort of “content”).

    If you put all the above together and crystal gaze into the future, you will realize that one has to welcome the advent of “content marketers” and at the same time not write off other type of content players :)

    Happy to hear criticism!

  19. Quite a thought provoking article Vikram. And I agree with you that unless PR pros – agencies + individuals – embrace this latest marketing tool, we will take yet another step towards redundancy. Unfortunately, the PR fraternity has mostly limited itself to media relations and, for the longest time, not really tried to project its services as a branding exercise. Its cousin, the Ad fraternity, on the other hand, has over a period of time expanded its services (and attitude, if I may call it that) to stake a moral claim on the idea called BRAND. Thus the idea that while they build brands, we communicate brands.

    Bakul – I do not see any content animal ceasing to exist but I definitely think, if the PR fraternity doesnt adopt an aggressively 360degree brand approach, its relevance will diminish with time.

  20. Well Said Ritam and also agree with Bakul that none will diminish but yes the party time will get reduced and boutique agencies offering different services will gain more than the traditional media relations agencies

  21. Good one bakul ji

  22. Great article that really rings true for me. If brands are creating content that is engaging enough to attract a wide audience then surely they can become less reliant on press coverage – the ‘bread and butter’ of the PR industry – to push the company message.

    Although with content created by the brand and delivered on its own platforms you lose some of the potency of a third party endorsement from a journalist, complete control of the message is retained and that is a real benefit.

    I agree there is a real chance for the PR functions to take more ownership of content creation, though, in my experience, many PR departments will need educate their superiors at board level in order to take advantage of this opportunity. As long as the PR team is being evaluated using press cuttings, advertisers and marketers are stealing a march on content development, which at some point in the near future could become their communication director’s number one priority.

  23. Very valid point raised, Vikram as I have seen this transition in my career too from PR to corporate communications with a short stint in digital marketing. Content will emerge as the ‘core offering’ in near future. I do see a few PR agencies (in India) looking at this change seriously.

  24. A great summary of an important transition that has happened under our noses

  25. Christopher is spot on. Content for it’s own sake is useless. You have to be in touch with what your key stakeholders want and focus on providing it. How is an intern or college student going to do that? It’s also about building relationships. Social media is not a one-way broadcast platform. I see so many companies and organizations that don’t follow or engage with anyone in their social media outposts. What’s the point?

  26. Evening Vikram. Interesting points, if not a little doom-mongering in tone. The truth is PR has always been under threat: management consultants, marketing communications professionals, social media firms, advertorial providers and doubtless more in the future. It is an opportunity rather than a threat to us all. If we don’t want to remain simply the media messenger boys, we must lead with strategy, craft message generation, coordinate channel execution and demonstrate ROI. Nothing good came easy…

  27. Of late been following your articles and the ones still fresh in my memory are on content marketing and how PR companies pitch events as a strategy.

    interestingly with a decent experience handling events, PR and marketing, i have always felt that PR today is not very focussed and integrated and still revolves around press releases and no. of coverages and fail to look beyond it. That was one of the reason why i have quit an agency job to pursue on my own, I have been consciously been working on presenting to clients beyond just media releases and Your article on content marketing infact evoked me to present myself as a content marketer encompassing 360 degree communication. Many thanks for it.

    would love to stay connected and contribute where possible.

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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