Public relations has always entailed some degree of content creation. Indeed, the most famous PR form, the press release, is ideally a precisely styled piece of writing that integrates a news announcement with an information-dense boilerplate about the organization or person in question. But throughout this decade, PR firms have branched out far beyond press releases (which are mostly designed to generate earned media) to other content types to increase their share of owned media coverage.
Owned, not earned: Understanding the incentives for PR-led content creation
This shift is due to PR agencies and departments focusing more intently on owned media:
- The 2017 Global Communications Report survey of PR professionals found that within the widely used PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model of media coverage, earned media accounted for half of all agency revenue in 2017, with owned far behind at only 19 percent.
- However, in 5 years, earned media was expected to drop to 36 percent, while owned climbed to 22 percent.
- For in-house PR teams, owned media is expected to remain at 30 percent of their budgets from 2017 to 2022, but by staying flat it will become their largest expenditure as earned drops from 34 percent to 27 percent.
What counts as owned? A few examples for a modern agency might include podcasts, videos, webinars, sponsored written content and native advertising.
Owned forms of media give PR teams extensive control over how they shape and deliver messaging on behalf of their respective organizations, much more so than a standard press release that is usually dissected and incorporated into someone else’s story. Plus, there are more outlets than ever before for delivering this owned media directly to specific audiences, such sites like Forbes and The Huffington Post, as well as automated email mailing lists (e.g., MailChimp) and ad-supported podcast networks.
By prioritizing content creation, PR teams can broadly respond to two related pressures on their operations: The desire, from their clients and firms, for a coherent content marketing strategy that intersects with PR, and the demand, from prospective audiences, for easily accessible articles, videos and infographics, especially on the internet.
The intersection of PR and content marketing
According to Altimeter, 7 in 10 marketers lack a coherent content strategy under which branded materials would be spread through multiple channels to hone a consistent message. Creating more of this content allows PR professionals to address this issue, shape major campaigns and work more closely with marketing teams, at a time when PR and marketing increasingly rely on one another.
Many CMOs now oversee PR as part of an expanded role within their organizations. They may focus on the natural synergy between PR initiatives and content marketing efforts, both of which strive to establish trust between an organization and its audiences, or “publics,” as noted by the Public Relations Society of America’s official definition of PR.
The media that PR and marketing professionals produce can sharpen the images of their clients in the public eye, while also building a reusable store of content that increases engagement – and by extension, potential sales leads – in the long run. The benefits of strategically crafted content within a blended PR/marketing strategy are well-established:
- In a Roper Public Affairs survey of business decision-makers, 80 percent of respondents preferred to get information via a series of articles, rather than from ads. This preference indicates a big opportunity for the types of content that PR teams can readily contribute to, such as guest blogs and white papers, as extensions of age-old PR practices such as ghostwriting an executive’s bylines on a company website.
- An Aberdeen study revealed that content marketing “leaders” (as ranked by the quality of their efforts) generated 7.8 times as much traffic to their sites as “followers.” Top-notch content is also much more cost-effective than typical outbound marketing: Demand Metric has found it costs 62 percent less to execute, but generates 3 times as many leads.
- Most PR professionals are already accustomed to pitching to media outlets via email. Fortunately, email is also one of the best channels for distributing content. For every $1 invested, it returns an average of $38, according to Campaign Monitor. That ROI puts it far ahead of other components of the PESO model, including social, paid search and affiliate marketing.
Essentially, greater focus on content creation in PR is beneficial to realizing both traditional PR objectives (such as building relationships) and broader goals across the organization (such as boosting audience engagement along with leads and revenue). Statistics from MarketWired indicated that 64 percent of PR and marketing professionals planned to increase resource allocation for content marketing between 2015 and 2016.
How PR can respond to changing content consumption habits
The MarketWired report also highlighted the different content forms that PR and marketing teams have explored in the wake of profound changes in how content is consumed. A report from StatCounter found that 51.3 percent of website visits in October 2016 were from mobile devices, compared to 48.7 from desktop PCs – the first time that mobile had taken the lead. With mobile as the dominant platform, PR campaigns must adapt to serve consumers who expect near instant gratification from written and visual media, and who have numerous other content streams to tap into.
The good news is that classic PR skills are perfectly suited for the creation of such content. Let’s look at how they empower today’s PR specialists in meeting the demands for relevant articles, videos and podcasts:
Press releases and media pitches are often most effective when they get right to the point, while lengthier formats may lose the message or be ignored altogether. According to a NewsCred Insights study, the average time spent with an online article published in Q1 2016 was just 37 seconds, demonstrating the importance of brevity and clarity in hooking the reader.
Successful PR agencies and in-house teams channel their energies into crafting the catchy headlines and subheads that make a piece of content alluring enough to sustain engagement.
Alternatives/complements to advertising
Although PR and marketing have become more intertwined, the distinctions between the two remain important. For example, a PR agency might have less involvement in a direct sales campaigns than a marketing department would. This distance from sales could be useful at a time when many readers have become fatigued with display advertisements, auto-play videos and similarly intrusive mechanisms for monetizing websites.
A PageFair report found that ad blocker usage rose 30 percent year-over-year in 2016, with 615 million devices (most of them mobile) blocking ads at the end of that year. Owned and paid content provide ways around the increasing blockage of advertisements. PR teams can create content directly or take advantage of their ties to media outlets to place stories and native advertising that is not vulnerable to an ad blocker.
In fact, 61 percent of the MarketWired survey respondents reported relying on influencers and brand advocates to amplify content. These relationships are the bread and butter of PR and continue to be difference-makers in the era of content marketing.
Expertise in multiple media types
In the MarketWired report, the three most widely used kinds of content were blog posts, photos and news releases. Half of the respondents reported using visual media such as infographics and videos on a weekly basis in response to consumer demand.
PR professionals are usually versed in a broad set of communications media. The scope of their training may prove useful when creating a podcast (public speaking and presentation skills) or writing a blog post, press release, white paper or ebook (writing skills). These owned forms of content were identified by 33 percent of MarketWired’s respondents as the most important component of their PESO models.
Prepare for the future of PR with a degree in strategic public relations
The PR industry is always in flux. Although strategic content creation is hardly a new skill in PR, it has become more central to the field in recent years.
Whereas press releases, pitches and news conferences were once the most identifiable PR forms, newer ones such as branded infographics and videos are gradually reaching the same level. Modern PR specialists should be capable of adapting to the shifting expectations of their roles so that they can excel as adept creators of content in addition to being expert messengers for their clients.
A Master’s Degree in Strategic Public Relations from the George Washington University gives you the tools and expertise to navigate the evolving communications landscape that current and aspiring PR professionals need to stand out in today’s environment. Learn more about your options by visiting the George Washington University page for a detailed overview.
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