How Content Marketing is Changing the PR Gestalt 

David Patton

In an increasingly digital age, PR pros may be forgiven if they think that going “viral” is the Holy Grail of online communications. However, it’s important that PR execs not be seduced by the term, according to David Patton, VP and editor in chief of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide.

Better for PR folks to focus to produce relevant, meaningful content for their stakeholders and not worry about going viral, he says. Patton will provide his PR insights during the “Content Marketing: Socialize Your Content and Reshape the Role of PR” session at PR News’ Digital PR Summit on Feb. 27 in San Francisco.

To gear up for the conference, Patton spoke with PR News about how content marketing is fundamentally changing the PR gestalt.

PR News: 
In light of how fluid the social web is, what do you think are the top priorities right now for PR pros who want to socialize their content?

David Patton: There are two top priorities for PR pros seeking to maximize the impact of their content using social media.

First, they need to have an understanding of their audience, what platforms they are using and how they’re sharing content. The rise of Pinterest, Tumblr and particularly LinkedIn means audiences are starting to use different platforms for different purposes and that content needs to be tailored for the platform. The second priority is to have a clear goal of what you want the audience to do when (or if) they discover the content you are socializing.

As such we need to understand the next action we are hoping to drive from the audience. If they read a blog post you have socialized or like a photo on Pinterest, do we want them to do something else such as get them closer to a purchasing decision, turn into a repeat visitor or look at more images? If we have this understanding of the audience flow, we can do a better job of tracking the performance and showing the impact of all the work we are doing via social media.  

PR News:
How is the social web reshaping the role of PR?

Patton:We have more tools than ever to reach audiences. Before social media, a big part of public relations was focused on working through journalists and media outlets and we tailored our content to that editorial audience.

With social media we can reach audiences directly, so we must adjust our content to inform and connect with a much wider group of people.

We no longer rely solely on journalists to interpret and explain our content and messages. Social media and the Internet have also changed the cadence of information, which means we must be providing content and engaging with audiences regularly.

PR News:
For companies grappling with enhancing their social media strategy, where do you position PR execs when it comes to who owns social media?

Patton: I love this question because it implies that someone or group can actually own something that is as distributed and organic as social media.

Given the story telling foundations of our trade, I do think that public relations people should be responsible for driving strategy and content for social media in organizations because they are more accustomed to the kind of interactions that are possible with social media.

This said, social media and digital platforms are pushing greater integration of all types of marketing and communications because it requires the mix of skills—creative content creation, targeted distribution, crafted messaging and impact measurement—that have traditionally existed in different silos. It is becoming more important than ever to integrate with our marketing and advertising counterparts.

PR News:
Socializing content is one thing. However, what do you think are the challenges for PR pros to be able to sustain content via social channels?

Patton: Media outlets—particularly news publishers—have been the most successful in leveraging social media to meet their business goals and becoming influential with social media audiences.

Their success is the result of two things: First, media organizations are streamlined and focused on finding, creating and delivering relevant, useful and/or entertaining content regularly. Second, media outlets know exactly what they want their audience to do: Read, watch or listen to their content, usually so they can serve up adjacent advertising.

Most public relations groups aren’t designed or organized to efficiently and expediently create and distribute content, especially content that is interesting or relevant to audiences outside talking about their own products or services.

PR News
: Is there a difference between socializing content and content going viral? Do PR pros have to be careful not to be seduced by the possibility of the latter?

Patton: Yes, content that is socialized has the potential to go viral, but going viral—defined by reaching a much larger than expected audience—isn’t always a good thing.

We have seen cases where PR or marketing content went viral so it could be mocked by a wide audience. That often happens when we focus on being entertaining without a relevant story. I often hear a desire to create “breakthrough content” reaches audiences and “cuts through the noise.”

While that is a seductive idea, to really break through to our audiences we must deliver them informative, relevant and useful content on a consistent basis on the channels that they are using. If we also want to entertain our audiences, we should wrap that content in a story.

To learn more from communications experts like David Patton, register to attend PR News’ Feb. 27 Digital PR Next Practices Summit in San Francisco. 

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1