Many major PR agencies have stopped calling themselves PR agencies. Now they are integrated communications firms. The transition is subtle, but it says a lot about the evolution of PR. As we know, the business of PR has changed radically during the last 10 years, as the number of communications tools and methods of delivery at our disposal have multiplied. Chief among these is the ability to create content, in many cases bypassing third-party editors to get out our story to the world.
We’re still going after press in third-party media outlets. But the path is different. Sources now are more likely to be found behind a pithy tweet or a well-read industry blog instead of on the other end of a PR executive’s pitch.
The problem is all sorts of vendors are scrambling to claim this space as their own. Advertising agencies are calling it “branded content” and are eager to flex their storytelling muscles to get a bigger foothold with large corporations. Media companies, such as Vice, Snapchat and The New York Times Co., have developed brand studios to create native content. Even social media vendors think they should own this market.
But really it’s the PR team that’s uniquely suited to be the ringmaster of this brave new world of multidisciplinary communications because we are the only one in the mix who sees all sides of the content equation.
We understand the company’s brand goals; know how to translate them into credible messages; and have the connections to spread those messages organically.
The challenge is breaking down the silos inside many large organizations to summon all of the elements needed to deliver a comprehensive campaign. In our work developing content-centric campaigns for multinational brands, we’ve been able to identify key ingredients PR professionals need to take the reins of integrated brand communications:
- Everyone needs an editor. It’s almost too easy for companies to produce content and have it seen by millions quickly. Someone needs to sit atop the content-creation machine and think about every tweet, blog post and data point as an external reflection of the brand. Is it tone deaf? Blatant promotion? The PR team needs to insert itself into the content development process to ensure that any communication released externally is appropriate.
- Keep it journalistic. We know branded content can be produced, published and promoted without ever having to get past the gatekeepers of third-party media outlets. Still, the content needs to be relevant. Whether it’s being released to the press or published directly via owned media channels, it remains PR’s job to judge whether content is newsworthy and reflects the brand as a thought leader or an also-ran.
- Consider all channels. It’s possible for a single piece of good content to be used as a story pitch for third-party press; a company blog post; a series of social media posts; a video; a webinar; and more. PR teams that understand the power of leveraging content across multiple channels will win rapidly the kind of support that keeps the content engine running.
- Get comfortable using data. For evidence of the power of data to influence a narrative, look no further than Atlantic Media’s recently launched Atlas, billed as a “platform for discovering and sharing great charts.” There is no simpler, more direct way to influence traditional and social media buzz than through thoughtful presentation of unique (and owned) data.
- Connect, don’t sell. A good branded content initiative will build thought leadership for a brand and its people. This is an entry point to a discussion, not a sales pitch. For content to connect—whether it is produced by a brand or third-party media outlet—it needs to intrigue, engage and stimulate an audience.
Whether you call it integrated communications, branded content, native content, thought leadership or some other variant, the role of the PR team is critical to its success.
Just because information may take the form of a video clip or a research brief instead of a press release, it does not become any less of an external embodiment of a brand. It is up to communications professionals to own content if they want to maintain their roles as protectors and promoters of the brands behind it.
This article originally appeared in the August 17, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.