PR Pros Should Focus on ‘Content’ When Defining ‘Content Marketing’

Killer messaging. Check. Enlisting social channels. Check. Digital communications. Check. Telling a compelling story. Check. The typical drill that PR agencies go through before crafting an RFP for a prospective client? Probably. But for Merrie Spaeth, founder and president of Spaeth Communications, each of these disciplines also fall within the definition of the hottest new form of communication, “content marketing.”

While the idea behind it is not new, the opportunities are. And as media channels start to blur, content marketing has become an umbrella for many PR and marketing tools. “Content marketing is a new name for looking at the multiple channels you need to use to inform all audiences about your areas of expertise,” said Spaeth, whose clients include FedEx Corp. and VISA. “It’s a new name to take an holistic approach to PR.”

She was quick to add that in a few years the term “content marketing” will probably be eclipsed by a new phrase. Indeed, the term “content creation” is starting to gain more currency as a way to describe the perspective and skills that PR can bring to the table.

For now, however, the industry will have to get conversant in the techniques and strategies of “content marketing.”

The term has been top-of-mind for all communicators, but what does it really mean and how do PR execs apply it to their actions? Should it be applied for some things and not others? Is there a danger that if PR folks call everything “content marketing” it might lose any meaning?


Sam Ford, director of audience engagement at Peppercomm, said he generally avoids using the term “content marketing” because it could dilute the various services that PR provides.

“Telling a story about what your company cares about and connecting it to what audiences care about shouldn’t be a gimmick,” said Ford, who works with EY, Nikon Instruments and Sharp Electronics, among other clients.

He added, “It should be a sustained, long-term commitment that the company makes. All companies have to start to think of themselves as media properties and storytellers and not only as content marketers.”


Part of the problem, Ford said, is that “content marketing” may be too narrow a term for public relations execs and, consequently, brand managers too.

“The idea that you are creating content for marketing purposes limits the many potential uses that content might have,” Ford said. “If you’re producing, say, a piece of thought leadership content and it provides value to your audience, it should be more than just a marketing initiative.”

Perhaps we’re getting stuck in the weeds when it comes to an adequate definition of “content marketing.”

Does a white paper qualify as content marketing? How about a tweet or online-video programming?

However the term is defined, the onus is on PR execs to produce quality content that resonates with their audiences and leaves little room for mystery.

If PR execs produce content with that in mind, the “marketing” element should take care of itself, according to Karren Jeske, communications manager at Standard Process Inc., which manufacturers whole foods supplements.

“I prefer to lean on the content side and leave the marketing as secondary,” Jeske said. “You’re trying to fulfill a need for your customers. And if they like it, they will come.”

She added, “People are smart enough so that if they see content as purely a marketing tool I think they’ll be turned off by the term.” As PR gets more and more sophisticated, Jeske said, “it’s important to personalize the content, find out how your audiences can be segmented based on demographics and where people are in the buying cycle.” PRN

(To learn more about content marketing trends, attend our upcoming Webinar, “Content Marketing: What You Need to Know Now as a PR Pro,” scheduled for August 27. Register for the webinar at


Sam Ford,; Karren Jeske,; Merrie Spaeth,

3 Tips for Effective Content Marketing

Content marketing is a more subtle and sophisticated way of engaging with your audience than some other forms of marketing. Rather than simply hearing a message, successful content marketing allows your customers and prospects to experience your brand. Through experiencing your brand, customers grow their brand loyalty and intent to purchase.

Here are three tips to keep in mind.

1. Offer it on their terms. Given the many media platforms that exist today, it’s more challenging than ever to create a meaningful dialogue with customers and prospects. In all aspects of their lives, customers are bombarded with marketing messages that talk at them rather than providing relevant content. Take an outside-in approach. In addition to primary research, social media gives marketers a constant stream of customer insight. Use that insight to craft relevant content that will resonate with them. To truly engage with customers, provide content they want to see, not simply what you want to push.

2. Engage in being engaging. The idea that content needs to be “engaging” goes without saying. As marketers, we will succeed if we marry customer-relevant content—whether created or purchased—with diverse and effective ways to present it. Whether it’s video, quizzes, checklists or other tools, customers will not only spend more time focused on your programs, but they will come back for more. And that leads to conversation, something that traditional push marketing cannot accomplish. As a bonus, it’s this type of content that audiences are more likely to share, creating earned awareness for brands.

3. Analyze this. Content marketing is a circular process; understanding market needs and what your customers are saying about your brand must be the first and last step you take. Using simple analytics, combined with a constant ear on social networks and other platforms, ensure that companies are providingrelevant content, delivered in ways that are perpetually engaging.

Jamie DePeau is CMO of Lincoln Financial Group.

This article appeared in the August 12 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.