It’s not a surprise that digital platforms, including social media and video, went through the roof last year. COVID-19 provided the quintessential captive audience, including weeks or longer of forced lockdowns and prohibitions on gatherings. Though digital PR advocates eschew the pandemic, they admit digital platforms were huge beneficiaries.
Though digital video was established as a PR growth industry several years after social media arrived, video began booming in the PR space well before the pandemic. Nearly half of 700 marketers in a Biteable survey report they began using video one to two years ago, or more.
Though it’s rare for companies and PR pros, especially those in the B2C space, to be without a digital PR or video effort, some communicators view digital PR as a storytelling supplement only. They add video, podcasts and other social media tools to the communication plan only after more traditional media relations elements are set.
60% of businesses use video for marketing94% of marketers who use video plan to continue to use it
74% say video has a better ROI than static imagery
65% say it is “very important” or “extremely important” to show diversity in videos
Source: Biteable, State of Video Marketing, 2021
On the other hand, many B2C communicators are moving or have moved to a digital-first approach. Onyx Health, a firm in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK, did so this summer, says Louise Flintoft, its associate director.
“The digital-first approach has effectively involved the merging of our creative and digital teams,” Flintoft says.
Yet Onyx and many other communication shops are not only emphasizing digital, but going a step further, adopting the content studio model.
Similar to several PR terms, the content studio model lacks a precise definition. Ask five PR pros what it means to them and you’ll likely receive five different answers, Tom Bolger, the newly hired content studio manager at rbb Communications, jokes, only partly in jest.
On a gross level, a content studio builds on the integrated PR approach, but adds a suite of in-house digital capabilities. These include social media graphics creation, video and podcast production. Some PR teams have the ability to produce television-quality shows and commercials in-house.
But adopting the content studio structure implies more than offering digital and other creative services under one roof. The approach also is intended to break down traditional PR work structures.
For example, in a traditional PR set-up, creatives, such as graphic artists, video specialists and social media administrators, are brought to the table only after account personnel determine a client’s communication strategy.
The necessary creative work, let’s say a podcast or video series, is “bolted on” to the strategy at the end, Bolger says,
“You don’t want to know how many times I heard, ‘Make it look pretty,’” Bolger says referring to graphics or other creative work he was tasked with doing well after a company’s communication strategy was determined.
Present at the Creation
By contrast, in the content studio model, creatives have a seat at the table with the client from the outset.
That’s in part because those who take the content studio approach elevate creative work to the level of strategy. As Bolger says, creative work must “ladder in to the communication strategy...creative and design isn’t just about making things look pretty; aesthetically-pleasing work is a byproduct of good strategy.”
In addition, the content studio model emphasizes a holistic approach to communication strategy. There’s an emphasis on taking a wide view of a company’s communication issues and solving them in a creative, channel-agnostic, cost-effective manner. In some ways, the model centers on creative problem-solving, Bolger argues.
In a content studio model, communicators and creative personnel are not a shotgun; they’re a sniper rifle, Bolger says.
“We’re trying to hit your target. Knowing that everything we’re doing is founded in sound strategy and is tailored to you.”
In some cases, this creativity and strategy are primed with a literal studio. At Onyx Health, the newly constructed content studio allows creatives and more traditional PR personnel to sit together, prompting collaborative creativity.
“We all know that the best ideas happen when different people work together collaboratively; our new working studio enables exactly that,” Flintoft says. The content studio is “a space without boundaries that allows our team to bounce ideas off each other,” Flintoft adds.
More With Less & Well-Rounded
While by definition the content studio brings more department representatives to the table, it is not intended to result in a larger bill.
For example, Bolger’s team can flex up to shoot a broadcast-quality television commercial, “but that’s not necessarily what we’ll recommend,” he says.
“The idea is we can do a lot more in-house [and more cost-effectively] than we can when we employ vendors because we hire more well-rounded people who have a content-based approach,” he says.
Adds rbb CEO Christine Parsons, “The whole concept that creatives are the only people who can be creative and account people can’t is a misnomer.”
Bolger is a prime example. He’s been a writer and editor, but is trained in art and design. The people he hires are “great at one thing” and good at many others.
“I want people…to clearly have a focus, whether that’s writing or design. [Fortunately,] everything’s become much more accessible. Tools like the Adobe Creative Suite help...so people generally have a broader understanding of doing this work.”
Are PR students coming out of college with this broader understanding?
“I’ve definitely seen a change in that young people today want to do more integrated work,” Parsons says.
Yet she and Bolger agree that few new graduates possess “a sense of what it takes to deliver good integrated strategic thinking, whether it’s PR, digital or creative. The schools haven’t quite caught up,” Parsons says. She favors internships to discover talented young PR pros.
When Bolger hires he looks for people who know their weaknesses.
“Good people know where their gaps are and they are wrestling with them…they make that apparent in their work and conversation…that’s the sign of someone who could be a great creative director,” he says.
All Media is Earned Media
For some PR teams, the studio content approach translates to storytelling solely through digital services. While more traditional media relations and third-party earned media remain valuable tools, market conditions dictate that brands tell their stories directly to consumers, says George Snell, head of content innovation & integration, 360PR+.
He points to the well-known numbers issue–there are too many PR pros chasing too few media outlets. In addition, he notes the overwhelming popularity of digital search with consumers seeking information before making purchases. He also contends consumers do nearly anything they can to avoid commercials.
He concedes the digital space is crowded and becoming more crowded each minute (see graphic), Snell argues content studio-created storytelling may eventually overtake traditional media relations.
Every Minute on the Internet
• 550 new social media users register
• 300 hours of video are uploaded
• 4.5 million videos are watched
Source: PRN Research
The key, he says, is understanding that “all media is earned media, even if you’re paying for it.” When currency is consumers’ attention, companies need to pay, perhaps a bit more, to create content that will educate and entertain, he says.
Another payment comes, Snell adds, when companies pay to circulate, as opposed to advertise, their content on various platforms.
An example he provides is work his company’s content studio did for Sagamore Spirit, the Maryland-based maker of rye whiskey.
Each month, Sagamore Spirit offers consumers branded content in the form of a 30-minute, online show called “Sip of The Rye.” The format is the same every show. A celebrity bartender is asked to mix the perfect Manhattan and another drink of their choosing.
Around those segments is a mix of whiskey news and features. The show runs first on Facebook, but content snippets are re-purposed on other platforms and form the basis for 360’s social media work for Sagamore Spirit, Snell says. The show averages 50K-60K viewers watching it in full, Snell says. It’s advertised via social.
The takeaways, Snell says, are that brands are paying a bit more to create fewer but higher-quality pieces of content that consumers are opting in to since it offers valuable information and entertains.
Indeed, we’re seeing more examples of brands looking beyond traditional media relations to tell stories. In the July edition of PRNEWS, we saw Infiniti introducing a vehicle in a short film starring Kate Hudson. In the current edition, we write about Kia Canada streaming a concert to tout its EV6 (see page 6). Next month, we’ll report on another brand, Dubai Tourism, that’s created a series of short films with Hollywood talent to promote its destination.
On the other hand, flashier video storytelling seems rooted in the consumer sector. For B2B companies, “the most valuable tactical results that PR can drive” is traditional earned media, says Mike Moeller, principal/ founder, Aircover Communications. “Nothing else comes close,” he adds.
Similar to Snell, Moeller notes the limited number of reporters and publications dictates that “you need to also ensure you keep a steady cadence of awareness-building activities in the works.”
Moeller’s advice: B2B companies need to think like publishers, using various means to tell stories, including digital assets such as video.
But in B2B, he argues, “video is a supporting tool. It’s a nice to have, not a need to have.”
More important, he says, “is the development of a B2B company’s executives to drive thought leadership and crisp points-of-view.” He adds, “You have to help people understand why a company’s vision and products matter. Context is king.”