In an age where marketers produce as much content as journalists – blurring the lines between branded and editorial articles – distinguishing between PR and Content Strategy can become confusing for brands looking to most effectively use content in their marketing strategies.
When editorially-driven campaigns can influence audiences as much as top-tier publications, the roles of marketers and PR firms alike have had to adapt, changing their strategies to meet new opportunities.
New York-based public relations and digital media firm Hawkins International recognized the need for an integrated content and public relations strategy in 2012.
“We noticed that more and more clients were asking for content beyond press releases at the same time that journalists were tapping into us for more creative collaborations,” says Jennifer Hawkins, Founder and CEO of the firm. “We developed a strategic HIPR Taskforce that provides this added value to our clients and consists of a dedicated Media Relations Specialist who focuses on identifying trends and content-worthy information from our clients to “package” creatively for both journalists and consumers, an in-house Editorial Director who infuses a journalistic voice into all of our clients’ content—whether that’s a straightforward press release or creative infographic for social media, and a Digital Media Team who seamlessly integrates social media initiatives with PR and content strategy to broaden the reach of our clients’ content and news.”
Content Strategy indeed uses content to achieve marketing goals, but the line between this increasingly important marketing tool and public relations isn’t quite as blurry as it might initially seem.
The Difference Between PR and Content Strategy
The biggest difference between PR and content strategy lies in how content is used. PR firms use content to elevate brand awareness and create a desired perception in the market through trusted coverage from top-tier editors, bloggers and social media influencers. In perhaps a greater similarity to content marketing, publicists also help drive traffic to a brand’s site by securing high-quality links from top editorial sites.
Savvy PR agencies even create ready-to-run content directly for editors, taking advantage of the ever-growing need for content in the editorial world to tell their clients’ stories. In some cases, editors have begun using PR agencies as resources for editorial-ready content, making PR agencies as much a part of the content creation process as a company’s in-house team. The emphasis, however, remains on content generation and distribution. Hawkins International’s Task Force was created specifically to meet this need. The team regularly identifies common themes and trends among their roster of hospitality clients and creates editorially-driven pitches, press releases, trend forecasts, blog posts, infographics and more, which are regularly picked up directly by journalists who are hungry for content. In 2014 alone the firm used this strategy to place three feature trend stories in The New York Times that consisted only of their clients.
Conversely, content strategists might generate content, but the emphasis is on data. Whether it’s a blog post, infographic, video or even full-fledged online magazine, content strategists see content as a tool to learn more about a brand’s target audience. By analyzing how an audience consumes content, content strategists can determine when and where a company’s potential clients spend time online, what inspires them to share content, how they react to different storylines, and most importantly, what sparks a desired action – whether it’s signing up for a loyalty program or actually making a purchase.
Adding an effective content strategy to a PR campaign not only amplifies brand exposure by finding new distribution channels, it also allows brands to make better sales and marketing decisions by honing in on the viewers most likely to become new clients. In an age when quality content drives audience attention, marrying the influence of a PR firm with the power of a content strategy team can help brands get more out of their in-house editorial marketing campaigns.
Keys to Incorporating Content Strategy & PR
1.Find the right partners. Since the benefits of content strategy extend far beyond content creation, collaborating with data partners that can track, organize and present the insights behind each piece of content is crucial. A good content strategy team supplements the content that you and your PR firm create while implementing tools that allow you to reap the benefits of both effective branding and powerful data tracking.
2. Develop a cohesive content calendar. With the growing influence of in-house content, brands now have more opportunities than ever to amplify the third-party media endorsements that PR firms secure. With a unified storytelling calendar, a brand’s social media presence and in-house content creation efforts will complement stories seen in the press, creating a more powerful and memorable campaign.
3. Think beyond traditional media. Where traditional media once represented the only opportunity to communicate a brand’s message, the platforms now available to distribute content – from guests posts on influential blogs to online magazine submissions written by PR staff to reimagined press releases in the form of visual infographics and slideshows– are endless. Brands now expect their PR firms to act as an active distributor, finding new and creative ways to reach audiences. Hawkins International is currently working with a resort client to develop a bridal trend forecast with the goal of positioning the client as a leader in the wedding space while at the same time promoting their bridal offerings.
“Infusing content strategy into our PR campaigns is our secret to getting more eyeballs on our clients’ exciting news and offerings,” says Hawkins. “We plan to distribute this forecast as a creative pitch to journalists, but also as newsy social media and blog content for brides-to-be looking for resources to help plan their big day.” Determining the right channels for distribution is part of content strategy and a way to make a PR campaign immediately more powerful.