Brand journalism and content marketing are often thrown into the same bucket. They occupy different ends of the marketing funnel but will achieve more than the sum of their parts when integrated within a wider marketing communications or public relations strategy delivering business objectives – writes Scott Guthrie
I recently moderated a month-long conversation on whether or not public relations should own content marketing.
The discussion was held by PR Redefined, an international movement aimed at stimulating new thinking in public relations. It was a lively debate which spilled out on to the LinkedIn group for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
The upshot: two-thirds of those who took a quick poll thought ‘yes’ content marketing’ should be owned by public relations. Not surprising news, I grant you, given the profile of the two communities where the conversations were held. But it was the journey rather than the destination which was interesting. The comments added broad insight into current public relations practitioners’ psyche.
I put together a story on Storyify which curates the flow of the PR Redefined conversation throughout the month. You can read it here. The thread to the CIPR LinkedIn discussion is here. You can find the community page for PR Redefined here, along with all of the comments surrounding the topic.
Should public relations own content marketing? The word ‘ownership’ speaks to me of fiefdoms. Building walls around specialisms can no longer be best practice – or commercially sensible – as the lines surrounding communications’ disciplines become ever more blurred.
At the other end of the argument, to say content marketing has no business within the public relations discipline seems too prescriptive.
My view? I think it has less to do with the activity of creating content and more to do with the intent behind it. The driving purpose. The call to action.
Action is the driver for all communications. For public relations practitioners the action is concentrated on changing or reinforcing behaviours and attitudes to build awareness, credibility, and perhaps to positioning the client’s organisation as a thought leader. For the marketer the focus is on generating sales and then loyal customers – in other words: making some sales then some more sales.
Throughout the debate on whether public relations should own content marketing the definition of content marketing was assumed rather than made explicit. As such the term was probably used interchangeably with its close cousin – brand journalism.
The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines content marketing: “as a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Whereas brand journalism – or brand publishing as Weber Shandwick refers to it – is all about surfacing, shaping and then sharing brand stories so as to build awareness and affinity leading to long term mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics. It combines the idea of good storytelling and good journalism with the idea that an organisation can showcase its own expertise without having to sell it. Just tell it … don’t sell it. Incidentally, I agree with Weber Shandwick’s use of “publishing” over “journalism”. It removes any potential conversation about the content’s objectivity.
So, to my mind whilst brand journalism and content marketing complement each other they are distinct disciplines; brand journalism occupying the upper reaches of the marketing funnel whilst content marketing sitting down lower and helping to drive sales.
Both brand journalism and content marketing will achieve more than the sum of their parts when integrated within a wider marketing communications or public relations strategy delivering business objectives.
Creating content is the public relations practitioner’s meat and drink. But we’ll also need to equip ourselves with a new set of technical skills beyond writing. As Tom Foremski puts it: “the complexities of managing fragmented media channels and user interfaces across many devices requires integrated tech, media, design, SEO and communications professionals on the same publishing teams”.
Of course, everything written here is from the point-of-view of the public relations practitioner. I wondered what marketers – or more specifically what content marketers – thought. So, to get an alternative view, I contacted Michele Linn, Director of Content at the CMI. She told me: “Our research / conversations with marketing leaders have found that content marketing is typically owned by the marketing department, not the PR department.”
Michele Linn adds: “I talked to Paul Roetzer and Gini Dietrich (PR professionals) at Content Marketing World to see how they both understand the relationship between PR and content marketing. This is simplified, but the PR team is a great source for content marketers to use to mine info on what is going on in the industry (as they are often monitoring specific terms). On the other hand, PR is one way to distribute content, so marketers need to be working with them to extend the reach of their content.”
The CMI’s view gives PR a dual function: a resource to be tapped before the serious creative work is done by the content marketers. And, as content distributors – but presumably in the context of the increasingly irrelevant role of media relations experts.
What do you think? Can brand journalism be segmented from content marketing or are they the same beast?
Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. Read my full bio here.