Why content marketing is making PR pointless

The central theme of Trust Me, PR is Dead, a book by former Edelman CEO Robert Phillips, seems to have caused a bit of a furore in certain circles.

If PR really is hype over truth and twaddle over truthfulness, then you have to agree the industry has often fallen short of the mark. It could also be said, as Phillips does, that PR practitioners have passed up opportunities to embrace changes in their world and thrive.

However, if you’re really looking to put the boot into PR, I’d hit it from another angle. I believe PR, or at least PR’s reason for existing, is dead. Finished.

From a business perspective remember this: PR is about taking a story from a company that wants that story to be told. This is then conveyed by the PR “expert” to a journalist in an effort to interest them enough into writing it.

So far so good. The company gets mentioned in the FT and the board are happy. Job done? No. You have to ask whether it was worth all that endless flirting in overpriced restaurants. Because let’s face it, this is all just a box-ticking exercise unless customers see the article and decide to give you their money.

And of course, from a PR perspective, the FT clipping will always have priority over that last part.

The truth is the sudden emergence of content marketing has meant companies can jettison the need to involve and interest a journalist. They can become their own publisher. They can use their own properties as a publishing platforms – be it their websites or social media accounts.

At the same time, this emergence has coincided with PR agencies attempting to rebrand themselves as content-production specialists.

But there is a problem: you’re not going to get professional journalism out of a press release jockey.

Companies are becoming publishers of digital magazines, as experts in their fields. So once these stories have been written, the task is to inform influential people such as bloggers about them, and hope that the work is shared. In short, companies need journalists, and where does the average PR agency fit into that?

Many agencies already have experienced journalists in-house. And media outreach is still valid in the mix of your strategies. And when I say PR is dead, I’m spinning too. I admit that. It still has a pulse.

But cuts to news and editorial desks have left resources thinly spread. The fact is, apart from in an emergency, PR experts will have trouble finding a journalist to talk to. These days soft business features hardly ever make it into the national press.

With the time spent ringing and hassling overstretched hacks, you could have written half a dozen stories. And put them online, pushed them through LinkedIn or Twitter, or emailed them to a customer list.

You could have bought some search or placement, or outreach to bloggers, and seen the traffic arrive. Traffic = leads. Leads = sales.

And sales have always been the objective, right?

Of course there are hurdles. Producing your own content means having to pull off proper journalism. It means having a newsroom mentality that can turn your marketing aims into convincing editorial at the right frequency.

I don’t much care that PR has spun itself into a corner. The main challenge for public relations experts is to relaunch themselves as the focus switches to content marketing.

And if this cannot be achieved, it may be time to turn off the life support.

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