07 Jan 2014

The Role of PR in the Coming Content Marketing Collapse

Mark W. Schaefer wrote a fantastic piece recently on the Content Shock, in which he ably demonstrated the impending collapse of the current content marketing boom:

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Image Credit: BusinessesGrow.com

It’s absolutely required reading, so go read it now. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. If you’ve been ready to hang your hat, or you have already hung your hat on content marketing, then Mark’s piece has likely given you a bit of a sinking feeling. What will be your strategy, if this content apocalypse is headed our way?

First, remember that content marketing is effectively owned media. It’s your stuff that you publish on your channels. That means that you’ve got two additional channels of media to work with, paid and earned.

Mark makes the point that deep pockets will win the content marketing battle, to the extent that it can be won, and he’s correct. Any content marketing effort absolutely must have paid media behind it to help it grow. The days of “build it and they will come” are long, long gone.

However, the most important strategic change to keep in mind is that earned media will become paramount in the Content Shock if you don’t already have a large, loyal audience. Forget about SEO and web analytics for a moment and realize this simple but profound truth in Mark’s Content Shock theory: the battle for attention is entirely about the audiences you have access to. As the landscape gets more and more crowded, people will tend to stick with what they know, a la Barry Schwartz’s paradox of choice. The pain of change is significantly greater than the pain of sticking with the media sources you already know.

That means if you want to get your foot in the content marketing door, you’ll need the endorsement of people, sites, brands, and properties who already have large audiences. If you don’t have the money to buy up audiences at scale, then you’ll need patronage from the established brands in the form of earned media. You’ll need them to publish your stuff on their sites in bylined content or contributed content until you’ve secured enough loyalty from a subset of their audience that the audience will willingly come looking for you elsewhere. The likelihood of “going viral” in a content marketing landscape where attention is a zero sum game becomes less and less likely to simply happen without significant strategy and investment.

When someone like David Pogue leaves the New York Times, a percentage of the New York Times audience that likes him will follow him wherever he goes. When a Walt Mossberg leaves to start his own thing, anyone who trusts his name and judgement will see what he’s up to next. When a Dan Lyons joins Hubspot, or a Jeremiah Owyang starts a new company, people who agree with their perspectives will give their attention to them and the brands they go to. They built their brands inside established brands until their own brands were strong enough to stand on their own or be valuable to the brands they’ve joined.

The role of public relations in the Content Shock will be even more important. Instead of merely getting “hits”, Public Relations professionals who serve their clients best will need to help clients increase their existing audience’s loyalty to them and growing new audiences. Part of public relations will be continuing to secure the favor of all those sources with established audiences on behalf of their clients.

Another core part will be providing strategic counsel about how brands should interact with the audiences they do have, helping secure their loyalty to the greatest extent possible, and fostering enough trust from the client’s audience to provide word of mouth growth. That means public relations professionals will need to become masterful at engagement, at customer service best practices, at rapid response crisis communications on a massive scale to avert dangerous situations that could cost a brand its audience.

A major part of surviving the Content Shock will be greatly improving owned media, something that Public Relations professionals have traditionally not been a part of. Those PR professionals and firms who want to serve clients best will need to assist them in improving the quality of the content that the client or brand creates, making it as compelling as possible to audiences, new and existing. Sometimes this will take the form of strategic counsel; other times, it will be strategy, tactics, and execution combined.

Finally, public relations professionals will need to understand and be able to tactically execute in the realm of paid media, because no content will succeed without a blend of earned, owned, and paid strategies working together. Any content marketing strategy or digital marketing strategy that does not have a budget behind it is automatically handicapped versus a competitor that does have a budget. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend a million dollars just to have someone read your blog. It does mean that to get the results that your company is looking for, you need to invest in your content beyond merely its creation.

The Content Shock is coming, if it hasn’t arrived already. Are you prepared?

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Be Ballsy. Work at SHIFT. Apply now!

35 comments
getsocialpr
getsocialpr

This is a great piece of work. In a presentation I will be giving Monday to an agency I will be talking about the role journalism should play in content marketing -- it's the saving grace that will set apart brands and do exactly what you mention above, " Those PR professionals and firms who want to serve clients best will need to assist them in improving the quality of the content that the client or brand creates, making it as compelling as possible to audiences, new and existing. Sometimes this will take the form of strategic counsel."


Many of my PR colleagues, myself included, have backgrounds in journalism -- with that training, I believe we can become invaluable resources to content marketing. Through our expertise, we can teach clients to be the media for their niche. 

Susan Getgood
Susan Getgood

Excellent post. For my part, I simply wonder why we collectively would be surprised. Up til now, what we've been calling content marketing has largely been content distribution, right? If we build it, and MAYBE put a little promo around it, they will come.


As you point out, the time has come when that's not enough. We need to strategically market our content in the battle for attention, and that requires the full marketing toolkit:  paid, owned and earned media. 

michaelmiller68
michaelmiller68

Good post. As was Mark's. I think what you are saying speaks to the need to pay more attention to distribution. More even than we pay attention to content development. Absolutely true. This content shock is really just saturation forcing us to develop better content (not a bad thing). And spending time and money on your distribution will help it find it's audiences. And the latter is where I think the real battle will be.

cparente
cparente

Earned media comeback in the age of content marketing and brand journalism! Excellent contrarian piece. A few thoughts and questions:

1. Seems to me the Content Shock is much more immediate concern for B2C companies. If your client has a finite audience they are attempting to reach, it's very much a quality not quantity play. 

2. Schaefer's piece talks how content marketing cannot be sustained for many businesses due to cost. Yet you talk about PR professionals helping clients improve the quality of owned content. (I fully agree, just seems a little bit in conflict).

3. The contraction of the trade press makes relying on earned media dicey in certain verticals. And once a firm has caught the content marketing bug, will it really want to return to the media filter?

4. What about hard ROI?  Marketing automation tools can document how many times content touches prospects, how it helps move them through the sales funnel. That's the metric that will justify communication budgets.  


Hope these add to the discussion.

Eric Steckel
Eric Steckel

These articles are very eye-opening to all of us who create digital content marketing. Like many marketing trends, the promise of garnering an enthusiastic audience for little to nothing is alluring. Unfortunately, there is a cost. As Mark Schaefer pointed out, the cost of thought and sweat equity needs to be calculated into the equation, because good content that does indeed engage your target audience isn't cheap. It also requires a good sound strategy behind it. Creating content that truly converts your target audience to act requires an understanding of who the target is, what their needs are and how your services meet that need. It may seem obvious to readers here, but in my opinion if your content doesn't take that into consideration at the outset and as an ongoing study, you are probably wasting your time and your client's budget. The PR community is particularly well-suited to evaluating what story or piece of content is relevant, and then writing it in a way that engages the target audience. By partnering with PR, subject matter experts can hone their insights.


Of course, add to that some paid media muscle and you increase your likelihood of success.

ChadPollitt
ChadPollitt

Excellent, excellent, excellent commentary by both @cspenn and @markwschaefer. This aligns closely with @Marcus Sheridan's concept of the "Content Saturation Index" or CSI. You've just inspired me to add my thoughts to this convo in an article. Thanks!

darrendematas
darrendematas

Chris, I had the pleasure of learning from your during my MBA program at Florida Tech. Your article is spot on. Marketers cannot be one dimensional. Trends come and go, but marketing principles are tried and true. Combining paid, earned and owned media in an integrated strategy sounds expensive, but it really is the most cost effective.

Kenneth James
Kenneth James

This is singularly impressive, well done. I think it's important to understand that nearly all digital content moving forward will be immediately measured by the consumer against all other current content, which this article illustrates very elegantly. 

markwschaefer
markwschaefer

@TDefren Well done. I have added your post to the original post I wrote on The Content Shock.

mpace101
mpace101

Mark & yourself have got me thinking, mostly how and if this does impact folks at the heart of a community.  And just because someone has "Liked" your page or followed your brand, does not make them part of your community - they are akin to your mailing list.  But I am talking about the true advocates and contributors to your entire community ecosystem.  In your follow up article, I would put them [mostly] at the intersection of owned & earned.  Most likely these are already customers (or who desire to be in their lifetime), and require a completely different "marketing" tactics.  PR & traditional marketing acquisition tactics are somewhat effective from an SEO standpoint, but rarely drive fruitful action.  Moving the focus on existing customers, leveraging content in your customer success strategy and tactics will prove winners.

laurenkgray
laurenkgray

I'm really happy a post like this was finally written & it's spot on. There is so much content out there to compete with and yet we still have content creation goals for our content marketing, but who is it really helping and does it really make an impact? Content marketing already doesn't seem sustainable for a lot of brands and clients, especially ones who (like it's been pointed out) do not have a lot of budget behind them.


I really appreciate and value the honesty in this post as well as the directions for PR pros provided in addition to the original "Content Shock" post. Good wake up call to share with the PR community at large.


My question, how can we appropriately start this conversation with our coworkers and clients to suggest we focus more on our loyal community and become better at engagement instead of planning out/writing more content (especially with budget) when that is not what they are going to want to hear?

lauraclick
lauraclick

Excellent post and response to Mark's piece! I think your points are right on - especially as it relates to influence marketing and the need to invest more in content marketing. The lines between earned, paid and owned media are getting even more blurred. PR and marketing folks would do well to learn how to integrate all three practices into their efforts.

jenrgy
jenrgy

Found you over at Grow. Fantastic commentary on Mark's article. Love the Venn. Thanks.

FiftyPlusOne
FiftyPlusOne

@dschulenberg author makes some prescient points. It's a must read for every client who thinks they are 1viral campaign from stardom.

cspenn
cspenn moderator

@crmurray30 @TDefren @markwschaefer It applies, but it will suffer diminishing returns at a slower rate. Crap content has already reached uneconomical, and did once Google started rolling out the Panda and Penguin updates over the last two years. Mediocre content is taking the hit now. Good content will have diminishing returns soon, and stellar content won't see it.


The challenge, then, is to be stellar or else.

cspenn
cspenn moderator

@mpace101 I think there will be significant differentiation and segmentation of the audiences we do have. We have the casual folks, the engaged folks, the customers, and the evangelists, and if marketers are smart, they'll work them from the bottom up, evangelists first. Losing loyalty will have a much stiffer penalty than it currently does.

cspenn
cspenn moderator

@laurenkgray I think the starting point of the discussion is an understanding of costs, much in the way some companies measure retention as opposed to the cost of acquisition. Losing a lot of loyalty in one person means you have to start building up loyalty in a whole bunch of other people in the hopes that the one evangelist you lost can be found again in someone else. 

cspenn
cspenn moderator

Thanks, Laura!

cspenn
cspenn moderator

Thank you!

cparente
cparente

@cspenn@cparente- Nice elaboration Chris and thanks for including part of my comment in your post! Your latest post also seems to address my first point -- since there is less excellent content, it will take longer to reach the content saturation point in many B2B verticals.