The Role of PR in the Coming Content Marketing Collapse

Mark W. Schaefer wrote a fantastic piece on Content Shock, in which he ably demonstrated the impending collapse of the current content marketing boom. It’s absolutely required reading, so go read it now. We’ll wait.

Welcome back. If content marketing is a big part of your current or future marketing plan, then Mark’s piece likely gave 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.

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