7 Important PR Lessons Every Content Marketer Needs to Learn

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I tried to explain public relations to my grandmother once …

This was many years ago, back when PR pros cut press coverage from publications we could actually hold in our hands, and few marketers talked about SEO in everyday conversation.

“So, it’s advertising,” she’d say, and I’d try again to explain that, no, it’s not.

“Advertising is about paying for attention; PR is about earning it.”

I don’t think she ever got it, and she’s not alone. Most people still think PR is some kind of black magic flacks work on the press — you sprinkle a little witch’s potion, and TA-DA! You’re in The Wall Street Journal. But PR is a more strategic, sustained practice than that, and it’s a field content marketers need to understand as owned, earned and even paid media continue to intersect.

Below are seven PR lessons for content marketers (and for my relatives who still don’t understand what I do).

7 PR Lessons Every Content Marketer Needs to Learn

What is PR?

If your impression of PR pros is influenced entirely by Publicist Samantha Jones from Sex and the City or Fixer Olivia Pope from Scandal, you probably think the whole industry is busy planning parties and solving national crises (while wearing really fabulous pantsuits). The reality is somewhat less exciting — but it’s also much more relevant to content marketers.

PR is about getting a company in front of the right audiences at the right time, with messages that make its spokespeople sound like human beings, not marketing super bots.

Today, that effort has a lot to do with content creation and distribution. The press, analysts, bloggers, prospects, venture capitalists, and other influencers want compelling content. In real life, Samantha and Olivia would be spending much of their days drafting articles for contribution or creating premium content with a team of writers and graphic designers.

What do journalists want from external content creators?

Every publication that accepts contributed content has some kind of guidelines for what they’ll take, and most follow the same best practices content marketers do. Editors will ask you to draft articles that keep their audiences in mind, offer helpful guidance to readers, are compelling and easy to read, leave out the promotional stuff, and deliver something fresh that won’t be published anywhere else.

Sound familiar?

These are many of the same parameters content marketers follow everyday.

Are contributed articles the only content PR handles?

The short answer? Not by a long shot.

Strategic PR is about solving business problems, so if the business problem is, say, a lack of leads at the top of the funnel, content can be a big part of the response. Depending on the exact scenario and the resources, a full-service PR team might recommend publishing on various social media channels, launching a comprehensive blogging program, creating a push around premium content (such as an ebook or series of infographics), putting out an email newsletter, or even a combination of these tactics.

Whatever the recommendation, a PR team can explain the supporting assets and workflows that need to be in place, as well as measure the results to determine what’s working and what needs to shift.

Do PR and content marketing compete?

Content and inbound marketing evolved at a time when PR was evolving, too. Just as marketers started to embrace strategies for drawing target audiences to them instead of pushing messages out to the masses, PR was experiencing a shift driven in large part by the shrinking media landscape.

There are now fewer journalists typing away in newsrooms and reporting back from the field — 20,000 fewer than in 2008, according to a count Gigaom put out last year before closing its own doors. But that doesn’t mean there’s less need for copy.

And while many web-based publications are eager to publish more material to attract readers (hello, inbound), editors are looking for expert content contributions. If an editor wants a 2,000 word article from your CEO on an industry issue, is that a PR request or a content marketing request? Or is that question completely dated in the integrated marketing era?

Is PR measurable?

Yes, and if anyone tells you differently, run in the opposite direction.

Just like content marketing, goal-based PR should provide tangible business results — not just a list of press hits. The metrics marketers use to measure awareness, engagement, lead generation, investor interest, sales, and other goals are the same ones you can use to measure PR.

“Of course, your PR efforts are even more measurable when your website is well-equipped with lead generation forms, tracking tools, and automated follow-up systems that allow you to capture visitors and convert them into real prospects and customers,” explains Rod Thomson, president of The Thomson Group, a Sarasota-based PR and messaging firm.

And while it can be challenging to sort through all of the information at hand, it helps to use questions to focus your analysis.

Are you getting mentioned in analyst reports? Are influencers talking about you on social media? Are readers clicking through to deeper content from your blog? Where are visitors going once they hit your landing pages? Are they converting? After a quarter, six months, or a year of PR efforts, how have you progressed toward your primary strategic business goal?

These are the kinds of questions PR pros should be able to answer about any campaign.

If PR and content marketing overlap so much, what’s the benefit to having both?

If you’re lucky enough (or smart enough) to have PR and content marketing experts on your team, you’re in great shape to influence targets everywhere — from the media to analysts to website visitors to social media followers and beyond.

Your PR pros and content marketers can support each others’ activities, inspire each others’ creativity and keep messages coordinated to better support your overall strategic goals.

How can content marketing teams best align with PR?

Content marketing and PR teams need to communicate.

If you’re promoting a new ebook, for example, your PR counterpart might be able to repurpose that asset for contributed content, social media outreach, influencer engagement, media pitches, and more. On the flip side, a successful media campaign should spark ideas for you about which messages are resonating, what prospects want, and how to incorporate that into future content creation.

These days, it’s my kids who are asking me to describe what I do for work. I have been much more successful in explaining it to them than I ever was back when I first entered PR and relatives asked me to define the industry.

To my daughters, I say, “I help companies tell stories people want to hear.” I imagine content marketers tell their families something similar, and that is a good thing for practitioners in both fields.

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