Improving PR Content Strategies

Content is fire. Social media is gasoline,” according to writer Jay Baer, and most in public relations would agree. The trick is how to create content that is “fire” and will fire up audiences about your brand. We look at an eight-point plan that will help any team create, produce and promote meaningful content.

Bringing an earned-media sensibility to the effort increases the credibility for some content that is overly commercial, badly targeted, or stuffed with obvious keywords.

Best Practices For PR Content

All good content marketing initiatives begin by getting everyone on the team in agreement with campaign goals.

Set content marketing goals

Start by knowing who your audience is and what they care about.

Then ask how reaching the audience through targeted content can help move the needle. “The needle” can mean drawing more customers to a retail website, lead generation, attracting donors or investors to a cause, or increasing app downloads. With a clear set of marketing goals, the team can more easily determine what the content output will consist of and better show how content marketing can help meet business objectives.

As with any PR or marketing campaign – leadership needs to know how it will impact the bottom line. What are the cost and revenue metrics that will make the program meet goals? For some brands, seeing content marketing as a way to reduce customer acquisition costs is a powerful motivator.

Define challenges and opportunities

Speak to others and help develop a clear short list of challenges, which can include anything from competition in the marketplace to overcoming a dated or muddled brand image. As well, offer up opportunities. Brand opportunities can include things like a truly differentiated USP or a seasoned management team with a stellar reputation. Whatever the list may look like, it is up to the content team to create stories that help conquer the challenges and leverage the opportunities. We like the way American Express has built its online publication  Open Forum, directed at small businesses. The brand has many small business initiatives and has been very good at providing a ton of good info for companies who may not have initially thought that Amex was the appropriate credit card partner for them.

Develop a sound content strategy

Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads, according to DemandMetric, but many brands still have a haphazard approach to strategy. Here are the important factors to consider when planning custom content. Focus on who you’re really targeting. Often a B2B marketer may think they are targeting CEOs with their content, only to find that it’s actually those who report into the C-level who read and vet things to put before leadership. It may seem subtle, but it does affect how teams create effective content.

Using a custom content partner like HubSpot can help better define your audience and provide actionable assistance to increase readership. Learn what kind of content resonates best with the target – blog posts, in-depth “how-to” downloads like this, white papers, e-books etc. The strategy should also include design elements for custom content, subject matter and, importantly professional editorial guidelines, like any publication.

Appoint a content manager and team

It may take a village to plan and create a great content program, but it’s best to assign responsibility for the effort. Aim for an editor and one or two writers, if possible. The goal is to task great writers and to make posting a “real job” within the company and not a thrown-together afterthought where folks are scrambling to put out a blog post or keep to a social media posting schedule. Nothing creates better PR writers than a rigid writing schedule. People assigned to content creation and marketing are performing a very important service to the brand and should think of it as a plum assignment.

Calenderize a content schedule – but be flexible

Once you know your target and have defined editorial guidelines, coming up with content ideas should be less challenging. We regularly look at our own internal metrics to see what topics “pull” the most with our readers. This helps greatly in setting a content schedule. There are traditional seasonal and holiday “hot topics” as well as evergreen ones with a fresh spin. And, as important as a content schedule is, we also value flexibility to take advantage of breaking news which can offer up great opportunities to demonstrate PR expertise on a variety of topics. Once content editorial has been defined, it’s important to determine how often the team will post and on what platforms. Typically, a 1000-word blog post per week is effective, with scheduling of downloadable e-books and newsletters slotted quarterly to keep pipeline varied and full.

Create a content promotion plan

Here’s where the all-important gasoline gets added to the fire. There’s no point in publishing a bunch of terrific content that no one sees, so a crucial part of content development is promotion.  To begin with, most smart marketers today employ a professional content marketing tool that offers products, assistance and analytics to turn any content effort into a well-oiled machine. But true success goes beyond simply retaining a firm. The brand needs to promote its efforts on applicable key social platforms, maximizing the targeting capabilities of Facebook for B2C visibility, using LinkedIn, which is influential for B2B marketing, and Twitter, which is useful for reaching business influencers and journalists. We also recommend a strong backlinking effort to ensure readers get to and from information in our posts. Additionally, linking relevant content within company newsletters and other output helps draw a larger audience. Other best practices include seeking quotes from influencers important to the brand’s target, emailing content directly to sources who are quoted, and creating content “snippets” that can be posted on social platforms and communities for days and weeks after the original publication.

Scale content through smart repurposing

Today’s consumer connects across a broad spectrum of social channels and savvy marketers realize that any new piece of content can be repurposed in several different ways. We recommend compiling blog posts into an ebook, for example, or turning a byline article into a how-to video for YouTube or slide presentation for SlideShare. We also like to package terrific client content and use it to interest conference and event planners in potential speakers. With so many established sites such as Mic, Quartz and others hungry for well-written thought pieces, content developed for one platform can reach exponentially greater audiences via such outlets.

Maintain high quality standards

Whether you’re creating a single piece of content per week or scheduling more often, set and adhere to producing the same level of quality with each piece. As teams build an audience, there will be a level of expectation and you don’t want to disappoint. Quality checks might include keeping the content fresh and interesting, peppering in visuals and making sure that grammar and syntax are correct – remember 10% of readers don’t scroll through articles at all. It’s helpful to develop an editorial checklist like this to make sure all boxes are ticked. However, even though a checklist is important to check on quality issues, its equally important that each post reflect the brand’s personal voice. The most visually appealing, well-edited blog will not attract an audience if its perceived as dull or inauthentic.

PR Looks At Content Trends For 2017

From the mobile video explosion to emerging social platforms, 2016 has brought many content-related developments that affect the public relations industry and the work PR people do every day. A look at the year in review offers some clues as to what 2017 year has in store. Here are five content predictions for 2017 that all PR people should note.

Video goes vertical.  2016 had seen a spike in the popularity of video, and one reason is that vertical platforms like Snapchat and Periscope are popular for smartphone video consumption. Beyond the vertical format, users now have so many different ways to watch video, and the hunger for great video content is so great, that PR agencies are investing heavily there. Agencies are having to think of new, creative ways to use video for selling a product or message. This entertaining video from Eloqua uses animation to keep the target audience engaged. And as PR people continue to master the medium, the emphasis on video will only grow.

Mo’ mobile!  2017 will see more advances in mobile, including more efficient interfaces for a better and more customized user experience. One example is from athletic shoe and appeal store Finish Line.  According to a study by the Pew Research Center, of people getting news on desktop or mobile, more prefer mobile (56% to 42% who prefer desktop). The roaring success of Pokémon Go means we’re ready to embrace VR and augmented reality, so get ready!

Long live long-form. Even though it might seem like everyone wants snackable news or nuggets in 140 characters, there’s still an audience for long-form content. If the content is good enough, people are willing to stick along for the ride. One of the year’s very best pop culture pieces can be found on Bill Simmons’ new website The Ringer, which often publishes long-form pieces about sports, pop culture and politics. Site editor-in-chief Sean Fennessey recently wrote a long-form examination of the current state of the film industry through the eyes of filmmakers, industry insiders and experts. At more than 6500 words, the article is a very long read for any medium, let alone online. But Fennessey’s piece received very positive feedback, and if you’re a fan of movies and pop culture, you didn’t want it to end.

Content gets “real.” We now have access to an endless stream of content, where we want it, when we want it. This means that PR agencies are expected to produce more content across a wider range of platforms than ever. But while more outlets means more opportunities for placement, there are still some obstacles, like fake news. It’s possible that PR or marketing staff would be tempted to get “creative” as an easy way to get press, but our hope is that legit news sources will keep everyone on the straight and narrow. The Washington Post points out several ways to detect fake news, starting with the site of origin. For PR people, the challenge is to create high-quality content that’s compulsively shareable, but that doesn’t fall back on clickbait or worse.

Content will be automated. We have mixed feelings about this one. The Content Marketing Institute predicts that, with the right technology finally in place, promotional and even journalistic content is poised for automation. We’ve already heard about pilot efforts in this area in journalism; earlier this year Associated Press used “robot journalists” to write earnings stories. Artificial intelligence is also finding its way into content marketing, which means it’s only a matter of time until data-driven storytelling gives way to automated content creation.
But despite the advent of AI, quality content will always need to be relevant, compelling, and informed by insight, which can only come with the human touch.

6 Courses Colleges Should Teach PR Students

Effective writing and media relations will always be mainstays of college public relations courses, but the business is always evolving, so curricula must do the same to produce the next generation of consumer or tech PR professionals. I recently gave a lecture on “real world” PR to a class of college juniors and was surprised that the coursework still focuses on securing traditional media. Here are some courses we’d like to see the forward-thinking professors offer their students.

Content Creation: Owned, Earned, Paid, Shared. At one time public relations was narrowly defined by traditional media relations, but that’s a bygone model. Today’s PR students need to know about the concentric circles that make up the different kinds of content that can promote brand visibility. In a nutshell, earned media refers to traditional media as well as blogger relations. Shared includes everything from online influencer engagement to social media platforms. Owned encompasses content under corporate control, like websites, white papers, or a Facebook page. Paid includes sponsored posts, tweets and lead generation. All categories overlap and share a common nexus that is “authority” – the right voice to tell the story.

Social Media Strategies. Sure, college students use Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook every day for personal use, but successful PR grads have to learn how to use the platforms to connect companies with customers. It’s imperative to know which channel best benefits which product/service – Instagram for food porn or travel lust, LinkedIn for exec bylines or career development, for example.  The social media landscape changes daily, it seems, so smart students also need to stay abreast of developments such as Snapchat’s new partnership in Truffle Pig, an agency that will offer a range of creative and content services.

Video Production. Much as today’s broadcast journalists have become their own “camera-people,” the savvy PR student needs to master the craft as well. The immediacy of video means being prepared to capture both staged moments (press interviews; company events) as well as genuinely spontaneous encounters or those that try to be, such as this effort from Gillette/Venus that may just try too hard.

Reading 101. Even if you don’t want to read this study on the positive cognitive effects of reading, suffice to say that nothing improves your writing more than reading. Students need to read everything – sure, they might think Buzzfeed supplies all they need to know – but branching into reading great literary or film criticism, well-constructed Op-Ed pieces and, you know, books, will all help make one a superior writer.

Writing for business. Many PR classes focus on journalistic writing, particularly press releases. Yet, every year more and more journalists and industry types question its relevance. What is never irrelevant is good, concise business writing. Whether it’s crafting a carefully worded missive to a testy business associate, trying to sell in a pricey plan to a marketing partner or simply setting up a meeting with a complicated agenda, PR students need to learn the basics of business writing.

Art of business relationships. Something else in public relations classes that goes untaught, the fine art of establishing and keeping good business relations. This can include thoughts on how to network, how to set up and run productive meetings and even the mastering of social skills. 


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Three Content Trends That Impact Public Relations

Content is still king, and as most PR professionals are aware, the kingdom is only growing. Brands are building newsrooms, journalists are moving to the dark side, and it seems like there’s a new social platform born every week or so. So, it’s particularly important for PR and content pros to stay on top of trends and tools. Here are three.

Mo’ Mobile. “Mobile-geddon” is here! Google’s much-hyped algorithm change arrives April 21, and it has already set off a scramble to optimize. The change will downgrade sites that are not mobile-friendly while rewarding those ready for the mobile revolution. Google promises that the change will have “a significant impact” on search results. The good news is there are plenty of tools to determine if your content sites pass muster, including Google’s own mobile-friendly test.
The change is not a surprise, since 60 percent of content is now accessed on a mobile device, and that percentage will only grow.

Social streaming finally takes off. I know what you’re thinking; live streaming has been around for years, so why the fuss? After Meerkat took over this year’s South By Southwest conference, there’s fresh buzz around it and competitors, including Twitter’s own Periscope, stre.am, and others. The reasons for the resurgence boil down to a few factors: the soaring mobile device usage that seems to drive just about everything; the social platform integration the new streaming apps offer; and the emergence of several competitors in a “one-up” struggle that’s good for business.
For PR pros, live streaming is worth checking out if you actually have something to say. It can be used to support news announcements and company events; new product demos; executive interviews; or maybe even a reaction to a big announcement or a real-time marketing stunt during a live event. Social streaming can also be useful to offer fans or customers a first peek at something new or special, like Starbucks’ “tour” of its coffee roasting facility, or retailer Everlane’s cool new office.

Audio is hot. Yes, it’s one more trend that’s part of the broader mobile explosion, and it might be the most intriguing for content and PR professionals.  Podcasts – and their step-cousin, the audiobook – have been around for a while, but with the blockbuster success of “Serial” and the popularity of business-focused audio content like “Working” and (my favorite), “Startup” — the podcast is definitely having a moment.

If you’re not up for creating your own, look no further than Slate’s Panoply, a full-service podcast network for media brands, authors, personalities, and “premier organizations” (I think that means brands.) What stands out here is the sky-high audience engagement that a truly great podcast can deliver, and the potential for brand integration that works within the content itself or even enhances it. (We still fondly refer to our email services provider as “MailKimp.“)

Okay, so the above trends are really about a single trend, which is mobile adoption. But hang onto your smartphone, there’s surely more to come.

Why Writing Skills Are Still Crucial For PR Pros

How important is writing in public relations today? A PR Week editorial has sparked a fresh discussion about the value of writing skills in today’s PR agency or corporate communications department.  In the op-ed, University of South Carolina’s Shannon Bowen, Ph.D. argues that as PR has evolved into a management discipline, college communications curricula must shift to make room for the teaching of skills like critical thinking and ethics.

Strategy must drive communications tactics, and critical thinking is a vital skill in our business, but I take issue with the thesis that advanced writing skills are no longer crucial for “real-world” PR jobs. PR has surely evolved, but writing skills are more important than ever. Here’s why:

Writing is at the core of persuasion.  The creation of compelling content is a fundamental communications skill, and honest persuasion our goal. If you’ve crafted an op-ed about a business-critical issue or written a keynote speech for a C-level executive, you appreciate the power of the written word to convey ideas, evoke emotion, and build influence. Written and spoken words are still our number-one way for business and government leaders to communicate.

PR is content marketing. Bowen asserts that, “The days of writing news release after news release have given way to the cleverly-worded 140 character snippet.” But social media posts are merely the entry point into a whole new world of content marketing. Today’s PR campaign incorporates a much wider variety of written (and visual) content than in the days of press releases, much of which is longer-form content or brand storytelling. In a given day we may be called to write web copy, a white paper, or a strategy document.

PR ethics must be instilled in the workplace. Bowen makes the case that “PR writing style can be easily taught in the workplace,” but that ethics must be part of a core communications curriculum. But the reverse may be closer to the truth. The very diversity of today’s PR practice and the integration of paid, earned, and owned media means that there is no such thing as “PR writing style.”  Communications ethics, on the other hand, must be institutionalized in the agency and corporate environment, to ensure good practice and train future PR leaders.

Bowen is absolutely right about the high cost of university education and the importance of ethical decision-making for PR and communications pros. But excellence in writing is more than “wordsmithing.” The PR practitioners of the future will be far better prepared to support clients, counsel senior management, or marshall a cogent argument in the face of a reputation threat if they can master not just “PR writing style” but know how to craft and use language for clarity, authority, and impact.