Ashgrove’s Senior Account Manager Moya Wilson and Digital Media Manager Jessica Brown discuss how content creation is challenging the traditional role of PR

Jess: A recent State of the Nation Report from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations has revealed that media relations is no longer the top activity for many PR professionals – instead it’s content creation that is exercising their minds more than any other task . As a digital marketer I think that’s excellent news and will help push up the standard of content across the board!

Moya: It’s certainly quite a change from the traditional role of PR which has been to place or react to stories in the recognised mainstream news media rather than having brands produce the news themselves through their own channels. It’s a reflection of how far digital has pushed the boundaries but PR still has a key part to play in any marketing strategy.

Jess: Yes, I’d be the first to say that while content is key in the digital age, it is complementary to other marketing disciplines and not necessarily a replacement for them. Creating good content can engage customers with a brand which, in turn, can have a knock-on positive impact on search engine ranking and your reputation as a thought leader. But you still need to drive awareness and placing news in respected and relevant media outlets is a good way of doing this.

Moya: Traditional news media is not only good for raising awareness either. Getting a product launch, new service or business event covered in an established news outlet can give it a degree of credibility that you wouldn’t necessarily get by using just your own content.  Whether it’s in a mainstream publication, or a trade journal, by association your story is deemed newsworthy and therefore of some importance. It may sometimes be on a subliminal level, but where your brand appears can definitely influence consumer attitudes and behaviour.

Jess: Using external media also encourages brands to really think about how they “sell” their story. There has to be a good reason for a mainstream publication to cover a particular launch or business development whereas there is a risk when brands create their own content, they have a narrower, inward-looking focus and the content that is produced is nothing more than an overblown sales pitch. Good content should engage consumers on a number of levels and draw people to your product and service through an emotional connection or some kind of intellectual exchange in which they are keen to participate. It’s a change from the push strategy of traditional PR to a more modern pull approach. If you can get it right and develop an established following, I think you can create even more of a stir than through a traditional publication.

Moya: Interestingly the rise in online content and the subsequent decline of traditional media is leading more journalists to take up PR and marketing roles, both in-house and within agencies. As consumers increasingly access the news online, there has been a drastic downturn in traditional print media and many writers and reporters are jumping ship to work in the relative security of PR and other communication roles. Ultimately this should be a good thing as journalists really understand the need for good quality communications and can see the importance and value in all of a brand’s content interfaces whether that’s a press release, a blog or social media channel.

Jess: Yes, it is really important for brands to align their communications across the piece whether it is through an owned content outlet or external PR.  But that doesn’t mean you necessarily say the same thing. Aside from the technical issues you need to consider, creating content for a blog is a totally different proposition than creating it for Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, for example. You need to be able to engage across all these different media in an effective way.

Moya: One of the great advantages of using content is that you have a lot more control about when it appears. Print media is in decline not only because we find it easier and cheaper to log on, but because we want news on demand whatever time of day we are looking for it. This means keeping content up to date is critical for brand reputation – as is reacting to major developments in your business sector. Consumers expect brands to have their fingers on the pulse.

Jess: Absolutely, timeliness is part of the commitment that brands need to show when they embark on creating their own content.  Content creation, like its older cousin PR, should be part of an integrated marketing strategy, not something the marketing junior does when they have a spare 10 minutes every now and then.

Moya: Yes, whether brands are using in-house staff or a specialist agency, content creation and management should be a planned and measured activity, just like any other. Fortunately, with the range on online analytical tools available to us, we can access lots of information about the consumers we reach and the level of engagement we are building, so it is a very cost-effective marketing medium.

Jess: The bottom line is that whatever medium you’re using, the people on the other end are changing. We’re more aware of what’s going on the world, we can access information with a few taps on our smart phones and we can spot a sales pitch a miles off. People want good stories; we want to feel like we’re being spoken to on a personal level: Rational thinking will get people to consider your products, but emotion will push them to buy. I want to see more brands tell get stories because that’s how they’re going to survive and thrive in 2016!