What PR can learn from Content Marketing

Content marketing is no longer just a buzzword. Brands have realized how important engaging content is; more and more companies are betting on it, and it’s paying off.
In the midst of the “content is king” revolution, it’s useful to ask where PR finds itself. Producing and sharing captivating content is a major part of PR, after all. But how does it actually compare to content marketing?
In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into the distinction between PR and content marketing, and look at what PR can learn from content marketing.

Public Relations: an ever-evolving concept

As PRSA puts it, the definition of public relations tends to evolve alongside its changing roles and technological advances.
In the early beginnings, the role of PR was one of press agentry, and communication was a one-way street. A PR agency’s only goal was to get a client in the newspaper headlines, with little to no regard for ethics or the accuracy of the information they spread.
That changed with the democratization of the media. The internet and the birth of a plethora of new social channels rapidly transformed the public sphere. Information became more accessible than ever, and gave a voice to the public. Today, literally anyone can be a thought leader or content creator.
This change gradually gave rise to a new kind of PR. One where two-way communication is the norm. These days, we can distinguish two approaches to PR:
  1. In a two-way asymmetrical approach, PR efforts are solely geared towards increasing sales and brand visibility. There is room for feedback from the audience, but it’s only used to relieve objections, not to improve and provide actual value.
  2. A two-way symmetrical approach to PR aims to truly listen to the concerns of both parties: the brand as well as its audience. PR efforts must benefit all parties involved.
That last, symmetrical approach to PR seems to be gaining more and more traction. Through a crowdsourcing campaign and public vote, PRSA arrived at the following definition of PR:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Content marketing: value-driven engagement

Though some people argue that content marketing has been around for over 120 years, the content marketing that we know today is a fairly recent development.
This is the definition of content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience, and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

It’s a mouthful, as are most definitions. Basically, content marketing comes down to creating content (like blog posts, videos, visuals) that offers real value to its readers, in an effort to build a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. It’s a long-term strategy that aims to actively involve people with a brand, in hopes of making them brand ambassadors and loyal customers.

PR and content marketing: is there a difference?

If the symmetrical PR approach and content marketing’s definition look similar to you, they should. After all, their goals, and the means by which they try to achieve them, sound quite similar.
Which poses the question: is there really a difference between PR and content marketing?
When comparing content marketing to the asymmetrical PR approach, the difference is evident. Publishing content with the purpose to only sell and not provide real value, is completely opposed to content marketing principles.
When looking at the symmetrical PR approach, a theoretical difference with content marketing is basically inexistent. Think about the PRSA’s definition of PR: it’s a communication process that builds mutually beneficial beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. Sounds an awful lot like what content marketing tries to do, doesn’t it?
But in practice, there’s still work to be done. A lot of PR efforts are still driven by an asymmetrical approach. Press releases are often geared towards getting quick publicity, largely forgetting about providing actual, valuable content to the audience.
It’s this area that PR pros can learn a lot from content marketing. Content marketers try to really listen to their audience, to find out what questions they need answers to. And in doing so, they can provide truly valuable content, fostering a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship.
Employing this content approach will allow PR pros to open new doors. Valuable content, published independently online, can live a life of its own, and doesn’t have to solely rely on the press, bloggers, or other influencers (as most PR content does now).
So, is there a difference between Public Relations and content marketing? Yes, for now. But while PR catches up to its most recent definition, it’s only a matter of time before it will become synonymous with content marketing. 
Idries Al-Bender
AUTHOR
Idries Al-Bender

Idries works at Prezly, helping clients get their story told.