How PR is seizing the advantage in content marketing

Partners at Green Square, Corporate Finance Advisors to the media and marketing sector, cast their eyes over the latest industry deals and look ahead to the next tranche of acquisitions.

A couple of weeks ago my colleague Tony wrote about the importance of content in marketing, and how a return to the art of storytelling would be one of the big stories of 2015 come year end.

This is a subject I wanted to follow up on, partly because we’ve been getting a lot of interest lately from clients looking to invest in content-based agencies, and also because here at Green Square we’re all in agreement that content marketing is as much a part of the future of marketing as data and mobile.

This is particularly the case in PR, which of all marketing disciplines has put itself forward as the custodian of content for brands; it has always been closest to journalism as well.

Over the past decade, as the internet has decimated circulations and ad revenues, publishers have both cut back on journalists and resources and come to rely more on PR to fill space with stories. (And interestingly, there has been a steady, decade-long drift of experienced hacks over to the 'dark side', tempted by better wages and prospects; magazines and newspapers’ losses have been PR’s gains).

Old Fleet Street hands may not want to admit it, but journalism and PR enjoy a highly synergistic relationship these days. Which is why it’s interesting to note that PR agencies have been among the most forward when it comes to establishing the new discipline of content marketing. After all, with the proliferation of channels in our digital age, everyone needs 'stuff' to fill that space and, more importantly, stuff that achieves cut-through and engagement. And among the things that are going to rise highest above all the noise and clutter are compelling stories.

All of us, whether we’re digital natives or bought up on books, newspapers or silent films and wax cylinders, respond to stories in a very deep way: it’s part of what makes us human. It’s a universal thing that is as old as language and is unlikely to go away any time soon.

Earlier this month, the highly-rated London PR agency Eulogy announced that it was launching a dedicated content marketing division to help – according to the official blurb – “B2B and consumer clients create content across social, editorial and video platforms, improve customer retention and boost site traffic”.

The division, apparently to be called E!Content, will be led by journalist Noelle McElhatton, who was previously 'content editor' for Haymarket’s Brand Republic Group, and who has had a long career in the trade press. It’s telling they chose an experienced journalist/editor.

The new division will itself be part of Eulogy’s wider digital offering, led by Ann Longley, who also recently joined the agency. The team is made up of digital designers and copywriters, the latter led by McElhatton.

All of this strikes me as a canny move on Eulogy’s part. While the agency has dabbled in content production before (as most forward-thinking PR agencies already do), this actually sees the agency making a statement of intent, and demonstrating confidence in a new channel/discipline.

What’s particularly astute is the fact that braver brands are starting to reallocate marketing budgets to content; some will need hand-holding while others will be more experienced and will know exactly what they want (and it won’t be content for content’s sake). Setting up a dedicated unit staffed by experienced professionals means that both ends of that particular spectrum will be satisfied. It also means that the PR agency gets to keep its traditional role as custodian of content – which is much-coveted by other disciplines, such as DM and video production.

Perhaps more than anyone else working in the media and creative industries, journalists and editors know about making high-quality content quickly, to order, and how to make that content effective and engaging. After all, they’ve always worked with the reader in mind.

If you work like this you have a higher chance of creating something that’s effective – a piece of content that will get people to change behaviour, or go off and do something. This is especially true of the B2B arena, where effective story-led content (be it a blog post, a well-produced video or a beautifully-crafted email) can lead to sales.

Fortunately the UK has always had a flourishing trade press (at one point in the late 1990s there were over 7,000 specialist B2B publications) stuffed full of talented hacks, many of whom will be looking for something else to do, and who have much to bring to the table.

Put together the reader (or target) focused content creation skills of the editor and the ability of the PR professional to initiate conversations, and you have marketing dynamite.

Given the rise of concepts like 'native advertising' and the upcoming generation’s apparent lack of interest in traditional media, as well as the decline of 'media relations' – once PR’s core discipline, now facing extinction in the medium-term – content marketing (a term that didn’t exist six or seven years ago) will probably be the big story of the next few years.

PR has already coped better than most marketing disciplines with the changes of the past 10 to 15 years (embracing influencer relations and community management while reducing reliance on traditional media outlets to get the coverage clients hire them for). By fully embracing content marketing, which it is arguably better-placed to do than anyone else, PR can seize the advantage.

Barry Dudley is a partner at Green Square, corporate finance advisors to the media and marketing sector