In the past several years, the Public Relations industry has been rocked by major changes in the way corporate messaging is distributed to its target audience.
As marketers gained easy access to outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and corporate blogs, the center of gravity has largely shifted away from a dedicated Public Relations effort to a tech-centric model of content distribution and SEO marketing. To a large extent, the medium overtook the message.
But now, PR is making a surprising comeback, as new content distribution models are emerging and PR pros are regaining the upper hand against pure SEO companies. The new battlefront: The creation and strategic distribution of a new kind of content that has more places to distribute and a much longer shelf-life than news-driven press releases. Most importantly, this new model delivers what the client really wants: A guaranteed return on marketing investment with measurable results.
In this article, we'll examine the current PR and marketing communications landscape, with a focus on where the new opportunity exists for PR pros and content marketers to separate themselves from the pack of their competitors.
Steady But Lackluster
Currently, for most small and midsize businesses (SMBs), which comprise nearly 70% of American companies, the emphasis is no longer crafting a splashy PR announcement to be pitched to the largely disinterested industry press. Instead, the idea is to make smaller-magnitude announcements at steady intervals. These announcements are released more frequently, and are distributed automatically through the general newswires, as well as corporate and social media outlets. Although this type of distribution constitutes a typical PR program, and provides email-fodder for company salespeople, most companies find varying degrees of success with this model.
And, while social media and corporate blogging are well-regarded in the corporate communications industry, companies are quickly learning an important lesson: Yes, it is easy to post an announcement on a corporate blog, or share it on social media, but there are significant limits on the extent of audience reach.
Firstly, the size of the audience depends on the amount of readership a corporate blog or virtual press room actually receives. Likewise, success also depends on the number of "followers" the company has on its Facebook page or Twitter feed.
Secondly, Facebook has placed an artificial limit (called throttling) on the percentage of page followers who will be allowed to see a company's posts on their own news feeds. The more followers and "likes," the lower the percentage of those followers who will see the company's posts.
So, this realization leads us (and most marketers) to a pay-for-post strategy on social media. In theory, a paid promotional post will gain somewhat more viewership. Yet, when a company wants to expand significantly beyond its circle of followers, it quickly realizes that the wider audience isn't targeted, no matter what Facebook claims.
And, what about getting the corporate message out through the press?
The reality is that for lesser-known companies, receiving editorial coverage is highly unlikely. At best, with endless pursuit, a PR representative who has carefully cultivated his or her industry connections for years might get lucky and get a quote placed in an article somewhere. But, that could be about it. A quote usually spans only a sentence or two and, for that reason, has very limited value.
For most companies, though, in a world awash with thousands of similar announcements each week, a typical corporate announcement is unlikely to get noticed by the press. That is why one of the main goals for public relations these days is to create a certain level of messaging saturation through SEO and content marketing. And, that brings PR and pure SEO companies into a fierce, direct competition.
For these reasons, PR pros continuously search for new, innovative solutions that enable them to deliver strong, measurable results for their companies and clients. One of the most popular solutions, at least for those targeting the Tech Industry, is NewsFactor Content Services, with about 1,300 PR and marketing professionals who have subscribed since its launch.
As one of the largest and best-known publishers in the Technology news space, NewsFactor has recently expanded its news offerings into the content distribution area, joining an important new trend in public relations.
No Favors, Please. Just Results.
"As a tech-industry publisher, our main business is, of course, producing original technology news written by our long-time journalists. We attract a huge, targeted audience of tech-industry professionals who are the top decision-makers in their companies when it comes to purchasing technologies and services," said David Geller, Publisher of NewsFactor Network. "While our business model starts with journalism and advertising, we can also easily connect our readers with relevant, high-quality, company-generated news and contributed content."
"As soon we launched NewsFactor Content Services, we were amazed by the extent of interest from PR professionals and content marketers," explained Geller. "In under two years, nearly 1,300 industry professionals signed up to our service. Apparently, we were able to identify an important need of the PR industry to deliver guaranteed results, and we were able to give our PR partners the perfect platform to distribute their content to their precise tech-industry audience."
While NewsFactor Content services isn't the only game in town, it does provide a remarkable case study. Based on the feedback from participating PR reps, the top benefit sought by the industry is the ability to do more with content once it's created, and to be able to show the client concrete results with screen captures and viewership reports.
According to a Q1 2016 NewsFactor user survey, in most cases, PR reps reported an increase of editorial exposure of 3-5 times their usual rate of success, just within the first 30-60 days of using NewsFactor Content Services. That is enough to propel them into longer, more lucrative contracts with their clients.
How is this accomplished? The explanation is rather simple: NewsFactor Content Services partners with multiple networks of tech sites, and it places each press release or contributed article in nearly a dozen sites instantly. And, the placement is in an editorial setting. So, if in the past, a typical release was picked up, or a company executive quoted in 1-3 publications at best, NewsFactor's service increases the exposure easily by a factor of 300 to 500%, and at times even more.
Competitive Advantage for PR
"Our PR reps speak of an extremely competitive environment, maybe more than ever, especially now that SEO companies are competing for the same corporate communication dollars that were previously budgeted for PR only," says Geller. "They're interested in unique opportunities that provide measurable results that are easy to present to the company, so they know they're getting real value for their marketing investment.
"When companies can click to their press releases or contributed articles which are published on multiple well-known sites and also see their content at the top of the Google results, they know they're getting a solid return on investment from their PR rep," said Geller.
Another important differentiator the NewsFactor service offers is presenting press releases or articles in an editorial setting that also includes live links back to the company's Website. "That not only gives them the PR and marketing benefits they're seeking, but it also delivers new potential customers, which is something PR alone wasn’t able to do. They love it," he concluded.
But, in the end, it all gets back to the service provided by the PR or content marketing pro who creates the content, which needs to be compelling. There is a popular expression in the PR and SEO industry, which is that content is king, but only if it is engaging content. And, that is why we're now seeing a new emphasis on very well crafted contributed articles and press releases that showcase the industry knowledge and expertise of the company and its spokespeople.
That's a tremendous emerging opportunity that is available to PR pros that can distinguish them in comparison with their competitors.
Once a company has created engaging content that is not necessarily tied into a specific news event, it can be used extensively to keep on promoting that company. This type of content has the same benefits of a press release, but with much more longevity. It doesn't expire until the technologies or methods discussed on the article become obsolete in the industry. So, in practical terms, while a press release goes stale in a matter of days, weeks, or months, the lifespan of a high-quality contributed article can be measured in years.
NewsFactor invites PR and marketing professionals to try the service by uploading contributed content at NewsFactor Content Services.