No this isn’t a commentary on Robin Thicke’s number one hit and cynical, if highly effective, music video – rather this post looks at the blurred lines between PR and Marketing and in particular content marketing.
PR has always been an intangible and often tricky practice to explain. A quick poll around the office and it’s clear that virtually everyone of our families, and particularly parents and older generations, struggle to understand what we do.
I know I’m not alone when I get a call from my parents saying they have seen the latest TV ad from a company they know are one of my clients, and congratulate me on what a great advert it is – sigh
A scroll through the ‘services’ tab of most PR companies websites’ will reveal a plethora of disciplines: crisis management, event management, sponsorship, celebrity contracts, experiential, community management, PR stunts, media outreach – these are all standard fare that you would expect to see on a PR firm’s site. Yet these are also all disciplines of specialist agencies.
So what does this mean for PR – are we a Jack of all trades, but master of none?
Well, lets look at what PR is. On the face of it, the definition is obvious and the clue is in the name – Public Relations. However what does ‘relations’ mean?
Ultimately we’re in the reputation game, but as media has diversified it’s no longer just about getting a journalist to write about your client favourably, it’s about making sure that you reach your target audience through a way that appeals and resonates with them. You could argue PR is reputation through affinity.
There’s nothing new or revolutionary here. Back in the 1950s, brewery company Whitbread, realized their customers had a natural affinity with horseracing and an effective way to reach this audience was at the races. So in 1957 they became the first company to enter into commercial sponsorship in the UK, when they gave their backing to the inaugural Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown Park.
With sponsorship born in the UK, it was not long until disciplines such as, hospitality, experiential, events, celebrity endorsement and many others sprang into life and the world of PR became a complex matrix of skills and services.
But if you think sponsorship is old, think again. Content marketing goes back even further, well over 100 years in fact. In 1875, John Dere launched a magazine called The Furrow, which provided information to farmers on how to be more profitable and is often regarded as the first piece of content marketing. Well, I would argue that content marketing is even older with the first cigarette cards being created in 1875.
While the social, cultural and media landscapes have changed beyond all recognition over the past 140 years, the human psyche ultimately hasn’t. People still want to have content that relates to a passion or interest of theirs.
Where once people desperately flocked to the tobacconists so they could be the first to get their hands on packets that contained cards of their favourite baseball player or boxer, people now sign up to fanzines, social networks, forums and loyalty clubs to get information about their favourite people, brands, musicians and events – the list goes on.
The thirst and desire to have content that relates to a passion, livelihood or hobby hasn’t changed, it’s just the methods for creating this content have exploded exponentially. And this is why content marketing is such a powerful tool.
Content Marketing allows you to tap into a consumer’s passion in order to promote your brand or client, and therefore create a positive affinity. Whether you’re promoting knitting or music there’s always a relevant platform for you to engage with your target audience and give them unique content that will make them identify and ultimately have an allegiance with your brand.
And there we have the answer. Yes, Content Marketing is an integral element of PR, so why the blurred lines. Well the truth is that PR is not one single discipline – and consequently that is why it is so hard to define or explain to people.
PR is an umbrella term for the skill and expertise of choosing the appropriate tactic for creating affinity among your target audience with your brand – whether that’s through sponsorship, social media, experiential, celebrity endorsement or one of the many other tactics at a PRs disposal.
So is being a good PR being a Jack of all trades? I would say yes, but the real secret is being a master all communication tactics rather than just one.