PR people are now content creators

In a seemingly never-ending quest for identity, the PR industry is embracing "content creation" as one of its core functionalities.

In a seemingly never-ending quest for identity, the PR industry is embracing “content creation” as one of its core functionalities. For a profession that prides itself on message-development work, thought leadership by category, creating brand identification within a space, and helping CEOs or leaders generate a new image, we sure have trouble finding our own!

Now, industry analysts are calling us “content creators.” Or, re-purposing and marketing content already created? Or, in the PR 301 course, we're doing product placement on network TV shows.

My elevator pitch at Michael Smith Business Development is simply that “we are connectors,” a la Malcolm Gladwell. Over three decades, so many bumper stickers have been applied to PR. We've even been hot when Laura Ries wrote her book: The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR? - loved it.

Just as TiVo changed the game, forcing advertisers to require content to be embedded or placed interstitially within a story or show, so too PR must find new ways to embed storylines within an existing social media platform. Everything is very transparent.

Working with producers and integrated content teams in TV or online is going to be part of our new mandate. Here is a definition of product placement.

Product placements are a huge business. We were successful this year in placing one client's construction vehicles on a new reality show because it fit the storyline – and the client did not pay that heavy promotional fee.

In fact, the client saved close to $1 million in paid media cost. Based on our persuasion and knowledge of scripts in development, the original MTV/Viacom program we pitched and placed led to the same company getting major exposure on Gold Rush: Alaska.

There's a new story in Content magazine published by Rick Sine that says PR is now about content marketing. Whether that means earned placements as adjacencies with other blogs or social media, we are now asked to integrate more in marcomms than ever.

Embedding commercial content as part of an earned media strategy seems here to stay. Which begs the question, how will the audience or reader respond.  

Sine writes that ad agencies “work with a PR agency to help get the word out to media about the content it creates for clients. Agencies must collaborate for efficiency and to ensure brand consistency. The partnership succeeds best when agency representatives meet regularly in person and are encouraged to talk directly, not just through the client. Marketers hire PR agencies individually, rather than trusting their (client's) ‘agency of record' to contract work out. Increasingly, custom-content agencies have observed global advertising holding companies, major PR agencies, and digital platform providers bidding for content marketing projects. But history demonstrates that making the shift to custom content isn't easy. In recent years, several media companies and PR firms have shuttered their custom arms even as content has grown as a marketing (tool).”

Earlier estimates of the size of this embedded content market place it at $1 billion.  It would seem smart PR people will be swerving hard in that direction. Simon Cowell has said the UK market alone for branded entertainment is $100 million – or maybe that is just his share of it?!

Mike Smith is CEO of Michael Smith Business Development.

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