PR is the original branded content

While sitting on a panel at Advertising Week Europe, ruminating over the nature of 'branded content', it became clear that the lessons for brands and agencies are ones that we in the PR profession have been learning for years.

Push, pull, lean-in, sit-back… frankly, it can do your head in, writes Adrian Pettett
Push, pull, lean-in, sit-back… frankly, it can do your head in, writes Adrian Pettett
PR is the original branded content; it’s about a brand genuinely creating something that is interesting, useful or entertaining.

Branded content has become a real buzzword, so much so that we can all get tired of hearing about it.

Push, pull, lean in, sit back… frankly, it can do your head in.

The panel, hosted by Digital Cinema Media and D&AD, focused on brands and movies, but also TV, online, social and live events. The best examples of branded content, like those in PR, work beyond one channel.

We are, already, past a one-channel, one-platform world.

The problem with all this content – some of it brilliant (and some of it less so) – filling our screens and airwaves, our social feeds and conversations, is that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to be heard in the crowd.

It can quickly escalate to just noise with no purpose.

We need to sweat our ideas much harder. Nine or 10 years ago it was 'build it and they will come', with clients closing their eyes and hoping it works. Now, we must be braver. There's never been a greater need for boldness and disruption, and, most importantly, brilliant ideas.

Big ideas in the PR world bring all the elements together across editorial, live experiences and social, and my advice for the branded content world is learn from best-in-class PR.

I still remember other brands seeing what we did with Evian on the sponsorship of the renovation of the Brockwell Park lido, and wanting in on the action.

It made sense for Evian: you get hot in the summer and want to cool down with a drink of water, so you might fancy a swim to cool down too – and there it is; the big idea. PR creating a brand experience. Entertaining and community spirited.

Those making ‘branded content’ should also learn from how the PR industry approaches planning and strategy. Know your objectives and how to measure results.

Did anyone engage with it, talk about it – and if so, then how? Did anyone share it, and with whom?

If these are the lessons of our past experience, then what does the future hold? There’s a lot of talk about across the industry about the marriage of data and creativity – or magic and maths, as we like to say.

The two bedfellows need each other, and the magic formula is how best to use them together.

Ultimately, the big ideas always win through. They are the big drivers, as a good PR practitioner will know, but with maths on-side the ideas have a much better chance of success.

Is it a marriage yet, I was asked during the Advertising Week panel, or is it an awkward first date? Well, it’s at least an engagement and I believe the 'big day' is coming up fast.

The good news is, we're all going to get an invite. 

Adrian Pettett is CEO of Cake Group, and was on the Digital Cinema Media ‘Is Branded Content Inspiring Film’ panel at Advertising Week Europe

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