There’s a recurring debate in Fredrik Backman’s endearing book, A Man Called Ove, in which the title character and his best friend lock horns over the supremacy of one Swedish car manufacturer over the other. This Volvo vs. Saab rivalry reminds me of the ongoing debate between PR practitioners who subscribe to our traditional strategies of media relations and the more progressive proponents of content marketing.
Of course, if you have a two-car garage, and budget is not an issue, the easy answer is to go with both. But that is not always the case, and so we often have the following polemic to consider the best approach.
Ove: The third-party endorsement that comes with a media placement cannot be beat. An article in a well-placed publication provides instant and indisputable credibility. It’s really the raison d’etre of public relations. Nothing trumps that big media hit.
Rune: Sure, no doubt about it. But what’s next? No matter how skilled a PR person you are, creating a drumbeat of news via the media is becoming increasingly difficult. Let’s say your goal is to generate exposure in the local daily newspaper. Once you’ve accomplished that objective, it will likely be many months or even years before you can get another bite at that apple.
Ove: I admit it, it’s a challenge, but you just need to diversify your approach beyond just the local daily. Look at feature or business publications or trade media. Even with a shrinking media market, there are plenty of outlets to target. Just tweak your pitch to fit each one.
Rune: You can, but these days, that’s easier said than done. On the other hand, if your goal is to establish expertise, a content program can get you there as well, and with a lot more control. No, it won’t have that third-party imprimatur, but writing your own content will enable you to showcase your expertise in ways that you could not get away with through the media. You could go broader and deeper, just as long as you refrain from selling that expertise too aggressively. And I’d trade the targeting capabilities that come with a content strategy over that third-party validation any day.
Ove: It’s not only credibility, it can be sheer volume. Think of the tens of thousands – even millions – of people that read particular newspapers or magazines or that watch news programs. When we got our peanut butter client on the TODAY show, the response was so great that peanut butter lovers broke the company’s website, the volume was that high. Combine credibility with the reach of some of these outlets, and it’s little wonder why clients still want media relations.
Rune: Remember, though, so much of that readership has no interest whatsoever in that big story. It’s like taking out a billboard on I-95 to advertise to chief technology officers at mid-market companies in the Southeast. Yeah, a couple of them may drive by every once in a while, but the lion’s share of most passers-by could care less. Sure, that’s an exaggeration but the point is, there are incredible inefficiencies in many media relations strategies. But a content program puts powerful targeting tools at your disposal, and those CTOs you are trying to reach will begin seeing your content on their Facebook and LinkedIn pages two, three or even four times a week. And by the way, that big media hit you are so proud of? You also can make it a part of your content strategy.
Ove: You’re talking about a lot of content, and in my experience, clients don’t have the time to write a bunch of blog posts each week. They have other far more important responsibilities. They’d rather have us out there pitching their story to the media than doing a lot of the heavy lifting like writing content.
Rune: The best PR people are adept storytellers, and we’re the ones who should be doing much of the writing. We interview SMEs (subject matter experts) and turn those brief interviews into compelling blog content. We also create editorial calendars and target personas so as to make sure we are reaching all of the targeted audiences with the right content at the right time.
Ove: All that may be true, but you can’t frame your content the way you can frame that big media hit.
Rune: But you can measure the impact of that content far more accurately than you can measure the effect of a media hit – maybe other than crashing a website. With a content program, you can tell how many people read your posts, what other kinds of activity they had on your site and countless other metrics. And you can track their progress across the buyer’s journey, moving from someone who may never have heard of you to someone who is interested and, ultimately, to becoming a customer.
Ove: Well, I still say Saab is a better car!