Self-Publishing in Public Relations: Isn’t That Content Marketing?

I had lunch with an old friend not long ago who regaled me with the pleasures of retirement, one of which was an indulgence he never made time for – novel writing. By all accounts, he has made a seamless transition from journalist to novelist, a pivot that not everyone can make, but his first works display a flair for fiction – for storytelling and characters and drama – and I found myself eagerly turning page after page.

When I asked him about finding an agent and publisher, I was anticipating the writer’s lament, that such professional prerequisites were painfully elusive to the upstart novelist. Instead, he educated me about the new dynamics of self-publishing, which today offer any number of options, including Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The service, which actually has been around since 2007 (who knew?), enables aspiring authors to bypass the convoluted and often exasperating world of traditional book publishing. It’s a way to get novels directly into the hands of readers who are looking for exactly the kind of novel you have written.

This direct-to-consumer approach – one that leverages technology now at our disposal –also has become an important element of public relations. I’m, of course, talking about content marketing, and coincidentally perhaps, it also was in 2007 when we began to see the power and possibilities that leveraging digital assets could give to our storytelling.

The Hodges Partnership was founded 20 years ago, and our focus then – almost exclusively – was on media relations – i.e. helping our clients elevate their profile and enhance their reputation through earned media placements. In those early days, we spent a lot of time developing storylines that we hoped would resonate with target media outlets, and it was an era when we worked hard to create our own news as well, very often through third-party research that would help position our clients as experts.

Then in 2007, we were tasked with promoting the National Conference on the Creative Economy, a new initiative put together by our client at the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. Public relations professionals know all too well that promoting such events through the media can be a tough slog, and even when you are successful with a placement here and there, such coverage does not give you the frequency that you really need to develop any kind of awareness or buzz. 

But at the time, we just happened to be having lunch with another marketing agency that told us what they were doing by using social platforms as a means of promotion. What is now considered standard operating procedures on that front back then was intriguing and new, and we saw immediately the opportunity that this new line of communication would open for us and our clients.

Content marketing has been nothing short of a gamechanger, and while we still dedicate a lot of our resources and strategic thrust in the earned media arena, what we know to be true is that a content program has a host of advantages, including:

  1. Absolute control of your messaging. You don’t need to worry that a reporter is going to get something wrong or not amplify the parts of the story that you think are important.
  • Frequency. You can post stories as often as you like, though we’d caution against overexposure. You can’t come close to this level of frequency with a media relations campaign. 
  • Visual elements. Content programs make it easy to introduce photos and videos into your storytelling. Want an interview with the CEO? Done. Want a behind-the-scenes video or photographic tour of what’s coming soon? No problem. Research tells us that the storytelling that has the most impact is the one that come with images.
  • Targeting. Content marketing programs allow you to specifically target the audience demographic and profile that you think is the most important. The efficiency has no parallel, and it’s especially valuable for our B2B clients.

Content marketing is basically self-publishing for public relations. While we still value (as do our clients) the earned media component of our business, it’s content marketing that today accounts for a large proportion of our client work. And we have even taken it a step further by self-publishing our own online magazines over the years, including The Phil, which covers the nonprofit community and has a growing readership. 

And best of all, we don’t have to wait until retirement to make all this happen.

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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