The Case for Content-Driven Integrated Marketing Communications Programs

May 14, 2015

- Bill Haynes, Boston

Public relations is dead. Long live public relations! For many years, public relations has played a vital role in promoting brands (raising awareness and credibility) and protecting them (pre-emptively planning for and dealing with crises). In an era of great speed and ever-growing complexity, these roles are more important than ever. But the old ways of building and defending a brand largely through traditional media channels is no longer enough.

“Financial and professional services firms have recognized the need to position their expertise as a valuable asset for decades now, but the distribution channels for sharing their expertise have multiplied.”

There are several reasons for this, including the growth of alternative news outlets, the introduction of new mediums, and, of course, technology, such as social media, that enable direct and wide-reaching communications. These factors have also lent themselves to the ongoing disintermediation of traditional media. Witness, for instance, the growth of podcasts or the evolution of corporate websites, whose “news” pages have grown from a catalogue of press releases to a dynamic offering of feature articles, videos, blogs, white papers and webinars most often showcased on their homepages.

These changes present threats and opportunities. Practitioners of old-fashioned media relations, and the companies that rely solely on this approach, have a difficult job. It is becoming harder and harder to cut through the competition and clutter, particularly as marketing and PR departments are tasked with pitching fewer traditional media outlets with smaller reporting staffs.

Financial and professional services firms have recognized the need to position their expertise as a valuable asset for decades now, but the distribution channels for sharing their expertise have multiplied.

Practitioners of integrated, content-driven marketing communications programs now have an array of complementary communications tools at their disposal. This toolkit, beyond traditional and digital advertising, media pitching and news releases, has grown to include videos, mobile websites, email marketing, search-engine optimization, webinars, events and bylined articles. Together, they enable greater efficiency of message dissemination than ever before and allow marketing and PR teams to take a tailored approach in their outreach.

The Key is Differentiated Brand Positioning, Backed by Compelling Content

In an increasingly competitive environment, why should your potential customers care about you? Said another way, what do you do better than your peers?

It’s likely you have a sense of your differentiators, but if you haven’t conducted a confidential brand-positioning audit recently, it’s time to do so. An online survey, coupled with one-on-one interviews with your employees and an array of clients and stakeholders, along with secondary research on your key competitors, will uncover brand attributes that are uniquely your own, and upon which you can build strong brand positioning. Importantly, the positioning needs to be supported by a strategic marketing program that is consistent with your brand, and driven by a steady stream of compelling content that positions your company as insightful experts in your field.

Most companies have highly knowledgeable executives with unique perspectives. That said, very few businesses have the internal resources or bandwidth to leverage that expertise to create content that can be shared with clients, prospects, the media and referral sources. Moreover, it’s critical that someone, either internally or externally, “owns” the content-development role,
which entails a deep understanding of the industry and firm objectives. This person must have a finger on the pulse of the themes and trends that are relevant in the media landscape.

To be successful, firms should adopt a newspaper-like “feed the beast” mentality in that someone is continually looking to research topics, interview executives, and deliver original and newsworthy research and commentary, and then develop and package that content for maximum effect.

Integrated Marketing Programs Reach Audiences in Multiple Ways

The beauty of this brave new world is that once content is created, it can be repurposed in various forms and distributed through complementary channels – bylined articles, media pitches, media tours, news releases, videos, blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, webinars, advertisements, events, etc. Content-driven, multi-faceted PR programs are quite simply a more efficient and effective way to reach audiences in multiple ways. The name is the same, but the public relations discipline has evolved. Welcome to the new PR.