The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “…a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
This definition is of course part and parcel to a CMO’s core objectives, which is why marketing teams are devoting a greater share of budget and resources to content marketing. In a 2014 survey of Fortune 500 CMOs conducted by The CMO Club and Spredfast, 60 percent of respondents intend to increase their content marketing budgets. Their enthusiasm is not based on a “cross our fingers and hope it works” approach; almost two-thirds (66%) of CMOs are predicting a positive return on investment (ROI) from their content marketing campaigns.
As CMOs gain confidence directing more resources and budget towards content marketing, there is very likely a team within the organization growing less sure of its footing within the content ecosystem – public relations. There is irony here, as public relations professionals no doubt read the content marketing definition and grumble to themselves (or perhaps out loud), “sorry to burst your bubble here, but we’ve been doing this content marketing thing for quite some time.”
This is true, to an extent. The efforts may not always be branded in this fashion or as inclusive of as many channels, but PR professionals have long been tasked to create and distribute high-strategy content. And therein lies the danger; that CMOs may forge ahead with content marketing and pull in the PR team as an afterthought, or not at all. This approach threatens to create counter-productive silos by leaving capable, experienced PR teams without a role that can add the most value to the organization.
Because content marketing increasingly lives in an organizational gray area, CMOs with ownership of content marketing budget, staff, and direction should consider the following to fully maximize the value of PR staff, and ultimately the content marketing program itself:
Recognize budgets are growing, but not infinite
Content marketing budgets are expanding, but unless CMOs are seeing immediate, across-the-board ROI it will be difficult to get blank checks from CXOs. Earned media is a no-cost (beyond labor time) investment that can allow content marketing efforts to continue interrupted – even during periods when budget is not allocated to “paid media” channels.
While drawing a straight line between media relations and lead generation or website visits can be difficult to see, it is there. Earned media can drive down customer acquisition costs for a content marketing campaign, as long as the right measurement tools are in place to capture the results of these earned media efforts.
Earned media remains top purchase influencer
Not only can earned media be the most cost-effective content marketing channel for CMOs, it can also be the most effective. A 2014 Nielsen in-lab study commissioned by inPowered exposed consumers to three content sources: third party news and other credible sources (earned media), branded content (owned media), and user-generated content (reviews, etc.). Not surprisingly, earned media emerged as the most effective information source at all stages of the purchase lifecycle and across all product categories. And the difference was not subtle; against branded content, earned media was found to be 80 percent more effective at the bottom-of-the-funnel or purchase consideration stage, 80 percent more effective at the middle-of-the-funnel or affinity stage, and 38 percent more effective at the top-of-the-funnel or familiarity stage.
Bottom line: content marketing initiatives are ultimately judged by sales and revenue generation, and earned media continues to prove itself as a powerful purchasing influencer.
Be cognizant of PR paranoia
The current state of media likely has your PR team fairly freaked out at this point. Print publications continue to disintegrate faster than BlackBerry’s market share, and chasing the social media payoff pot of gold is a tedious exercise. If the CMO shuts PR out of content marketing strategy and execution, or brings the team in so late that it is relegated to a tactical role, significant PR brainpower is going to be left rotting on the sidelines. Identify areas where public relations – whether it is an internal team or external agency – can add the most value, and then provide them with the mandate and resources to execute in those areas.
All content writers are not created equal
Marketing teams excel at developing content designed to sell – whether it is through collateral that provides air cover for the sales team, website and landing page content that can convert leads, advertising copy, etc. Editorial content opportunities however, tilt increasingly towards sponsored content, advertorials, and even earned thought leadership content that requires a much softer sell. In fact, much of the time this type of copy cannot reference the company’s product/service or be in any way self-promotional.
PR teams understand how to walk the tightrope of creating and placing content that communicates core messages without reading like overt marketing copy, and CMOs should leverage this expertise.
Don’t let content volume kill content marketing
Ending up with too much of a good thing is problematic enough – the gourmet cupcake craze is Exhibit A of that fact. Too much of a bad thing is even worse, and therein lies the danger for content marketing operations that spew out page after page of useless content. PR teams are a proven source of valuable content, understanding that low-quality articles cannot be placed in reputable, high impact articles.
$135 billion will be spent on new digital marketing collateral (content) in 2014, and automation tools will spike this volume even further. In this scenario, quality content becomes the great unequalizer for CMOs to differentiate their products, services and brand.