Some people (I won't name names) get a little too preoccupied with the promotional aspect of PR. Promotion tends to rub a lot of people the wrong way, so they take their anger out on PR for being centered around brand awareness and promotion.
But here's the thing: It's OK that PR is inherently about promotion. There's no harm in promoting yourself, especially when you have some big news you're proud of and want to build some extra momentum around it. The real issue is that PR can only do so much, and people get tired of being on the receiving end of heavy promotion all the time.
Done right, PR can change perception and help your brand build some momentum, but does it truly change behavior? At this point, I can't say I believe it does -- but I also don't think it needs to. That's where content marketing comes in and, building off that momentum of PR, influences decisions.
The Limits of PR
Influencing your audience's behavior takes time, and if you think one PR piece will do it, you're going to be disappointed. PR can get you a ton of views and buzz, but it probably won't be the only thing that gets a client, investor, or partner to work with you.
To do that, you need a way to speak with your audience where they're at and build relationships with them. Anyone who took Marketing 101 in college can tell you about the stages of the buyer's journey; what you may not know is how quality, engaging content plays into each one.
You can use content to make someone aware of your company, educate them, stay top of mind, and nurture them to a decision. And it doesn't stop there. You can keep it going with the right social media tools to get you in front of the right audiences, and a paid distribution strategy can help you amplify your media (earned and owned) over time so you get the most value out of your efforts. Really, if you stay on top of content marketing trends, you can achieve a lot.
Building a Bridge to Reroute Audience Behavior
Think of it like you're building a bridge. This bridge connects your brand to your audience. PR is kind of like the road sign that announces a bridge is up ahead, and content is what the bridge is actually built with. If you want to change your audience's behavior and influence their decisions, you have to do more than announce yourself -- you've got to make sure that bridge is strong enough to connect them to you. Here's your blueprint:
1. Ask, "Why?"
This question is important for both PR and thought leadership. Why are you communicating with your audience? Why are you promoting your company or creating content? What are you trying to get across? Knowing that will help you define the method you should use.
Are you wanting to make your audience aware of a big change your business is making? PR is probably the way to go. Do you want to grow an engaged audience and build your influence so your brand can become a long-term resource? Thought leadership and content marketing it is.
2. Identify the tools you need to accomplish your "why."
If the reason you're communicating with your audience is to let them know about your latest round of funding, a press release or other promotional tool can do a lot to help you achieve that "why."
Maybe your "why" is to communicate the value of your services and the ROI of working with you. If that's the case, you and your team should create content that addresses that for your audience. Creating a customized email campaign for your list that's in the later stages of the buyer journey would be a great tool to help put that content to use and influence their decision.
You might have a number of reasons you're reaching out to your audience, and that's fine. It's good to communicate with those audiences differently in ways that are unique to them. To keep track, make a list of all your "whys" and connect them to the kind of content that meets those needs.
3. Measure, measure, measure.
Short-term gains aren't usually indicative of true success; you have to focus on achieving long-term ROI, too. And the best way to do that is monitor which tools and tactics are best at helping you achieve your goals and changing behavior in your favor.
Using an analytics template to track ROI can help you identify which content tools are most effective. Don't forget to keep a focus on both quantitative and qualitative content results to get the full picture of which tools and tactics are most valuable to help you achieve your "why" and truly influence your audience.
As someone who leverages both PR and content marketing, I will never deny the value of these strategies. There are certain goals PR can accomplish more effectively than content marketing alone, and vice versa. But relying on PR to promote yourself without a content marketing plan to continue offering value to your audiences won't help you influence behavior in the long run -- you need content for that.