Content marketing is PR without the journalists

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This is an article by Gerald Heneghan

While there’s a growing overlap between off- and online marketing and PR – the three remain fairly distinct fields. In this guide, I’ll attempt to explain my views on the differences between my specialist field – content marketing – and PR.

A quick intro

Content marketing is a branch of online marketing, although it can arguably extend into the realms of offline as well. For those looking for a detailed explanation, I’ve put together handy eBook guides and blogs on the technical aspects. For the purposes of this article (and at the risk of gross oversimplification) I’ll sum it up thus:

Content marketing is PR without the journalists.

In essence, content marketing subscribes to the PR-centric belief that non-promotional, third-party coverage can be worth exponentially more than advertising. However, while in ‘traditional’ PR, many companies compete for limited space in papers or trade press titles – the web offers near-unlimited room for companies to prove their worth to prospects beyond simply shouting about how good they are.

Content marketing shuns ‘interruptive’ marketing techniques and relies on a combination of strategies and tactics to actively attract potential customers giving them what they’re looking for.

The particulars can differ greatly, depending on the campaign, but the one key tenant of content marketing is to be interesting and valuable to prospects.

Gobbledygook about Google

What’s made the whole content craze possible is the increasing sophistication of search engines.

Content of one sort or another is the ultimate aim of every search. However, you shouldn’t think of it synonymously with text – that’s just generally the easiest and thus most prevalent type of content organisations tend to produce.

Although supplying valuable content is the crux of any content campaign, the marketing element refers to reaching the right people with your wares. This, ideally, requires some technical expertise and knowledge of disparate elements, such as:

  • How search engines (namely Google) ‘read’ the web
  • How they determine what result should appear for any given query
  • The buying processes and how people research online before committing to a product or service.

It’s important to note, however, that search engines keep their cards close to their chest when it comes to their inner-workings. Since attaining the coveted number 1 slot can be immensely lucrative – the likes of Google don’t want people ‘gaming the system’ and so, only give general advice, such as:

“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.” – Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Sounds easy enough, right?

How PR differs from content marketing

A ‘traditional’ PR agency aims to promote an organisation in the press, typically by selling-in relevant stories or securing the opportunity for their clients to provide commentary or editorial contributions.

But, with local, regional and national publications all seeing exponential drops in circulation figures over the past few years – the value of traditional PR has also taken something of a hit.

However, it’s not gone the way of the dodo quite yet and remains particularly popular in B2B circles, where getting your client’s organisation in the pages of an industry publication can provide them with unparalleled access to a sizeable chunk of their target audience.

Similarly, the web has taken up much of the slack where print publications have dropped off – providing more and disparate opportunities for coverage than ever before.

Strange but happy bedfellows

So given that PR and content are fairly distinct in their aims and methodology, why’s there so much overlap these days? In my view there’s a few key reasons:

Philosophy: Organisations that seek out either content marketing or PR are sold on the value of marketing a company in an overtly non-promotional way.

Better together: PR works fantastically well in tandem with content. Each facet can boost the reach and effect of the other and content can be great at picking up the slack for organisations where ‘hard news’ only comes up every so often.

Avoiding snake oil salesmen: Understanding any type of online marketing takes at least a modicum of expertise and it’s a sad fact that there’s thousands of dodgy SEO companies out there that will take an organisation’s money and bamboozle them with tech-speak before producing shoddy or unsustainable results.

Picking a PR agency that does digital, especially one that you’ve already previously worked with in a PR capacity, can help to promote trust in what, for many first-timers, can be a bewildering field.

Similar skill sets: Both PRs and content marketers need to be able to pull out the best and most interesting stories, ideas and advice from an organisation and frame them in the right way to appeal to its key audiences.

Similarly, both parties need the diplomatic skills to reach out and form relationships with journalists, bloggers and prospective contributors and cultivate coverage.


So what advice would I give to PR graduates and junior practitioners looking to get into the world of content?

  1. While a degree in a relevant subject is always a good starting point, it tends to mean a great deal less than to recruiters than interest and experience.
  2. To make yourself as valuable a candidate as possible – show that you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty in accruing hands-on experience.
  3. Get to grips with blogging: Throwing together your own Blogspot, where you post a couple of rants about football or fashion will not cut the mustard. There are loads of online publications, charity organisations and the like that are constantly seeking this kind of support, so bolstering your CV by working with some of these is an easy win.
  4. Go social: Rest assured, your social media profiles will be stalked as a matter of course by any prospective employer in the digital world. Fight the urge to up your privacy settings and instead use these (or create a bespoke one that’s easy for non-contacts to find) to demonstrate how active and informed you are.
  5. Be a digital native: Being good with technology is a definite leg-up in this business. While copy and blog writing is likely to be a big part of your role, you’ll need to be able to develop the Google-fu necessary to rapidly research things and the technical expertise needed to navigate the eccentricities of half a dozen content management systems.

And you?

Hopefully the above has provided some food for thought, if not actionable advice, but if you’ve got any questions – leave me a comment below or get in touch directly via Twitter.

Seriously – I can talk about this sort of thing all day!

Gerald Heneghan is Head of Content at Roland Dransfield PR and combines a background in journalism with a genuine passion for technology and search.