PR and the growth of digital content creation

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At the PRCA’s National Conference in September, we heard from Toby Harrison, planning partner at adam&eveDDB, who told attendees he was “a tremendous admirer of the discipline that is PR”, and said he could not think of “another time when we’ve [the advertising industry] been more scared of another discipline than we are of PR”.

High praise indeed, and recognition of the fact that, as the wide world of marketing develops in sophistication, the skills inherent in PR are increasingly being recognised and applied in fascinating new ways.

In some ways, PR was the original branded content. Looking for something that blurs conventional distinctions between what constitutes advertising and what constitutes editorial content? The PR industry has been seeking ways to blur such distinctions for years, be it through articles, blogs, white papers, infographics, webinars, microsites, videos, or apps.

All of these formats provide ways for brands to fascinate the public while getting across brand values.

And we gained a far more quantitative insight into the relationship between valuable content and PR at the launch of this year’s PRCA Digital PR Report, in September. The third annual Digital Report, produced in partnership with YouGov, provided a benchmark of how the PR industry is performing with digital communications.

The report considered the growth of digital services from PR agencies and revealed that the biggest digital service offering by agencies is content creation, which 91% of agencies now provide.

The report also revealed that in-house marketing communications teams recognise that great content is the key to great marketing. 59% of in-house marketing communications directors stated that content creation is a key area of their digital budget spend, and one that will grow in the future.

But we know that great content is only half of the battle. We need that content to be seen. Speaking at a PRCA Digital Group event in October which investigated the world of paid media, Gemma Isaacs, Sales Director Brands, Agencies & Head of PR Partnerships at Outbrain put it like this: “If you write a blog and nobody reads it, did you write a blog?” A particularly modern take on the philosophical thought experiment of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

If you write something, promote it. The broadest possible audience means the best return on investment for that content, be it through owned, earned, or paid media. And the good news is that the digital tools are now at our fingertips to super-power the skills we have in content creation.

Applications like Outbrain, Taboola and Zemanta enable PR to adapt, embrace new technologies and capitalise on this opportunity to create a holistic approach to content creation, distribution and measurement.

And that’s great communications: good content combined with good distribution. Get them both right, and you’ve got the winning formula.