Content Marketing’s PR Problem

With publishing luminaries like Paul Conley, Joe Pulizzi, and David Meerman Scott urging journalists to turn to content marketing for rewarding career options, you might think there would be a stampede of ink-stained wretches leaping into the field. But though you can find examples of such career shifters, the numbers are small. In part, this may be because the field is still nascent. But it’s also due to a public relations problem. I mean this literally: to many journalists, content marketing is just another term for PR.

Three weeks ago, in my last post on this blog, I asked the question, “Is B2B Ready for Corporate Journalism?“. My silence since then, alas, doesn’t mean I found the answer. (For my lack of production, blame a combination of travel, special projects, and, of course, my lizard brain.) What spurred my reflections was a comment from a journalist who didn’t believe that content marketing could live up to its journalistic ambitions.

That journalist, at least, understood those ambitions. But for every one who does, there must be 10 others who don’t.

Recently, for example, an esteemed B2B journalist I know said that content marketing is not new: “we used to call that PR.” There are two serious problems with this common confusion.

First, it means that journalists don’t recognize the challenge that content marketing poses to their traditional livelihoods. Unlike PR, which relies on third-party publishers to disseminate its message, content marketing simply cuts out those middlemen. Instead, companies that used to be advertisers go to the audience directly, in essence becoming publishers themselves.

But the confusion is also a problem for the discipline of content marketing. To fulfill its potential, it needs journalists. If those journalists think it’s all PR, they won’t bite.

So let’s try to clear it up.

Journalists: Content marketing is not PR, nor is it, in any sense you expect, marketing. In the broadest sense of the term, it’s publishing. It may not always be practiced with traditional journalistic values, but it often is.

Content marketers: Let’s face it, you have an image problem with journalists. If you want them on your team, you’re going to have to talk less about marketing and more about journalism. I agree that neither David Meerman Scott’s favored term, brand journalism, nor its cousin, corporate journalism, quite fits. But unlike content marketing, neither phrase makes journalists want to run for the hills.

Corporate journalism has a bright future. But until content marketers and journalists speak the same language, it will remain stubbornly in the future.

4 thoughts on “Content Marketing’s PR Problem

  1. Unfortunately, traditional journalism has itself been practiced without ‘traditional journalistic values’ on occasion. Advertising and PR have the ability to subvert journalistic integrity.

    The difference is that with content marketing the source of any bias (the client) is easier to see. Cynical audiences will see overly biased content for what it is – PR by another name – and treat it as such.

    The art to great content marketing must then be, through the very act of providing neutral, targeted content, maybe unrelated to the brand itself, to position the company as a trusted information source for the future, to earn the respect of the audience through truthful content.

    So, in many ways, this shift to content marketing could lead to more transparency and trust than at present!

  2. Pingback: Ethics: Transparency Is Not All | B2B Memes

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. As you can see here, it has spurred some new thoughts of my own.

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