What should public relations’ role be in sponsored content?

July 6, 2017

Steve Rubel has been a presence in media for quite some time. And as Edelman’s chief content strategist, he plays a large role in shaping how brands explore “non-traditional” ways of getting their messages out to the public. In fact, Steve was one of the early public relations executives to understand “content as a service” — blogs!

(Side note: Steve was an instructive source for BusinessWeek’s May 2005 cover story titled: “Blogs will change your business.” But due to link rot, the article is gone. Though, interestingly, here’s a link to what the cover looked like.)

Below is a Q&A we did for my newsletter (sign up here!) about public relations’ role in today’s media — from sponsored content creation to media buying.

You can follow Steve on Twitter at @steverubel.

Josh: How much has Twitter, and to a different extent, blogging, changed the nature of public relations?

Steve: It has changed the profession significantly. Almost every facet of it. Everything from the way we analyze and track public opinion to how we build one-to-one relationships with journalists and influencers to how we manage crisis and issues to how we promote stories and so much more. Above all it has unsurprisingly accelerated everything we do.

An example here is our use of MuckRack, which we use to understand better what topics journalists are interested based on their tweets. And then engage them accordingly. This includes on Twitter but also via email.

Josh: As brands start creating their own content, or relying on publishers to create sponsored content, where do you think PR can play a role?

Steve: PR can and should play a role in sponsored content development no matter where it’s being produced. If it’s being created by others, PR firms can help their clients and media partners ensure that the content will “travel” and earn attention for maximum reach and, just as importantly, doesn’t in any way offend.

However, a better option is to have one party create and distribute all the content who will be able to navigate the tension that almost always exists between what a brand wants to say and what an audience is interested in hearing. We feel that PR professionals are best equipped to take such an approach.

Josh: Interesting. Do you see a not-too-in-the-distant-future where PR agencies have “brand studio” divisions to create sponsored contenti.e. as there’s an influx of former reporters looking for work, PR firms building these studios to help their clients, not only to create the content in the voice of a news org, but also serve as a buffer between client and publisher?

Steve: Many PR firms already have studios to produce content. We have a team we call “collaborative journalism” that teams with clients to tell their own story in their own voice. Other agencies are doing the same. Some of the output is sponsored content but not all.

Josh: What tools are you using these days to help both your team and your clients navigate the wonderful world of content?

Steve: We remain largely tech agnostic. But some partners that we work with closely are Newswhip for understanding what kind of content best travels on social media, Dynamic Signal for tapping into the full power of employees and stakeholders in amplifying content and SimpleReach for sponsored content measurement and analytics.

Josh: It sounds like a lot going on. Do you think there’s TOO much content out there to sift through? I’m seeing a lot of marketing tech pitch their services to brands to help uncover UGC and turn that into branded content.

Steve: There’s too much brand-centric content out there. Audience-centric content, especially content is designed from the ground up for the new ways it is discovered and consumed — e.g. via social, can still find an audience. Quality matters as does distribution-centric thinking.

Josh: I remember us talking a few years ago about Edelman getting into the media buying game. As the ad world continues to consolidate, eating up many PR firms along the way, do you envision a time where PR agencies build media buying teams to help clients have a one-stop shop approachad creative, PR, media buying, social, marketing, etc?

Steve: We indeed have a global paid media team that is headed up by Chris Paul (not of NBA, but of Vivaki “fame”). What’s unique about this group is that they are entirely client-centric in their approach vs being publisher- or platform-centric. We believe that media buying is essential for helping to amplify positive earned and owned content and to manage crisis and issues and it’s a growing part of capabilities and our mix.

This article is reprinted from medium.com

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