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Back when I was a kid, a consumer electronics giant named Zenith had a tag line “The quality goes in before the name goes on.” The message was, of course, that quality was designed in from the ground up, not an after-thought.

I got to thinking about that during, of all things, a conversation a PR veteran with an innovative East Coast agency about how they offer content marketing (the use of tailored content to move prospects towards a sale) to clients who come to them seeking more traditional PR services. Rather than try to sell and educate them on “content marketing,” this PR firm explains the benefits (increased Web traffic, more prospects filling out forms for gated content, higher quality leads) to their clients and uses content marketing to deliver them.

“Content marketing tactics are ingrained in our day-to-day PR work,” he said. This ranges from search-engine optimization of press releases and bylined articles written by their clients for trade publications to make sure they get the most attention. When a client asks for a “thought leadership” white paper or Webinar that’s designed to lead prospects to the vendor’s site, “we make sure we have something on (their) Web site that would nurture that prospect, and potentially turn them into a lead.”

He acknowledges this falls short of a full-fledged content marketing program, which would include the creation of personas for various target customers, content geared to their needs and tracking software to score them based on readership. However, it lets his firm deliver the “immediate gratification” of the boost in Web traffic and leads that comes from story placement in a trade pub (one traditional role of PR) with the longer-term benefits (which he says can take six months or more to appear) of content marketing.

This approach has value because:

It helps prove how content marketing works before asking a client to make a bigger investment in it.

It avoids the confusion around buzzwords such as content marketing vs. marketing automation, demand generation, account-based marketing, Web-based marketing, digital marketing, etc. to focus on the benefits.

It builds on, rather than try to replace, the agency’s traditional strengths and culture.

Perhaps best of all, it makes what could be “only” a PR agency a more integral part of the client’s overall marketing effort, and thus more valuable and harder to replace.

“We have seen increasing appreciation from our prospective clients, and ultimately our customers, that we understand content marketing, that we know it is important,” and that it trains its staff in everything from SEO optimization to the proper use of Web forms to not only drive visibility, but to “close the loop” with action that will help the client’s bottom line.

Zenith has long since faded, a victim of lower-cost foreign manufacturers. But this PR firm is building new services to offer when (and if) its more traditional revenue sources fall. I wonder how many others in PR are finding that “traditional” story placement is still important, and that content marketing is best sold as “built in” rather than a separate service.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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