PR firms and other marketing/creative/advertising agencies are already producing content that can be used for marketing every time they help a client refine their message, arrange an interview with a trade pub, place an article in a trade pub or create a Web site or white paper. By tweaking their thinking, acquiring some new skills and learning some different tools, PR firms can expand into offering content marketing.

Content marketing is the use of marketing collateral in a methodical, consistent and planned way to qualify prospects, keep them engaged until they’re ready to buy, and move them towards a purchase. The key difference between content marketing and what PR firms have always done is that it is more geared towards measurable, short-term results than the longer-term “market awareness” or visibility PR traditionally provided.

One start is to take a transitional approach, making content marketing part of your ordinary PR activities. This includes steps you’re probably already taking, such as search engine optimization on press releases and other collateral. It also means making sure there’s quality follow-up content on their Web site to keep a prospect engaged once that “thought leadership” article by your CEO appears in an industry publication.

The next step veers closer to activities usually performed by a marketing or ad agency, and may require working with a content marketing consultant to help your client through the tough work of defining key customer segments (or personas) and the content required to engage them at each stage in the sales cycle. You may already have a lot of this information and used it to help target analysts, reporters, or influential bloggers, or (for a full-service agency) to guide advertising buys. While a marketing expert can provide overall guidance to the process, you can add value by using your knowledge of the client and their market to develop a content map aimed at different stages in the buying cycle.

How would this work? Consider a client looking to sell cloud storage to small and medium businesses. For customers just starting to look for such a service, write basic primers on cloud storage, how much it costs, how the data is secured, etc. For those in the product evaluation stage, you might want a “what to look for” piece (perhaps repurposed from an existing white paper or data sheet.) And for those ready to purchase, consider a detailed piece explaining how to upload their data, specific questions to ask a cloud storage provider, or “gotchas” to avoid in contracts.

Assuming your client has developed their personas, content map and scoring system, and a system to score them based on their “digital body language,” the next step is running the marketing automation software that makes all this happen. This is fairly far from traditional PR activity, but could generate incremental revenue through reselling the platform and/or your services and (more importantly) provide insights into customer needs that can improve the other positioning and media work you do for the client.

Note, though, that these tools take time to learn, and that monitoring and contributing to the on-line conversation can be a time sink. Reach clear agreement with your client about how much you can do, and how much it will cost, so you price your services right.

Running through all these steps, of course, is the ongoing creation of the content itself. Whether you do it yourself or hire outside writers, the goal is to create quality content that provides valuable information, not just marketing fluff. If your client isn’t on board with that you’ll waste a lot of the effort you put into the other steps of content marketing.

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.