Content is Not Marketing

Why communications run channels and marketing run campaigns.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

Your content is not marketing.

If you’re PR- or communication professional like me, creating online content for online brand channels is an everyday concern. Stakeholders need content; influencers need content; the publics needs content.

It’s a never-ending story, but it’s also fun. And most importantly—it’s necessary for a digital-first society.

But the marketing part… makes it less effective. And less fun.

I’ve been professionally creating online content for 17+ years, and I find the marketing part of content marketing to be one of the stupidest ideas in corporate communication.


Keep reading to learn how to turn content marketing into content communications and get better results from your digital PR efforts.

Here we go:

The Miserable State of Content Marketing

We live our lives on the money web now. I’m not against people making a living, but I’ve never seen the point of blurring the lines between advertising and editorials. Yes, I’m old-school PR; trust must be earned. Then you sell.

But anywhere you turn online, there’s content marketing. Everyone’s trying to sell you something. Stone-cold sales pitches are masquerading as editorial content. Back in the day, we used to frown at such practices.

Do you think I’m exaggerating? Email’s nearly destroyed by content marketing. The lines between editorial content and advertising emails are so blurred that it’s almost impossible to keep your inbox free from all the solicitation.

Worst case scenario? We won’t be able to communicate with each other via publicly available digital channels since all trust will have been eroded so completely by aggressive marketing tactics on autopilot.

There will be ways around this for individual users by only allowing approved senders—and keeping contact details secret. But this will spell disaster for those of us who make a living from reaching out to audiences on behalf of organisations.

Content is the Future of PR

I’ve discussed the issue of muddling the boundaries of marketing and communication with many marketers. But they don’t see a problem; what could be better if advertising can be conveyed as editorial content, they insist. And if this practice negatively impacts editorial practices—what do they care?

But marketers aren’t the problem here: Marketers should do marketing. Marketing should push products and services. Via sales, marketing makes our society go around; it funds our salaries, institutions, and progress. The problem is us—the communicators of the world.

Communication departments have continuously operated on a fraction of the budgets of marketing departments. PR agencies have always stood in the shadow of the mighty advertising industry. But this is a remnant of a century with traditional mass media. In our digital-first society, trust is the major challenge. And you build trust with communication, not marketing.

So, we, the world’s communicators, have an essential role in organisations. We must communicate to establish trust and maintain good relationships both externally and internally. But we can’t turn to marketing (or anyone else) for help. We’re the experts; we have the tools needed.

In short: It’s up to us, not others.

Communication is indeed a smaller industry than marketing. And we indeed live in a society where everyone wants to sell their products and services to make a living. That’s fine. But communication is essential, too. And being the minor discipline, we must fight harder to prove our importance.

Content is Not Marketing

With the risk of sounding ancient, I remember when editorial content was a low-status specialisation in communications. We produced magazines for employees, partners, and customers. I thought that editorial content deserved a higher status then—and it surely deserves higher status in communications now.

But instead of thinking about defeat or lack of success, I don’t mind being the underdog, the smart minority. We have less to lose and more to win.

I predict that advertising will have to find new ways to persuade. They can’t keep pushing aggressively in every digital channel forever. In the meantime, two-way communication, building trust, and establishing relationships will only grow in importance.

The communication industry is perfectly equipped to take on the digital communication challenges—today and tomorrow. In the future, there can be content marketing and content communications.

And honestly:

If you’re working in a communications department today, chances are that you’re already responsible for the organisation’s websites, apps, newsletters, and social media channels. Because marketing doesn’t want to run channels, they want to run campaigns. What we must do, as communicators, is step up and lead the way.

The Red Bull Content Machine

When I think of content, I think of Red Bull. Red Bull is objectively just one sports drink among many. What sports, in general, has to do with carbohydrate drinks, I don’t know. But there’s nothing special about its ingredients, flavours, or packaging.

Red Bull could, of course, take the route of traditional marketing. “Here’s our sports drink, Red Bull. It’s awesome. Buy it, and you can be awesome, too. Now, look at these slick visuals of backlighted cans sprayed misty for your viewing pleasure.”

Instead, Red Bull has opted for editorial content that’s worth watching. Not only are they producing content that the extreme sports community loves, but they’re also even sponsoring their passions, allowing them to pursue their dreams. I don’t know how they came up with the strategy, but we can all see that it’s different from traditional advertising.

It takes editorial bravery to produce content that people love. It doesn’t take bravery to push products and services aggressively. In this sense, Red Bull is a brave company.

Today, Red Bull is synonymous with the world of extreme sports. They’re the architects behind thousands of spectacular influencers churning out content wearing their logo. And other competing brands must try to follow their lead.

Red Bull still does regular ads; they still sell energy drinks. But by focusing not just on marketing but on editorial communication, too, their brand has reached an iconic level in their niche.

Enter: Content Communications

Now, producing extreme sports videos was the route that Red Bull took. Regarding content, video is just one of many possible routes to take. Perhaps you’re working for a B2B IT company? Ask yourself: How do you produce content that B2B IT buyers would consume not just willingly—but eagerly?

Read also: “For Content!”

I’m confident that your organisation can produce better content than your competitors!

Here’s a mindset for you to get started:

Be a proud content creator. If you’re in communications, you’re not a content marketer. You’re a content creator like influencers producing content for their niche audiences. Tackle the challenge with pride.

Play nice with marketing. Marketing and sales are essential. But there’s no dichotomy: Great marketing and communication can live side by side. They can (and should) co-exist. Content is no exception.

Start with the audience in mind. Audiences don’t like being talked to the way marketing talks to people. They want communication. Your job is to produce content that attracts and connects people. Let marketing do what they do best: sell stuff.

Will content communications ever be as big as content marketing? Probably not. Will people keep referring to content communications as content marketing? Yes, probably. However, we who have discovered this distinction can make it work in our favour.

Because any PR professional worth their salt can transform an underdog position into an exciting opportunity.

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.


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