The Public Relations BlogDigital PRContent & InboundContent is Not Marketing—It's Communications

Content is Not Marketing — It’s Communications

Marketing run campaigns; communications run channels.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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Your con­tent is not marketing.

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

It’s a nev­er-end­ing story, but it’s also fun. 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 18+ years, and I find the mar­ket­ing part of con­tent mar­ket­ing to be one of the stu­pid­est ideas in cor­por­ate communication.

Why?

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 Confused 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 keep­ing your inbox free from all the soli­cit­a­tion is almost impossible.

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 Practical 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, the world’s com­mu­nic­at­ors have an essen­tial role in organ­isa­tions. We must com­mu­nic­ate to estab­lish trust and main­tain good extern­al and intern­al rela­tion­ships. 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. We 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 a minor dis­cip­line, we must fight harder to prove our importance.

Content is Not Marketing

With the risk of sound­ing ancient, I remem­ber when pro­du­cing in-house edit­or­i­al con­tent was a low-status spe­cial­isa­tion in com­mu­nic­a­tions. These PR spe­cial­ists pro­duced magazines for employ­ees, part­ners, and cus­tom­ers. I thought that edit­or­i­al con­tent deserved a high­er status then and 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.

  • Tounge in cheek, many PR pro­fes­sion­als will say, “Advertising is the tax you pay for not being remark­able.

The com­mu­nic­a­tion industry is per­fectly equipped to tackle today’s and tomor­row’s digit­al com­mu­nic­a­tion chal­lenges. In the future, con­tent mar­ket­ing and con­tent com­mu­nic­a­tions can co-exist.

If you work in a com­mu­nic­a­tions depart­ment today, you’re likely already respons­ible for the organisation’s web­sites, apps, news­let­ters, and social media chan­nels. Because mar­ket­ing doesn’t want to run chan­nels, it wants to run cam­paigns. As com­mu­nic­at­ors, we must 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, have 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. 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 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, and it doesn’t take bravery to aggress­ively pro­mote products and ser­vices. 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 who cre­ate 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?

Here’s a mind­set for you to get started:

  • Take pride in being a 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. 1Silfwer, J. (2022, September 22). “For Content!” Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​r​-​c​o​n​t​e​nt/
  • 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. 2Silfwer, J. (2012, April 13). The PESO Model: Paid, Earned, Shared, and Earned Media. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​e​s​o​-​m​o​d​el/
  • 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. 3Silfwer, J. (2016, May 25). The Follower Contract. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​r​-​c​o​n​t​r​a​ct/

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.

Being the under­dog has its advant­ages, too. 4Silfwer, J. (2016, August 25). The Stupid Majority PR Strategy: How Underdogs Dominate. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​t​u​p​i​d​-​m​a​j​o​r​i​t​y​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: Inbound vs Outbound

Jerry Silfwer speaking about inbound marketing
Jerry Silfwer (Doctor Spin) speaks about inbound marketing.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

Inbound vs Outbound

The inbound mind­set is a fun­da­ment­al shift in the PR- and mar­ket­ing industry.

Historically, many PR- and mar­ket­ing depart­ments have argued:

Why should we spend our PR- and mar­ket­ing budgets on ‘already acquired’ audiences?”

The truth is — it’s the oth­er way around.

Instead of “spam­ming” non-exist­ing audi­ences, pub­lic rela­tions and mar­ket­ing can do much more with exist­ing online pub­lics. 5Silfwer, J. (2015, June 11). The Publics in Public Relations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​s​-​i​n​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​r​e​l​a​t​i​o​ns/

Drawing a line between those who know you and those who don’t know you is noth­ing new:

  • Pull mar­ket­ing vs push mar­ket­ing
  • Hot leads vs cold leads
  • Permission mar­ket­ing vs tra­di­tion­al marketing
  • Internal com­mu­nic­a­tions vs extern­al communications

This inbound shift is the online equi­val­ent of draw­ing the line between those who know you and those who don’t know you:

  • Inbound com­mu­nic­a­tions vs out­bound communications

If your Inbound Shift PR Strategy is good, you might not need to pri­or­it­ise out­bound PR strategies — because your inbound audi­ence will attract out­bound publics.

Learn more: The Inbound Shift PR Strategy: Beauty From Within

Logo - Spin Academy - Online PR Courses

PR Resource: Free Content PR Course

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Silfwer, J. (2022, September 22). “For Content!” Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​r​-​c​o​n​t​e​nt/
2 Silfwer, J. (2012, April 13). The PESO Model: Paid, Earned, Shared, and Earned Media. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​e​s​o​-​m​o​d​el/
3 Silfwer, J. (2016, May 25). The Follower Contract. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​r​-​c​o​n​t​r​a​ct/
4 Silfwer, J. (2016, August 25). The Stupid Majority PR Strategy: How Underdogs Dominate. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​t​u​p​i​d​-​m​a​j​o​r​i​t​y​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
5 Silfwer, J. (2015, June 11). The Publics in Public Relations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​s​-​i​n​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​r​e​l​a​t​i​o​ns/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has

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