The PR 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

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. 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 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. 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 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 tackle today’s and tomor­row’s digit­al com­mu­nic­a­tion chal­lenges. In the future, there can be con­tent mar­ket­ing and con­tent com­mu­nic­a­tions.

And hon­estly:

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, 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, 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 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 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.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Inbound vs Outbound

Inbound vs Outbound

The inbound mind­set is a fun­da­ment­al shift in pub­lic relations.

Instead of focus­ing on try­ing to spawn non-exist­ing audi­ences, PR can do so much more with exist­ing online pub­lics. 1See also The Publics in Public Relations (Doctor Spin).

If your inbound PR strategy is good enough, you might not even need an out­bound PR strategy.

Jerry Silfwer speaking about inbound marketing
Jerry Silfwer (Doctor Spin) speaks about inbound marketing.

Read also: The Inbound First PR Strategy: Beauty From Within

PR Resource: Evergreen Content

Evergreen Content

What’s ever­green con­tent? For a piece of con­tent to be ever­green, it must sus­tain its value over time. Meaning: The con­tent must be rel­ev­ant today, tomor­row, and the fore­see­able future.

While news con­tent might have a more sig­ni­fic­ant impact short-term, ever­green con­tent instead accu­mu­lates over time.

There are dif­fer­ent ways to lever­age ever­green con­tent. I recom­mend a few axioms for ever­green content:

  • Two years. To be con­sidered ever­green con­tent, I think the con­tent must be rel­ev­ant and valu­able for at least two years. It’s an arbit­rary time frame, but if an organ­isa­tion can pro­duce con­tent last­ing for two years, it will typ­ic­ally last for much longer.
  • Actual interest. To be con­sidered ever­green con­tent, there must be an exist­ing volume of search engine users look­ing for the inform­a­tion. Without search volumes, the con­tent will likely be ‘ever’ without the ‘green’.
  • Gentle garden­ing. Evergreen con­tent will only stay ever­green if you tend to it occa­sion­ally. To check if everything’s work­ing, add some­thing help­ful if needed, and per­haps clean out some unne­ces­sary stuff. It’s a bit like garden­ing, I find. 
  • Personal touch. It’s dif­fi­cult to pub­lish some­thing unique. However, adding your brand’s ton­al­ity and flair to the con­tent is always pos­sible. The object­ive is to estab­lish trust and author­ity, so a touch of per­son­al­ity matters.

Learn more: The Evergreen Content PR Strategy: Forever Is a Long Time

PR Resource: Deep Content

Deep Content

Above is an example of an online con­tent struc­ture that’s five levels deep.

In the example above, five lay­ers of ever­green con­tent are stacked:

  • Level 1: Articles
  • Level 2: Content Upgrade
  • Level 3: Resource/Lead Magnet
  • Level 4: Ebook
  • Level 5: Online Course

Deep con­tent is centred around provid­ing increas­ingly high­er qual­ity to con­tent divers since they’re more valu­able than sur­face browsers.

As for the import­ance of struc­ture and depth, the logic is the same as for ice­berg pub­lish­ing and con­tent themes.

Learn more: The Deep Content PR Strategy

1 See also The Publics in Public Relations (Doctor Spin).
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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