Saturday, June 8, 2013

Whither content marketing -- or how the latest battle between advertising and public relations is remaking how we all think about institutional communications

Advertising and PR agencies are just fated to fight each other, continually, for "territory" (a.k.a. clients' money -- a.k.a. a credible, exclusive claim to a communications tactic, channel, or technology). The battleground of the moment is, of course, content marketing (a.k.a. branded content, a.k.a. native advertising, etc.)

Such a plethora of a.k.a.'s suggests something inconclusive is in the works.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced June 6th that a little definition is in order. Susan Borst, IAB's Director of Industry Initiatives, blogged about IAB's new Native Advertising Task Force (over 50 member companies and over 60 individual participants) with its aim "to establish a framework for the native advertising space by putting forth a prospectus that clearly lays out today's 'native' landscape." And, IAB also kicked off a Content Marketing Task Force (with 25+ member companies and about the same number of individual participants). (Ad Week picked up on the ironies of IAB's attempts "to bring some clarity to the Babel-like confusion" by noting that "it's unclear if the latter [Content Marketing Task Force] is a cousin to or umbrella of the first [Native Advertising Task Force]." Cousin -- umbrella -- we can't even get our metaphors on the same page.

By the way -- no PR firms on either IAB task force.

IAB obviously hadn't read Forrester Research's Laura Ramos' blog from May 6th: "The Role of PR in Content Marketing and Thought Leadership." Ramos calls out the argument for PR to lead the content marketing charge: ". . . the advantages of PR to stimulate conversation, engage in two-way interactions, and develop interesting story lines that involve the intended audience are a natural fit for creating great marketing in this new digital world." Ramos gives kudos to Richard Edelman's evolving stance, most recently sketched out in his April 30th 6 A.M. blog post, "The New Look of Public Relations -- A Dissenting View." in which he discusses his agency's intent to "expand the remit of the public relations business . . . to take full advantage of the inherent advantages of PR, which are credibility, speed, two-way interaction and continuous story creation."

Edelman had set many PR people buzzing (some grumbling) earlier, back on January 7th, with his 6 A.M. blog post, "Paid Media -- A Change of Heart," in which he gingerly, but "unafraid," embraced the brave new world of paid content: "I can assure you that Edelman will be at the bleeding edge of aiming for the right thing, unafraid of the wrong thing."  (The "right thing" he refers to there, that he is edge-bleeding towards,  is "'own-able' insight" that is to be "co-produce[d] content with media companies.") (PRNewser's report made this sound a bit like going over to the Dark Side: "Edelman Switches Sides, Joins the 'Paid Content' Team.")

Presumably, all this doesn't mean PR is going the way of Buzzfeed.  (Does it?) In the meantime, however, you'll find the PR trades, the tip sheets, the boot camps and webinars are now providing non-stop, fully confident advice about how surely PR people can succeed wtth content marketing (I guess PR is ahead of the IAB after all, since advertising is only at the point of  forming task forces?).

This is the point at which the blogger (wisely, humbly) must write, "Time will tell."  But a last reflection: this current battle between advertising and PR for ownership of content marketing is coalescing as a stand-off between Money/Scale  vs. Righteousness (the much greater resources and infrastructure of advertising vs. the moral/authenticity claim of public relations). Was it ever so? Or is there some hint at a synthesis of a new institutional communications function that both demonstrably works and can have sustainable integrity?



This post is also published at bic-ccny.info, the blog for the new Master's of Professional Studies degree at the City College of New York, Media and Communication Arts Department.