How many discussions or blog posts about marketing have you seen lately that have not referenced either social media or content marketing in some way?  Just like pop culture, our industry has hot trends: recently, the hot topics in marketing are social media and content marketing. Now, social has been a marketing trend for the last 5 years (if you’re interested in social marketing topics, check out our social media blog), but most of us discuss “content marketing” as though it’s a brand new discipline.


The truth is “content marketing” isn’t new at all. It’s possible that many PR professionals have been content marketers for quite some time, but don’t realize it because we didn’t call it “content marketing” back in the day.  In the past 5-8 years, most of us have been trying to figure out how to use corporate blogs and social media channels in our PR programs.  Decoded in 2013 terms, we were struggling to understand the practical uses of earned and owned media in PR.

These days, a lot of marketers like to neatly package content marketing and PR into the following distinct categories:

  • PR is earned media
  • Content is owned media.


And while I understand where these buckets came from, I have to disagree.  These definitions are far too narrow and mistakenly box content marketing and PR into separate disciplines within marketing.


5 Content Marketing and PR parallels

  • 1. Storytelling At their cores, content marketing and PR are both storytelling disciplines. In PR, our goal is to inform our public about our product, company etc. through media. We do this by crafting a story, aka pitch, in a manner that is so compelling that the media tells the story through their channel.  This is why the media is earned: we don’t pay for it, but we do have to work for it with well-crafted pitches to the right reporters at the right time.  (For more on creating better pitches, see a recent post) In content marketing we are doing the same thing: we are telling stories that our public will want to consume.


So with the core being the same, the main differentiators seems to be distribution channel.  Or is it?


  • 2. Distribution Channel Traditional PR was mostly conducted through earned media via press releases, events and the like, whereas content marketing generally uses social media channels and blogs to get the message out. While PR still employs the traditional methods, more often than not modern PR pros are using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to further their reach and to connect with journalists.


So both are story-telling disciplines, and they use the same distribution channels.  But don’t they require different talent to be successful?


  • 3. Requires Writers When was the last time you read a job posting for a PR pro that didn’t list “superb writing skills” or similar as a requirement? PR pros must be fantastic communicators and writing is at the top of the list. And we all know content marketers must be great writers: the most prevalent content being turned out these days is in the written form.


So far, that’s three for three.   But you’ll often hear people say that PR is focused on earned media and content is focused on owned media.  This is true, sort of…


  • 4. Lead to Earned Media We know PR is (mostly) about gaining earned media. Content marketing is often pegged as owned media because it uses owned media as its initial distribution channel (i.e. your company’s own Facebook page). That said, content marketing also looks to gain earned media as a way to further its message: content that isn’t shared socially is long-format advertising, and that’s not social marketing (for more on this, check out our post on social dialogue marketing).  For example, when content posts a blog story, it doesn’t end there. Sure, they are hoping it will have the proper SEO to drive traffic through search engines, but the secondary goal is for the piece of content to go viral. If content goes viral is it shared across social, back linked and at times picked up and re-posted by other bloggers – aka earned media.


Hmm… So both disciplines have the same storytelling and distribution goals, require talented writers, and aim to gain earned media. So what about the end goal?


  • 5. End Goal In the end, both content marketing and PR have the same business goals: to drive traffic, impact awareness and ultimately move a prospective customer through the customer purchase funnel.  Each may feed the funnel at different stages, but both have funnel aspirations.


While this list is not complete, I think it makes the point that there are many parallels between content marketing and PR.  When there are so many core similarities between two disciplines that are often looked as a separate efforts, the bigger question is where these disciplines will continue to converge within the marketing organization overall. I wouldn’t make the leap to claiming PR should always own content marketing on the org chart, but I would make the argument that the two should work in tandem. After all, an integrated marketing team will always be more successful than a segmented team.