Once upon a time, magazines, newspapers and TV channels were the marketplaces where brands could reach, inform and persuade consumers. While those channels are still legitimate avenues for marketing messages, the rapidly changing and increasingly fragmented media landscape has created a huge opportunity for brands to engage their customers directly and cost-effectively by adopting a publishing model.
As part of Social Media Week (disclosure: MWW Group is a sponsor), I had the honour of participating on the panel, “Brands as Publishers: From 360 Degrees to 365 Days of Engagement.” It was a lively discussion with fellow panelists Colin Drummon, Senior Partner and Head of Planning at Ogilvy West (@colindrummond), and Dan Burrier, Chief Innovation Officer of Ogilvy & Mather (@dburrier), on the changing role of the agency in a “Brand as Publisher” model. Here are just a few of the questions and points raised.
How did traditional PR prepare agencies for the publishing model? PR professionals were already hard-wired to move and react at high-speed while thinking long term. A typical day would find us waking up in the morning, scouring the news for any signs of crisis and monitoring the day’s hottest stories and themes in order to keep our pitches relevant. At the same time, we would maintain an eye toward each client’s long-term positing goals, focusing on ensuring that the daily work executed on their behalf was, in fact, driving us to those strategic objectives.
The new media landscape doesn’t really change that. We simply needed to speed up our monitoring and storytelling schedule, and instead of thinking on a day-to-day basis, we’re now on a minute-to-minute timetable. Of course, increased media fragmentation required an expansion of the types of communications channels we work with. As simplistic as it may sound, this is a good example as to why the shift to a more social mediascape has been a fairly natural evolution for PR professionals.
How do you deal with the large volume of content out there? A large volume of content should be perceived as an opportunity, not a challenge. The challenge would be having only a small volume of high-quality content. Instead, we have a large volume of low-quality, irrelevant content. How we can derive opportunity is by quickly cutting through the clutter. We need to locate the right audience with relevant, discussion-worthy content where the brand can be put in the right context.
How do you own topics? How do you win in this area? The key to the “Brand as Publisher” model is relevance. Having the most content around a topic does not win. Having the most relevant, discussion-worthy content does. This means content should having not only have meaning to both the brand and the audience in the long term, but it should also matter to the audience on a day-to-day basis. And it’s about quality, not quantity. If it’s the right content in the right media at the right time, the right conversation will then take over. And by “right content,” we mean interesting content – that can be anything from research findings to new product information or even your latest commercial. “Right content” must also hold up to scrutiny. Our PR teams always make sure our messages are backed up by verifiable facts and figures. Get caught fibbing and the brand is toast.
What skill sets are needed by professionals on these publishing-oriented teams? They need to be a jack of all trades, yet a master of one – meaning all team members must have a good understanding of the broad ecosystem, while each has one main area of expertise Essentially, all team members need to have a solid understanding about how newsrooms function, how content management systems work and how algorithms place content (such as in search engines). At the same time, they need to understand how consumers communicate both on and offline as well as how journalists choose which stories to write. Additionally, they need to be able to help create text, image and video-based content or manage creative teams while also grasping the basics of areas such as rights management. And they need to do all these things while keeping their eyes on the long-term strategic goals of the brand. Each individual team member must still maintain mastery over that one “trade” that defines their role on the team – such as being the media relations person, the copyrighter, the social media advocate, the events manager, the creative director and so on.
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