Study: Why and how PR pros can dominate content marketing

PR isn’t just grabbing coverage for your organization or client. Along with other relationship-building tactics, content opportunities can mean much for the industry.


The growing trend of content marketing and native advertising isn’t just for the Don Drapers of the world.

As PR pros continue to work closely with their marketing counterparts—and efforts move more and more to online platforms—communicators have a chance to make a splash for their clients by embracing content creation.

Adyoulike surveyed execs at 75 of the UK’s top public relations agencies and found that 88 percent see native advertising as a PR opportunity.

It’s not just a creative opportunity, either: 75 percent said PR pros are brands’ best choice to create and distribute sponsored content.

Although PR execs see native advertising as an opportunity for communicators, only half of the agencies surveyed offer sponsored content services—and only 19 percent are offering it in the near future.

The likely reason for the discrepancy is that PR pros are having a hard time bridging traditional PR tactics with sponsored content.

Adyoulike reported that 67 percent of senior PR pros have concerns about the transparency behind native advertising and 40 percent worry that embracing the tactic “devalues traditional media coverage.” Only 38 percent feel “very confident” that they can explain native advertising to clients.

PR’s opportunity with content marketing

PR pros who can make the leap stand to gain more clients—and might see their campaign budgets increase, says Adyoulike’s managing director, Francis Turner.

“With complete transparency and understanding, PR agencies can use native [advertising] to strengthen their client relationships, make their hard-earned media coverage stretch even further and even gain access to previously untapped content [marketing] budgets,” Turner says.

“Those who are doing so already or plan to kick off native campaigns in the near future are undoubtedly getting a leg up on the competition,” Turner adds.

If you’re still nervous about native advertising, bulk up your skills—and your resume—by working on content marketing campaigns.

PR pros who have experience creating and sharing content online are not only more likely to get considered for a job opening, but also can develop the skill set necessary to creating some of the industry’s best campaigns.

RELATED: Eradicate PR, marketing and social silos with content marketing that boosts ROI.

More than half of the top 20 marketing campaigns in 2016’s Warc 100 used digital channels to spread their messages.

With content, keep it simple

Content marketing pieces don’t have to be complicated, either. Though you should focus on storytelling and engaging your audience, a recent study from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland reveals that simplicity wins.

Researchers tested three types of ads—both in labs and online—and analyzed the reactions of test subjects at various exposure times (from 100 milliseconds to 30 seconds).

The study found that positive reviews had “little connection to visual appeal, visual complexity or the ratio of text to image.”

“A lot of advertising is being tested over fairly long exposures—several seconds, or even 10 to 20 seconds,” says Michel Wedel, professor and PepsiCo chair in consumer science at the Smith School. “The problem is that ads that do well in that scenario may not do well in short exposures.”

Wedel says complex ads—also called “false-front ads”—that require the viewer to decode the message or reference can perform poorly online.

The study cites a Pepsi Light ad that depicts a model spritzing it on her like perfume. At first glance, it looks like a beauty product. The viewer then must glean that instead of a fragrance, it’s a “sexy drink”—and the image doesn’t convey the true purpose of the product. Audiences that view ads for milliseconds won’t get the clever twist.

Wedel says that though such ads are initially appealing, many viewers like them less once they interpret the marketing message. “We find very little justification for false-front ads,” Wedel said. “People don’t like to be duped.”

The study’s results shouldn’t discourage PR and marketing pros from being innovative, however. Rather, be aware that you may grab a viewer’s attention for just an instant. Use that time wisely.

“We aren’t saying that ad agencies shouldn’t be creative anymore,” Wedel says. “There are some contexts when you can be sure an ad will be viewed with great attentiveness, like the Super Bowl. But for online banner ads, for example, advertisers should realize that they’ll have only a tenth of a second of a viewer’s attention, if that. And so they should stick to the basics: What’s the product? And what’s the brand?”

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