Of all the venerable questions (Paper or plastic? The chicken or the egg? Ginger or Mary Ann?) the one that marketers struggle with most is whether to invest marketing dollars in advertising or public relations.
Driving awareness through traditional advertising
Not all that long ago, the answer was clear-cut. If you needed a campaign to drive awareness by hitting target audiences with a sustained frequency, then advertising was the way to go. Your only limit to reaching your prospective buyers was the depth of your pockets, and if they were deep enough, you could carpet bomb the airwaves about your grand opening or fill pages in print and online with ads touting your new product.
On the other hand, if your marketing challenge was one of credibility—say your new product is revolutionary or needs some hand-holding to explain just how it works—then public relations was likely a better fit. Story placements in key outlets not only gave you the space to go into granular detail about the magic of your product or service, including some hosannas from happy clients, but they also provided that third-party validation that can give you instant legitimacy.
More than media relations
There are, of course, marketers who go down both roads, reaping the benefits of a dual (integrated) strategy, one discipline helping to amplify the other. For those who can’t afford both advertising and PR and need to opt for one or the other, the choices today are not as straightforward.
That’s largely because PR has expanded its tool kit to include tactics that enable us to tell our clients’ stories on an ongoing, sustainable basis. Advertisers no longer have a monopoly on frequency or even reach. Nor on the ability to craft the perfect message. Nor on the capacity to precisely target key demographics.
PR pros, expert storytellers that we are, have now embraced content programs as one of the most effective platforms for telling those stories, delivering messaging that establishes credibility and lines of expertise.
The case for content marketing
Let’s say you run a local fitness center, and you not only are looking to raise your profile but give prospective customers a taste of the kind of experience and benefits they would get from enrolling. Come to a PR pro in the “old days,” and he or she could work with you on a story placement in the local business or even lifestyle section of the local paper, perhaps pen a regular fitness column now and again and put some PR muscle behind events, such as the grand opening of a new location.
Maybe a PR pro could find a place in the local business publication for a feature on the founder’s brilliant business acumen. Beyond that, it would be a considerable challenge to drive a sustained earned media campaign, especially given the local nature of the company.
Content marketing is different. First, a PR pro can create content on all kinds of facets of a business. various training programs, advice on nutrition and diet, profiles of personal trainers, client success stories and tons of before-and-after photos of toned up members.
Creating that content is just the first step. PR pros also can target that content on social media platforms—like Facebook and Instagram—to audience demographics that are most likely to be members using social media advertising. Potential customers will find a regular stream of content, perhaps two to three times a week, that reminds them that it’s not only a good idea to keep healthy and fit, but that your fitness center is a place that can make that happen.
This tactic is actually a hybrid of PR and advertising, but it’s part and parcel to how PR pros go about executing an effective content program. You might even be successful in generating some of those traditional media placements, which you can also share on social platforms.
Next time you are contemplating advertising or public relations, think of PR as more than simply earned media. Content marketing programs can now give you the frequency and targeting that make us just as effective as traditional advertising, and for a much lower cost.