- As brand publishing grows in popularity, PR may find it needs to retool itself.
- And for journalists who have for years looked at PR as an alternate career option, the rise of content initiatives can mean new opportunities
The growth of brand publishing may end up forcing a diminished role for PR, both in terms of money and strategic focus, as the levers of traditional PR no longer work as well as they used to.
The relationship between PR and brand publishing is an evolving one. Companies have for years spent money on PR in an effort to, to borrow a term, “earn” media. But the reality was few were ever able to rightfully earn that attention beyond a certain point anyway. Journalists, after all, gravitate instinctively to whatever topics or issues have cultural relevance, or feed into the zeitgeist at any given moment.
For PR in general, it’s always been a race, a dash to get to the finish line and get someone’s attention while fighting a veritable tsunami of competition. There is so much “news” – launches and announcements abound – that media simply can’t and won’t cover it. This context was a foundation for the rise in interest for brand-funded content – if media won’t cover us, we’ll cover ourselves. And owning a direct relationship with an audience is a customer acquisition play, a way to acquire customers and retain them much more cheaply and for longer.
This puts traditional PR in a difficult spot. For at least two companies we’ve worked with, media relations PR budgets are now gone. That money is now earmarked for publishing projects, used to stand up a new team and build an editorial publication.
In a couple of other cases, PR remains an important part of the brand’s marketing strategy. If everything is PR, to borrow a misattributed Orwellian quote, then brand publishing can and often does end up living inside a company’s public relations and communications function. It is housed alongside other capabilities, such as crisis communications, and works in tandem with functions like internal employee communications. In this case, brand publishing can work horizontally across these vertical functions, supporting various marketing endeavors where and if it makes sense.
In some cases, PR can work in support of brand publishing. Some brand publishers are creating work of such high quality that it is news in itself; in other cases, the stories they’re producing are causing the media to sit up and take an interest, which means the publishing is supplanting the PR to become more of a “pull” function.
This also has some effects on how brand publishing teams are staffed, and the impact on the media industry. The journalist-to-PR lifecycle is well known. Particularly inside B2B media circles, there is a certain understanding that at least half, if not more, of your peers, particularly those with more experience, will eventually end up inside the companies they used to cover. Nine times out of ten, those jobs tend to be inside communications functions, doing the hard work of selling a company’s story to journalists.
There are plenty of terms for this phenomenon, including the unfair “moving to the dark side” characterization. But the fact is that PR often, if not always, will pay better, and may even be day-to-day easier and less stressful for burnt-out reporters who can’t take another deadline. Plus, there is the obvious satisfaction in being able to use your knowledge about how reporters work to use in a different way – and make an impact.
Still, for many, it never sat quite right that they were now in the business of pitching the stories they used to write.
This is why the growth of brand publishing has been so attractive to so many reporters. Increasingly, as I’ve been talking to both journalists looking to move on from journalism as well as recruiters specializing in content and editorial, I’ve noted a growing interest from many in making a move into brand publishing roles – working inside newsrooms, still, but those funded by brands. Instead of PR, it feels like a more organic and attractive move for many – they still get to write and even report, but do so in service of a completely different business model.
It is complicated and nuanced enough of an issue to not proclaim PR is dead – that would be too simplistic. But in a reality where content is fast becoming a differentiating factor for companies, the traditional levers of PR may no longer work, which could mean that as brand publishing grows, PR and communications may get a much-needed retooling as well.
For help and direction implementing the steps and requirements needed to build successful brand publishing operations, see the Brand Publishing Toolkit for comprehensive and actionable guides, strategic insights and practical resources.