While branded content is growing in popularity among marketers, there are few PR agencies on the shortlists for this year’s International Content Marketing Awards. Gorkana asks agency experts if the sector is slow to take advantage of branded content and why it might be falling behind.
Some 73 agencies of different disciplines are shortlisted in the International Content Marketing Awards for their work in 2016, yet there are only three PR-focused agencies who have made the cut; Remarkable, Good Relations and Finn.
While content is increasingly a feature of PR campaigns and a focus of investment – shown by agencies such as Good Relations and Golin that have created content divisions – it calls into question whether PR is getting recognition in the area.
But, as Andrew Canter, CEO at Branded Content Marketing Association, put it as he wrote for Gorkana this week: ‘the PR industry is extremely well placed to take advantage of what branded content can offer to brands.’
PR needs to take advantage of a content-led approach
Remarkable started as a PR agency and is now a nominee on the awards list for its ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign. Rhiannon Thompson, director at the agency, says she is not surprised to see so few PR-focused agencies on the list.
“Not all have realised the opportunity that developing a content-centric approach brings to the PR world, nor have some embraced a new way of working which shifts PR from the dark ages of lunches and press releases to creating valuable content that is so compelling people want to share it; be that journalists, bloggers, key influencers or, the ever powerful, recommendation from a friend,” she adds.
Thompson says she finds this frustrating as the approach to content strategy should mirror that of PR. “Everything starts with a good story to be told, it’s just the way we package, distribute and encourage others to engage with that material which shifts it from a pure-play PR offering to a content award winner.”
PRs are storytellers but have not traditionally ‘made things’
PRs are catching up to being publishers of content as well as storytellers, according to Wes West, creative content lead at Bottle.
“The lines between advertising, PR, marketing and digital are continuing to blur and content is critical to all of these sectors. Advertising, marketing and digital agencies have always made things as part of their offering. PR work in the past has been more ephemeral and less tangible, which may explain why it’s been slower to catch up – but I think that will change soon,” he adds.
In the same vain Mark Flanagan, senior partner for content and digital strategy at Portland, says many PRs are failing to realise that a lot of what they do already is content marketing.
“It could be that a lot of PRs don’t recognise what they do as ‘content marketing’. At Portland, we create a lot of content for reputation management or public affairs campaigns that might not be seen as marketing.
“Many of these award nominations might be for consumer marketing campaigns that drive huge numbers in terms of audiences – whereas we might be targeting a small number of influencers who can affect a decision. That disparity might put off many corporate agencies,” he adds.
The industry is evolving and gaining content expertise
Good Relations is also on the short-list for its work with Pilsner Urquell. Robert Anderson, executive director of content marketing and digital strategy at the agency, says recognising the changing landscape of PR has led to the agency’s success.
“We made a call several years ago to develop a best in class content offering because we could see the world of communications and marketing was moving in that direction. We knew we had to be great at content as well as the media relations work, and that the two had to be fully integrated.
“Producing great content is the coming together of multiple skillsets – strategy and creativity, production and distribution. Typically PRs have been generalists, rather than specialists, but I think that’s changing as the industry evolves,” he explains.