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Pondering the future of PR in the content age

What’s the role of PR in the content marketing age? That’s the question I was left with following this morning’s highly enjoyable event hosted by the PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) at the offices of Hudson Sadler in Smithfields.

I had been privileged to be asked to join an expert and august panel of speakers, all of which had quite different perspectives on the B2B media industry, and the growing importance of content in B2B marketing more generally.


The panel was expertly moderated by Mike Maynard of Napier PR (pictured, standing) and I’ve picked out some of the most memorable points made by those involved below:

John Barnes, CEO of publishing giant Incisive Media, (third from right) was candid about the scale of his organisation’s content marketing operations – the audience was amused by what he described as ‘Carluccio content’, which he explained had “the maximum flavour with the minimum amount of ingredients”.

Andrew Hirsch of publishers John Brown (far left) and the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA), told us that B2B publishers needed to invest more in design and that PR agencies should join the APA in order to get more traction as content producers.

Dickon Ross, editor of IET, (second from left) made the point that publishers have made great strides to evolve in the digital age, and that as well as educating and informing their audience, part of their responsibilities to was to entertain them – something increasingly important given the growing level of content ‘noise’, particularly from brand owned media.

Andrew Thomas, publishing editor of Cravenhill Publishing, (second from right) which produces ‘Communicate’ magazine, amongst other things, made the point that just as publishers have had a tough time throughout the recession, so have PRs and PR agencies. They have been forced to reinvent themselves in a difficult time, but the role for them wasn’t entirely clear in today’s environment.

I think Andrew hit the nail on the head: on one hand, the potential opportunities for B2B PR agencies to work with clients has increased dramatically in the content age, with brands demanding content for things like inbound marketing and demand generation.

However, on the other, the disappearance or reinvention of so many B2B publications has lessened the opportunities to do the traditional things like feature interviews etc. Today, it feels like the boundaries of what constitutes PR are more blurred than ever, and depending on your point of view, this can be both an opportunity and a threat. Whilst the skills may be more widely applicable, and potentially more resonant, I wonder if the terminology or description, like so many in marketing, is increasingly redundant.

PR has always had a slightly awkward and tangential relationship with the rest of the marketing function – if the opportunity exists for it to become more aligned, and dovetail better with other functions, will all sides embrace it?

Be that as it may, it was certainly a useful event, and the audience seemed to appreciate it, so well done to the PRCA for organising it, and thanks for the invitation to participate.