PR spam crippled email but will marketers kill content?

I was fortunate enough to attend a very interesting conference last week on how PR is changing. Speaking were lots of brand marketers, as well as core PR types, all stating the move away from media relations to ‘brand journalism’. I enjoyed the conference and will even forgive the use of some cliché bingo terms such as ‘omnichannel’ and ‘content is king’.

What came across loud and clear was a sense that the word content is in danger of eating itself. The speakers at the conference understood this and central to their brand strategy was planning, listening and evaluating. I’ll name drop a few of the brands who deserve admiration, o2, MoneySupermarket and John Lewis.

Yet the danger persists. For every brand investing in research, relevance and evaluation, more will simply see ‘content’ as an arms race, focusing on the now and ‘likes’ or ‘RTs’ and never beyond that.

One of the first things modern PR practitioners should learn is engagement. The skill of researching a story and the relevant audience and channel is one that all should know but many don’t practice.

To put it bluntly, PR spam has crippled email as an effective tool for journalists. They have to shift through mountains of irrelevance to find the diamond in the rough (sorry, I watched Aladdin with my kids recently). As more brands turn to brand journalism and content marketing, the danger persists that lessons from the PR industry will not be learned, or that those outside PR will help create dead-end content.

And dead-end content is bad for everyone.

The definition of dead-end content is, I think, anything that doesn’t tell the next chapter of a brand story, inform the audience, or listen to an audience.  It isn’t measured in commercial terms, it is defined in simple ‘likes’ or some other nonsense. It is the antithesis of analytics and includes anything to do with cats, memes, Willy Wonka or ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. In short, hot garbage.

I believe dead-end content is dangerous as it infects timelines, feeds and ultimately attention-spans. In the same way journalists turned-off to PR emails, consumers and audiences will turn off to content from brands – because the good stuff will suffocate under a mountain of cat hair.

Yet people are fighting back. I don’t know who is behind the ‘Condescending Corporate Brand Page’ on Facebook, but I salute them. By calling poor content out to account, behaviours can be influenced.

Yet it’s a serious point and if PR people are to make the move to true content generation then they must impose strategy and evaluation, the industry must teach the lessons of what happened with email. And for those outside PR, lurking as ‘community managers’ or ‘content creators’, then you must have a strategy, listen, and evaluate. Otherwise your content will kill you and the internet will explode. Or was that wishful thinking?

Jonathan Welsh