PR agencies innovate with content marketing
Marketing Content Strategy

The PR Evolution: Agencies Embrace Digital Content for Brand Journalism

Information consumption habits have drastically changed from 10 years ago. People no longer turn to print or traditional news outlets for information about products or services; these people head straight to the brands for up-to-the minute news updates.

The Pew Research Center’s “The State of the News Media 2013” found that 31 percent of Americans have deserted news outlets because they have noticed fewer articles going to press. If this trend continues, traditional publications and those brands that have relied on the reach of print to educate consumers will have to identify new outreach opportunities such as original content creation.

Brands have also noticed the weakening presence of print, and many have begun their own content writing programs to keep conversations going with consumers. According to Mynewsdesk, 98 percent of surveyed brands have their own newsrooms. Businesses use these hubs to keep site visitors and customers updated on brand news like new product launches, rounds of investment, and upcoming events. Unfortunately, 35 percent of these brands allow their newsrooms to grow stale, failing to update frequently enough for them to have an impact.

The bottom line: Most brands do not have the resources or skill sets in content writing to understand how to tell a complete and ongoing story about their markets, products or services. Now, they can pivot and invest in digital resources, hiring new staff to create an internal editorial powerhouse to fuel awareness, or they can turn to agencies that have made these investments already and understand what it takes to survive online today.

This is why public relations is poised to own content marketing.

Consumers love to align themselves with the brands that produce the products they use every day, but those brands struggle to align themselves with their customers’ information and entertainment needs.

In the past, businesses relied on their PR agencies to “place” stories that create brand awareness. With established relationships with journalists, these agencies would act as intermediaries between the brands and media outlets.  However, with the squeeze on traditional media and rise of new media, a trend toward disintermediation is growing, with the PR agency or middle man, potentially being cut out of the equation. So, if brands now have the ability to communicate directly with the consumer, what value add do PR agencies provide?

Some of today’s innovative PR agencies have predicted this industry evolution and already shifted their business models toward inbound marketing. Leaders like Edelman, Waggener Edstrom, and Ruder Finn have all introduced editorially driven newsrooms that help clients create owned media channels that build online communities. Complementing their traditional PR practices, many shops advise their clients to also focus on the traffic they can drive to their own websites with original content creation. That’s not to say traditional PR is out—it’s not. But brands must have sticky landing pages and engaging original content on their websites if they expect to establish a high frequency of returning site visitors via search, social, or email.

In essence, PR agencies are no longer the middlemen. They are the fuel behind companies’ branded newsrooms. Agency innovators across the PR space are developing processes to incorporate content marketing into their client services, and in most cases it’s a great fit. PR has also focused on telling great stories, and now it has the chance to own the digital content movement, too. Here’s a look at three agencies introducing newsroom offerings to help their clients build real relationships with their customers.


The widely successful PR agency Edelman prides itself on innovation. A recent profile of the company’s growth and of its fearless leader Richard Edelman published by The Holmes Report highlighted the organizations embraced paranoia—it keeps the creative staff fresh.

In line with this method of madness, Edelman announced in October 2013 that it would support the growth of its Creative Newsroom by hiring senior members from the digital media, TV, and traditional ad agency worlds. The solution aims to help clients develop strategies that allow them to respond to real-time events with planned, brand-centric content. Brands working with Edelman would be able to inject themselves in ongoing social chatter, humanizing the company, and increasing awareness among new markets.

In an official press release, President and CEO of Edelman U.S. Mark Hass said, “Content and storytelling are at the heart of how we help our clients build meaningful relationships with their audiences.”

Edelman understands that content is what helps brands create lasting relationships with customers, so it pivoted to provide their clients with the necessary marketing support.

Waggener Edstrom

Waggener Edstrom Worldwide understood that in order to provide clients with innovative services it needed to introduce a content marketing solution with proven ROI capabilities. As a result of extensive market research, as shown in its “The Reality of Content Marketing” report, the agency is positioned to help its clients become stronger storytellers.

Along with other digital influence services such as discovery research and community development, Waggener Edstrom includes top-notch content creation and storytelling capabilities in its arsenal of PR tools.

Content marketing allows organizations to create narratives that motivate and influence conversations with key audiences. Because PR is loosely based around the art of creative storytelling, a transition to inbound, digital marketing is a seamless fit, and Waggener Edstrom is an example of a company investing in the future of online communications.

Ruder Finn

Smaller, creative PR shops have also adopted content for influencer and inbound marketing solutions. In October 2013, Skyword’s Ruben Sanchez spoke with Ruder Finn’s Chief Digital Officer Scott Schneider to learn how RFI Studios, the global digital arm of Ruder Finn, approached content creation. Read the full interview here.

Schneider notes in the interview that technology will continue to drive the new ways people communicate. He surmises that the agencies that understand tech trends before they take place will be at a significant advantage in the marketplace. This could explain why Ruder Finn expanded to introduce a digital-first studio, and why content marketing appealed to the decision makers at the PR firm.

As big data, social media, native advertising, and editorial marketing become crucial components to customer engagement, agencies have to become digital media masters. Ruder Finn took this opportunity to invest in the future of content, and it will continue to help its clients innovate while the competition remains dormant.

Is Content the Future of PR?

Nothing grabs a person’s attention like a well-told story, and nothing loses it like a miscommunicated message. As brands venture further into the editorial marketing world, which is by no means a new practice, they’ll require partners to guide them in the right direction. Businesses aren’t looking for partners to help figure out what story to tell; they’re looking for help on how and where to communicate those core messages. That’s where the proven expertise of PR comes into play, and how industry leading agencies have positioned their digital services in the market. It’s now just a matter of seeing which shops seize the opportunity to own content marketing for good.

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