This week we bring you a guest post from Dell’s managing editor, the incomparable Ms. Stephanie Losee. Ms. Losee has been leading the brand journalism/content marketing charge for quite some time, so it only seemed fitting that we turn her loose on two of our favorite CEOs. We hope you enjoy this illuminating exchange!
How much longer are PR teams going to talk about “getting a seat at the table” of their organizations’ leadership? Steve Sachs, CEO of OneSpot, and Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, CEO of AirPR are trying to put an end to that conversation. Both companies have launched platforms that attempt to give communications teams the numbers they need to prove their value once and for all.
Stephanie Losee: What do your platforms do? How do they compare to each other?
Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer: AirPR is a technology platform to increase and measure PR performance. We currently have two products. Marketplace matches technology companies and innovative brands with the top PR professionals and small ﬁrms in the country. AirPR’s ﬁrst-to-market measurement solution, Analyst, uses machine learning and proprietary technology to measure the ROI of PR. The product analyzes digital media activities from trafﬁc to conversion to projected and/or actual revenue in addition to a variety of factors about your brand.
Steve Sachs: OneSpot is a content advertising platform. Many brands have done a great job of creating incredibly valuable, beautiful content, but they often find it’s extraordinarily difficult to get it in front of the right people. We help brands build meaningful audiences for their owned and earned content to drive business results by promoting their content in a very unique way. Our specialty is not just distributing content, but serially placing multiple pieces of content in front of the same user, individually targeted to their demonstrated interests. We call this capability Content Sequencing, and it’s something that only we offer. We’re complementary to AirPR in that we’re focused more on content distribution and sequencing.
SL: Which problem is your platform trying to solve?
SS: Brands are transforming themselves into publishers and starting to produce a ton of content, but they’re finding it’s extremely challenging to get people to check it out or engage with it at scale. We help brands build an audience by converting their content into online ad creative and delivering it programmatically, wherever the target consumer may be, i.e. virtually anywhere an online ad can be served.
The fundamental problem we’re solving is one of distribution, but when brands start to peel the onion they quickly learn that “spray and pray” will only get you so far. That’s where we step in with a more data-driven solution that’s geared towards building relationships, not just “views”.
SFM: In general, the PR industry lacks technological innovation, which means that until recently, it has lacked the data necessary to prove its value. AirPR applies technology in ways that reduce inefficiencies.
Marketplace provides a streamlined, vetted resource for companies looking for a proven PR firm or independent professional within the $3K to $10K budget range. Analyst gives brands and companies insight into what’s moving the needle in terms of traffic, conversion, organic search, and even revenue for their businesses. The problem we are solving has to do with attribution; until Analyst, a CMO, VP of Marketing, or communications executive didn’t know the amount of actual revenue generated from PR, only from advertising.
SL: We are in the midst of a major shift in the communications industry. Never before have we seen social media, content, media relations, and analytics connect to such a degree. How is this shift affecting PR and where are the new areas of opportunity?
SFM: Marketing used to consist solely of advertising and PR. Now, underneath those are the worlds of social media, content marketing, influencer relations, media relations and more. PR needs to focus on its strengths: communicating a company’s message, building compelling content, and influencing media to tell stories. Advertising needs to focus on its strengths, which are targeted audience reach and driving mass brand awareness. The two need to work together to create stronger connective tissue across all disciplines.
One new area of opportunity that exists is in native advertising, a form of advertising in which a brand’s content is published in line with a publisher’s feed and is labeled as sponsored. PR has always understood journalism best. PR needs to take what it excels at and work with the marketing department to craft and execute campaigns, A/B test messages and pieces of content, and use analytics to optimize and improve the outcomes.
SL: Publishers are becoming branded content curators and brands are becoming publishers whether they like it or not. Publishers benefit from a new pay model. What will content do for brands?
SFM: Great content marketing allows brands to branch out from their traditional media strategy and give customers more of what they love: a well-crafted argument that is valuable to them. Potential customers want to read articles that offer answers, make them smarter, or provoke an emotional reaction. If you can define a problem and then solve it, you have a happy reader. If you also happen to sell software that resolves an issue, you can be sure they will be interested to learn more. Nothing is more effective than information provided as a service by a company that isn’t explicitly trying to sell you something. It makes you want what they have to offer even more.
SS: For brands, your content doesn’t mean much if no one actually sees it. The strength of your content marketing efforts depends on the strength of its marketing and distribution plan. Going viral and good SEO are goals, but they don’t make a strategy. The best content marketers are starting with the end objectives in mind and then working backwards through measurement, distribution, and creation of content to fulfill those objectives.
SL: Steve, can you talk about the contrast between the motivations behind content marketing and the actual results? What are three steps brands can take to close this gap?
SS: Much of that gap has to do with consumers running away from interruptive advertising and preferring to experience a brand through thoughtful content. That engagement sounds great, but for most brands it’s been elusive so far, with marketers struggling to find a return on their content marketing efforts. Steps to close this gap are to start with clearly articulated brand objectives, have a distribution plan before creating content, and tie your online metrics back to business KPIs.
SL: Native advertising is in its early days, but there’s no denying its impact. The practice blends owned, earned and paid media. What impact do you see this having on PR and marketing strategies and where is it headed?
SFM: Owned media is the creative foundation of native advertising. It’s about designing messaging whose purpose is to attract rather than disrupt. Native advertising is more about content (storytelling) than advertising (me, me me!). If PR can use its content marketing strategy to identify which owned media is generating the most interest from earned media, PR will then be able to make more informed decisions about paid media with a scale and relevance never before seen.
SL: In a perfect business world, how would you see content marketing, content targeting, and PR interacting?
SS: In a perfect world, content marketing would be radically more audience-centric than brand-centric. This would encourage marketers to develop an appetite for data-driven content targeting, serving content to the right person at the precise moment when that content would be most useful. Relative to PR, brands should better connect their great press visibility with their other online efforts to take advantage of the resulting earned media reach.
SFM: Utopia would include a content person, an analytics person, and an execution/marketing person. Together, they form a trifecta capable of tackling every marketing interaction: social, native, PR, content marketing, re-targeting, and so on.
After the content is published (either on owned or earned channels) you can evaluate the performance metrics based on your business objectives. You can leverage the generated insights from the analysis to target to the correct audience and restart the process, and even A/B test and optimize throughout this process.
SL: Where does measurement fit in to all of this? How far has it come and how far does it need to go in order to best inform brands’ strategies?
SFM: Without measurement, you cannot effectively iterate and improve. You have to rely on gut instinct, which only takes you so far. Unfortunately, if you are competing against others who have data-generated insights, you are more likely to be overtaken by your competition. Measurement is the bridge for a symbiotic cross-functional relationship. Without it, it is extremely difficult to effectively achieve business objectives and justify your strategy.
SL: Besides creating quality content, what is some advice you can give to entrepreneurs and business owners who are navigating this new PR/marketing frontier?
SS: My advice: Stop. Before you invest the time, expense, and energy in creating that next glorious video, blog or ebook, take a breath. Think about what you want to happen. What’s the business objective? How will you measure whether you met the objective? How, where and when will your intended audience be exposed to the content? Answering these questions before hitting the “post” button is what will make the difference between trying content marketing and succeeding with it.
SFM: Look to cross-functional solutions. Native advertising is a great one and you will be much effective if your advertising and PR teams work together. PR conceives/commissions content, advertising executes it, and together they leapfrog the competition that has a background in only one of those key elements.
Follow Stephanie Losee → @slosee
Follow Steve Sachs → @stevenmsachs
Follow Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer → @sharamfm