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Content is King and You Can Be Too: The Convergence of PR and Journalism


We’ve known for years that traditional journalism, as a career opportunity, is contracting. The shift to Internet-based publication has made it difficult for newspapers and magazines to monetize readership, and the industry has suffered as a result. However, getting less attention is the fact that there is still a large and growing demand for journalism skills.

Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality online content intended to build trust and community among your brand’s target audience – through all stages of the purchase cycle – and to establish your brand as an industry thought leader. To be successful, companies need great content. This is where journalism skills come in: To create great content, companies need great writers and researchers.

Content marketing is being rapidly adopted in all kinds of industries. And as more content is being created, it’s becoming more difficult for each brand to make its voice heard above the noise. Your great content needs to appear in all the right places, be shared on social media and get links and mentions in blog posts and articles. To do this, you need the help of another rapidly changing profession: public relations (PR). There is a growing demand for PR professionals whose outreach skills can cut through the noise and promote great content.

As a result of content marketing’s growing prominence, the roles and functions of PR and journalism as we know them are not only changing, but converging. In today’s digitally-driven environment, content is king – and you can be, too.

The Death of Journalism?

Newsrooms across the country have been closing their doors and laying off staff: to the tune of 25 percent since 2000. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of journalism jobs will decline by another six percent between 2010 and 2020. Meanwhile, the number of PR specialist and manager jobs rose nearly 63 percent between 2000 and 2010, and between 2010 and 2020, it will see another 21 percent increase.

Does this mean journalism is dying?

Not exactly. The drop in traditional journalism positions coincides with the rise in PR, marketing and advertising positions for a reason: The lines between these fields are being blurred. Marketing and PR departments are starting to function like newsrooms, and journalists are being recruited to these new, “hybrid” roles.

Job opportunities for traditional journalists may be dwindling in numbers. But increasingly, journalists and PR people are being reborn as content marketers – the BLS just doesn’t include this job title in its reports yet.

To get a more accurate picture, we did a quick search on Craigslist for some of the most common job titles in journalism, PR and content marketing. We searched New York City, as it is one of the largest job markets in the US. Our findings back up the trend towards content marketing:

The Birth of the Content Marketer

At the University of North Carolina, up to 70 percent of students in the School of Journalism are actually majoring in PR and advertising. And everything under this academic roof is changing. In the past, journalism graduates almost exclusively pursued careers at magazines and newspapers, while PR graduates sought jobs at PR firms or advertising agencies. Today, both are being hired as content marketers by companies in almost every industry. Brands from Apple to MTV now have an editorial staff, and publications such as The Atlantic now create ads for other companies.

“This is where the term ‘content marketer’ is being born,” says Taylor Aldredge, PR spokesperson at virtual phone system provider Grasshopper. “Your job is to come up with the material as a resource expert, then promote it as if you were public relations specialist.”

As brands transform their marketing departments into content marketing departments, the new roles that are created merge traditional PR and journalism functions. Here, journalists don’t stick to one beat or one medium; in fact, they may cover all of them at once. They may also do their own publicity: writing blog posts and sharing them through social media, or Tweeting breaking news and information. Conversely, PR people often write news and announcements that reach readers directly through these same online forums.

A typical content marketing department functions like an editorial department, yet still promotes a brand: Journalists are hired to craft thoughtful messaging that drives sales, but still adheres to the styles and standards of traditional reporting. Some call these new recruits content marketers; some call them “brand journalists.” Whatever you call them, they are hired because they possess the most important skill of all for effective content marketing: good writing.

It’s Story Time

“The core to SEO, social media and online lead generation,” says Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, “is amazing storytelling.”

Chances are, the story your content is telling has been told before. To get consumers’ attention, your content must be compelling enough to stand out above the millions of other posts and pages being created online by everyone from teenagers to The New York Times. And it must be authoritative enough to build a loyal brand following.

Amber Newman, Sr. Manager of Marketing Communications for ShoreTel's Cloud Division, described how her company recruited a team of journalists to produce regular, high-quality online content. But they’re not writing about ShoreTel’s products. They’re writing about business and technology. This is the essence of content marketing: By positioning the brand as a thought leader that consistently provides well-written, useful information on relevant subjects, customers will come to trust the brand – and when those customers need a new phone system, they will already be engaged with the company, giving ShoreTel an opportunity to market to them.

Ben Billingsley, partner at digital communications agency HORN, was also successful in hiring journalists to staff their new content marketing team. Chosen for their great writing, researching and reporting skills, the team helps with everything from story ideas to social media to building thought leadership: Whether it’s a full-length article or a Facebook post, Billingsley says, “the credibility and quality of the content is absolutely key.” The team’s content marketing strategies are now used in all of the agency’s accounts.

Aldredge puts it plain and simple: “It doesn't matter what your role is – journalist, content marketer or PR specialist. You NEED to produce awesome stuff. If you want more eyes on you than the bigger companies or the bigger media outlets, then get your content up to speed.”

PR is Changing, Too

Journalism roles aren’t the only ones changing – traditional PR roles are changing, too. There is still a place for them, but increasingly, effective outreach and marketing is more about SEO and social media distribution than pure press coverage.

“There is still a need at the high end of the market,” says Ross Hudgens, founder of Siege Media, for businesses “to have specialized connections with the big publications that will really move the needle.” But for the most part, going forward, “you won't really be able to tell a PR [person], journalist or content marketer from one another, because they all will end up doing very similar things.”

In the past, a PR person would send a press releases to the big media outlets, and reach out to journalists to provide write-ups and articles. Today, this kind of simple exposure isn’t enough: Shares, “likes,” links, Tweets and mentions are needed to effectively reach target audiences. As a result, many PR departments have either changed the way they use press releases – e.g., as a driver for SEO – or done away with them altogether, opting instead to use email or social media to keep in touch with journalists and the media.

Organizations now use Twitter to break news versus a press release,” says Matt Braun, Director of Public Relations at Hanson Dodge Creative, “and it’s forced people like me to see tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs as vehicles by which we can get others to publicize products and clients.”

The ability for brands to communicate directly with customers has lessened the need for traditional PR approaches, says Pulizzi. As more and more businesses adopt content marketing strategies, they need people who are not only skilled at event planning and writing press releases, but who are also well-versed in areas such as email outreach, Google Analytics – and managing social media communities.

The Social Revolution

PR and journalism professionals, says Hudgens, need to “understand content as a way of getting attention.” Relationship building is crucial to successful content marketing. Even something as simple as a status update opens the door to new social media interactions – which can result in new social connections, a wider audience and, potentially, increased sales.

“With social,” says Billingsley, “the content becomes a dialogue as compared to a monologue.” Newman also emphasizes the importance of being “part of the conversation” on social media and blogs; this approach builds credibility, thought leadership and rapport while still getting your brand’s name out there.

So, as content marketing evolves and continues to shape the practices and conventions of traditional journalism and PR, what can these professionals do to ensure their career is successful – and what approach should businesses take?

Advice for Journalists

  • Uphold traditional journalistic principles, no matter where you work. While blogs and social media make it possible for anyone to function as a reporter, this also makes journalists who “still write good stories and opinions with research, facts [and] stats included” all the more valuable, Cundle says.
  • Keep up with the times. Journalists must learn to adopt new technologies, from social media to blogs to photo and video. While good writing is important, visual communication is also important in capturing the attention of online audiences. And implementing SEO tactics such as keyword usage can help drive website traffic.
  • Know your audience. Instead of just reporting the facts to the public, narrow down your target audience: who they are, what their is lifestyle like, what’s important to them and what sort of information they might be seeking. Your content, says Pulizzi, must be “helpful and inherently shareable.”
  • Build your own brand. Journalists, like brands, must build thought leadership through social media relationships and position themselves as an authoritative voice. According to Adam Grunwerg, Director of digital media agency Searchable, “the rise of Google Authorship (and Author Rank in SEO) will give an increasingly competitive edge to authority journalists.” 
  • Do some soul-searching. Ask yourself, why do you want to be a journalist? Is it because you want the iconic role of neutral informant, providing checks on government and unveiling corporate malfeasance? Or is it because you’re a good writer and researcher who wants a reliable career? An increasing number of journalists walk the line between reporting and advertising; you’ll have to decide for yourself what will be most fulfilling.

Advice for PR People

  • Go directly to your audience. Journalists are no longer the primary conduit between PR people and the public. PR specialists must figure out how to appeal to given target audiences, and build social networks through which they can communicate with these audiences directly.
  • Grow your skill set. A PR professional should still know how to plan an event and write a pitch. But you must expand your skill set to include things such as web development, SEO, social media marketing and even graphic design in order to remain relevant.
  • Tell your own story. Like journalists, traditional PR specialists, says Pulizzi, are probably good storytellers: “Instead of using that expertise to gain coverage in other media outlets… [they should] use that knowledge to help build owned content strategies,” such as blogs and social profiles.
  • Be quick on your feet. In the Internet age, PR specialists must be quicker than ever on their feet when it’s time to post news and announcements online or to respond to a crisis. MaryAlice Kaspar, Principal at Columbus Communications LLC, emphasizes the importance of gathering stories, graphics and video clips in advance so they are “post-ready.” 
  • Don’t (necessarily) stick to your guns. Many organizations – especially those doing content marketing – no longer adhere to conventions such as press releases. Be adaptable and open to doing outreach in atypical ways. Often, you can better capture audiences’ attention in 140 characters than through a traditional press campaign.

Advice for Companies

  • Hire people whose skills are up to speed. When hiring PR people, make sure they are well-versed in social media and have – or know how to build – a wide network of contacts. Look for journalists who know how to write high-quality, well-researched stories for an online audience. And if each knows a little about the other’s field – even better.
  • Leverage your relationships. Creating useful, shareable content can win you subscriber relationships, which can be leveraged for marketing purposes. And relationships with influential thought leaders in your industry, says Pulizzi, should be leveraged “as part of owned content strategies, [such as] guest postings and integration of influencer content into owned content channels.”
  • Decide what story you want to tell. Your content should have targeted messaging that reflects your company’s mission statement and core values. If you want to position yourself as a thought leader, look to hire people who share your philosophy and fit with your company culture. “The technical skills can be taught,” says Aldredge, “but changing philosophies is much, much harder.”
  • Build a content marketing department. According to a recent research study, nearly half of B2B enterprise marketers plan to increase their budget for content marketing in the next year. To succeed at content marketing, your brand must have a department that can perform the functions of an editorial staff, while promoting the content it creates like an advertising agency or PR firm. Owned content strategies must be developed with SEO, social channels and brand authority in mind.

Whether you’re a journalist, a PR professional, a content marketer or a brand, just remember: Content is king, and you can be, too.

Special thanks to the following experts who also provided input for this article:

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Holly Regan

About the Author

Holly Regan is the Content Editor for Software Advice. Her work has appeared on many notable sites, including The New York Times, PRNews and oDesk. She has also contributed to works on top-tier publications such as Entrepreneur, the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider.

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