The Role of PR in Content Marketing and Thought Leadership

After hosting a Forrester webinar on April 25 about "3 Ways To Turn Content Marketing into Thought Leadership", I received some interesting questions from clients. I thought I would share the questions -- and a short response to each – since this line of inquiry points to broader question about the role of public relations (PR) in content marketing generally and thought leadership marketing specifically.

Here's the Q&A I found intriguing:

Who should lead the IDEA framework process?

For those of you who haven't seen the report, it builds upon a concept Jeff Ernst introduced in June 2011 - a framework called "IDEA" that CMOs should use to lead, and assess, their thought leadership content publishing activity. To make the IDEA process a company-wide undertaking (and not just a marketing program) the executive team, headed up by the CEO, should endorse and back it. The CMO should lead the initial efforts and then appoint a Thought Leadership "czar" to keep the editorial process going.Forrester's Four-Step IDEA Framework For Thought Leadership Marketing

Who should head up the editorial oversight board?

The CMO initially, who turns the reigns over to the "czar". A visible exclusive owner can overcome organizational inertia and politics that stifle thought leadership. This leader should keep the editorial calendar up-to-date, chair regular meetings with the oversight board, dole out support to contributors so that publications flow consistently, provide incentives, and keep track of success metrics across the company.

Who should qualify or contribute to the assessment of subject matter experts?

Besides marketing, business heads of organizations that touch customers on a daily basis should have a say in selecting spokespeople and SMEs. After all, it’s their people who will be on the hook to produce the ideas and viewpoints behind the content.

How should B2B marketers go about engaging buyers and sharing their thought leading ideas?

By publishing their big ideas and unique points of view to the world without an expectation of immediate commercial return.  Where and how you do that depends on where your intended audience (remember the “I” in IDEA?) goes for their information.

Where does PR fit into the thought leadership framework?

I think that the practice of developing content, some of which may become thought leading, on important topics your clients and target prospects face is a practice with which digitally savvy PR people will have a strong affinity.  Let’s take a closer look at the definition of PR:

public relations (noun)

1. the actions of a corporation, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.

2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.

Isn’t the publishing of audience-relevant, business focused content an act of goodwill? Yes, but only if the marketers keep the selling out of the mix.

I think Rich Edelman would agree since he tackled this topic in a recent post on the new look of PR. In this Age of the Customer, marketers must move from selling to an audience to building relationships and trust across a community of stakeholders. And the advantages of PR to stimulate conversation, engage in two-way interactions, and develop interesting storylines that involve the intended audience are a natural fit for creating great marketing in this new digital world.


Excellent perspective

Excellent insights in this post Laura, thanks much. The IDEA framework does make sense as a way to get the entire marketing and communications team aligned.

Are you actually seeing this transition take hold today? What type of organizations are leading in this transistion to thought leadership lead marketing? What challenges are clients coming to you with?

Rich Edelman's post was quite visionary and tees up the shift that PR and marketing need to make in the digital world.

Bob (@rvobrien)

Thank you re: Excellent Perspective

Bob, thank you for the comment and questions. Content marketing is a hot topic today -- but often confused with true thought leadership. I'm seeing a lot of activity around content production, but many practitioners seem to be focused on the "E" and skip over the "I" and "D" which are so essential.

High Tech firms, in particular, struggle to make this transition because marketers there love to talk about what the technology can do. But as Jeff Ernst, my predecessor on this topic whose IDEAs I continue to channel, put it "buyers don't buy your product, they buy into your approach to solving their problems."

The organizations that make TL headway here are 1) IT and business process services firms (outsourcers, app dev houses, and systems integrators), 2) management consulting firms, and 3) startups with a unique perspective on their market. #2 being the strongest.

The main challenges clients ask about are: 1) where do we start (i.e. is this a good thought leadership idea), 2) who else is doing this well and 3) how do you measure the impact of your content marketing/TL efforts. The struggles I see are marketers trying to figure out their audience ("I") cares about and what should their TL say that has impact, is relevant, and is not overtly commercial. Does that help?

From Forrester Head of Corp Comms

I received the following through email from our VP -- who I'm outing as a Spectator, not a Critic -- using Forrester's Social Technographics ladder. (Sorry Jon!)

I thought I would share his thoughts because it gives you a little perspective into how we think about the challenge of communicating a point of view as a company -- not just as analysts:

Your latest blog post: Completely agree. This is something I've been thinking a lot about of late as we continue to talk about content marketing.

Content marketing needs an "editor in chief" in the same way that a media organization does: someone to determine the strategic story, connect the dots, and orchestrate the day-to-day. And above all: someone who is a story teller. Because at the end of the day, it's not marketing, it's storytelling.

Definitions of PR

Where did you get those definitions of PR? Are those Forester's definitions?

PR Definitions

Hi Frank, I took them from the blog post that Rich Edelman wrote on the new look of PR. One of the comments from Michelle Tennant at the end of his post included the definitions:

Cheers, Laura. That whole

Cheers, Laura. That whole definition thing is such a stoker in PR circles. For a second, I was wondering if Forrester had developed it's own. If you all did. It would make waves for sure.

PRSA, the largest professional organization for PR in the US, has a much different definition. It's not one I endorse and there are views on both sides.

My definition is simple: third party validation. I'd argue it mirrors the outlook Richard Edelman has laid out in that post.