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Edelman’s Content Strategist Explains the New ‘Content Marketing’ Model

Steve RubelThis week we posted on Weber Shandwick‘s decision to publicize its new content-creation wing, Mediaco, and what that means for the future of PR. This morning we had the opportunity to speak with Steve Rubel, chief content strategist at Edelman PR, to go over how his firm is addressing this newest chapter in the ongoing “PR vs. marketing vs. advertising” debate.

How does the Weber Shandwick announcement relate to recent “creative” moves by Edelman?

There’s a lot of hype in the never-ending hunt for shiny objects in marketing, but the bigger picture here is that the economics of the industry have changed – demand side platforms (ad exchanges) have made advertising more efficient, which caused the price of CPM (cost per impression) and ads themselves to plummet. This is good for the industry but bad for publishers, because media outlets squeezed by tech developments can’t make the leap to other revenue streams like subscription, video, etc.

This has led to a greater willingness to open their platforms to branded/sponsored content, thereby empowering marketers to make good on their longtime desire tell their stories their own way on some of world’s largest websites (Ed. note: see The Washington Post). That is the big change here.

Some people say this is all old news. How do you respond to that point?

For some people that’s right; media has done “custom publishing” for years and product placement on TV has been in place for a decade if not more. What is new is the acceleration. It’s a perfect storm combining a media hungry for new revenue streams, a marketing business with new opportunities to tell a story and agencies in the middle.

When you look at the cause of any big change, it’s never one thing — its always lots of things connected. It’s the “butterfly flaps its wings and creates a hurricane” effect, and it’s all about looking at interconnectivity.

How do people who work in the industry need to adapt to this change?

You need to approach things with an editorial/content-focused mindset. Our approach is to build and equip the content agency within Edelman to become more active rather than to create a separate division, because content is part of everyone’s job now.

Today we are more willing to work with existing content studios at media companies (BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Slate, etc.) because they know their audiences well and we know the sector well.

What’s the biggest challenge for firms moving forward?

Stay focused. Figure out what your core genius is and either find partners who do the rest (Ed. note: like the media companies mentioned above) or let it go. What we do best is create relationships between clients and stakeholders. Content is the best way to do that, but we can’t do it alone.

Examples include our sponsored tweets deal with the Associated Press, integrated content deals for clients with the Huffington Post and Business Insider, etc. Our model is not “build it and they will come”, it’s to do things that create value within established, respected properties without being disruptive. It’s hard to get people to come to you, but when you work with these properties the audience is already there.

What do students and graduates entering the PR industry need to do to better prepare themselves?

I think it’s about being fearless of change, staying true to what you’re good at but also expanding to increase your value to industry.

Stay above the hype and the noise and look at the bigger picture. Orient yourself toward both creating and distributing content.

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