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The Changing Landscape of Journalism & PR

Posted by Mike Kaput on November 5, 2013

Derek Singleton, PR & JournalismWe recently caught up Derek Singleton (@B2BMktMentor), marketing analyst at Software Advice, to hear his thoughts about content marketing and how it’s changing the traditional roles of PR and journalism. Derek reports on B2B marketing technologies and trends. His work has appeared in The New York Times, CIO and The Huffington Post.

Here’s what he had to say: 

1. How are the traditional definitions of PR and journalism changing?

The web and the uptake of content marketing are changing how PR professionals and journalists operate in a couple of important ways. 

First, PR professionals who work for online companies are stepping outside the traditional boundaries of building relationships with reporters, writing press releases and organizing product launches and other events. These days, PR professionals are now often asked to earn likes, tweets, shares, and links for their companies and clients. It requires PR professionals to learn a new set of skills. For instance, there’s a growing need for them to understand how to use Google Analytics to monitor incoming traffic to their client’s site, manage social media communities, build an online network of brand advocates, and manage email outreach

Meanwhile, journalism is evolving as well. Clearly the decline of newsrooms and the rise of online publications have contracted job opportunities in the profession. As a result, some of them are leaving traditional journalism behind and finding a new home in content marketing, where there’s job growth right now. As more journalists are recruited to content marketing positions, they have to learn new skills to excel. They will need to know how to promote a brand rather than cover an assigned beat. They will also need to take into consideration factors such as on-page keyword optimization, the impact of their content on revenue, and if their content tells a brand’s story.

PR and journalism can and should coexist with content marketing. The skills of PR and journalism are two of the most important skill sets necessary to create strong content marketing departments. 

2. Why are people with journalism backgrounds well suited to the changing landscape?

Content marketing requires individuals with journalistic skills to come up with the ideas and write high-quality content. PR professionals must then take that content, reach out to the relevant industry thought leaders and bloggers, and make sure that the content is seen in the right places.

The most obvious skill that makes journalists well positioned in the changing landscape is the ability to write well. Beyond that, journalists have other traits coveted by content marketing departments: experience managing editorial calendars, an ability to turn around stories on a short deadline, and a knack for storytelling. These are all skills that brands need in their content marketing departments. 

Journalists making the jump into content marketing should always remember to uphold their traditional journalist principles. Even though they’ll be writing for a brand instead of covering a beat, they can still uphold the ethics of good writing and fact-checking. Journalists will also likely need to alter their writing style to fit the short attention span of the web. Most importantly, they’ll need to brush up on general business knowledge and how their work can help a company generate revenue.

3. Is good content marketing about quantity or quality?

Ideally, you can deliver both quantity and quality. But if you have to choose one, I favor content quality over quantity. High quality is necessary to build trust and community among your brand’s target audience—and to position your brand as an industry thought leader. If you are putting out a lot of mediocre content, this may hurt you more than it helps you. You need quality content to cut through the noise and get your story heard, especially as more and more companies adopt content marketing.

4. What do companies need to do to thrive in the new marketing and PR ecosystem?

Companies need to start by first building a content marketing department, if they don’t have one already. To build a successful content marketing team, a company must have a group that can function like an editorial staff and simultaneously promote content like a PR firm. Content strategies must also keep SEO, social community building, and brand management in mind when creating a new content marketing campaign. 

Once a content marketing team is in place, it’s important to get active in your online community, build relationships with industry thought leaders, share other people’s content and contribute genuinely useful information to the conversation.

5. What advice do you have for traditional marketers and/or PR professionals who want to stay relevant?

PR professionals should not forget their traditional skills. Press releases and press events still have value and should not be thrown out the window. However, there are more ways to earn exposure and brand recognition for clients. It makes sense for PR professionals to learn some general web development, SEO, social media marketing and (potentially) graphic design skills. These skills are critical for running a successful content marketing campaign.

I also think it’s important for PR people to be able to quickly generate post-ready material when they’re required to share company news or address a company crisis on social channels such Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

6. What can young professionals who are just starting out in journalism, marketing or PR do to maximize their ability to get a job?

I think the best thing to do is proactively learn some of the skills I’ve highlighted. 

If you want to be a writer on a content marketing team, start a blog to build a personal brand, and learn how to write for the web, manage online content and gain familiarity with basic web marketing skills. It’s also a good idea to learn a little bit of coding as marketing becomes increasingly technology oriented. You don’t have to be able to code an entire web page from scratch, but knowing basic HTML can help a lot. I recommend going through Codeacademy to learn the basics. [Editor’s note: We’ve found Treehouse to be a valuable coding resource too.]

If you’re interested in the PR side of things, it’s a good idea to get some experience at a PR firm as an intern or even as an entry-level employee. While there, learn how to build your own media list from scratch, and craft a succinct and compelling email pitch to earn the attention you want. If you can land one or two big placements at a well-known online publication (e.g., Mashable) your future employers will be impressed. I also think these roles provide general foundational skills needed for business.

A lot of these skills can be learned on your own with free online resources. And learning these skills isn’t just good for content marketing or PR, they’ll be transferrable to many other web-related jobs.

What do you think? What skills are important for journalists, PR pros and content marketers?

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