pr and content marketing If your idea of public relations consists of press releases and helping sources get media interviews, you’re not that far off. “Fundamentally, being written about in an article or getting any kind of press attention does give you more credibility, … "/>

Why PR and Content Marketing are Different but the Same

pr and content marketing

If your idea of public relations consists of press releases and helping sources get media interviews, you’re not that far off. “Fundamentally, being written about in an article or getting any kind of press attention does give you more credibility, because you’re having a third-party professional vet you and tell your story,” says Ryan Evans, president of BiteSize PR, a Chicago-based publicity firm focusing on small businesses.

Whether public relations firms are creating newsworthy content for their clients, spreading information on milestones reached to members of the media or taking less conventional approaches, PR work by nature is promotional and somewhat one-sided.

Content marketing is different: it consists of primarily of sharing information, not necessarily crowing about oneself, and it focuses on sharing that info via a company’s own media channels—blog, email, social networks—instead of targeting third parties in the press. An example of really good content marketing is Signal vs. Noise, the blog of web development company 37signals. “The writing is typically excellent, but they are definitely pushing their ideas and philosophies which reflect their brand and company culture,” Evans explains.

Says Evans: “With content marketing, you control the message, you control the story and you can say whatever you want.” Within reason. To keep readers engaged and coming back to the page, self-promotional posts should be kept to a minimum. While PR focuses a lot on selling (be it an idea or a product), content marketing has a broader remit: to inform. In that way, company-produced content often looks and feels more like the content in newspapers, magazines, blogs and other media outlets.

Evans points to a post on as an example of a quasi-investigative piece. “It’s certainly not as rigorous as hardcore investigative journalism would be, but they were really digging into what happened with a recent change in Google rankings,” he says.

Another example is American Express’ OpenForum, a site which covers a wide variety of small business topics, rather than just focusing on credit card or business finance. “They also have a lot of contributors and often quote sources. It feels more like a publication than a brand blog, but they display their logo prominently throughout, so most people know it’s content marketing,” he says.


Who’s Asking?

Another key difference between public relations and content marketing is audience. PR audiences can be very narrow: down to a specific newsroom or even a specific journalist that firm wants to be connected to. More often PR focuses on a publication’s audience or readership: interview responses are carefully crafted to be appealing to a specific publication’s readers.

Content marketing focuses on your own brand’s audience and customer base.

“When you’re writing for a brand, you don’t have to worry about what that publication typically speaks to or what voice they have. You can write directly to your prospective customers,” Evans says.

And who’s paying the bills also impacts how the writing is done. While a publication’s reputation depends on providing unbiased, useful, interesting or entertaining information, a brand’s reputation doesn’t demand the same level of balance or thoughtfulness. Investigative reporting for a brand is a bit more likely to involve a profit motive. The topics chosen, sources quoted and even angle of the story is very different for a brand; they’d typically shy away from covering competitors, quoting sources who dislike their product, or writing a negative article about their industry.


Different Metrics

In large agencies, content marketers can work hand-in-hand with PR professionals. Content creators work on storytelling and PR professionals use some of those very same stories in promotional releases or conversations with the media and the public.

And these aren’t always entirely distinctive roles, either. Some PR firms work hard on generating content, and some content gets picked up by media outlets.

The metrics used to judge success, however, can be very different. Although this varies by individual companies and individuals, PR work is generally measured in terms of media mentions. Since content marketing involves emails, self-hosted blog posts and social media marketing, it typically focuses on reach, impact and conversions such as pageviews, referrals or leads, as well as social media shares and comments.


Are You Writing Content or PR?

How do you define your marketing efforts or the content you’re producing? Start by considering your primary audience. Are you speaking directly to a client or prospect or writing for someone who may simply be looking for interesting or entertaining information? Whether you’re writing for a website, a newsletter or somewhere else entirely, determine the reader’s main purpose for taking the time to read. Then, ask yourself (or your client) what the overall goals are for the specific project. What is the best approach to reach those goals?