thought leadership

The Evolution of PR in the Digital Era

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Before the internet, public relations was all about outshining the other guy. In the digital world, corporations, nonprofits and public agencies must communicate in ways that build trust. You still want your organization to stand out from competitors. But how you do it and where you do it have changed markedly in the digital era.

Traditional media no longer owns the turf. People get news from a mix of disparate sources, many of which have a point of view or even an agenda. There isn’t a national fireplace around which a majority of Americans gather to hear the news from a handful of trusted broadcasters. A lot of people open up their morning newspaper, if they still subscribe to one, on their smartphones.

Once upon a time, consumers had confidence in what brand leaders said. Now, people want a more personalized relationship with the brands they buy. They want to make sure brands walk their talk.

Skepticism about claims runs deeper, causing consumers to give more credence to reviews than advertising. Events and contests, long a PR staple, stimulate consumer engagement, but don’t automatically build trust. 

The reality: A digital presence is mandatory to connect with consumers, clients and contributors. Websites, blogs/vlogs and social media platforms are gateways into a brand, a cause or an agency because they can tell a more extended and authentic story than a press release.

Organizations are smart to recognize that a sharp online presence can pay dividends in terms of increased transactions, richer interactions and bolstered loyalty. Websites can be layered tiers of useful and relevant information that invite exploration. Blogs or their video siblings can raise awareness through demonstrated thought leadership. Social media can provide a comfortable conduit for purposeful engagement. 

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Stimulating digital media doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires skill, patience and a deep understanding of your consumers, clients or constituents. You need to anticipate what they want to know or would appreciate knowing, then provide it in an appealing, even entertaining way. In the digital world, you have a larger palette of communication colors and a virtually unlimited lens to project your information and messaging.

A critical difference between your grandfather’s PR and digital PR today is linkability. A press release, event or contest could build interest, but didn’t have much shelf life – in part because there was no internet to archive them and make it easy to retrieve them later. Digital content shines because it can be linked to other digital sites, especially a website, the mother earth of an online presence. And it never disappears, even if it falls to page three of a Google search.

A press release or press statement organically has limited reach. When first utilized, they went to legacy media that dominated the public’s attention. That’s less true today. Breaking news, other than car accidents and fires, is more likely now to burst into public view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Savvy organizations need to use these channels to dispense their big news – or respond to news about them – in real time, a luxury digital media affords.

Press releases have limited emotional appeal. Video and photographic content, which flourishes on digital media, isn’t limited. It can touch hearts, create associations and lead to loyalty. Visual and audio content can strike familiar chords and become sticky in people’s brains.

Digital media’s greatest appeal is its interactive character. Viewers can respond instantly, thoughtfully and impactfully. You may not always like what they say, but the interaction gives you a chance to build a relationship, to seize an opportunity to turn a critic into an ambassador. That’s something the venerable press release never could do.

Of course, the press release has evolved into a digital tool. They can contain rich content and useful links. The internet and social media such as Twitter make it easier to distribute your news and messaging to key digital media targets. 

The digital world doesn’t spell the end of traditional PR principles. Story pitches still need a sharp hook. Pitches work best when tailored and aimed at the most appropriate news outlets. Customizing a story for a particular outlet remains a smart strategy. Fresh content, a unique angle and a human touch still get the attention of news people.

You don’t have to toss all you know about PR out the window. Just open the window and scan all the possibilities the digital world affords to tell your story and spread your message.


Hot Trends to Keep Content Marketing Fresh and Relevant

Target audiences keep moving and so should your content marketing strategy to reach them. Here are tips and trends that can enable you to keep your content fresh, relevant and easy to access by consumers.

Target audiences keep moving and so should your content marketing strategy to reach them. Here are tips and trends that can enable you to keep your content fresh, relevant and easy to access by consumers.

Successful content marketing involves a lot more than slapping a slab of content onto your website or into a blog. It requires a strategy, moxie and keeping current on evolving trends.

Brendan Gannon, who is the marketing and editorial coordinator at Ragan Communications and PR Daily, produced an infographic that tracks the seven hottest trends for content marketing. Some of them aren’t new, but have become even more important. Others stretch the concept of content marketing.


At the top of Gannon’s list of trends is authenticity. This has always been an essential ingredient in content marketing. The spread of fake news has heightened consumer interest in brands they can trust. Gannon cites statistics to back up his point – 91 percent of consumers will reward brands for authenticity and 86 percent say authenticity is important in their decision of what brands to support. Transparency, he explains, is the best way showcase brand authenticity.

Another staple of content marketing are personal connections. The tried-and-true way to build rapport is through content that is relevant, informative and useful. Gannon suggests that can extend to social media by replying promptly to consumer comments or questions, hosting Twitter chats or Facebook Live Q&As and telling stories on Instagram. Content can be personalized, he adds, by showcasing your own staff so consumers feel comfortable they are in a relationship with people.

Gannon’s third hot trend is somewhat counterintuitive. He argues for augmenting video and podcast content, which draw the biggest online crowds, with long-form content, which attracts serious consumers and impresses Google’s algorithm so you move up in searches. Longer pieces, according to Gannon, also underscore you are an authority on a subject and someone worth consumer attention.

Placing content in multiple channels and formats is at once obvious and not so easy to accomplish. To cover all your consumer bases, Gannon says, you need to spread around your content. Video is the big dog, estimated to represent more than 80 percent of internet traffic this year. Some 75 million Americans watch online videos every day and viewers can retain as much of 95 percent of what see in a video. At the same time, nearly a quarter of Americans regularly listen to podcasts, some as many as five podcasts per week.

Social commerce offers a bigger opportunity than in-store searching and purchasing. Instagram and Facebook provide consumers with a real-time platform to share images and videos of people using and enjoying products. Product features can be highlighted. Mobile apps can become like online shopping buddies that offer advice and tag along as consumers roam the racks and aisles.

We tend to think of content marketing as pristine and unsullied by advertising. However, Gannon suggests perception doesn’t square with how shoppers shop. It’s true that consumers aren’t salivating to see ads, but they can absorb them when the ads deliver value and are integrated closely with the adjoining content. The key is to make ads look like an integral part of the content, not just the odd man out along for the ride.

Gannon’s final hot trend deals with collaborative content. This involves teaming with complementary companies that have common marketing objectives and the kind of products that can be combined with yours to spark consumer interest. The good news is that collaboration can relieve some of the burden of continuously finding fresh content. The bad news, if you can call it that, is it takes work and patience to pull off collaborative marketing because there are more people and egos to please. Collaborative marketing may work best in lifestyle and food spaces. But don’t let that dim your enthusiasm or curb your curiosity.

Thought leadership remains a stalwart part of content marketing, especially for professional service firms that sell what they know rather than what they make. The boundaries of thought leadership can be stretched, too. In addition to demonstrating mastery of subjects, thought leadership can showcase keen insight, empathetic perspective and the human dimension of serious issues. Put another way, thought leadership can display leadership as well as thoughtfulness.

Gannon’s underlying advice is to keep your content marketing strategy, tactics and execution fresh. Your target audience isn’t standing still. Your content marketing shouldn’t just be marking time, either.


Personalize Content Marketing Through Staff Content Sharing

Add zip to a content marketing strategy by encouraging your own staff to share useful, relevant content with customers, clients and prospects at conferences, in meetings and even on cold calls.

Add zip to a content marketing strategy by encouraging your own staff to share useful, relevant content with customers, clients and prospects at conferences, in meetings and even on cold calls.

One of the best, but most overlooked channels for content marketing is your own staff.

Content marketing is all about providing useful, relevant information to your customers or clients. We tend to think of that information as transmitted digitally via a website, blog or social media.  Delivering it personally can be even more powerful.

Turning your entire staff into a team of content marketers could be your most cost-effective marketing strategy.

Savvy companies view their staffs as brand ambassadors. Converting brand ambassadorships into content marketers only requires taking the time to share the content you want customers or clients to receive.

Staff meetings can become more meaningful if they contain time for content sharing. Make staff aware of an upcoming thought leadership blog, new website features or a social media campaign. Make it easy for your staff to share your content, and encourage staff members to share the content.

Alyssa Patzius, vice president for Influence&Co., says content sharing can be a way to stand out from competition by offering something of value, not just your business card. Sharing useful information and associating the source of that information to your enterprise is nearly the same as third-party validation, Patzius suggest.

She says content-sharing strategy can work at trade shows, professional conferences or even cold calls.

Of course, sharing blah content could have the opposite result. Avoid self-aggrandizing pitches and stick with solid how-to content or meaningful storytelling that relates to your brand or business. Don’t tell would-be clients about your successes; share with them how you go about achieving successful outcomes for your clients.

Some content is evergreen and never goes out of date. However, fresh content can be more impactful. There is nothing like the rush of recent success to spark content sharing.

Don’t limit your content to something in print. Video and audio content can extend the personalization of content sharing by including visuals and voices from your colleagues.

The next time you are charged with creating an energizing agenda for a staff meeting or retreat, plug in a segment about content sharing. And make sure you are generating content worthy of sharing to inform and impress customers and clients.


Influencer Marketing Through Earning Influence

Influence marketing goes beyond sending your product to a blogger and includes testimonials, third-party recognition, turning critics into advocates, thought leadership blogs, storytelling and authentic acts that build a reputation

Influence marketing goes beyond sending your product to a blogger and includes testimonials, third-party recognition, turning critics into advocates, thought leadership blogs, storytelling and authentic acts that build a reputation

Influencer marketing is popular, largely because it works. However, influencer marketing involves more than just pay-to-play engagement with bloggers.

Sending products to influential bloggers to try out and then promoting their positive reviews is a successful tactic. But it isn’t the only successful tactic. There is a more organic form of leveraging influential people.

One of the most tried-and-tried forms of earned influence is the testimonial. The consumer or client giving the testimonial doesn’t have to be a so-called influential person. They have credibility because they consumed your product or retained your service.

Another form of earned influence is recognition by a third party. This could be an interview, product review or op-ed. The content is fair game to promote, which is what Chevrolet does in its ads about J.D. Power customer satisfaction ratings.

An unsuspecting form of earned influence can come from turning a critic on social media into a brand advocate. What better way to demonstrate brand value than tracking the journey of someone upset at product quality or service who is impressed by a quick reaction and fair resolution of the problem. You couldn’t pay for this conversion – or duplicate it in a pay-for-play context.

Thought leadership is a powerful, but under-utilized form of earned influence. You can turn your expertise or special knowledge into influential currency if you share it. That’s the point of thought leadership blogs or asking for opportunities to submit guest blogs.

Reputation may be the most underrated form of earned influence. A solid reputation isn’t something that can be invented, minted or inherited. Reputation, by its very nature, is something that’s earned. The arc of a reputation can take years, but it also can accrete more quickly – and regardless of age – through innovation or a principled act.

Influence is not something you can proclaim. However, you can nudge along the process of gaining influence through storytelling. The stories about your brand or you that you share – or arrange to be shared – can influence key audiences and burnish your reputation.

There isn’t a formula to achieve earned influence. Thank goodness. That gives people a lot of latitude in pursuing paths to attract interest, build trust and earn influence, whether in the marketplace or on Twitter.

Professional assistance can help in the process of influence-development. But PR pros can’t counterfeit authentic influence that flows from expertise, innovation or principled action.

If you developed the best-tasting, heart-healthy donut, by all means put it in the hands of donut bloggers and circulate their mouth-watering reviews on your social media channels. Just don’t forget there are other avenues for influence marketing, many of which have longer lasting impacts and contribute to deeper consumer loyalties.


Thought Leadership Can't Be Delegated

Handing over your thought leadership blog to a ghostwriter diminishes the authenticity of your thought and the genuineness of your leadership.

Handing over your thought leadership blog to a ghostwriter diminishes the authenticity of your thought and the genuineness of your leadership.

Professional writers can add polish and zing to your content, but when it comes to thought leadership, the words should come from you.

Demonstrating thought leadership demands more than just coming up with a thought. How you articulate that thought is where the leadership part. Relying on someone else to craft and organize your words leaves you as merely someone who has a thought, not someone who can marshal that thought into actionable language.

Many writing assignments can and should be delegated such as press releases, backgrounders and marketing copy. Professional writing skills and experience can make a huge difference.

When it comes to a blog intended to show you know your stuff, it is disingenuous to hand off the job to someone else. Even if you rattle off a few key points, the final words are someone else's, not yours.

Typical reasons for delegating include a busy schedule, other pressing duties and writer's block. Those all could be true, but step back a moment and imagine an honest beginning to your "thought leadership" blog:

"My ghostwriter wrote this blog because after I had a bright idea in the shower, I didn't have time to expand on it or write it down. Thanks for reading."

Sound like thought leadership to you?

If your thoughts are important enough to think, they deserve the time and attention to write about. Your words make your thought authentic and your leadership genuine.

Readers, especially the ones you want to influence, will be keen enough to tell.

Top of Mind: Key to Being Remembered

Remind people that you exist and do quality work.

Remind people that you exist and do quality work.

You may be someone's best friend, but they still could forget you if you aren't doing what it takes to remain top of mind.

For example, we never got a chance to pitch a project for a former client, who when asked why sheepishly said he forgot about us. 

On the other hand, a long-time colleague invited CFM to be part of his proposal after he read one of our blogs that touched directly on what the potential client wants.

If you are sitting on the sidelines, don't blame your clients or colleagues. Look in the mirror, then get out of the bathroom and remind people that you exist and do quality work.

How you stay in the line of vision of potential clients can take a lot of forms. Give speeches, write blogs, keep up regular correspondence, share a white paper, take people out for coffee or do someone a simple favor. 

Success is less about what you do than whether you do what it takes.

Integrated approaches to networking work best. Take an idea and turn it into a blog. Promote your blog on your Twitter feed and ask for feedback on your LinkedIn page.  Self-publish press releases on your website. Start a conversation that attracts the eyeballs of your target clients – and your existing ones, too. Let them see you are thinking and offering ideas.

The best posts, speeches and coffee chats center on sharing something useful. It won't seem as much like a sales pitch if you offer information or a tip clients can use. It will remind them of your value and relevance.

You can't stop with a single outreach effort. People are busy and can overlook your post or miss your speech. It may seem like you are saturating your communications channels, but that is unlikely unless you screw up like Justin Bieber. Staying top of mind demands being a regular part of the thought leadership landscape.

As a colleague once said, professional networking is a contact sport. No contact, no client, no gain.

Content Marketing + Savvy Promotion

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Effective content marketing requires producing the content, then promoting it through a variety of channels. The art is knowing what to write and the science is knowing how and where to promote it, says Intel content strategist Luke Kintigh.

Like it or not, 90 percent of viewership comes from 10 percent of the content. Some pieces are winners and some just trot along for the ride. Kintigh argues for a promotional strategy of placing your bets on the winners who show the best promise of attracting clicks.

According to a story by Russell Working, writing for Kintigh's strategy has tripled page views of Intel's iQ online magazine over the last year.

Like many other smart brands, Intel has turned to content marketing, using the online magazine as its thought leadership platform. iQ contains a wide array of stories about how technology is transforming everything from health care to craft beer. Intel pays to promote its content.

Many companies and nonprofits lack the financial resources of an Intel or a Microsoft to produce and promote compelling content. But the lessons from the big guys still apply. Good content and savvy promotion can pay dividends.

Not every piece you write will be a big hit. That doesn't mean the piece is worthless if it demonstrates your expertise or grasp of a complex situation. A piece like that only has to be read once by the right person to pay off.

Regardless whether your content is read by thousands or just a few, promotion is critical to make sure the right eyeballs see it. That's why you need to know where your customers or clients are paying attention to relevant content.

When you aren't able to produce enough content to fill an online magazine, it pays to focus on what you know and what your customers or clients need to know. Utility is the golden rule of content marketing.

Tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are no-cost ways to put some social media spin to your content. Direct email works, too. When you have something really special to share, putting a little advertising money behind it can give it an online boost.

The key takeaway – producing content is hard, but it is a fool's errand unless it is combined with hard-headed promotion so your content reaches the audience for which it is intended.

Your Website Matters

So much attention has been given to social media and thought leadership blogs, websites have become almost an afterthought. They are anything but.

Websites have evolved from their beginnings as electronic brochures, where content contained in print brochures was essentially uploaded online.

Websites morphed into information portals that moved beyond print copy to offer layers of information, often in multimedia forms.

Now websites are centers for content marketing strategies. The content spreads out like religious apostles, but a key objective of the content is to cause a click on the holy land of content, your website.

The look and feel of websites has evolved, too. They have gone from hard-to-read to vibrant and colorful, with images and information packaging overtaking the dull columns of copy that marked earlier websites.

Thought Leadership in a Book Format

In days of yore, you had to be moved to write a book. Nowadays, books are an accepted and useful content marketing tool.

Writers — and marketers — are no longer chained to book publishers. You can publish a book yourself. 

The use of books as content marketing tools goes way beyond the old concept of vanity press. Now easily self-published either electronically or on paper, books are ways to tell your story, build a relationship with your customers and cement a brand.

Our former colleague Kerry Tymchuk ably assisted Gert Boyle in 2005 in writing her autobiography, "One Tough Mother." Boyle described how, as a 46-year-old housewife, she stepped in to manage Columbia Sportswear when her husband died of a heart attack and went on to make the struggling apparel company a billion-dollar business.

Boyle's image as a fiery octogenarian from a family that fled Nazi Germany fueled an advertising campaign that solidified Columbia's brand image as innovative and uncompromising. The ads often featured Ma Boyle stranding or shooting darts at her son, Tim Boyle, who is president of the company.

Tymchuk unlimbered his writing skills to assist the late Al Reser, in "No Small Potatoes," reflect on his life that began with a family potato salad recipe and turned into a billion-dollar business. Reser was 25 years old when he inherited the family food business operating out of a farmhouse kitchen. Reser's Fine Foods grew, making all kinds of salads, side dishes, snacks and Mexican specialties. His name familiarity widened when his philanthropy to his alma mater, Oregon State University, was recognized when it named its football stadium after him.

Leonard Greenberger, an owner of Potomac Communications Group in Washington, DC, just published his own book offering advice on how to answer tough questions in the public arena. "What to Say When Things Get Tough" gives practical tips to organizations or individuals when facing skeptical audiences or angry neighbors. His book talks about what to say and how to say it in ways that build credibility. It is a perfect example of thought leadership in a book format. 

It's fair to wonder whether more books bring clarity or just add more clutter to the public marketplace of ideas. But that is old-school thinking. In new school, you are interested in connecting to your audience, regardless of its size. A well-written book is an effective, engaging way to make that connection.

Content Curation as Thought Leadership

Collecting and re-using content from third parties is emerging as a critical marketing strategy to inform and engage customers and stakeholders.As the amount of information available on the Web and other sources has exploded, marketers have turned to "content curation" as a strategy to demonstrate thought leadership and elevate brand visibility. 

Content curation involves collecting and repurposing for your target audience articles, charts, infographs and images posted online by third parties.

A study of 400 professional marketers conducted in March 2012 by Curata, an online content curation provider, shows 85 percent of marketers believe effective content curation establishes thought leadership and elevates brand visibility and buzz. That is up from 79 percent in 2011, the first year Curata conducted its research.

So You Want to Start a Blog

Many excellent communications campaigns use blogs as story-telling tools, but too many blogs are floating around the internet that haven’t been updated for months. You imagine the blog creators were full of excitement, set up a basic blog format using a site such as, Blogger or tumblr, published a first post and thought, Voila! Smooth sailing from here, right?

A blog only is as good as the strategy and plan guiding it. Before hitting publish, you need to be clear about what you want to accomplish with your blog. What will success look like?

Reasons for a blog may include establishing thought leadership in your industry category, self-publishing news, providing added-value service to clients, raising awareness about important issues or engaging new audiences. All the content you publish should support your goals. 

To measure success, we recommend evaluating multiple touch-points, such as reader comments, content spreading on social media, numbers of readers and blog traffic.

You also should plan content development. Look to your key messages and values to help you indentify the stories you should tell. If your staff members are the key to customer service, consider profiling them. If your brand is committed to supporting the community, write about your involvement. If you have a major event coming up, think how you can advance it through teaser posts.

Get a calendar and mark it with your content ideas, including time-sensitive promotions such as new products and services, special events or campaigns. This content calendar becomes your map, ensuring you are prepared to keep your blog updated.