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Content marketing is the future of PR

It used to be about mass communication through the press and media; but with the advent of the internet and social media, we have all become communicators: all able to publish and be damned, in blogs, on forums: anywhere.

We also expect to be able to talk to brands directly, to companies of any size. And we expect brands to be listening, and to talk back to us.

Mass communication may still be part of the lexicon of PR, but the art of communication strategy is becoming ever more personal; big brands know a lot about us and, using all that big data, can target us very precisely. The big supermarkets, with their ubiquitous loyalty cards, are a case in point.

Big data, and the analytics behind it, is with us now: Big Brother is no longer an abstract concept; the technologies to interpret who we are by what we buy or watch, online or offline, are well understood.

Its what we do with that information that the new PR is about. Its no longer just about reputation management but about aligning brands with audiences, across media and platforms, to better facilitate conversation and engagement.

The new PR is about content management; about redefining relationships between companies and customers often at a one-to-one level and providing them with information that is useful and pertinent.

Content marketing topped the digital priority list in 2013, according to an Econsultancy report, although only a minority of companies had a defined content marketing strategy in place or dedicated people to carry one out.

Thats partly, I would guess, down to semantics because there is no clear definition of what content marketing is. But I would argue that all communication, across all platforms, should be illuminated by an integrated strategy to communicate from a macro to a micro level.

There are companies who do it well, and who have made the perceptual link between leadership and communication helping to support their brands with brand and corporate values that inspire trust, and therefore sales.

That means integrating an ethical and transparent business approach with values and behaviours that run through the entire company not just those in PR or marketing. In the best companies, business, marketing and PR strategy are closely aligned, with communication at their heart.

That alignment, driven by digital and social, means that the new PR is about managing paid and earned media across multiple platforms, and determining an appropriate voice to engage with each audience down to an individual customer with a particular gripe.

But PR strategy seems always, perhaps inevitably, to be one step behind technological and social media change. We can, I suppose, only deal with the world as we understand it.

Which maybe goes some way to explain why PR professionals see content marketing as so important, but why there are relatively few companies that have embraced it or who are doing it well.

Too many companies, of any size, are still communicating for the sake of it, unsure who theyre talking to or why and speaking with a multitude of different voices. People want great content that speaks to them, not at them with a sales message.

Content management is, I believe, the future of PR and, while it doesnt offer a new definition of what PR is, it goes a long way to suggest what it should be doing.

Charlie Laidlaw is a director of David Gray PR and a partner in Laidlaw Westmacott.

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