PR More Effective than Content Marketing? Probably! But…

Nielsen recently released a report, commissioned by inPowered which indicated that content marketing (the current, go-to communication tool for many B2B and B2C marketers) is actually 88 percent less effective than public relations (PR).

The news has the communication community abuzz online with conversations taking place in many of the social media groups I follow. Many are expressing shock, some disagreement, over the results.

But, when you think about it, it’s really just common sense.

Things that others say about us naturally have more credibility than things that we say about ourselves. That doesn’t mean that content marketing isn’t important. Quite the contrary. Content marketing, used effectively, can be a great way to establish yourself or your company as a thought leader, to connect with and engage various audiences and to leverage content across various traditional and online media channels.

Keep in mind, though, that effective marketing will always involve a strategic mix of a wide range of communication efforts that include advertising, PR, social media, events, etc., etc., etc.

PR allows organizations and individuals to connect with reporters, editors and journalists who may choose to use their comments in articles, news programs, books, blogs, etc. When they do this they are, in effect, providing a third-party endorsement. And that can certainly be powerful. Consider the impact of an article in the Wall St. Journal where your company’s CEO is quoted on a critical industry issue. That’s good stuff. And certainly more impactful than the same information that might have appeared in one of your own blog posts.

But PR isn’t the most influential source of information. What is? Word-of-mouth! In fact, another Nielsen study indicated that 84 percent of consumers around the world said that they trusted word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.  

Again, no surprises here. At least I don’t think so. In presentations that I give I often talk about the four ways in which consumers are influenced, from most to least influential:

  • Personal experience. You trust your own experiences the most. Have a great experience at a restaurant and you’ll go back again.
  • Word-of-mouth. A friend tells you about a great restaurant they ate at and you know they’re a “foodie.”
  • The media. You read a favorable article about a new restaurant that opened in your area and decide to give it a try.
  • Advertising. You see a flashy ad for a new restaurant and decide to give it a try.

Our own experiences and the recommendations of trusted advisers top the list. Media coverage can also influence us and, of course, big companies wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars annually on traditional advertising if they didn’t feel it still held value.

Surprised by Nielsen’s research? I’m not. But, I’m not going to stop recommending content marketing as an effective tool to my clients either. When it comes to effective marketing what works the best  is a strategic combination of a variety of communication tactics that work in concert to influence the opinions, beliefs and actions of target audiences.


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