Tag Archives: #content management

Thought Leadership For Sale: Surviving in a Pay-to-Play World

Pay-to-Play Is a PR Business Reality

Most PR practitioners quickly learn that the Chinese Wall protecting editorial integrity from the influence of paid advertising can be, like the Pirate’s Code, “more of a guideline than an actual rule.” For better or worse, at a great number of well-known and respected media sources, advertising can purchase anything from regular coverage of meaningless news items, to top billing in an industry roundup, or even an outright puff piece.

Despite denials and indignation from journalists, money does talk at many print, electronic and online media sources; often in direct relation to the financial health and business prospects of its corporate owners. These quid pro quo arrangements are never in writing, and typically communicated over a lunch with a publisher or sales rep who, with a smile or a wink, assures the client or agency that, “I have no influence over editorial…but I’ll see what I can do.”

Trade and professional associations are not burdened with an obligation of intellectual honesty akin to that of the Fourth Estate. But it’s safe to assume association membership expects that guest speakers and “experts” featured on the agenda of their organization’s annual conference will be selected on the basis of experience, insight and presentation skill. A small number of these groups do restrict vendors from agenda participation, but at most industry conferences, any outside 3rd party can purchase a prominent place on the program agenda…and many of those presentations are poorly disguised sales pitches.

This sale of “thought leadership”– market visibility with inherent credibility – is neither a recent development nor a crime that deserves a congressional investigation. Pay-to-play is a fact of business life, and to deal with this reality, PR and marketing professionals can either:

  • Use the market advantage that deep-pocketed companies have over their (limited budget) client or employer as a convenient rationalization for their inability to generate (unpaid) thought leadership; or they can
  • Stop whining, get creative, and lacking economic resources, promote bona fide content and foster personal relationships as currency to generate thought leadership.

With the media, succeeding in a pay-to-play world means two things.  First, it means creating content that’s timely, tailored for the recipient and never delivered in a press release. Secondly, it means building good will with key journalists by consistently providing them with relevant information and ideas, regardless of whether it relates to your company or client, without any expectation of immediate return.

With public platforms, succeeding in a pay-to-play world mostly means advance planning. It can begin by attending the prior year’s event to get a sense of the organization’s membership, priorities and culture, and to meet the group’s leadership. Conference agenda development can start 9 or more months in advance of the event, so it’s important to be on line early with a topic likely to resonate with members. It also helps if your proposal features a dues-paying member of the sponsoring organization.

In both cases, succeeding in a pay-to-play world means managing internal expectations. From the outset, your CEO or client needs to understand that you’re running against the wind, and in exchange for that effort, you must be given permission to fail.

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Is Your Website Content a Brand Liability?

Either Feed the Content Beast or Don't Create One

Either Feed the Content Beast or Don’t Create One

Distracted by all the social media buzz, it’s easy for a company to lose sight of the fact that their website remains the mother ship of brand expression and commerce. The standard marketing approach – particularly among B2B firms – is to create a brochureware-esque “Who We Are / What We Do / Why You Should Select Us” web presence, which forever serves as a handy repository for press releases, case studies, white papers and other expressions of thought leadership. For many firms, “build it once & fill it with stuff” is considered effective website management.

What often happens – soon after LAUNCH COMPANY WEBSITE is crossed off the corporate to-do list – is that companies don’t apply the same standards of excellence or levels of scrutiny to the content generated post-launch that were applied during development of the website’s original core content.

For a host of political and practical reasons, inappropriate and ineffective web content gets posted; sorely outdated content is granted lifetime tenure; and assorted layers of information…in WORD documents, PDFs, YouTube videos, podcasts, webinars…all obscure the company’s core messages and brand positioning.  When it comes to website content, less is absolutely more.

If the brand police were to issue citations for website content-related abuse, some of the most common violations might include:

Vagrancy – If your most recent press release, example of news pickup, or last blog posting is more than two months old…website visitors will wonder “Are these guys still is business?” or “Is this how they will keep up with my needs as a client?” If a company can’t produce and maintain a fresh inventory of content, then from a brand perspective it’s better off without having any content at all. Dump the dated material and put a bullet in the blog with few posts.  If you’re unable to trash the old content, at least bury it in an archive tab so it’s not as visible.

Prostitution – If your white papers, case studies, newsletters, webinars and other tools are nothing more than re-labeled sales pitches…website visitors will classify you a self-promoter and discount the credibility of all the information on your website.  Admittedly, it’s often a battle for marketers to convince a CEO or Sales VP that their company needs to produce content that empowers prospects to draw their own conclusions…but pursuit of that cause is well worth the effort, if only in terms of professional self-respect.

Hoarding – If your company believes its content is so proprietary that visitors must be registered and approved to gain access to it, then you’re a prisoner of Web World 1.0, and here’s a news flash from 2014: Online content that requires registration is no longer an effective carrot to generate leads.  Your company’s intellectual capital – showcased in website content – is its most valuable asset. If you restrict access, potential customers are more likely to move on to a competitor than they are to request permission to see it.

B2B companies will increasingly be tasked with having to feed new, relevant content to the online beasts that now rule our world. But rather than approach this as an endless, thankless chore, they need to embrace the opportunity to promote their expertise. A company that’s unwilling or unable to invest the resources necessary to keep their website current and vibrant needs to re-think how it presents its brand online.

[Previously published at http://prbreakfastclub.com/2011/04/08/content-marketing-liability/]

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