Public Relations, Your New Name is Outreach

During the past decade, successful marketing strategies have been rewritten and dramatically so. With audiences moving away from traditional media to ‘new’ media channels, the inexpensiveness of online content creation and the ability to attract qualified leads via search engine optimization it was possible to create ones own marketing ‘gravity’ to attract prospects without relying on the media or anyone else to push them. But, that too, is beginning to change.

Back in the day (yeah, I’m that old), all a company had to do was spend a bunch of money saying the right thing via TV, radio and print advertising to ensure people were aware of and would want their product/service offerings. It was also important to reinforce that effort with a strong coordinated outreach (public relations) to get mentioned in all the right places by all the right people (the content producers on TV, radio and print) to generate trust and legitimacy in addition to overall increased visibility.

Fast forward to today as the dust begins to settle around all the new strategies and successes found with online marketing. We are beginning to see something very familiar evolve. Outreach (aka public relations) is returning as a major element of content marketing.

So we are now all creating wonderfully engaging and informative content for our target markets. We are publishing it on company blogs and web sites with optimized landing pages standing at the ready to convert suspects to prospects. But wait, that flow of suspects is falling off. How come? This is all the more distressing as we watch our social media friend, Facebook, start to tank.

As a result of the rampant pace at which companies have been pushing out marketing content, the market has become numb with information and misinformation overload. Searching for information now requires culling through the multitude of important-sounding titles and descriptions that may lead to poorly or partially assembled information or a misguided sales pitch instead of something useful.

So what to do to rise above the noise? How can you make it easier for your prospective customers to find out about your offerings?

Outreach - the new public relationsGoogle is struggling with the same question. It’s their goal to provide high-quality and relevant search results. And to pass their evaluations is an ever-changing process which has recently been dumbed down to “be interesting to your audience and high rankings will happen.” But, wait, there are those who already have large audiences and are also ranking high in search results. Maybe we can leverage that.

Let me introduce you to an old friend, “public relations,” except today we are calling him, “outreach.”

Outreach is the process of communicating with anyone who has a large audience (assumedly containing those from your target audience) and providing these influencers with valuable content they will want to pass on to their audiences. An outreach target could be a blogger who may be interested in sharing a video you have published on your web site or a blog post explaining how your industry can be doing better to serve your customers or ??. It could be a trade show or conference in search of speakers who will happily provide you with a podium at their event and a bio on their web site. And it could even be an editor or reporter in need of your insights for an upcoming article to be syndicated across the internet on several high-quality article sites. It’s deja vu all over again.

So while the targets of public relations have changed some along with the means of reaching them (not so much using press releases any more as using informal personable email, twitter or direct messaging communication), the intended end result has not. We want to leverage these large audiences to generate trust and legitimacy in addition to increase visibility of our offerings. Sound familiar?

Have you identified the influencers in your space? Have you followed them to learn what they see as important so that you can offer something they will deem worthy to forward to their audiences? Have you begun participating in the conversation (comments) with them? If not, it’s time to start building those outreach relationships (pka media relations).



13 Replies to “Public Relations, Your New Name is Outreach”

  1. You’re right about outreach, but I think it goes even further. Too many people are still hung up with outdated artificial demarcations between “mainstream media” and “social media”. And they still have a separation between “marketing” and “PR”. This leads to flawed strategic decisions.

    The distinctions have nearly disappeared. It’s all about generating attention and reaching buyers.

    1. Thanks for the comment David. I agree, compartmentalization of marketing functions like PR is a very dangerous thing. And I recall you touching on the definitions of mainstream and social media recently, pointing out that “traditional” media allow for comments and promote sharing while “non-traditional” media are now winning awards previously reserved for the traditional outlets. Maybe not surprisingly, the most challenged to recognize the blurring of the boundaries are those defined by them. But the market ultimately decides what’s of value. And as always, success comes from giving the market what it wants.

  2. The entire PR landscape is evolving online. Where there used to be clear lines of differentiation between advertising and PR, that is not so today. The one thing that does still separate the the two is media relations/outreach. It will get very muddy now that native advertising is becoming popular with the media. It might become more challenging to get “free press” in the same space that another advertiser will pay for.

    1. Thanks for your comment Bill. You bring up an interesting point. Distribution channels, in whatever form they occur, are advertising channels if able to maintain audience volume and can identify who is in their audience. But I’m not sure I agree we have a new challenge in today’s online world. Content producers (print/radio/tv) have for years found themselves accused of giving away free advertising when mentioning a business and/or products in their “unpaid” content. At some of the largest venues, it was a best-kept secret how much was the result of some form of compensation. Fast forward a few years and now the term “paid product placement” is commonplace. Native advertising in many respects looks, feels and smells like “paid product placement” to me. But then again, I had to look the term up because I hadn’t heard of it before you mentioned it here. So maybe I’m not understanding it completely?

  3. David, enjoyed your post and the reminder of outreach. I think we need to complete it with relationships after we connect. That’s what social media lets us do without some of the traditional filters.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jeff. I’m flattered you’d confuse my post with one of David’s. High praise, indeed! You’re absolutely spot on though about using alternate channels (e.g. social media) to create and build relationships. For many, Twitter is the best way to communicate since their email inbox is full of spam. For others, a Facebook message is more appreciated. The challenge is to be aware of the most appreciated and effective channel for everyone you’re working with.

  4. Same story, different decade. Interesting piece, Joe! I like how you illustrated the end-goal of PR being the same as it ever was: to influence the influencers! Over on my side of the drink, I’m seeing a general misunderstanding of what the all-singing, dancing ‘social media’ is about. Many companies are paying big bucks to hire external online marketing specialists who then report to Marketing Directors, circumnavigating advertising and PR altogether and skipping the valuable content creation bit.

    1. Thanks for your comment Amber. Sounds like you’re describing the same situation David warns of in his comment here. That begs the question, are they getting sufficient results to justify the practice (ie able to cloak their disadvantage)?

  5. This article showcases another reason businesses of all size should seriously consider working with a marketing/PR professional who has existing relationships with influencers. There are not enough hours in the day for business owners/managers to expand their network, build meaningful relationships, engage, provide thoughtful content, continually scan for PR opportunities…and take care of the income generating side of their business.

    The end goal is always the same….to get products/services in front of consumers. This past year I’ve seen Whatcom County businesses find success with these marketing/PR methods: local press releases, in-person networking, social media, and media pitches derived from on-line relationships. I believe some of these ‘oldies’ are still effective and should not be abandoned. :)

    As far as future changes with the media are concerned…we should all be watching how local and national publications are ratcheting back the info they share for free online. It will be interesting to see what happens with readership and social sharing of articles as they start making people pay to read.

    1. Thanks for your comment Patti. I agree that rare is the business owner who realizes the enormous amount of time required to do PR right. Scaling this effort across several clients makes it possible for PR professionals like yourself to not only enable a new client to realize benefits quickly but also for a lot less cost than trying to do it in-house.

      And your comment regarding publications “ratcheting back” online content by placing it behind paid registration is timely as our local daily newspaper just announced they are making that move. People with registrations will still share content but their friends who follow the shared link will be stymied by the “members only” barrier. Will that create more paid readers or will it train them to not bother following those links?

  6. Joe,

    I am in complete agreement with your post. There was a time when I thought I could bypass traditional PR and just make my own news online pretty effectively. That time has passed because the the playing field is much more level. Our competitors have caught up with the SEO and content optimization practices that were allowing us to outrank them on a tactical level. A couple years ago, we could win just by being in the top rankings. However, now that there is so much noise, we have to dust off our marketing 101 books and focus on all that stuff we learned in business school. We are looking for much more creative solutions that integrate all forms of marketing, versus isolating our service offering to digital only. All of the pieces of the marketing package have to work together. We’re focusing far more on building influencer relationships, improving user experiences, and increasing conversion as well as push campaigns through email and SMS. Social is great for customer service, but I’ve yet to see it produce anywhere near the ROI that search and push can for generating business. (I do wonder if we digital marketing professionals are just Facebooking and Tweeting to each other at times.) As you imply in your article, the principles of marketing and PR are the same as they have always been, we’re just applying them in different platforms than we have in the past.

    1. Thanks for your comment Kristin. You make great points; 1) What works today is not necessarily what’s going to work tomorrow. As marketers we need to always be watching and preparing for the next wave while also minding the fundamentals and 2) Beware the marketing echo chamber. There are many very visible soothsayers around the marketing space who make their own weather and then point to it as self-evident proof of their methods. Combine that with propensity for marketers to make a lot of self-serving noise in the latest “kewl” channels and it suddenly become harder to see the forest for the trees.

      The email and SMS push campaigns you speak of are probably 100% opt-in and as-such I wouldn’t consider them so much “push” as relationship building since the lead has been generated and likely qualified. I have to say that since, for me, “push marketing” is a derogatory term anymore.

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