As the public relations industry continues to shift focus from what is classified as “traditional PR” to more integrated communications programs, professionals are challenged to not only  maintain relationships with key media, but also to  become reporters ourselves and “think like editors,” creating, cultivating and publishing content.

I had the opportunity to participate in The Council of Public Relations Firms 2013 Critical Issus Forum where the discussion centered around this very topic.  Opening keynote was given by Ogilvy global CEO Chris Graves, who maintains that if we think like editors, our embedded (or native) content will be read, viewed, downloaded and heard.  Graves’ keynote lead into additional sessions on the good, the bad and the downright ugly of contemporary content, as he hosted a panel of professionals on the subject. Panel participants included, Lewis Dworkin of Forbes Media; Adi Ingatius of Harvard Business Review; Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine; Raju Narisetti of News Corp; Eric Harris of BuzzFeed; and Amy Webb at Webbmedia Group.

Each panelist voiced opinions on how content should be viewed or managed, from POVs that content isn’t terribly newsworthy (and as a result should be viewed not as a new animal, but a tested tool that has new relevance) to the stance that PR’s opportunity to seize is in facilitating consumption. Webb championed the idea that native content isn’t revolutionary, with Jarvis agreeing that “listicles” (information provided in the form of a list on a specific topic… think Letterman’s Top 10 list…) have been around for some time now. Jarvis also went as far to say that PR people should just focus on the relationships with journalists and not get into the business of creating content.

But Dworkin’s thoughts on content’s relationship to the audience were especially significant and ripe with potential for the PR industry. A good litmus test for whether content is strategic? Ask yourself when curating and distributing content, “If your target audience had to, would they pay for what you’re creating?” If “yes,” onward, PR soldiers. The audience – and helping to add value to and contextualize content for audiences – is something the communicator can and should own.

For example, regardless of who creates the content, we have the power to ensure our mobile campaigns synchronize content across devices, and that content can be accessed in conjunction with other screen content. Making content functional and a means to improving an experience the audience is already having (e.g. during live “The Walking Dead” broadcast when fans participate in real-time discussions about the outcome of a character’s situation in the episode) is where PR has the ability to make an impact.

Consensus on the panel was around the reality that journalism today is less a static process and more a conversation, and that those of us in communications and media are tasked with finding our highest value role within that paradigm.  I’d suggest that the PR and communication industry’s sweet spot might be in not generating the content as much as it in is putting it in proper context for our clients and their stakeholders.




Lisa Vallee-Smith is the Co-CEO of Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Silicon Valley, Detroit, London and Hong Kong.