Breaking down the myths about PR and content marketing

In this chat with Adam Fraser, host of the EY podcast Let’s Talk Marketing, we discuss the complexities of content and why businesses should look at approaching content marketing from a strategic PR perspective.

We’ve never had more opportunity to market our brand, but that brings with it a degree of noise and information overload and confusion. If you can build that base of communication 365 days of the year, before your paid-for advertising campaigns, if people know you, like you, and trust you, you’re front of mind with your target audience, and being talked about positively in the marketplace, and they’re cornerstones I think of what PR does better than probably any of the disciplines, then that means when you are marketing your brand, you are doing your advertising, you’re doing all of those other tactical things, it makes that investment work harder. Because people may have already heard of you, they might even like you and respect you, they recognise your brand, who you are and what it is you do and stand for.

Adam’s podcast has been a mainstay on my Pocket Casts app for years (prior to Let’s Talk Marketing, he produced The EchoJunction Podcast).

He deep dives into all corners of marketing and communications with expert guests from around the world, many of whom return for interviews, which is a ringing endorsement for both host and podcast. I previously chatted with Adam about PR and social media late in 2018 (you can check out the episode here)


Interview transcript:

Adam Fraser:   Trevor, thank you for joining the podcast. We’ve chatted before. Always excited to have a conversation with you. Great to have a member of the PR industry on a marketing podcast, to give your perspectives and represent the industry. You’ll be known to many in Australia, Trevor, but we do have listeners from all over the globe, so maybe just kick things off and tell us about your backstory.

Trevor Young:   I’ve been in the public relations, my journalism was way, way back when, but been in the PR industry for probably coming up to three decades now. But working for all the big agencies, running my own and selling those, setting them up, selling them, that sort of stuff. I’ve been in the PR services industry for a very long time, but things changed for me in 2007 when I started a blog called PR Warrior, just to say what the heck is this blogging caper? I was on Twitter in that same time and LinkedIn in ’05, so always exploring how is this technology going to change what I do as a PR and communications consultant.

I found that just by blogging, by being on social, it raised my profile greatly. I was known within my industry but not necessarily in the broader business community, and from raising that profile, I started getting speaking gigs, I got an agent, I spoke at big conferences, I got a book publisher, Wiley, to sign me up. I did my first book called MicroDomination in 2013 and everything happened because I started blogging, because I was doing content, because I had an early podcast, and that got me on Channel Seven, which is one of the main TV networks here.

Being on TV, being in a lot of the press, to talk about social media and where things were going. I’ve just continued on, neck-deep into all of these social technologies Adam, and not a day goes by, I still sit back and think, “It’s still amazing that we can sit in our office at home or the kitchen and create our own media channel and become our own media channel.” From a PR person who in the earlier days was always having to go through the gatekeepers, to now have the tools and the technology to do what we should have always been able to do as professionals is just, it’s been a game changer.

Adam Fraser:   It’s great to hear you take that sort of decade long perspective and think back of just the seismic impact the internet and social media technologies have had on all of us but hearing that story from a business perspective and again, like you, every time, I’ve been podcasting 5+ years but every single … today is Sydney to Melbourne. Often it’s Sydney to somewhere around the world. I always still pinch myself and go, “I’m clicking one button, I’ve opened one browser, I’m speaking to a guest around the world” which is just amazing and the efficiencies and the relationships it spawns.

Again, like you, I think back to the amazing people I’ve met through the podcast journey and the business journey and really a lot of that emanated from networking, but instead of a face-to-face town hall, it’s on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Trevor Young:   Well, it does. I think the other things we forget, I mean I look at it quite holistically. I do look at the influence you build and the connections you make and the relationships you build. You might start online but they certainly go offline as well. As well as the content, and it’s the content that kicks off a lot of things. When I look at all of this space, I’m looking at it more from reputation. I talk about VITAL, visibility, influence, trust, advocacy, and leadership, and how can you use all of these tools on and offline to build those what are called VITAL pillars of your brand?

Adam Fraser:   Yep. Trevor, nice segue way. Starting to get into some of the content of the book so let’s talk about it. Content Marketing For PR, book released late in 2019. I guess introduce the concept to the audience, what was the itch you were scratching, and what’s the main premise for this book?

Trevor Young:   Well, as they say a lot Adam, when you’re writing a book, sometimes the book’s in you and you’ve just got to get it out of you. This was certainly, had that gestation period. I certainly was researching it over a good number of years and really wrote it for 12 months up until the end of last year. 12-18 months actually, because everything kept changing and I had to keep updating it. But I think what it says on the tin is what you get in the tin. It’s looking at content marketing through a PR lens and I guess I was coming from a PR and comms background, but also being neck deep in content marketing for so many years, I was probably just getting a little frustrated that the conversation around content was being hijacked, and I say that in a nice way, by a lot of the inbound marketing fraternity, and you had SEO people writing about it and then people were writing about PR.

But they were coming at it from a content point of view, and I just did think that anything was really connecting in my mind. I just thought, “Yeah, I agree with what a lot of people are saying” but there is another side I think to content, and I was looking at people in public relations who’d been doing content forever, and were continuing to do it more and more. I just thought there was just another lens that we could look at it through, because not everyone needs a sales funnel. Not everyone has that traditional inbound marketing process they need to adhere to.

What about non-profits and aspiring thought leaders and people like that? So, once I delved into it with that lens on, it opened up a whole new world. To that degree, can be a little bit of a philosophical argument as to which side of the content fence you sit on as well.

Adam Fraser:   It’s interesting with your journalistic background and obviously many decades in the PR sector, again, you say about the clue being on the tin. A podcast called Let’s Talk Marketing, the vast majority of guests here are CMOs, senior marketing professionals, authors, speakers, advisors in the marketing space. Did have Craig Badings on recently from SenateSHJ, talking about their recent thought leadership and report on reputation and trust, but early in the book Trevor, you give a really nice summary of where you see PR as an industry being today and you’re talking there a bit about some of the intersections with other parts of the business. In particular, marketing. I guess just give us your thoughts on that issue.

Trevor Young:   Thanks Adam. When you look at I suppose if you do a book that has PR in it, you have to dispel the myths of what PR is and public relations. There are a lot of myths and one thing PR’s never been really great at doing is dispelling those myths. When you talk to most people, even in marketing, even some people in PR to be honest, and certainly to the outside world, PR people are all about getting you press, getting your name in the papers and on radio and TV and stuff.

There’s a subsection of that, but I would know PR people who wouldn’t even talk to a journalist today. So, there is that aspect, that media relations, which is still a strategic relationship building exercise with the media, but even the media itself has changed to include bloggers and podcasters such as yourself. I wanted to dispel those myths in the book first, but the other part of it is I’m a massive believer and always have been, but certainly now, that doing what I believe constitutes PR, by doing that today, it kind of sets the scene to make your marketing work harder.

I mean, we’ve never had more opportunity to market our brand, but that brings with it a degree of noise and information overload and confusion. If you can build that base of communication 365 days of the year, before you’re paid for advertising campaigns, if people know you, like you, and trust you, you’re front of mind with your target audience, and being talked about positively in the marketplace, and they’re cornerstones I think of what PR does better than probably any of the disciplines, then that means when you are marketing your brand, you are doing your advertising, you’re doing all of those other tactical things, it makes that investment work harder. Because people who may have already heard of you, they might even like you and respect you, they recognise your brand, who you are and what it is you do and stand for.

That’s the way I see how everything works together. It’s kind of not either or, and as we know, Adam, the lines are blurred on all of these areas.

I often tell the story of the head of PR in a very big, recognisable Australian brand when I was doing some strategy for them around content and she said, “Everyone’s coming at me with their content ideas. I’ve got the ad agency, the PR company, the SEO agency. I’ve got my social agency. I’ve got my digital agency. Everyone’s coming at me with content ideas.”

That’s why I said to her, “You’ve just got to take control. You create your strategy and what’s right for you and the brand, and then sure, share that with everyone, all your agencies, but make sure that they’re on track. Because if they’re going to throw you off track with all of these ideas that aren’t part of your strategy and where you want to go, you’re just going to get confused and go into a paralysis.” That was the situation she’d found herself in. She didn’t know where to go for content strategy and content ideas.

Adam Fraser:   Going to jump around a bit Trevor. You’ve been on the podcast before, you know we meander and dip in and out of topics, and towards the end of the book you talk about return on investment and analytics and business benefits, but I want to draw that thread back into what you just said, because you’ve talked a bit about reputation and trust already. You also talk about influence early in the book. You mentioned there about people that know, like, and trust you. Am I hearing a lot of the benefits are at the top of the funnel, almost in the brand awareness area? When you talk about influence, perhaps we are moving further down the funnel. So, we’re influencing all elements?

Trevor Young:   It’s an interesting one, and I often talk before the funnel. Because I believe trust, your reputation, can lead beforehand, but that’s just me. I’m not a massive fan of the metaphorical funnel necessarily. But I think that sometimes, and as we know, and in PR, we’ve seen it before, is you can get a lot of brands that do what I would call public relations and communications really well, they actually don’t advertise, but they’re very successful businesses.

That’s off the back of the awareness and that side of things they’ve got, and the affinity that they’re building with people, and the loyalty. What we’re talking about here ticks a lot of those boxes. Yes, there are a lot of intangibles. If you’ve got big budgets to research, you can certainly research sentiment. I mean, I know of one major brand in Australia that part of their content … analytics or measurement, was brand love, because they knew that if more people that loved the brand based on their regular research, the more sales they made.

They made that as part of a metric that they looked at. Whereas, a lot of other brands wouldn’t even care about that side of things. They just go, “Let’s go back into the hardcore sales.” Again, I think PR and comms need to work with marketing, and I think you’ve got to see, well, where are the strengths? And I think PR and comms can set it up for them as I said earlier, for the marketing to work harder. You could be building a really strong email subscription base, and where you’re emailing people with good content and building that affinity and that familiarity with them and that trust, and then it’s the marketing team potentially that does the email marketing as well.

You’re both contributing to the greater whole, whereas a marketer will probably be always looking, “How can I sell? How can I have that call to action?” And the PR fraternity probably less so. It doesn’t mean that PR people can’t sell, and it doesn’t mean that marketing people can’t build reputation and trust. It’s just, it’s almost a philosophical question in terms of what sort of approach do you take across those two disciplines. I think they work really, really well hand-in-hand. I think marketing’s too big for the marketing department now and I think PR and comms is a bit more whole of organisation, and it works across everything.

Again, it’s a philosophical thing of where you sit in this, and whatever you decide, that’s fine. Whatever’s right for you and your business. That’s fine. I think one point I do make in the book often, Adam, is that what’s right for you and your business. Everyone’s got their own goals, they’re all unique, they might have competitors who sell similar things, but everything else about the organization’s going to be completely different.

Adam Fraser:   And ultimately the proof is in the pudding, Trevor. The bottom line, the revenue, the true business metrics and success therein, how you slice and dice it, what your org structure looks like, it’s just an input to that end game.

Trevor Young:   Absolutely. And you can measure so many things. Do you want to measure everything? No, you’ve got to find the metrics that are important to you, and sometimes you can … We’ve heard people saying, “We go out and if we do a media relations campaign, we can see that there’s a great updraft in sales.” And then you hear others saying, “Well, we got in New York Times and we did this and this and nothing ever happened. It didn’t even do a blip on the web traffic,” for example.

It’s really interesting, and to my mind, PR and comms is 365 days of the year. You’re building media assets, you’re building relationships. What I like to say when I talk about PR is that it’s about increasing the level of connection you have with the people who matter the most to the success of your business, or your cause or your issue if you’re a not-for-profit. If you’re a government department, you’re not after sales. You might be trying to change people’s behaviours around a particular social issue, for example.

Adam Fraser:   Yeah, great point. Look Trevor, let’s keep peeling the layers of the onion back in terms of frameworks and models. Looking at say share a voice overall, I’ve seen various different approaches. Paid, earned, and owned. I think I’ve seen paid, owned, earned, and shared. You go with owned, earned, and social media. I guess we’re all ultimately talking about that same thing, but just talk a bit about your model there.

Trevor Young:   Yeah, again, that’s probably the philosophical. I’m an owned media guy first. That’s the way I think. These are assets that you’re building again and again and again, so the work you’re putting into content now can pay tremendous dividends, if it’s evergreen, two, three, four years down the track. I like that you can control your website, you’ve got your email list, you’ve got your podcast, whatever those assets are that you own and control. Then you have the major, obviously social media, the major social networks. You don’t own those, of course.

And they can change the rules, which they do. But you own the content that you put on it, so that’s kind of in between of owned and earned, and of course earned media is for me, anything, mentions that you’ve been earned. Hopefully I’ve earned the right to be on your podcast. If you’re on the radio, you’ve earned the right for that to happen. if someone mentions you in a top 10 list, or mentions an article or a blog post that you did, and they’re a newspaper reporter, then you’ve earned the right for that to happen.

But if we look at it around social media as well, if people are sharing your content, you’ve earned the right for them to share that content. Social fits in between owned and earned, and they all work together. If you’re talking one without the other, forget it. It’s just crazy. Someone will call me in to do a social media strategy, but we end up doing a content strategy and we look at where it locks in or aligns with what they’re trying to do on an earned media front, as well.

And paid is part of that. It just means that not everyone … I like, again, if I looked at the organics, that works together, but paid actually helps amplify the organic reach you’ve got anyway. When I talk to paid, I’m not talking ad campaigns or anything. That’s not my remit. I talk about using paid, maybe paid social, to amplify your content assets.

Adam Fraser:   Interesting. Leveraging paid to build owned assets rather than just getting one 30-second crack at shouting a message.

Trevor Young:   Yeah, and again, what is right for your business, your goals, what are you trying to achieve? Philosophically, I believe in the owned media and support it with social and earned, and you’ve got that ongoing. That does your heavy lifting for everything else.

Adam Fraser:   I was smiling to myself Trevor, back to the PR versus marketing org structure, in that framework, you obviously had paid and certainly paid advertising is a completely separate thought stream.

Trevor Young:   Yeah. But we talked earlier Adam, about where everything’s intersecting. A lot of PR firms now are doing paid. Paid social. But we’re doing it, and a lot of PR firms now, particularly in England … When I say a lot, more progressive thinking agencies, are buying up SEO firms. That’s a thing, because the backlinks, and you’re earning. If you earn a backlink from the Sydney Morning Herald back to your blog or website or whatever, that’s earned media.

Adam Fraser:   It’s an interesting way of looking at it, and yeah, back to reputation and trust, the more reputable and known and trusted the site that’s linking to you, the more valuable that is. Trevor, it’s on the cover of the book, the term content marketing. Again, I was thinking back to five years again when I began podcasting, that was really the halcyon days for content marketing, that kind of ’15 to ’17 period, extremely commonly talked about. A lot of analysis in the sector. Even back then I remember different people tended to mean different things when they used the term. Again, in the book you’ve got a whole chapter where you talk about this. Just give us your definition and overview of content marketing.

Trevor Young:   Well, I mean, my definition’s probably not much different than anyone else’s, but I define content marketing as strategically creating, publishing, and amplifying original content that’s of interest, relevance, and value to a specific target audience group, with the ultimate goal of influencing a desired outcome. Now, that outcome might be more leads than sales, but it might not be. It might be to develop a thought leadership positioning. Remember, not everyone runs a business as we said earlier.

Sometimes again, philosophically, you might say, “Well, if we build reputation and trust and they’re our key outcomes we want, we know that that leads to sales” or to leads, that leads to sales. Again, what are your priorities? That’s why I just sort of say it’s to influence a desired outcome, whereas the traditional content marketing is really about sales and leads.

Adam Fraser:   I like the bit about influence a desired outcome. Again, back to ultimate business metrics and keeping an eye on key performance indicators you’re trying to drive, not just sort of PR and marketing for the sake of it. And again, when I look back on that five-year period we’ve just gone through and really interested in your views Trevor, I guess where I see content marketing maybe going wrong or going off the rails is brands just putting out content, not staying in their lane, building an audience in an area that’s really, frankly, nothing to do with their core business or core premise or their overall mission. Is that one of the key mistakes you’ve seen brands making?

Trevor Young:   Yeah. And that’s probably a lack of strategy, Adam. People are doing stuff. It’s really easy to do stuff. We’ve all done stuff. But is it strategically aligned with what you’re trying to achieve? Often it’s not, and you can often tell. The problems I see with content is that oh, it’s sexy, let’s just jump in and tick that box. I think if you try and tick a content box, you’re going to be in a world of pain. You’ve got to be passionate about it. It’s got to be part of the DNA of your organisation for it to really, really work.

You’ve got to embrace it and it’s got to be almost a foundational thing, not just an add-on, is the way I view it. And a lot of people are just putting out, again, this comes back down a little bit to the inbound marketing side, which is very content driven, is that they’re very focused on utility based content and that’s addressing customers’ pain points and issues, the challenges they face, the fears. All of that sort of stuff, but that real pain-point stuff, and I think that that’s a really terrific place to start on. I work with my clients, and we go, “Now, what are the 30-50 top issues and pain points that you get? Let’s address them off the bat and maybe do 50 videos and knock them on the head” and already, no one went wrong being useful and helpful, Adam.

I think that’s a really good place to start. And probably for a lot of others, that’s the starting point and that’s it. But what you’re starting to find now is everyone’s got the same avatars and everyone’s got the same … Those avatars have got the same pain points, and the content is becoming very, very samey. They’re just, “Here’s the question, here’s the answer” sort of thing. It’s quite pithy. It looks like it’s a box-ticking exercise.

And again, it’s great to be useful and helpful, and if you go through that process, you do it well, and do it with multimedia and go really in depth and really be useful and helpful, not just surface, that’s a tick. But what I talk about is utility content, leadership content, there’s what I call corporate content, and promotional content. Promotion is asking for the sale, conversion, sign up here, I’ll put that to one side. Utility we just discussed, and I call this your content universe. I think particularly big organisations need to look at content through this prism.

This is where content marketing for PR comes into its fore. It’s probably a bit of a grey area around utility as to whether that’s marketing or PR or who does that, but leadership content is that thought leadership, knowledge leadership, community leadership, that type of thought leadership content that really is a different ballgame. You’re not answering addressing people’s pain points necessarily. You actually might be metaphorically poking them in the eye. You might be trying to change people with your ideas, and changing the way people think about a topic or an issue. That’s brave territory. I mean, Patagonia’s terrific at that around the environment.

Seth Godin, I wouldn’t think Seth’s sitting there with every blog post he writes, “Am I addressing a challenge or a pain point?” He’s actually challenging the way you think about a topic or an issue. People don’t know what they don’t know. This is the … I don’t want to say secret sauce, but it’s the part of content where you can really put distance between yourself and your competitors who are doing really good utility content and that’s fine, and I love that, and I’m a big advocate for it, but leadership content is when you can really take that next leap.

That’s when you get those brands that are putting out thought leadership pieces. They’re having podcasts around topics and issues, and they’re just changing the way people think about a topic or an issue, and it might be more B2B than B2C, not really sure, but I think even if you said, “Well, I’m in tourism,” well it’s not just about my hotel in my area, but maybe it’s about becoming the go-to informational resource for the whole area, for tourism, in a bigger picture. That’s the big picture, and I think it can work right across the board.

The other one I want to mention, Adam, is corporate content. I can’t think of a better name, another name for it. I wish I could, I have to call it corporate content, but that’s a couple of things. Big organisations, they have to put their press releases out. If they’re a public company, they’re always going to put out press releases because of those requirements, but we know that those releases go around and around and around, and everyone has a crack at them, and they’re rendered pretty meaningless by the time they’re put out by the comms department or corporate affairs department.

Any news that comes out of the organisation, sure, archive, do your press releases that no one’s interested in anyway, but tell the story behind it. If you’re starting a new sub-brand or a new product, sure, do your press releases, but take people behind the scenes of why it happened, how it happened. Talk to the designer, talk to the people close to the ground. That’s the place where again, we want to do business with … We don’t do business with logos. We deal with people, and we want to know … We’re interested in stories and peel back the layers of your organisation. That’s where Shayne Elliott, who’s the CEO of ANZ, we get to see him out there on Twitter and he’s doing some interesting things.

That side of things is where we want to be able to get underneath the public face of the business. That’s where I think PR really comes onto its own. Tell the stories of the organisation. Tell the stories of your partners. What’s going on at the top level? Get the leaders out of the shadows of the board room. Let’s see and hear those stories. That’s great content. That’s for social media, as well as owned media channels. I think that that’s where an organisation can really differentiate itself, can build an employee brand, or an employer brand as they call it, that makes them attractive to employees.

It’s really getting under the fingernails of the organisation. So, the leadership content and the corporate content and doing that better, whatever, however we tell our news, how can we do it better? How can we use video? Why aren’t we live streaming this? Why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we taking photos when the boss goes and does a meet and greet?

Adam Fraser:   So interesting, Trevor. Some fantastic insights there. It’s really insightful to break down the value chain or the elements of a content strategy, as you say, from utility/almost customer service focused communications, through to thought leadership with a completely different objective. When you were talking there about corporate comms, and I agree, you need a better name because it sounds dull and dry and sterile, but I know what you’re getting out, I really started to think about … You won’t be surprised to know, a number of podcasts on branding and brand essence and if a brand was a personality, how would it speak? What would it say? And every touchpoint of the organisation contributing to a brand.

And when you were talking about corporate comms and the importance of transparency and almost lifting the veil of what’s going on under the bonnet, you really get into a discussion about overall branding.

Trevor Young:   Absolutely, you do. I think a great example at the moment of a leader doing well is Jacinda Ardern. We’re talking COVID-19 and she’s fantastic, and she’s out there. She’s not doing anything different. This is what she was already doing, and it’s interesting how we say, “Oh, this leader’s doing well and this leader’s doing well and this CEO.” Well, okay, they weren’t doing well before. Okay, they’re doing well now, they’re open, they’ve got the messaging and they’re actually accessible. We want to see that continue.

It’s not an either or. It’s not a crisis thing. You do all this in advance of crisis, and that’s why Jacinda is so good is she’s always been open and doing her live streams on social media. I mean, some of the things she’s doing at the moment, she’ll do a live stream from home, she’s wearing a daggy tracksuit top or jumper, and she’s just checking in with everyone and, “This is what we’re doing and this is where we are.” She fields questions and the other good thing I like her doing in a live stream, is she interviews experts.

She’s interviewed a psychologist and a business entrepreneur about the business side of things. Early days, she got two experts in virus and immunology, so two scientists, and she asked the questions of them. She shone the spotlight on them. The CEO, the leaders don’t need to be the one hogging the spotlight all the time. They can be actually facilitating the conversation and bringing other people into a live stream conversation, for example.

She’s terrific … And it’s paying off, because you see the headlines. The other day in The Atlantic Magazine or online publication, is she the world’s best leader. It’s because she communicates, and she uses the tools, and that to me is good leadership content. That’s leadership content. Right there.

Adam Fraser:   You explained it so well Trevor. The massive differences between utility content/customer service focused content, leadership content, corporate content, almost clear that you can’t talk generically, I’m doing the air quotes, about content. Because you’ve got to go one level deeper. There’s so many different objectives across the enterprise and again, often talk about marketing needs to be weaved end to end horizontally across the enterprise. It can’t act as a silo, and the topics you’re talking about cut across the entire organisation.

Trevor Young:   Yeah. This is not silos … I mean, I’m just using PR because they’re things that PR people are probably used to doing, so in a major company, a lot of that probably will come out of a communications department. But that also means how do we change our departments? We need people who are skilled in communicating. Can you get a simple rig, get a couple of mics, get a really good iPhone, and part of your job is to go out and film this? What skills do you need in-house that you can then start developing those skills?

And then when you need externals, like an audio engineer for a podcast or whatever, you bring them in. You create this team that can do these things but do it on the fly if need be. Do it in real time. Be quite agile. Yes, you might need a signature video at some point, but if you waited for every video in your organisation to be schmick and Hollywood values, nothing will get done. And you know what? There’s no guarantee anyone’s going to watch it anyway. We’ve seen that before. We’ve seen that there are the big budget videos that go nowhere, and the silly, basic things shot on an iPhone can do really, really well.

It’s a combination. It’s never either or anymore. Content is across everything. Marketing plays a role, PR plays a role, it’s up to the leadership of that organisation to say, “Well, what’s our mindset? Philosophically, do we believe in this?” And if we do and we want to become an organisation that communicates, that develops a great culture, that communicates that culture to the world, to customers, to partners, to potential employees, we have to show it. Not tell it. That’s the big issue with companies is they tell the world how great they are. That’s a habit, they can’t get out of that. We don’t listen, we don’t care. Show us. Tell a story. Bring us along for the journey.

Adam Fraser:   As you say, Trevor, there are different extents to which people can embrace this kind of thing, but there’s an overarching power shift post internet between brands who used to control the messaging and manage the information we all access, into the post internet world, the worlds of social media, the world of review sites. There’s really no place to hide, so you can either embrace the new rules of engagement or you can try and hide, but really, the conversation’s going to be happening anyway. Better to be out there listening, responding to your community, answering their questions, understanding their pain points, and their sentiment. I mean, it’s never been easier to tap into that.

Trevor Young:   100%, and that’s one thing … That’s been my core thing over a period of time, is that. Use the technology to do that, to make people … To build an affinity with people. If that’s brand recognition, it’s reputation, it’s trust, and you know what? If you build your audience, and they know and they like you and whatever, when you’ve put your promotional messages out, people are going to be more predisposed to listen. They might even give you a go. If you have to pay every single time to sell something, that’s hard. I’m not saying don’t do it if that’s in your remit or you’ve got the budget. Go for it.

But we know budgets are tighter and we know that if by getting a customer back again is cheaper than trying to go out and get a new one, and how many companies are besotted with getting new customers all the time? Yet, they forget the people, their existing customers, their existing audience. Not everyone in your audience is going to be a customer, but they might be an influencer. They might be able to influence someone. They might be able to share your content. They just love you for who you are and what you do, and then they share it and some of their audiences might be potential customers.

I think it’s just a matter of breaking it down and again saying, “Well, what are we trying to achieve? How can we do it? What’s working?” If some stuff’s working for you right now, continue to do it. Continue to do it. But I think ultimately we’re seeing brands, organisations, and companies that are embracing social technologies and online publishing platforms to get closer to the people who they’re trying to influence, the people who matter the most in the success of their business.

And they’re just using myriad ways of doing it. Does everything work? No. But even having a CEO using a podcast for internal communications perspective, that’s content marketing for PR. That’s classic. That’s paying off. Now, that comes down to culture and I know when you were talking with Craig Badings the other day and he said one of the things that is popping up that is on leaders’ minds is culture. What’s that, number four on the report you were discussing?

Adam Fraser:   Yep.

Trevor Young:   You can use content marketing for PR to help build the culture of your business, which attracts other people, which makes people more productive and they’re happier and you sell more. There’s so many interrelated things we could speak for five hours on.

Adam Fraser:   Yeah, we could, and again, you were touching on it there. Another overarching industry wide dynamic is the fragmentation of media. The ability to hit mass getting harder and harder, so many fragmented, digital niche communities. Trevor, I wanted to go for the final question, just take you in a slightly different direction, but you’ve talked a couple of times about convening your own audience or assembling your own audience rather than renting someone else’s audience and communities, building your own media channels, whatever that looks like.

Again, Seth Godin wrote the book Permission Marketing back in 1999. GDPR came in 18 years later and gave us the legal framework as to what best practise should always frankly have looked like. That concept of opt-in, sending content that people are waiting for, desire, and want, frankly. It sounds so obvious, but we’ve as an industry, gone off kilter a number of times in that period since Seth wrote the book. You touch on it Trevor, in your book, again, just join the dots there and talk about the importance of permission and opt-in, frankly.

Trevor Young:   You’re right. I mean, Seth is the godfather of permission marketing. Classic content marketing for PR. He wrote a book. He owned the term. That’s at the high end, but I devote a whole chapter to that about how you can create a book, and own a territory in the mind of people. I also just want to drop in there Adam that it’s not necessarily about “don’t do advertising” and don’t try and rent people’s audiences and that, because …

Adam Fraser:   Sure.

Trevor Young:   … as we know, it’s getting harder and more expensive and if you can manage to do the other as well, over time it’s a lot more sustainable to build your own audience and use that as a strategy. Again, what’s right for your business is part of your unique strategy. But I think the opt-in, when you look at the whole opt-in thing now, is that because that’s a thing and that’s been a strategy for a number of years now, build your email list, build it, build it, and then sell. We’ve all signed up for something, “Yep, okay, I’ll give you my email and I’ll get your eBook or whatever because I’m kind of interested in it,” and then the pitching starts shortly after.

We’ve still got companies that still are so focused on the pitch that they don’t build that affinity with you. Once you download it, expect a barrage of emails. And so as consumers, we don’t want that. We don’t want to be smashed over the head with email, so even email’s becoming … I don’t know about you, but I talk to people often on this, for example on Twitter and stuff, and we say, “Are you giving your email out as much as you used to?” People say, “Well, we’re not because we just get hammered all the time. It’s just all too hard.”

We only have to look at some of the COVID-19 emails we were getting from businesses that we haven’t heard of for five, six, seven, eight years. Just showing that even businesses still haven’t got that respect around email. I think again, if you’re going to go down that path, it’s really incumbent on companies to understand, “How much value am I going to give? What am I going to use my email for to deliver value, to warm up audiences, to build affinity, and recognition over time?”

But also, how often will we market to that list as well? And how hard will we market to them? If you’re a retailer and you’re giving out discounts and that’s what people have bought in to, people expecting that hardcore pitch all the time, but not everyone’s a retailer. I think again, we’ve got to have, form a view or a philosophy, company wide, around how we look at email and how much value do we give, versus how much we pitch? Is it smarter to warm up the audience, build that audience, grow that audience, deepen the level of connection with that audience, so that when we do sell, people will listen and take us seriously? And they’ll open our emails. That’s the other thing.

Adam Fraser:   Yep. If the value exchange is there, people are happy to be-

Trevor Young:   They are.

Adam Fraser:   … communicated with. Absolutely. Look Trevor, as you say, I could and you could talk about this topic for three, four, five hours, but I will be respectful of your time and draw the body of the interview to a close. Thank you very much for joining the EY podcast, Let’s Talk Marketing, to talk about your thoughts on the PR industry and your new book, Content Marketing For PR.

Now Trevor, I think you know the drill. We’ll recoil with terror. We get heavy, deep, and strategic in the body of the show, but I lighten things up at the end. Are you all set in Melbourne for the three quick questions?

Trevor Young:   Go for it.

Adam Fraser:   Wonderful stuff. Trevor Young, very relevant and a bit meta, but question one Trevor, a business book you recommend?

Trevor Young:   Oh, at the moment I’m reading one called Think, Say, Do. Hang on, I’ll just turn around and get the proper … Sorry. Think, Do, Say by Ron Tite. Think, Do, Say. I always get the title wrong. Think, Do, Say by Ron Tite. Terrific book, really funny read, really relevant for any business, any business leader.

Adam Fraser:   Okay, great stuff. I will list the details Trevor, in the show notes. Question two, one person to follow on social or digital that you think would add value to the audience?

Trevor Young:   I’d say Mark Schaefer. He’s a top blogger, he’s a speaker, he’s a best selling author. Mark Schaefer, just really terrific. He’s got a great book out called Marketing Rebellion, so if you wanted a second book, I’ve just given a second one in as well.

Adam Fraser:   Okay. Nice work. And question three, Trevor, if you could have a one to one dinner with any living human being on the planet, who would you choose?

Trevor Young:   Oh, anyone? It’d have to be Keith Richards. Watched his documentary again, a couple of nights ago, and just a fascinating character, but I love his passion. I love the fact that given his age and he’s ageless, but given his age that he’s still rocking and still angry and … Not angry, but he’s still passionate as much about the blues and music as he was when he first started as a teenager. I just love the passion and I could talk to him all night about music.

Adam Fraser:   Actually, I had a guest recently say Paul McCartney, so we’ve had The Beatles and The Stones covered now. Good coverage. Trevor, thank you once again. Look, before I let you go, where do you want to send people that may want to follow what you’re writing online, and of course, details around your new book?

Trevor Young:    The blog is That will take you to my Digital Citizen site, but is the blog that’s been going since 2007. If they want to know more about the book,

Adam Fraser:   Great stuff. Trevor, thanks so much for coming back on the podcast.

Trevor Young:   Cheers. Thanks very much, Adam.


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