How Your PR Skills Are Being Re-Packaged and Sold by Ad Pros


by Michael Shepherd, Managing Partner

Your marketing people are probably wearing you out these days with their constant references to “content marketing,” whether it’s a social media post, website article or e-mailed coupon. The most vocal evangelists within the organization may even be re-branding themselves as content marketing specialists and going so far as to develop content strategy and show how it integrates with the company’s SEO and Social Media initiatives.

It’s smart, cool and hip- and if you don’t get it, dude, well, you probably need to trade in those Dockers for a set of Levis and wing tips – because it’s a whole new ball game.

Or, is it?

To better understand this “new genre,” let’s start with an operational definition. Here’s how the Content Marketing Institute (, which, by the way, appears to be a division of a Cleveland-based Internet Marketing Services company, describes it:

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

Hmmm. A technique. Interesting. So, there must be a manual that illustrates or more deeply explains it – something I can practice and perfect through repetition. Then, I read on further…

Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.

Wait a minute! This is all starting to sound suspiciously familiar! Isn’t this what public relations people do: Use highly informational, credible forms of communication to build trust and respect? What’s different?

Everything. And nothing.

Sure, the technology has changed. The number of channels has exploded, the way we deploy and access information has been transformed – and, as we’ve seen for quite some time now – brands are no longer in control. Consumers and customers are.

That’s a challenging proposition for old school advertising and branding professionals, most of whom who have devoted their entire professional lives to the sizzle. How many times have we heard that old tired saying, “It’s not about the steak…”? Well, guess what? Now, it’s all about that and those hip ad guys – at least those that have survived the most difficult decade in a century – are having a difficult time digesting what’s on their plates.

PR practitioners, on the other hand, have always understood the power of information. They built their professional portfolios and client relationships by delivering substantive, but decidedly non-sexy stuff like press releases, articles, infographics, position papers, advertorials, photo essays and a host of other long-format communication vehicles. For them, it was never about selling. It was the telling. They just never thought up a coolly detached word to describe it.

Now we have one: Content.

Leave it to those fast-talking ad guys to come up with a whole new way of describing the steak – all while trying to be first to eat it, too.

Michael Shepherd

Michael serves as Managing Partner of The Shepherd Group, a brand and communications firm with offices in Seattle and Newport Beach. A former journalist, he specializes in building narratives through discovery, design, and development of branded editorial and visual content.