How the press release morphed into multimedia content driven by social media and SEO

William Shatner's video for State Farm has been viewed almost 700,000 times and earned almost $5m in publicityGood piece in the FT this morning looking at how public relations is changing and how the humble press release is no longer quite as humble as it used to be.

The rise of PR has gone hand in hand with the ever shrinking news rooms, number of journalists who inhabit them, and the rise in churnalism, which demands a constant stream of digital news to fill magazine and newspaper websites.  That has resulted in as much as 41% of news now being driven by PR.

The story quotes a figure from the US that says the ratio of PRs to journalists has shifted from 1.2 to one to four to one between 1980 and 2010. 

Journalism has quite literally become surrounded by media relations and that has had a significant impact on reshapping the digital landscape that news media now operates in.

The once seemingly dull UBM-owned PR Newswire is part of  that change. No longer simply pushing out wads of text its future is driven by digital syndication, social media and search engine optimisation, according to chief executive Ninan Chacko.

It is distributing infographics, images and video as well as text and has had some notable success such as the video produced for US insurer State Farm starring Star Trek’s William Shatner.

The video safety video about deep frying turkey (an American thing) was a huge hit. It was picked up a string of top named publications, including Esquire and the Daily News, and has been viewed almost 700,000 times on YouTube on top of clips being played by TV news channels across the US.

Add to that all the blogs that ran it and the social media shares it won and PR Newswire estimates that the earned media publicity was worth $4.7m plus a $3m drop in fried turkey accident claims.

That kind of change is seeing the public relations and media industry use SEO to get client’s work high on search results while increasingly PRs know who to target with content to ensure it gets well shared in social channels.

That change is made possible in part by the rise of newspapers using blogs, by sites like the Huffington Post, the Daily best and many other large and mid size blogs that pump out content.

It means that the focus on content is put at the centre of the PR story and the quality has to be there for the process to be successful, says Chacko.

But it also raises questions about the type of content that can compete online. “This process doesn’t work unless it’s high-quality content,” Mr Chacko says. 

For now, much corporate content is poorly produced, poorly targeted advertorial. Mr Chacko admits: “There are a lot of people who still think quantity beats quality”. Like spam, some of it works. The term “churnalism” stems fromCardiffUniversityresearchers’ estimate in 2006 that 41 per cent ofUKpress articles were driven by PR. As brands write their own stories, professional media outlets must work harder to set themselves apart. 

Producing readable, watchable corporate content will not be easy. It will also require much closer integration of advertising, digital marketing, PR and investor relations. But search and social media trends suggest corporate content will only grow. Whether media outlets like it or not, every company will have to become a content company, the FT reports.