I attended last month’s PRCA UK panel debate on ‘The battle between owned and earned media in B2B’. In actual fact, I’d say the title didn’t flatter the debate that took place, which went to the heart of how and why B2B publishing is a resurgent industry.
Creativity is the key
According to Andrew Thomas, publishing editor at Communicate, B2B publishing has always struggled, yet continues to thrive. He argued that the barriers of entry are low for setting up a B2B publishing project – it simply requires knowledge, hard work and creativity.
Unsurprisingly, creativity was a point that the panel kept coming back to. Joel Harrison, editor of B2B Marketing, dispelled the myth that B2B lags behind B2C in terms of creativity. In fact, he stated that B2B shouldn’t be ashamed of being different to B2C, but that ‘old school’ formats are dying. Readers expect to be entertained as well as informed and online readers react differently to the same content as print readers.
Dickon Ross, editor-in-chief, Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET), agreed that trade magazines aren’t meant to be boring and that the readers, are still ultimately consumers. Andrew Hirsch, CEO of John Brown Media and Chairman of the Content Marketing Association, said simple touches, such as high quality photography, produce results, and that typically illustration is appalling in B2B.
1) B2B PRs need to think differently about the content they generate. It’s not a matter of providing insight on jargon only you use. Is your content going to make the publication you’re targeting more entertaining? Are you providing some high-quality photography, a bit of entertainment or, God forbid, a hint of humour?
Diversifying the medium
As a general rule of publishing the distinction between online and print is pretty useless. Yes, we get it. Online is different to print – thanks for that. John Barnes, managing director publishing and technology at Incisive Media, tells us that publishers think in terms of devices. How should content differ on tablets to smartphones, PCs and print? That’s the real question.
It’s also about channels rather than channel according to Andrew Hirsch. A great example of this came from Dickon Ross who pondered whether attention spans really are waning, as this is a popular explanation for changing reader interaction. He said the same person who flies through your Twitter feed on the train might be reading your printed long form articles in the bath later that night. It’s about presenting the same content in different ways on different channels.
John Barnes also questioned whether it was attention spans waning or whether there is just more noise for readers to deal with. He explained that it’s up to publishers to make sure they are part of this noise on as many devices and channels as possible. Andrew Thomas agreed that social channels give readers small tasters with which they decide whether to read longer forms of content.
2) Are PRs providing content for different channels and devices? If you’ve written a 1500 word article, which may be a nice double-page spread in print, how can you suggest ways to optimise this content for social media, tablets, PCs, etc? Don’t just think about securing an opportunity – think about how the publisher will use what you’re offering them.
Content marketing and automation
Business models in B2B publishing have been forced to change. John Barnes describes marketing automation as the game changer as it helps publishers pin down their audience and gather data to see what attracts readers and sales. This has made content marketing an effective way for publishers to convert leads as well as educate readers.
Joel Harrison noted that the important thing for the traditional media publication is to use content marketing to generate leads in such a way that you maintain trust with readers. Building on the previous point, he says content marketing is also a hot topic for B2B marketers and that it is a very competitive space. PRs and marketers, as well as media and publishers, all want a slice.
Andrew Thomas spoke of how publishers can offer co-created content for clients where both parties sit down and come up with a project that works for everyone. John Barnes concurred that publishers are seeing value from producing content for clients.
3) Content marketing is a huge opportunity for PRs. B2B clients want content marketing and the most effective way to promote your content and feed that lead generation process is still through the media. Think about how your content marketing can help a publisher generate revenue. Is it self-serving or does it speak to their audience and will it add value?
Content is money
The bottom line seems to be that B2B PRs have a huge opportunity given the renaissance of B2B publishing. Creativity is at an all-time high and content generation and optimisation is a key ingredient to success. Yes, that is what we do, but the jury is out on whether we do it in a way that helps publishers generate revenue, which is ultimately what they want their content to do.