Fusion what, you say? Fusion content, I say. That’s fusion, as in convergence, when two or more forces come together as one.
Here, it will be: 1) brand-centric digital marketing; 2) sales-funnel-driven database/CRM/email/direct marketing, which is all digital automated software these days; 3) issues-reputation-media-stakeholder-focused public relations and strategic corporate communications; and 4) news-information+entertainment journalism.
That’s four things fusing as one, right before our eyes and minds, though for the sake of simplicity, let’s lump 1 and 2 on one end, and 3 and 4 on the other. Like in this colorful Venn diagram. Brand+sales marketing happens in red, public relations and journalism happen is green, fusion happens in yellow.
So here’s how it works. In a typical company or organization, there is always palpable tension between marketing and PR. Little mutual respect, in fact. I know. Been there, done that. On both sides.
I’ve seen deep thinkers in PR so focused on their high issues
— the impact of a new law, how the brand projects on Wall Street, tackling the company’s approach to climate change, managing brand reputation and thought leadership more broadly — that they’re quick to look down on marketing guys who “just” worry about the next ad.
I’ve also been in teams with deep thinkers on the marketing side, diving through consumer-behavior data, figuring out complex demographic trends, matching research with creative. Did I mention creative? It has always been inspiring to watch those guys connect so sublimely with the latest design trends before coming up with the next ad, though it’s not so cool to see them looking down the hall laughing at the PR team for being “disconnected” from the high priority of getting consumers to actually buy the product.
Enter 2014. That’s when digital took over marketing AND public relations.
The marketing guys were quicker to the draw and have occupied the space, as any review of new-era cloud automation tools attests. Many come to mind
— this article lists 50! — but there’s only one of note on the PR side. Heck, the entire field has come to be known as Content Marketing.
So much so that the PR industry is still struggling with what to make of the digital earthquake. You can get a sense of that here.
Enter, now, 2016, and wouldn’t you know it. Fate has silver-plate handed the driver’s seat to… public relations! They just haven’t realized it yet.
If digital took over marketing in 2014, content took over digital in 2015. Marketing teams are in a desperate and valiant attempt to control content as part of their digital occupation, but that’s not working out very well for most.
I explain why in my last Breakthrough Point post. It’s a wiring and mindset thing. Product marketers think a certain way, and to create the journalism-quality content needed in today’s digital requires another kind of thinking.
Take a look at this AdAge story from last month. After setting the table on this whole struggle and how Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i, is dealing with it
— can you ask for a more telling example? — the reporter says that “while 360i is a digital marketing agency at its core, Ms. Hofstetter puts on her PR hat to come up with ideas consumers will care about and want to share.”
Begs the question, doesn’t it: what exactly SHOULD a digital agency be at its very core if not precisely that. If you don’t exist these days to “come up with ideas consumers will care about and want to share,” why do you exist?
But check it out: Sarah is right. She HAS to put on her PR hat to create those ideas, because that content is owned by public relations.
To be sure, PR includes marketing communications, or writing releases and producing events and such to support product marketing.
I’m guessing, though, that’s not the PR hat Sarah had in mind, but rather the one that comes from the deeper thinking part of the team, the ones who write white papers, industry analyses and market overviews. The ones who sit back in the corporate suite and publish lookbooks focused on what the brand means to people and society. Its moving purpose. Its enduring values. The ones who write about the community heroes who partner with the company across its social responsibility initiatives, as well as messages and strategies to build amazing relationships with every stakeholder. The folks concerned with mission. Connection. Inspiration.
That, my friends, is what consumers care about and love to share. So I’ll be very politically incorrect here, in today’s marketing-dominated context. It’s not that PR must become merely active in what is now Content Marketing. PR must LEAD the space and work seamlessly with Marketing. That’s where the fusion comes in.
For marketers, it’s a huge reality check. Their brand-centric strategies and channels are fantastic in traditional media, but have proven ineffective in digital, at least alone, without the lead that must come from PR, which in turn creates a paradox just as huge. To secure outstanding marketing results
— the attraction and retention of consumers — companies must rely on PR strategies not focused on consumers exclusively, or even directly.
For the moment, during this time of transition, that places Marketing in an extremely uncomfortable position, for they must essentially delegate to PR the attraction and retention of their only target. The good news for Marketing is that PR has always included consumers among its stakeholders. But still, it’s a tough pill, because we live in an age when consumers are found increasingly in digital.
Yet, that’s where we’re at. This doesn’t mean digital shops like 360i must now pivot to become PR agencies, or that companies must suddenly transfer most digital responsibilities to the PR department.
It means we must begin to think in Fusion terms. The whole construct must adapt to this exciting new era, at agencies and companies of all sizes and industries.
To fully get this, let’s fill in the Venn above and inventory what each side owns and how they can bridge right into the Yellow Zone to make this work.
PR departments have always owned the writers and editors, including journalists in the revolving door between PR and media-newsroom jobs. And those motherfuckers can write. The best PR agencies and directors use that writing across a rich content mix, bringing in photographers, filmmakers, musicians, and others, to inform, entertain, lift souls
— you know. To amaze.
Marketers, for their part, who have always used equally talented artists for the brand-centric storytelling that dazzle and floor us in their advertising executions
— Super Bowl, anyone? — own a hugely important thing. The money. They command far bigger budgets to attract consumers than PR folks have ever seen, largely because paid channels are so expensive in digital, as they are in traditional. PR lives far more in earned media, which is either free or radically less expensive.
PR owns the stakeholder map, used to segment corporate messages and build relationships with media newsrooms, policymakers, trade associations, community organizations, the company’s investors, AND consumers
— in the world of earned.
This is a pretty big deal, because companies have multiple audiences, but they have thus far, for the most part, used digital to address only consumers. All kinds of lost opportunities there.
That said, consumers are hugely important, and the consumer map is owned rightly by marketers, though shared by PR, to segment and target the various groups and cover the buyer’s journey from evaluation to brand advocacy.
There is one thing Marketing has tried to own thus far in the digital revolution: the management of social media communities and conversations. Until very recently, they tried to turn that into an offer-and-promotion churning machine, but Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and the others changed the rules to favor great original content (the PR variety) and crowd out these unsolicited, largely unwanted promo-driven interruptions.
So again, in must step
— no, in must barge! — PR and co-occupy the space. And not just for the higher-quality content. Just as importantly, for the quality and depth of conversation and relationship building, another traditional strength of public relations professionals.
One area marketing has owned is automation software in the cloud to amplify content as widely as possible and drive as many leads as possible into the Red Zone sales funnel
— readers and viewers who respond to the content — where sales departments then enter the picture to turn leads into dollars. This is #2 above, the database/email/CRM/direct discipline.
The correction that must be made on this front is that PR must come to own its part of amplification automation to better and more widely reach Green Zone stakeholders in earned media
— to take, as it were, the stakeholder map of influencers, NGOs, employees, news reporters, regulators, suppliers and the rest, and set up a robust dashboard to track interaction with the company’s content, manage those relationships and produce the requisite analytics.
Inside the Yellow Zone, Marketing and PR must work more tightly together than they’re used to. In marketing communications, mentioned earlier, both sides have always worked seamlessly. So we know they can do it.
The difference now is that in digital, they must do it, literally, 24/7/365. And that they’ve never, ever, ever done.
That, my friends, is what Fusion Content is all about: the total, unprecedented Yellow Zone integration of Marketing and PR.
PR may end up running content and social conversations and driving value through the stakeholder map in the Green Zone, but Marketing must be right there in the room with its consumer map making sure the content works just as well across the buyer’s journey and create lead conversions in the Red Zone.
There are already metrics each side follows in their respective zones. In the Yellow Zone, they must converge, in true Fusion fashion.
I refer to Fusion Content as content, and not Fusion Marketing Relations or Fusion Public Marketing or whatever, because content is what both sides have in common. The discipline they share in the digital space. It’s where both truly fuse. Should, anyway. Must, for sure, starting this year, if brands are to be optimized in all three zones.
The time, therefore, has come to stop calling this Content Marketing. I, for one, will carry it a bit longer for transition’s sake. But the leash will be short.
I do confess to stretching something here. This is, I insist, an easy prediction, because Fusion is bound to happen. But all right, I know, it will probably not mainstream quite this early, in 2016. The turf battles will still be there come year-end. The resistance. The resentment.
So the calling goes out to every CEO out there in digital land. Dig into this. Seek, truly, deeply, to understand it. You are leaving sooooo much money and stakeholder windows on the table each day you don’t.
And then, bring in an agency that knows Fusion and, internally, bring your team together. No, not together as in a couple of meetings and some conference calls. I mean TOGETHER. A single, seamless team. PR throwing in their strengths, Marketing contributing theirs, to create something truly and beautifully different. The world of business is used to making far more complicated mergers work. So is diplomacy. Egypt made peace with Israel, and Europe became a Union.
So c’mon, really? You’re gonna tell me this can’t be done? Oh, and by the way, if you’re a CMO or CCO (the middle C there is for Communications), why wait for your boss?
This is what’s next. This is what’s now. Your boss may not have the time to dig in. So, how visionary are you?