How can brands fight the good fight against content pollution?

|Eirini Pan

Views from the PR industry following Outbrain’s latest Content Conversations meet-up in London

On the 28th of November our London office hosted the final Content Conversations meet-up of 2013. This time, the focus of our conversation was around the ever changing public relations landscape and the real impact of the much-heralded content marketing revolution.

If content is king, how do you ascend the throne? A panel of public relations and journalism experts including: Ben Cohen, journalist and board member at Clarity PR, Elizabeth McGuane from Fleishman Hillard, Justin Pearse from Bite and Kate Magee, Associate Editor at PR Week, were challenged to set the scene for this highly topical debate. Tom Berry, CEO of Chameleon took on the challenge of Chair and was also a significant contributor to the discussion, guiding us through a conversation that could have gone on way past the event’s cut off time..


Here is some of what they had to say:

How can brands fight the good fight against content pollution?

“New content is coming out every minute, every second, almost too much content is coming out. The Internet made everyone think that it’s easy – you can just press publish and you are reaching millions of readers instantaneously”, said Justin Pearse, about the overwhelming content wave that has engulfed us over the last couple of years. “This is content pollution. It starts to flood out everywhere and gets in the way of people’s lives, it’s polluting the online conversation”, Pearse added.

Kate Magee agreed: “The Internet provides a great opportunity for everyone to go in and write content. There is a very low barrier of entry to create content, everyone thinks that they can do it well and that people are automatically going to read it. But to create great content requires expertise, resources, budget….” So, how can brands fight this storm of hype and create content that actually reaches their target audiences?

Elizabeth McGuane suggested that brands “really need to have a point of view, a deeper understanding of the industry that they belong to and have in mind a consistent story that they want to tell”. Brands have to define a balance between a long-term strategy – which will be the ‘story arc’ and also be experimental and produce ‘story lines’, short bursts of content with which they can be responsive and react to what the reader wants right now. Tom Berry agrees, “there is a temptation to rush to create either very small bits of text that get lost, or to create big epic pieces of content. Actually the truth lies somewhere in between”. But how do you balance the need for meaningful reader-worthy content with a brand’s desire to push its messages?

“The challenge is in how to marry the different interests”, says Ben Cohen. “Because the market is so crowded with pieces of content, there is a challenge for brands to be able to create things that are actually interesting. And it’s not like this is a new thing at all, newspapers have had advertorial that they must try to match with the editorial ethos of the paper, since they came into existence. They just got a new trendy buzzword that people are now trying to use to encapsulate it. But what is new is that you can now measure it.”

What is PR’s role in the content marketing landscape?

The rise in popularity of content marketing and what it means for those working in the PR industry is a topic hotly debated. Justin Pearse claimed that “Every agency in town… SEO, digital, PR – they are all claiming to be content marketing agencies, like social media agencies 2 years ago.”

All panelists agreed that when you talk to brands about great content the theme that always comes out is authenticity. It is really important to have a brand personality that is authentic and that the business can well define… and PR can really own that messaging. The past few years people have been guilty of creating content for robots, for algorithms, content that technology finds worthwhile. But algorithms are changing now. With Google ‘penguin’, ‘panda’ and ‘hummingbird’ now in the game, if you don’t create content that’s authentic you are not going to cut through; you are not going to engage anyone.

PR professionals have great editorial skills and understand what makes a good story. Businesses want to have a content strategy, but sometimes they don’t understand what it takes to produce it, they can’t articulate or get the stories out. That’s what PR can offer: digging down and getting the stories out from within the business in order to get the right message across. But what remains a challenge for the industry is that it’s not just about creating great content, it’s also about making sure that people are seeing the content in the right places and at the right time. “That’s an area that the industry really needs to get better at”, Kate Magee highlighted.

On a positive note, Elizabeth McGuane noted a change in the perception of clients during the past 2 years: “The last 2 years we went from clients being like… ‘We want a website, we might need content, what is content marketing?’ to now coming to us and saying… ‘We need a content strategy and we need someone to help us with our strategy in the long term’.”

Undoubtedly, there is room for further discussion on many aspects of this debate and the conversation is set to continue through the Guardian’s Live Q&A on 5 December from 12.00pm GMT.

To be up-to-date on our future Content Conversations events follow @outbrainUK and #contentconversations or emails us at

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Eirini Pan

Eirini Pan

Eirini Pan is Marketing Manager at Outbrain's European team. A Greek based in London, she manages data insights and design... Read more

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