Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Content Credibility Question

Perhaps my most important responsibility as the head of a boutique public relations consultancy is to anticipate client needs and challenges. Like all small businesses, we bet our investment capital, professional development efforts and staff recruitment plans on these projections.

Accordingly, I spend a lot of time speaking with corporate marketing and PR/communications decision-makers. Where do they plan on investing resources? What obstacles will they face executing lead generation and branding programs? And (most important) how will their performance be measured?

For the past six months the story from the executive marketing suite has been all about content. Companies typically have lots of it, from highly technical white papers and product slicks to more sales-oriented presentations and advertisements. The questions corporate marketing and PR leaders must address include:

● How to identify, collect and evaluate the content that already exists?
● How to best create new content that is in-strategy and action-oriented?
● How to package and deliver content to audiences in creative ways?

This content conundrum has grown in significance with the adoption of social media by corporate marketing organizations. Blogs, podcasts, social networks, Web-based video, etc. are predominantly content-driven communications vehicles.

Recently, I penned an article about the “3Es” of public relations – education, engagement and entertainment ( While I stand by my assertion that content must embody these characteristics, I neglected to address one critical issue: credibility.

Credibility is simply saying what you mean and doing what you say. Following through on words and actions establishes a track record of believability.

Yet, in a business context the issue of credibility becomes a bit murky. Consider the following statements often incorporated into public relations, marketing and sales content:

● Company X is a leading provider of...
● Company Y offers award-winning service to its customers
● Company Z has long been recognized as an innovator in...

While these statements may be technically true, their credibility with and impact on influential audiences is debatable. Customers, partners, investors and employees have become appropriately skeptical and often demand third-party validation of such grand claims. It is incumbent on PR professionals to rise to this challenge to instill a higher level of confidence in our companies.

Here are a few ideas to help your company address the credibility question when developing content:

1. Back it up with numbers. BearingPoint has done a good job of this by citing an extensive portfolio of customer relationships when making a vertical market leadership statement.

2. Quote third parties. This can include customer statements, industry analyst commentary or earned media. The more credible the source (i.e. an article in the business media versus an industry blog), the greater the impact.

3. Make meaningful comparisons. A few years ago I attended a presentation from Cisco CEO John Chambers at the FOSE government IT conference. He supported a claim of industry leadership by explaining that Cisco's market valuation was greater than the combined worth of its competitors.

4. Review your writing through a skeptical lens. Are there any statements that an external audience might question? Are these comments hard to justify? If so, strike them from the text and focus on what is supportable.

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