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Content is no longer king - conversation is!

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David Oates

I and the rest of the Stalwart Communications team always enjoy the annual PRSA San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter's Summer Social, held last week at the world famous Del Mar Racetrack. Of the reasons I have a good time is to catch up with respected colleagues and friends.

One in particular is my former boss, who is one of the best in the business. While she's been a big supporter of me personally (for which I am very grateful), we seem to always get into a discussion about my agency's Pay-on-Performance model. In this latest instance, she asked me how much we charge for ghost writing contributed articles for our clients. I explained that we don't charge an "a la carte" or hourly rate for its development, but only a fee for when we get it placed in a targeted media outlet. The big rub for her was our disagreement over the value of such content on its own; I claimed it was practically worthless, and she believed otherwise.

Here's my take. Individuals and corporations today are literally drowning in the spoken and written word; the barriers toward publications have all but been completely destroyed with the advent of blogs and social media. We as a collective society have more access to information and perspectives than ever before. Most of it is just noise that never really goes anywhere, with its authors being little more than figuratively shouting from a rooftop with no one listening or caring. The ubiquity of self publishing capabilities has transformed content from a once revered king to a mere commodity.

A better metric on the value of, say, a contributed article is in its ability to get folks engaged. Such examples can take many forms, from how many "likes" and "retweets" a blog post gets to the number of folks that click on a hyperlink, visit a trade show booth or pick up the phone and call. Then -- and for all intents and purposes ONLY then -- is the content valuable. Otherwise, it's nothing short of fodder that is easily discarded or ignored by the intended audiences.

I can't say I'm surprised by the general discourse I'm having with PR practitioners on this subject, though. Retainer-based firms are incentivized largely by the output they provide in terms of the number of press releases, op-ed articles, and hours they put in, even if such action doesn't raise awareness or positive perceptions of their clients. As a Pay-on-Performance marketing and PR agency, our profits come not from the effort we put in, but the measurable outcomes they provide. I remain positive, though, for it's only a matter of time before the others come to this line. Their business lives will soon depend upon it.

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