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4 Ways to Use PR in Your Content Marketing Efforts [Case Study]

A web design company illustrates how to court “old media” with grace and gravitas. 

Blue Fountain Media operates in a cut-throat, crowded field: website development and design, and online marketing. From 2007 to 2010 — years that were downright cruel to most U.S. businesses — revenues at Blue Fountain Media grew 620 percent.

The company was named an Inc. 5000 high-flier in 2011 —reaching number 541 on Inc. Magazine’s annual list of fastest-growing U.S. companies — and executives write columns for among the most recognized media properties in the world, including the New York Times, American Express OpenForum and Inc. Magazine.

Despite appearances, the Blue Fountain Media’s publicity engine is fairly young. “Just five years ago, the world didn’t know much about us,” says Jon Gelberg, chief content officer. “We created a content marketing strategy because we felt people wouldn’t take us seriously until we were recognized by the media as experts in our field.”

And it’s obviously doing something right; the company has a growing roster of high-profile brand-clients, including, Walt Disney Resorts, Procter & Gamble, Oppenheimer Funds and the NFL.

How does a web marketing company stand out from the tens of thousands of companies offering similar services? According to Blue Fountain Media’s chief content officer: gravitas. (We’ll get back to that in a moment.)

Using content to fuel a heady climb.

Gelberg joined the company in 2009 and recounts that Blue Fountain Media was producing very high quality web designs and online campaigns, but little promotion was in place to build momentum and brand recognition.

The first move was to pre-fill an online learning center with more than a dozen articles on popular marketing topics, such as “What Should My Web Design and Development Project Cost?” and “How Social Media Marketing can Enhance your Bottom Line.” With a solid — but very small — library in place, Gelberg began an intensive campaign to pitch stories and expertise to the media. He explains, “We would contact a newspaper or magazine and say, ‘We see you’ve been writing about how to use Facebook. We have that area of expertise.’ Then we linked to an actual story with ready-made quotes for journalists to use.”

Slowly and steadily, the combination of digital content plus PR campaigning began to pay off. Blue Fountain Media gained access to smaller, regional media companies, publishing columns and winning interviews. Those stories in smaller publications were picked up by aggregators like Yahoo, and before long, Blue Fountain Media executives-turned-authors were climbing the media rungs, reaching bigger and bigger media properties with bylined articles, interviews and regular columns.

When asked how the company measures the results of its PR offensive, Gelberg is decidedly circumspect. “I can recount for you the number of clicks or calls to our office mentioning our press coverage,” he explains. “But as a company we also get a big boost from the respect or gravitas of our content marketing program. Our column in the New York Times, for example, bestows a lot of credibility and respect on us, particularly when anyone can call themselves a web designer or SEO guru.”

Don’t bother if you don’t actually possess real expertise.

“Content has gotten a bad name for a good reason,” says Gelberg. He’s referring to what many call “content farms,” or agencies and technology companies that staff up blogging platforms with hundreds of writers who are paid-per-click for branded media sites. He explains that if you hope to get the attention of media companies, you need to have something valuable to share (i.e. insightful expertise) and high-quality writing, not SEO-stacked cotton candy. Without value and quality, your public relations push, no matter how hard you work, will amount to nothing.

Ultimately, catching the attention of top media outlets takes more than great content. It also requires a bit of grace when developing and executing on the all-important pitch. Gelberg offers a few pointers for content marketers with PR aspirations:

  • Craft your pick-up line: Remember top media editors receive dozens of pitches per day. How will you break through the clutter? Do you have an insight into a current problem that is unique, practical and valuable?
  • Focus on the editor’s needs: Don’t babble about yourself. Show you are interested and knowledgeable about them — both the publication and the reporter. Point to a specific story and offer an additional insight for a future story on the topic.
  • Keep your chin up: You will be rejected. Repeatedly. Get over it. Be persistent; if someone doesn’t answer a call or e-mail but you’re convinced it’s a good fit, follow up multiple times, stopping just shy of pestering.
  • Give and take: Be specific about what types of insights and information you have to offer. After a media outlet has relied on you, become a trusted resource by saying “thank you” and keeping in touch with additional insights and story ideas. Follow editors and journalists on Twitter and LinkedIn to see their latest bylines; keep up the social banter to ensure your name is top-of-mind.

What’s ahead for Gelberg and Blue Fountain Media? Consistently executing more of the same. “In our business, staying on top of technologies and trends, and studying online user behavior is the most important thing we do across the company,” explains Gelberg. “By keeping up with and growing our expertise, we serve our clients well and produce intelligent, high-value content.” Touché!

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free print subscription.