Over the past several years, the way in which I describe what we do on the PR side of the house has really changed. For most of its 14 years, inmedia Public Relations was a very sharply focused proposition: We did media and analyst relations and not much else. And we did it for B2B technology companies, and nobody else. That last part hasn’t changed much; the only clients who really interest us are those working in knowledge-intensive or technology applications. And our mastery of the unique challenges of addressing enterprise marketplaces or selling into the value chain as opposed to marketing an end product means our value proposition remains focused on B2B.

What we do for our clients, however, has evolved in tune with the shifting landscape we have been presented with. And the evolution has been so natural that we really didn’t notice we had a new service offering until long after we had started to successfully deliver it.

The first shift came years ago with the emergence of new, influential sources of information that weren’t traditional media outlets. Originally called web logs but swiftly shortened to blogs, these new forums started out as the personal web space of writers who might also have been journalists but were just as likely to be technology analysts, experienced executives in technology spaces or others with an interest in some particular subject. Because of their influence in the marketplace and on our clients’ customers’ purchasing decision making, these bloggers became essential targets for our PR programs.

It was widely held that pitching bloggers required some new type of far more personalised approach, one that required the PR practitioner to actually know what bloggers wrote about and were interested in, and to craft personally addressed pitches to capture their attention.

Fortunately for us, that was how we had always operated with traditional journalists. Because our clients were generally fairly focused undertakings, with only a limited set of media outlets to be targeted, we had always taken a highly personalised and intensively researched approach. So we didn’t have to change a thing in how we operated to be able to effectively target these new influencers. Indeed, for many of the most influential bloggers, our relationship with them had already been well established when they were still just journalists or analysts.

Unfortunately for us, it took us a while to realise that the broader marketplace saw blogger relations as some kind of new skill not widely held in the industry, and so we missed a beat or two before we changed the way we talked about what we did to make it clear that we were bloody good at reaching out to bloggers. (Today, of course, most of the PR industry has reverted to form, and now treats bloggers with the same woeful spray-and-pray approach it once reserved for journalists, as testified by the countless useless, off-topic and utterly impersonal pitches our blog gets every day.)

The next big evolution came when companies realised they could become their own media channel. Done properly, they could become respectable go-to sources for information about their industry. Again, our evolution into responding to this new opportunity was so incremental we almost failed to notice it. Before we knew it, we were counselling clients on how they could build out their own online channel. Creating good content for such a channel — content that had to be educational, informative and not overtly promotional — was second nature to us since we had for years been developing exactly the same sort of content and pitching it into media outlets.

But again, we missed a beat or two in the marketplace as competitors or new service providers marketed themselves as experts in some sort of new capability that we had long honed and been practicing for years. But we soon caught up and expanded our conversations to embrace this new opportunity.

The most recent evolution, of course, has been the proliferation of social media channels, and the massive potential they represent to disseminate great content and to engage with customers, communities and stakeholders around that content.

Here, we initially bought into a mindset that said an external agency can’t represent its clients on these channels because of their requirement for authentic, personal engagement and so we actively resisted expanding our service offering into this new area. Eventually, of course, we realised that we could be effective so long as we operated the same way here as we did elsewhere — that is, by creating authentic, authoritative, informative, educational and non-promotional content. And so again, almost without noticing, our practice evolved to embrace new social media channels.

I suppose we could have been more intentional about all this, but that’s just not how the rapidly evolving communications landscape operates. What we are intentional about today is how we talk about this. And we talk about it as content marketing, an all-encompassing umbrella term that not only embraces all the various forms of content our clients might want to create but that overlays on it the critical imperative that such content be relevant to the audience it is targeting. It recognises that communications is moving away from its traditional command-and-control model, something we never practised anyway, towards one where, in the words of my colleague Caroline Kealey, “In the age of the attention economy, communicators have to exchange control for relevance.”

Today, I don’t talk about a media relations program, or a social media program, or a white paper program or a blog or video-production program. I talk about a content marketing program, wherein content — whether it’s a brand new website at one end of the complexity spectrum or a bunch of 140-character tweets at the other — is the centre of the universe around which all else revolves. The right mix of content types and the best channels across which they should be disseminated is determined in the strategic planning stage that considers audience, messaging, budgets and so on. I’ll write more on how this all comes together in future posts.

Francis Moran and Associates is an associated team of seasoned practitioners of a number of different marketing disciplines, all of whom share a passion for technology and a proven record of driving revenue growth in markets across the globe. We work with B2B technology companies of all sizes and at every life stage and can engage as individuals or as a full team to provide quick counsel, a complete marketing strategy or the ongoing hands-on input of a virtual chief marketing officer.