Don’t assume they’ll come: content can’t be king without distribution

The two go hand-in-hand

I want you to make this pledge: Never use the word “content” in a meeting without also using the word “distribution.”

The content revolution hasn’t merely destabilized and reshaped traditional media. It has also upended public relations and marketing. When Paul Frick and I started our business 18 years ago, our clients wanted us to get them on the “Today” show or in The New York Times. Today, landing a big story in a prestigious outlet is certainly a worthy goal and cause for celebration. But with digital platforms arriving by the minute, there’s a new brass ring: self-publishing a regular stream of high-quality content.

Those who have mastered the process of creating smart and engaging content surely understand the advantages of doing so: more control over the message, the freedom to explore complex issues with depth, and the ability to present topics many media outlets might otherwise ignore. Most important, content done right can build credibility and trust by establishing an authentic voice and a unique point of view.

With so much focus on writing the stories, producing the videos, sharpening the infographics and creating the perfect user experience, it’s easy to forget that content doesn’t distribute itself. This is not “Field of Dreams.” If you build it, don’t assume they will come.

For your content to matter, you need to create a multilayered distribution program that will deliver the goods to the right audiences. Specifically, think about audience targeting and then build a plan to find them and engage them.

How does a content publisher grow the audience? We’re seeing four big trends in content distribution:

  1. Embrace the potential of native advertising. Native content — which looks, feels and reads like the editorial content on premier news sites — enables you to leverage key media outlets that are already known and trusted by your audiences. Often these media outlets become true partners — you can work with them to shape the content, rather than simply handing an idea off to them.
  2. Think mobile distribution. Chances are high that you’re reading this on your phone or tablet. That’s why mobile distribution plans are a must. With mobile, you can target audiences with a specificity that is simply not possible with any other medium. For instance, you aren’t limited to targeting audiences across Washington, D.C.; you can target just the 41,000 fans at Nationals Park or 7,000 staffers on Capitol Hill. Such targeting enables you to customize your content and appeal to the specific, real-time interests of your audience.
  3. Eliminate extraneous social media. The most fashionable social networking platform may not be the one that will reach your audiences. You don’t have to publish on every platform. Focus on the ones that will be most successful at achieving your communications goals.
  4. Reclaim the power of personal email. One of the most overlooked yet effective distribution tools is one that might seem old-fashioned, but it’s right there in your inbox: The personal email. Have relationships with policymakers? Send them a note. A member of Congress is more likely to read an email from you — a person they have a relationship with — than to pay attention to an institutional post in their Facebook feed.

Content without an audience is like a thrilling extra-innings baseball game that isn’t broadcast and is played in an empty stadium. It’s a shame. As storytellers, we should build great content, but let’s put equal emphasis on making sure the people come.