By Jon Priestley and Tim Sinclair It goes without saying that the discipline of PR has changed dramatically since the advent of social media. Not only has the proliferation of channels on which we broadcast our messages altered our approach, but so too has the change in interaction between brands and their consumers. A brand, like it or not, is no longer what a company says it is; it is who the community says it is. In this constantly evolving landscape of media communications the traditional model of PR has been disrupted to the point of being negligible. PR [caption id="attachment_1972" align="alignright" width="150"]Jon Priestley Jon Priestley[/caption] practitioners no longer write endless supplies of press releases to be featured across print, broadcast and online without cost. The shudder that used to accompany having to pay for 'colour seps' in certain trade publications has given way to a far more fluid and open-minded approach to paid-for-PR and content marketing. This means that payment to ensure content travels further, faster, is not the dark art that many in the profession once claimed it was. One of the most salient indicators of this shift to quality content accompanied by ad spend is the rapid rise of the likes of Taboola and Outbrain; two examples of what we call 'content accelerators' at Wolfstar. In essence, the role of these platforms is to segment and target audiences online to ensure that the correct content is served to the correct people to generate a good quality and quantity of web traffic. With the rise of content algorithms across social media platforms, such as Edgerank on Facebook, it has never been more important for brands to consider pulsing their content with a degree of ad spend to ensure it goes to the right people. It is a trend that will only keep growing for many reasons, one of the most important being the monetisation of social media platforms due to their listing on stock exchanges. Innovative software and platform development has inevitably given way to profit margins and revenue for shareholders. While it may seem like a critical departure for those in the PR profession to take good content and have to pay for it to reach the right audience, it is increasingly important and therefore a consideration when agencies plan client campaigns. The well-documented drop in audience reach for brand pages on Facebook that don't use paid-for features such as promoted posts is one example of how the industry is changing. Content accelerators exist because creating great content simply is no longer enough; that content then needs to be presented to the right audiences online to generate web traffic and revenue. It is hard to say whether Outbrain or Taboola are changing the PR model or simply reacting to wider changes in brand building and content sharing but one thing is certain: content accelerators are here to stay and agencies that offer their clients effective consultancy on how to use them will reap the benefits. How do content accelerators work? Put simply, content accelerators book ad space with their media partners online, with content presented in a way that appears as editorial instead of a traditional advert. When clicking on this ad or editorial, visitors are sent to an external web page (often a specially built landing page) that will hopefully immerse them in a brand’s content ecosystem and lead to increased revenue and profit through sales. Each content accelerator has an algorithm designed to match the content being shared with similar content, as it appears online (e.g. health related content appearing at the bottom of health related stories on the Mail Online). While a campaign is ongoing, PR agencies should be judicious in looking at web analytics to assess which sites are generating high quality traffic i.e. dwell time and CTR. Any that are not performing well should be culled so that all spend is maximized on the most efficient sites. Mechanics aside, the most important aspect of working with content acceleration is whether the content being pushed is of a sufficient quality and being targeted at the correct audiences. The guiding principles of PR are still in place; the right messages to the right people at the right time, but the method through which this is accomplished now involves some degree of money changing hands. As an industry we should be ahead of the game in creating content that works well across accelerators; content that is tailored to the right audiences, engages and communicates brand messages effectively. While we would stop short of calling this a ‘new model’ of PR, it is a reflection of growing trends in the industry and of the need to ensure that the excellent content we should be known to produce as an industry is used as effectively as possible to drive web traffic and sales online. Jon Priestley is head of London and Tim Sinclair is managing director at Wolfstar, based in London. Photo Credit: "Online News" by Mike Licht