Weber Shandwick EVP Talks Content Creation and the New PR Model

Yesterday we posted on Weber Shandwick‘s new unit Mediaco, which will focus on creating and distributing content for clients. Today we had the chance to talk to Jason Wellcome, the Weber digital EVP who will run the new unit, on exactly what his teams do — and what this development means for the PR industry.

Here’s the firm’s promo video:

In our conversation, Wellcome gave us a little more detail on the strategy and its implications:

What, exactly, is Mediaco?

It is essentially a new, comprehensive approach to content creation and brand publishing that’s based on the heritage of content work that we’ve done over the past decade. It’s the result of a trial and error process that involved testing many approaches and finding out what works well. The launch of Mediaco is our attempt to formalize that structure with the experts we have inside.

Were most of the team members already working at Weber Shandwick in different departments?

Yes, we drew from a pool of more than 500 digital specialists across our network who worked in everything from tech development/design…down to content specialists from the traditional media side who know how to build big editorial for clients and, of course, the distribution side in order to make sure the content has the right mix of paid and earned support.

What’s the biggest or most common challenge for Mediaco?

Its often about determining which kinds of content are best for a given client. For Degree and Unilever it was all about building “content engines” to increase brand presence and awareness among target audiences. For Verizon, the question was: how do we transform the brand’s “news” function from an operation that writes and pitches press releases to one that produces content across all formats and builds content “packages” on topics where the brand is a thought leader or wants to push its products. It is an “ecosystem” that serves as its own publishing entity.

(Ed. note: The project Wellcome mentions above is the Verizon Wireless News Center. Another good example is Degree Men’s The Adrenalist, which we’ve mentioned before. It’s a site full of branded multimedia content that’s only tangentially related to the product in question. The Degree PR team actively promotes pieces of this content to certain target audiences like gamers and extreme sports fans. We like to call it “indirect promotion”, though of course nobody else uses that term.)

Is the creation of Mediaco a response to a growing client demand for content?

Yes. Over the course of the past six or seven years it was a topic of interest, but for the last 90 days in particular there hasn’t been a client out there that isn’t thinking about expanding their “digital footprint” and using it to push content for whatever their particular business objective may be at that time.

Do you see this move as part of a larger trend within the PR industry?

The environment has been changing for a while as traditional agencies adapt to make the most of the new opportunities that come with new methods of content distribution and consumption.

But this is only one model. And it’s not just PR — agencies across the board now have to answer the question “How do you create content at scale and use it to drive client initiatives?”

Not every Weber Shandwick client deals with Mediaco, but every client does have the opportunity to benefit from it in some way through news, brand building, product visibility and sales. Quality will rise to the top as always.

Why did you decide to go public with Mediaco now?

The reason we’re talking about it more externally now is that we’ve seen lots of piecemeal, one-off promo tactics that aren’t ideal for establishing a strong foundation [for clients]. To do this well, you have to think of a different set of resources and success factors. Data is critical across the board – it’s all an ongoing optimization process. Conversion is also important.

The most crucial element of the mix may be feedback, which reinforces what’s working – that’s where the magic happens.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.