PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
"Content curation" - a new role for public relations or just another buzzword?
© 2012 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations home page About the author

Gathering, sifting, and preparing information for a prospective audiences are, and always have been, essential elements of the communication process. This is true whether the communication is for personal, business, social, educational, public relations, or any number of other purposes. Recently, however, some people writing about public relations have started calling these practices collectively "content curation" and talk about them as if they were totally new development in public relations.

One of the most often heard words on the street among public relations practitioners these days is "content curation." And, it's not just heard on the street. It's showing up online, published in professional journals, featured in new book titles, permeating professional conference agendas, and being talked about over coffee in corporate break rooms.

"Content curation" may just be the "buzzing-est" buzzword since "branding" and, in my opinion, it's being just as badly over-hyped.

If you are familiar with the term "content curation" but have thus far abstained from using it, I commend you. Public relations already has far too many buzzwords invoked by practitioners to project an aura of specialized knowledge that do little, if anything, to enhance the average person's understanding of what it is that we do. We don't need any more of them.

So, I urge you: please minimize your use of the term "content curation." It may be professionally fashionable, but you and your audience will be better served if you forego the jargon and use the more direct and easily understood phrase "managing information."


If you don't yet know about content curation, wake up!

"If curation isnít yet on your radar screen, it soon will be," wrote Donna Papacosta of Trafalgar Communications (Toronto) in "Coming Soon to a Job Description Near You: Content curation," the lead article in IABC's CW Bulletin for May 2011. Almost the entire issue was devoted to content curation.

"Stated simply," Papacosta continued, "content curation is the organization and sharing of relevant content on a particular subject. In a world where high-quality information is harder to find, learning to meaningfully filter through content is an increasingly valuable skill."

I have no problem with Papacosta's explanation of the concept. It's right on the mark. Nor do I disagree with her assertion of the need to filter information. In fact, I recommend her entire article and several others in that content curation issue of CW Bulletin. They have a lot to offer.

My only objection to these articles and most writings by other authors who stress "content curation" is the false impression that it is a new and/or revolutionary aspect of public relations and organizational communication. That just isn't true. The process, practices, and skills that these authors associate with "content curation" are fundamental elements of the communication process and have been part of it for as long as people have thoughtfully analyzed and carried out communication. The only thing new is the terminology and the hype that accompanies it.


If you must use the term, keep it in perspective.

One reviewer writing about the book Curation Nation by Steven Rosenbaum seemed to full accord with the author's contention that content curation "is the saving grace for the journalist, the marketer and the everyday content consumer in today's information-flooded online world." -- The saving grace?!? -- Come on. Let's get real.

Even Shel Holtz, a communicator and author whom I respect and usually agree with, slipped into a similar mindset in his article in the special content curation issue of CW Bulletin. His article, The Era of the Content Curator, said in part: "As curation becomes more and more a standard practice, it is becoming incumbent upon communicators to add curation to their skill sets and begin curating content for their audiences."

These are the kinds of statements I obect to.


Is there benefit to applying a new term to long-standing practices?

As far back as the early days of 20th century, practitioners like Ivy Lee, Edward Bernays, Arthur Page, and dozens of other corporate public relations practitioners and independent consultants maintained private libraries of information about their clients and their organizations. They used this material for their own reference and shared it with other audiences when appropriate. Some of the content had been created by the practitioners themselves, but much more of it was in the form of newspaper and magazine articles, books, and other previously published items.

Collecting and re-disseminating this type of information was not only a common practice, it was a very effective and useful procedure. It even generated spin-off enterprises like clipping services which would monitor media coverage and collect copies of relevant stories for the practitioners. These materials would, in turn, become part of the practitioner's library and could be further circulated to try to generate yet more media coverage.

So, I respectfully say to Shel Holtz and other advocates promoting the "new" practice of content curation: we don't need to begin curating content. We do, however, need to continue collecting, organizing, and disseminating meaningful information about our organizations.

Your CW Bulletin article was, however, right on the mark, Shel, when you said: "The role of the communicator, after all, is to provide compelling content that engages readers and helps tell the organization's story. As our audiences increasingly hunger for relevant content, we as communicators can show them the way, becoming that trusted guide and enhancing our organization's visibility and reputation."

In my eyes, one good thing about "content curation" being a buzzword is that it could prompt some practitioners to refocus on basic, long-standing practices they might otherwise overlook.

Links to additional readings on recent trends in public relations
Calls to scrap public relations
aren't new
Changing names of public relations Keeping pace with changing practices
in journalism
Table of contents On the way to Integrated Marketing Communication? Practicing Public Relations
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23 Nov 2012