hero texture
Best in Class

How Capital One Uses Content Marketing Techniques in PR + Corporate Communications

Published on Apr 1, 2021

How Capital One Uses Content Marketing Techniques in PR + Corporate Communications
Dawn Papandrea
Dawn Papandrea studioID

You might not always equate public relations with content, but for Sukhi Sahni, Capital One’s Head of Corporate Communications for U.S. Card and Retail Bank Divisions, there’s a big overlap. Her team produces original content, works with influencers, and lands impressive publisher partnerships. At the end of the day, she says, it’s all about knowing your target audience and authentic storytelling.

“We all own a piece of content creation,” says Sahni. “Figuring out the best way to bring the puzzle pieces together to tell a holistic story for the audience is what matters in the end.”  

At Capital One, the PR team uses the Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned (PESO) framework to design integrated communications strategies to draw people into conversations. Sustained storytelling, whether through original content or the voices of influencers, helps the company establish relationships with consumers and prospects in channels they’re already visiting.

“For our team, a culture of sustained storytelling revolves around uncovering insights into what conversations are happening and where for our audience, building long-term relationships with influencers and others who they are looking for information from, and using that data, including original research, to authentically enter conversations,” says Sahni.

“Our tactics are often a mix of content mediums. They could be a press release, an original piece of content, or thought leadership from a Capital One leader. No matter the format, ultimately, it’s a story that originated from a compelling insight.”

Read on as Sahni shares her take on the intersection of content and PR at Capital One.

Sukhi Sahni, Capitol One.jpeg

Sukhi Sahni, Head of Corporate Communications for U.S. Card and Retail Bank Divisions

PR, Meet Content Marketing

Sahni’s unique approach to PR isn’t all that different from what most content marketers are doing at top brands. It’s a combination of:

  1. Getting earned content (i.e. when journalists write about Capital One).
  2. Creating data-driven original content in partnership with publishers, from lifestyle publications to major media outlets, to personal finance bloggers, and more.
  3. Developing research, insights, and owned content that leverages Capital One thought leaders who can discuss industry trends.

The PR team at Capital One understands that the media cycle has shifted. Knowing how consumers receive their news in the modern media landscape, Sahni’s team stretches far beyond press releases to communicate company news and events.

“PR sits at the epicenter of the branded content ecosystem,” she says. Imagine a Venn diagram with three circles: The first circle is what consumers are interested in, the second is what is culturally relevant, and the third is the story of the brand and the credibility it has to offer in that space. “That commonality between the three is the content sweet spot where PR makes the most impact,” says Sahni.


Here’s why: “First, PR typically sits at the enterprise level. While other teams can be siloed in their approach, PR has a line of sight across the enterprise and we can maximize resources in a way other teams can’t,” says Sahni.

Next, the credibility of the brand is always top-of-mind for PR.

Lastly, PR has the power to amplify content through earned media.

“PR, as a channel, has a direct relationship with third-party, credible voices,” she says.

Why Thoughtful Measurement Matters

Sahni says her team takes a lot of pride in the fact that it is on the leading edge of measurement. “It’s hard to measure the direct impact of PR since we live in the upper funnel around awareness and consideration, but we’ve invested in resources and work with a variety of different partners to think through the key KPIs,” she says.

In general, marketers should start with clearly defining the business objective and what outcomes need to be, says Sahni. “Then, work backward to think about what themes will resonate, who your core audience is, where they consume media to determine which channels to optimize, which publications they read so you can infuse your story through content partnerships, or earn by pitching editorial staffs,” she says.

For instance, for CreditWise, a free credit monitoring app from Capital One, Sahni’s team is always looking to generate authentic media coverage to help build broad awareness for the tool and foster a conversation about why it’s important to understand and monitor your credit score.

Capital One_RetailDive.png

An earned media placement for Capital One’s CreditWise app in Retail Dive

Also unique to Capital One is PR’s commitment to testing and learning. “You wouldn’t associate a corporate communications team with being forward-leading on A/B testing, leveraging AI-driven insights. We say, ‘Let’s test headlines, let’s test messaging, let’s see how content does when posted by influencers with no brand mentions versus when it’s posted on our branded Facebook page,’” says Sahni.

And when they do a big campaign, Sahni’s team runs pre- and post-awareness tests to see if there is a spike and any long-term impact.

Takeaway tip: Be specific about the outcomes you want to drive and work backward. “Measurement is only successful when you clearly define the objectives and are clearly aligned on the outcomes you want to achieve,” says Sahni.

Earning Content Credit and Credibility

In a saturated personal finance and credit card space, the Capital One PR team relies on original research to set itself apart and garner media coverage.

“Content that’s deeply rooted in insights helps us work with a variety of different partners from lifestyle publications to financial and personal finance blogs,” says Sahni.

For the CreditWise app launch, the team decided that it wanted to work with BuzzFeed to co-create custom content and test a light-hearted approach to talking about credit scores.

“We thought, how can we shape this story? We did a consumer survey to get more trends around how much people care about their credit and how often they’re thinking about it. The idea was to really find those nuggets that can be taken and shared in the form of a listicle,” says Sahni. 

The content drove awareness and offered relevant insights into audience engagement by content theme and type. “We garnered a number of key learnings and continue to leverage those insights to inform our work today,” says Sahni.

BuzzFeed_Capital One.png

That strategy of building a layer of data and insights into its content has done well.

“We create stories that are not just about selling a product. It’s always tied into conversations taking place externally and more focused on a trend, whether it’s savings or spending habits. If it’s big spending cycles like holiday or back to school or something that ties into a seasonal news calendar, what sets us apart is finding a unique data set that gives the journalist something to talk about,” says Sahni. 

For example, Sahni’s team was successful in creatively inserting their travel card products into an existing conversation around the royal wedding earlier this year. “It’s all about keeping an eye on what everyone is talking about and finding the right time and approach to insert yourself into the conversation,” says Sahni.

What’s more, Capital One goes a step further by facilitating two-way conversations between journalists, influencers, and internal thought leaders to create original content that is engaging and meaningful.

Takeaway tip: When possible, try offering the combination of original research and thought leadership to set your brand apart as a credible authority on a topic. [Read What Marketers Can Learn from the Newsroom]

Capital One’s Best Practices for PR Content

While every organization has unique needs and goals, Sahni believes that these key strategies can help almost any content-driven team be successful:

  1. Use your data. “We live in a world with a lot of content pollution and mistrust in terms of the information sources, so the more you can root your content in true data, the more you can offer a unique perspective,” she says.
  2. Know your end goal. Is it SEO rankings, brand awareness, or customer acquisition? “Be clear on the outcomes you want to drive so you can build a strategy around them,” says Sahni.
  3. Put the reader first. Being able to articulate how a topic impacts and empowers the reader will help bring them back to your content hub again and again. “That’s where a lot of big content marketers miss – when they make it more about a CTA or selling a product than telling a story,” says Sahni.