It's Not About SEO - It's About PR

Tom Foremski has an interesting post today - Foremski has always had good ideas, as one of the key people in the Financial Times office - but he wonders why PR is growing, while the media universe keeps shrinking. There was even a recent San Francisco Business Times article on the growing of PR firms in the Bay Area.

Steve Rubel picks up the post by Tom Forensky (sic), and makes it about SEO PR - search engine optimization public relations. That's all good and fine, but it does not help tell a story, but rather is about cooking the results in Google and other search engines, such as the blog ones like Blogpulse, PubSub and Technorati. It's a great way to make yourself into a top tier blogger, but hand someone enough rope ...

But, it's not about SEO, it's never been about SEO, and it shouldn't be about SEO. The reason PR is growing is because it is about the expanding media universe and how to reach that universe in a smart, strategic way, while at the same time reaching the older, more established yet shrinking media universe. It's two sides of the same coin, where PR is best suited to do the work.

But, does that mean launching a blog? No, not necessarily. For Vespa, instead of blogging, a MySpace community would have made just as much sense, if not more - a social network for a social activity. When I think Vespa, I don't think "let's sit behind a computer and blog" but rather "let's find others that also love to ride Vespas and meet up and take pictures and then post them to a something similar, like, oh, a social network."

It means being smarter, thinking smarter, doing smarter PR that takes into account all various outposts, from MySpace to Blogs to audio and video Podcasts (I prefer Audioblog because Eric Rice rocks) to newspapers to radio to television. It's covering the whole media universe from the shrinking to the expanding.

PR is growing because companies realize they need us, and need us to maneuver the new landscape. It is time for PR to shine, to own that 100 percent and not let advertising or marketing pervert blogs.

As an aside, every interview I did for the PR Face2Face series, I would go off the record, and would talk about the dot-com boom and bust. I would ask if PR as a whole learned anything - and the answer was always no, we had not learned anything. The boom in PR firms in the Bay speaks to that, I believe.
  1. Tom Foremenskisky is clueless. And Steve only addresses part of the point in his post.

    Saying that because there are fewer mainstream media outlets there should be fewer PR people is like saying that because we have the same number of Senators in Washington as 100 years ago, we should have the same number of lobbyists. THAT obviously isn't the case.

    Tom's piece fails to recognize that PR, relative to advertising, has gained a higher profile in recent years -- and that this standing continues to grow.

  2. Jeremy,
    I agree with you that the PR business should be able to grow with our expanding media universe.
    Of course Tom is right when he predicts that companies will start to realize traditional press strategies are no longer so profitable. But these same companies may need some serious hand-holding while they explore the alternatives.
    And those agencies which have successfully added social media tools to their big box of PR tricks are very well-placed to that job.
    Also: SEO is not the answer, no, but it doesn't do any harm to point out that the astute use of social media can enhance your online reputation. PR should claim (define even) search engine reputation management as its own.

  3. Tom either has a fundamental disbelief that PR works (a pretty arrogant - but common - assertion for a reporter) or he is just completely ignorant of the industry.

    Being mentioned in the Times or Journal is worth a lot more than an ego boost, as anyone with a clue about the PR industry or journalism can attest to.

    He also equates advertising demand to PR demand, another ill-informed connection. And companies moving ad dollars from print pages to the 'net and search engines may make publications smaller, but it doesn't mean that ad money is coming from PR budgets, as he suggests.

    Anyway, if PR is so worthless, why does he rely on them for information and story pitches? Is he just stirring up the hornet's nest?

  4. I was thinking about this very question when I was reading your earlier post about the military PR firm to bloggers.

    AS you noted on the VESPA example, you have a better chance and moving your message if you identify your target audience. Niche marketing is inexpensive and provides "word of mouth" avenues that, in the electronic world, eventually spill over into SEO by the simple power of a created network.

    In regards to the military PR, there is a community of people, several thousand strong, that link to and repeat milblogger stories. While it may give some added attention to stories to have them "exclusive", the military through Centcom and other media centers, already has access to these bloggers because many already read them or keep up with the military news.

    So, who is really the target audience?

  5. I think there is a relationship, but perhaps SEO is not the right word. You are correct, PR is about content and relationships. However, content and relationships can lead to good natural search engine positioning. It's sometimes a side benefit. Kinda like a karma thing :-)

  6. Well, that's true - from good content and information comes more press and more links, which helps in search engine placement. Of course, the opposite is true as well.

    Yep, all about Karma. I always try to do one nice thing a day. :)

  7. A lot of organizations that used to be able to demand coverage from media, or the trade press are now finding they have to:
    - develop the stories about their organization and convince someone they are stories worth telling, and
    - find ways to engage with the people they need to reach (which can involve PR without involving the news media).

  8. Anon, good PR people always tried to tell a good story, whether to the press, trade press or the public. That, however, is a lost art.

    When I talk to a VP at a PR firm, and note that I always use short pitch letters that are to the point, have data points, and have a story idea, and I get a blank look - there is the real problem.

    Senior staff that don't have their real PR chops to be able to train junior staff to be able to pitch - not regurgitate - a story.

    Now, we see PR firms that are suggesting to launch a blog for everything, without thinking of other tools out there that would work better. It's the same dance, all over again.

  9. Blogs are great tools for getting higher rankings on search engines they allow the posting of relevant content, are very accessible for indexing by search engine spiders, and they receive links without even having to ask for the link. Blogs’ content management systems make it easy to develop content, and culturally it’s acceptable to generate a lot of discussion about the same issue.

    Yet producing a lot of content does not mean anyone will read that content or link to it. You have to think beyond keywords and conversion ratios to a content strategy. Here’s where public relations comes into play. PR is all about creating stories for your audience by putting your company’s message within the context of their lives. Basically the online marketing industry needs the expertise of PR professionals to be able to develop relevant content that will attract attention and is read.

    The biggest challenge in web design in the last 10 years has been to convince customers to develop content for their websites. Blogs are not the silver bullet for customers, but they may be for web designers, as customers have different expectations about the amount of content they need to develop for the web. It’s complex but simple, if you want to get to the top of your field or search engine rankings you need to develop content, good relevant content on a regular basis.

    Jeremy, you suggest that people can no longer tell good stories; I don’t believe that’s true, though good stories might be harder to find in a sea of content. I think there are still good writers with imagination who are able to put a company’s message in context, and have customers read it if they combine PR strategy, SEO strategy and blogging.

  10. Great points, Jeremy.

    Personally, I think PR/media pros have fallen into a kind of tunnel vision about blogging. They're not seeing the big picture.

    Blogs are important, but they're important because they are a popular type of *conversational media.*

    There are lots of types of conversational media: e-mail lists, forums, communities such as MySpace (which I'm glad you mentioned) -- heck, even talk radio.

    It seems to me that organizations and individuals who get a clue about the fast-rising power of conversational media are more likely to thrive -- not merely in terms of spreading the word to their target markets or audiences, but also by being able to build relationships and leverage serendipity and goodwill.

    IMHO, of course. Whadya think?

    - Amy Gahran

  11. I took Tom's piece to mean that "traditional PR" is going to wither on the vine -- and if that's what he means, he's right. That doesn't mean PR as an industry will die. It simply means that as "new media" begin to outshine "old media," so, too, will "new PR" begin to outshine "old PR."

    There are a LOT of PR and communications people out there who are desperately trying to stay "on message" in a world where they no longer control the message. Until they experience that light-bulb moment of realizing they have to participate in a conversation, they're in danger of that long, slow, painful death.

    More semi-random thoughts here.

  12. Amy, not all PR people have tunnel vision, but people that don't understand that the P in PR still stands for public - which extends beyond blogs and podcasts.

    It's old school PR: reach people where they are. If they are on MySpace, reach out to them on MySpace. If they are on blogs, reach out to them on blogs. But be smart about it - don't SPAM, don't offend, do your homework.

    But, I disagree on the organizations and individuals. This first round, the first line will become too narcissistic to realize that there is more than just blogging or podcasts. They will forget about the non-wired public, or the more amateur public, or the public that just is on MySpace and only cares about MySpace. We (not just PR people but the all-inclusive we) forget that not everyone is like us - we all don't live in NY or SF. We all don't have too many computers and are always on. We live in the Midwest and have families and have hobbies that might include hunting and fishing and camping that does not jibe with what the techies see as fun.

    But, hey, that's just my two cents.


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