I had the pleasure of delving into this issue last week when moderating a panel discussion broadcast online by PR Newswire entitled, "Leveraging Search for Greater Impact in Your Public Relations Programs." The esteemed roster on the call included Gartner G2 Principal Analyst, Media & Advertising Denise Garcia, CooperKatz & Company Vice President of Client Services Steve Rubel (author of the Micropersuasion.com blog), eReleases' PR Fuel Editor and FindProfit.com Contributing Editor Ben Silverman, and PR Newswire Vice President of Content Development Michelle Horowitz.
Throughout the call, about 100 questions directed to the panel flooded my inbox, and while there was mercifully some overlap, too many couldn't be answered. Some deserve a public response. Remember what your elementary school teachers taught you: if one person has a question, others probably are thinking it too.
You can view the archived webinar here. Meanwhile, we'll go to the cutting room floor.
Here's one of my favorite questions, responding to Ben's introductory presentation: "'Press releases are now consumer content.' Does this mean that it is appropriate to send news releases to the general public via e-mail if you have a mailing list of interested customers?"
There's no clear answer to the question; what's most interesting is why this question is even being asked. It's a radical mind-shift for people who work in PR, as even many of the best release writers wouldn't send a link to their parents to say, "Look what I wrote!"
Reflecting on 'consumer content' observation, the reason why this is the case can be summed up in two words: search engines. Press releases have a potentially unlimited shelf-life on the Web. They often rank high in natural search results and news aggregators such as Google News. This is a good thing for any business sending out releases, as releases are as polished a face of the company as anyone will ever see.
The difference now is that people will actually see it. Amplifying this is that wire services, search engine optimization firms, public professionals, and others have been rolling out offerings to optimize press releases. Wire services and search agencies tend to work together on technological solutions to automate the process, while PR pros often focus on content. There's more than one right answer, and all the answers lead to greater visibility.
Bottom line: Journalists aren't the only ones reading, and a release sent out today may come up in search results five years from now. Make every release count.
On to more questions:
Q: "As a small non-profit, are there things we can do to optimize a release on our own?"
A: There are many stellar resources online to learn the basics, but a great place to start is "Search Engine Marketing 101" by Norway-based Pandia, a comprehensive resource developed by Per and Susanne Koch. Check it out at here.
Q: "There are companies out there offering free lunch and a t-shirt as a come on to a for-fee training session on how to increase your Internet presence. What do you have to say about these companies? Are the tricks that they describe valuable?"
A: To paraphrase a wise rabbit, "Tricks are for kids." Tricks are easy enough to find online. If you really want to get started, there are so many free newsletters and resources out there that can give you a fairly solid education. Odds are, once you're far enough along in the learning process, you'll want lasting results, not tricks.
Q: "Isn't there value in having a PR firm on retainer to help 'drive' the news into the market? Or is the PR firm's value gone now that search engines are being heavily used?"
A: PR firms will always have value. Few people can really get ink just by being more visible in search engines. It takes a much more targeted, consistent, comprehensive strategy to make that happen. The better PR pros out there are true mavens in piecing together the big picture. They prove their value every day.
Q: "What comes after search engines? Will it be everyone's own artificial intelligence robot looking for what's in his or her search profile?"
A: Look to 2005 for a greater emphasis on personal search. Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, and others are all heading in this direction. Here's the bigger follow-up: Is this a direction users want to travel in?
That'll be one of many questions the Search Insider will seek to answer in 2005. Happy holidays.