The PR Industry's Disruptive Technology

What has more of an impact on how consumers perceive your company's brand and reputation - public relations or search engine marketing?

The answer is "yes."

Before you start rallying for a more grammatically correct perspective, I'll make it up to you with an exclusive preview of a panel coming up at MediaPost's OMMA West Conference and Expo in San Francisco on June 6.

The show itself is entitled "The Internet Future: Dis-Integration or Re-Aggregation," and I'm going to attend the keynotes just to find out what that means. The panel I'm moderating also has a lofty title: "The Search Insider - How Search is the PR Industry's Disruptive Technology." That one should make more sense, at least by the end of this column.

During the panel, you'll also hear from a thought leader at PR Newswire, MediaPost's Tobi Elkin ("Just An Online Minute" junkies, meet her in person!), and POP PR!'s president and A-list blogger Jeremy Pepper. Today, we'll break down the topic according to the bullets you'll see in the conference guide.



1) What does it mean for PR when everything said about your company has a potentially unlimited shelf-life through search?

It's scary. Remember that weird kid in grade school, maybe the one who ate napkins? (That was me.) He'll always be known as the weird kid. He could run a Fortune 500 company one day, and everyone who knew him will still be thinking, "That's the kid who ate napkins!" The metaphor to search fits, and perhaps too well.

Everything said about your company can linger for years, and potentially indefinitely, in search engines. You want your press releases and positive news coverage to rank high for searches related to your company and industry. Meanwhile, you don't want any chinks exposed, whether it's a negative article or a consumer complaint.

The good news is your PR team is working on generating positive coverage and buzz, while your search team is engaging in a new form of reputation management, aiming for your brand to appear as you want it to in search engines - especially in the natural results, but on the paid side as well.

Given their overlapping responsibilities, when's the last time you solicited your PR team for input on your search engine optimization? Can you imagine how much fun the two sides would have talking to each other? Take them out for drinks, get them talking together. A couple of months later, if they're really good and you take their advice, you will have everyone in your company searching for your brands just to see how well they rank in the engines.

2) How do you build buzz and suppress negative PR?

Create search engine friendly content. Meet the bloggers. Seth Godin's advice comes to mind: "Be remarkable." As a backup, before dung and fan collide, have a paid search crisis plan in place to get your perspective out there when people are searching for you. That's especially true for industries such as automotive, pharmaceuticals, and financial services, but, as Martha learned, no one is immune.

3) How effective are natural search and paid search as PR tactics?

Most companies will never fully appreciate how effective these tactics are. They're easier to value during a crisis than during prosperous times. As a search evangelist, my heartfelt answer's predictable, so I'll be curious to hear the panel's take.

4) What should marketers know about how journalists (and bloggers) use search?

Know that they do turn to search. Once again, Tobi and Jeremy should have even more to say.

5) Does search displace the marketer-media-consumer relationship with a marketer-consumer relationship?

The media's still in the picture. News sites are even turning to search to gain more longevity. The added ad impressions, along with potential subscription revenues, offer potentially meaty rewards. Often it will be an offline event, such as a news story or ad running in traditional media, which will trigger the search, so the media plays a prominent role.

Much more frightening to many brands is the prospect of a consumer-consumer relationship. Bloggers often toe the line between journalist and consumer. Consumers themselves, when so motivated, also start their own conversations. The democratic nature of search means some of these conversations will be found. What happens when both the marketer and the media are left out of the picture?

Those answers are just starting to emerge. And so are the questions. If you have any questions you'd like the panel to address or your own thoughts on the above issues, write me via the contact information below. I'd also welcome the chance to meet up with you during the conference.

But let's leave off with an easier question: "Do public relations and search engine marketing interact to affect how consumers perceive your brand and reputation?" The answer even works grammatically.

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