Firm Trades Public Relations for SEO

After years of working as a hybrid public relations agency leveraging search engine optimization and marketing tactics to gain traction for clients, Connors Communications recently dropped most of its traditional PR functions to embrace SEO and working directly with authoritative bloggers.

The change in Connors’ strategy was brought on by the evolving media landscape. In a letter issued to clients in October and posted on the Connors Communications Web site, the firm made the statement “we don’t do that anymore.”

“Connors Communications is moving forward based on this momentous shift in the industry. We will focus exclusively on search marketing, and more specifically in the area of content development and deployment to help companies garner greater visibility online,” the letter said.

The evolution extends to product launches. CEO Connie Connors said, “PR as we know it is dead. You can’t launch a product before you have customers.” She suggests a beta period to test the product, while protecting the intellectual property.

Recent SEO clients of Connors include National Geographic Society, Extended Stay Hotels, Hachette Filipacchi Media, and Evolution Robotics. Optimization of the whole Web site, rather than just paying attention to the front page, is one of the firm’s strategies. For Extended Stay Hotels, Connors made sure the Web site was populated with content in order to drive search traffic and reduce the company’s reliance on travel aggregators for business. Connors also had the company start a blog, “Road Warrior Tips. ”

In addition to site optimization services, Connors developed HitTail, an online service that allows clients to look up what keywords people use to find a Web site in real-time. HitTail has free and premium levels of service. For $9.95 a month, or $49.95 a month for high-volume sites, clients can set e-mail alerts and gain access to other features. Connors reports the intelligence tool has a client base in the tens of thousands, and has versions in Dutch, French, German, and Italian.

HitTail was developed to serve as proprietary software to look up search terms for the firm’s clients, and eventually became a standalone tool. In July of 2006, HitTail was named best product of ’06 by BusinessWeek. While any client would be thrilled by the award, Connors would probably have preferred conversation in the blogosphere. The BusinessWeek honor “didn’t do any good,” she said.

The use of SEO as a means of pubic relations isn’t entirely unique. Other firms, including SEO-PR, leverage optimization to garner visibility for its clients. “Search is hotter than PR,” said Greg Jarboe, co-founder of SEO-PR. “There are hundreds of SEO firms, and thousands of PR firms competing.”

While press releases may no longer be the firm’s highest priority, Connors sees its work as a form of PR in the online community. It’s no longer a one-to-many communication. “The way we acquire is many-to-many, a sphere of influence,” said Connors, referring to the new practice of polling friends on Facebook, or searching for recommendations on social shopping sites like ThisNext.

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