Search and the Changing Face of Public Relations

In a conversation I had some time ago with CEO Ashley Friedlein, I remarked that I felt the future of public relations was in search marketing. He gave me a very puzzled look from under a furrowed brow and said something like, “How do you mean?”

Some 18 months later, we were together at an industry event and the PR topic arose again. By this time we were both aware of the dramatic impact the blogosphere, social media sites, and social networking sites were having on PR and brand and reputation management. So this time, no puzzled looks, just some very in-depth conversation about the future.

In a previous column (and a number of others), I mentioned the diminishing value of the on-page tweaking and basic directory listings provided by the average SEO (define) shop. Certainly that last column generated some interesting feedback. One e-mail I received stood out from the rest.

Lyn Mettler is president of Step Ahead Web Strategies in South Carolina. Mettler wrote:

    I thought you might be interested in one example of a new company who is doing exactly what you suggest…Step Ahead Web Strategies was formed by myself, a PR professional interested in the Web, along with my partners who run a pure SEO firm…

    We offer clients strategy, management, and implementation for using the new social media tools online to promote themselves and their companies beyond traditional PR and SEO. We help them craft strategies for blogging, online video, social networking profiles, and more to reach their target audiences with the right topic.

    I 100% believe in what you’re saying (I think traditional PR firms may be on their way out as well), and that’s why I decided to found a company that explores these new tools for clients.

What struck me particularly was her comment: “I think traditional PR firms may be on their way out as well.”

How many traditional PR firms are embracing new style strategies such as the ones Mettler describes? I started looking at how many PR firms are up to speed.

I was stunned at how few I came across that actually had search and social media in the mix. Last July, I wrote a column that concluded with me raving about David Meerman Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.” The book is actually about search marketing, and I was keen to recommend that anyone involved in search should have a copy. It never occurred to me I should’ve been recommending it just as vigorously to my many PR industry contacts.

This week, I’ve had my nose buried in an excellent new book, “Influencer Marketing: Who Really Influences Your Customers?” It provides really good insight into the way marketing per se is changing. Moreover, it offers an invaluable look at social media’s power as the new influence enabler.

Authors Duncan Brown and Nick Hays cover how the analyst influence is diminishing and compare journalists’ and analysts’ decline in influence to the rise of blogs’ influence.

They report blogs are the most prevalent, fastest growing type of social media. According to Technorati, there were over 70 million blogs in May 2007, with 125,000 new blogs created every day — that’s three new blogs every two seconds!

Of course, marketing has always involved tactics to get to early adopters via social influencers. But the process of issuing marketing messages from brands talking at you is rapidly changing. Brands must now listen, not talk. Online, the customer has a lot to say.

So monitoring online buzz (or the lack of it) is vitally important to brand and reputation management. And just as the best way to find influential bloggers is via search, the best way to find out who’s talking about you is also via search.

The final section of the book takes an intriguing look at the marketing’s future. It takes a rather bleak view of journalists’ and PR professionals’ future. It suggests the number of journalists will decline, and thought pieces will increasingly be written by influential bloggers.

It’s a very interesting book and makes some fairly big statements, such as “We’re in an era of marketing conservatism caused by the lack of awareness of new thinking in marketing.”

Obviously, they’re not regular readers of this column!

With search and PR so intrinsically linked, what are we likely to see happening in the immediate future? Will SEO shops retrain or bring in marketers to take on a more PR and marketing role? Or will PR companies get the message first (like Lyn Mettler) and get onto the search marketing bandwagon?

Send me your thoughts.

Meet Mike at SES London February 19-21.

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