OK, PR pros, it’s confession time. How many of you have clients that have asked, “Why aren’t we showing up in Google Alerts?” Or how about this gem: “We started a blog, but no one’s reading it. What should we do?” If you were like me several years ago, you probably responded with some shifty non-answer like, “Google Alerts don’t matter; they don’t result in more sales,” or, “Your readership will grow with time.” Is this a not-in-my-job-description situation or a sign it’s time to get back in the classroom?

Those are extreme examples, but they illustrate a problem in the public-relations industry. PR increasingly involves online tactics, but many PR pros are still approaching it from an old-school mentality. They proclaim that this is all stuff they know how to do; the only difference is it’s online instead of in print. If you’re one of the stubborn ones, or freely admit you’ve got a lot to learn, you’re in the right place. Welcome to the first installment of our series PR & Online Marketing: Navigating the Conflux. In this post, we’ll explain why PR pros should give a hoot about online marketing. We’ll cover the role of search in the sales cycle, and end with a preview of several SEM-meets-PR tactics to whet your wondering whistle.

The alchemy of online marketing is conversions—a fancy word for a desired action such as a purchase, enrollment, request for information, and the like. PR pros need to think about strategy from an online marketing perspective because, ultimately, the goal of any PR program is to increase or prevent a decrease in conversions, typically sales, but also registrations, sign-ups, etc. To support the sales effort, think about how people buy. Let’s look at an über-simplified version of the sales cycle:

  1. Awareness: A potential customer learns about a product/service/opportunity.
  2. Interest: The potential customer seeks more information about the product/service/opportunity.
  3. Purchase: The customer buys/joins/enrolls.

At the awareness stage, the potential customer might learn of a product in a number of ways:

  • Word-of-mouth (friend, family, co-worker, etc.)
  • Salesperson/someone in-the-know
  • Advertisement
  • Direct mail (catalog, flyer, etc.)
  • News coverage
  • Social community
  • Search (customer searches for a solution to a problem)

At the interest stage, the potential customer might seek more information by:

  • Searching online/visiting provider’s website
  • Asking a current customer/user/owner
  • Researching in-person (looking at product packaging at store, asking salesperson for more information, etc.)

Then y’all know what happens at the purchase stage.

PR executives, at least the ones I’ve worked with, have many a tactic up their sleeves for increasing awareness. Most are awesome at generating news coverage, and many are great (or getting better) at social media involvement. But they typically fall short in the interest stage, specifically the search component. Some PR folks would argue that’s not in their job description, that it’s the SEO firm’s responsibility. But guess what: The content that customers find in search results? Yeah, that’s your job. Would you trust anyone else to write that stuff?

Search is important for consumers to evaluate a potential purchase. Think about the last significant purchase you made—a car, LASIK, maybe a hotel reservation. Chances are, you researched online for reviews, recommendations, photos, options, packages, sales, brochures, specifications, etc. Considering the Internet’s role in consumer purchasing behavior, it would be negligent to go about PR sans search, right? Glad I convinced you.

Incorporating search into PR isn’t really a step-by-step process (save for the initial step). But to boil it down, everything you do needs to be optimized, which starts with keyword research. The posts in this series will explore some of the ways PR pros can start thinking like an SEO. For example, are you pursuing search and contextual coverage? Developing a content marketing program? Exploring PPC for PR? Including web analytics in your measurement?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should start from the very beginning: keyword research for PR! That’s the topic of our next installment, coming atcha next week. Until then, ciao!

Photo credit: ggjsmith
  • Cindy Brown

    I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.
    I’m my own PR firm and need all the help I can get.

  • charl hoffman

    Great article, alas I agree with your assessment of the PR industry. Its ESPECIALLY true here in South Africa.

    Not being a PR expert or all but having done online marketing for 12 years now its amazing how many people simply do not get it! Google alerts, social media mentions, hello perfect ways for not only finding great conversation starters but also followers and great content for your blog or facebook, or even finding followers.

    Then of course knowing what is going on about your brand and industry, who’s reading it following it!


  • Ally

    Great reminder to make SEO part of a client’s strategic plan. I admit to getting mired in monitoring when developing campaigns. Guessing we already have the basics for search covered but plenty of room for improvement. Going back to my worksheets and re-crafting how we approach search. Have been leaving this part up to the web guys w/some assistance but clearly not enough. Time to make adjustments. Ty for the blog and looking forward to more in the series.

  • Lindsay Childs

    Thanks, Cindy, glad to help.

    Charl, thanks for stopping by. It’s probably true in most parts of the world because marketing has traditionally been divided into tidy silos. One company handles PR, another advertising, a third SEO, etc. As much as agencies promote an integrated approach, there’s a big difference between truly integrated and just cooperative.

    Thanks, Ally. Totally agree that there’s always room for improvement. We need to figure out how PR can move past its fixation on clips!

  • Mike Glover

    Lindsey – Thanks for some good ‘ol basic reminders! We all too often get caught up in the technical side of SEO and marketing online that we forget the PR side. Or worse, like you mentioned above, we preach the right stuff (You need blog) and then forget to help them get off the ground.

    Good stuff. Thanks!

  • Lindsay Childs

    Hey, Mike, thanks for your comment. Glad to have the perspective of an SEO on this!