PR 2.0?

Public Relations Jun 12, 2006

So, from some of my previous posts, feedback has come back that maybe I’m being a little too harsh on the rest of the PR industry. Perhaps blogging outreach and press release optimization have some merit. Of course! Each of these approaches is championed by respected collogues and innovators in the field of PR, Steve Rubel and Greg Jarboe respectively. My point is that everything we currently call search engine optimization fits under the PR banner AS WELL. Throw in the HitTailing process, and maybe a viral mechanism, and you’ve got an unstoppable online PR strategy.

With every passing day, it becomes clearer that the challenge isn’t building a better mousetrap. We’ve done that. It’s not communicating the value of online PR. That’s self evident. It’s not even how to optimize a site, because that’s fallen solidly into the realm of best practices. The challenge is communicating the concept of search engine optimization to the mainstream. Selling this concept as search engine optimization still like selling steak as burnt, dead cow flesh. How can you get anyone to try a fillet mignon when everyone knows it as an almost raw chunk of cow loin? Enter the PR industry…

And this is where it starts to get beautiful. PR is most closely related to SEO for a litany of reasons I spelled out in previous posts that I will not repeat here. Their missions are almost identical. But SEO has a PR problem, in that natural search engine optimization is the fillet mignon of marketing, and it’s known by tne name “natural search engine optimization!” Ughhhh! The world of mainstream marketing needs SEO bad, but keeps getting hung up for a thousand tiny reasons. Projects break down, and everyone goes scampering for more proven alternatives, like blogging, press releases and yes… even buying keywords through PPC campaigns! The problem is both in the packaging AND the product.

Part of the bad taste that SEO leaves in our mouths comes from the inconsistent information and process that occurs during the vendor search and selection process. How is the RFP manager to wade through it all and make a good decision? This is aggravated by the fact that results can’t be guaranteed, and mechanical projects must be carried out in full for a significant effect to be seen. Plus the rules change. It is a real conundrum to nail down what an SEO product actually is, and why it could ever go mainstream? Happily, such questions (and product re-invention) are right up PR’s alley!

This is classic Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm stuff, but with a twist. Most people appreciate the value of coming up in natural search. The early adopters have flocked to it in droves. There have been big wins, but also big losses and much pain. No single product has solidified. The early majority sat on the sidelines waiting for the mainstream SEO product to arrive. But instead, they saw the shimmering mirage of SEO in a very different approach, known as PPC. But it was there. And it was mainstream. And now, it’s a $7 billion industry. But where was the true SEO product? By definition, it cannot emerge, because when it does, it ruins the search engines, turning them into spam receptacles. Plus, it siphons off revenue.

Well, we’re a few years later and a few years wiser, and all those same early majority are squinting into the sun, trying to discern if there is anything but mirages out there? If there ever was a time for positioning yourself in the path of the tornado, this is it. But can a product possibly emerge balancing these mutually exclusive concerns? If a product does emerge, how could it possibly be packaged for the public, made accessible and non-geeky, and not become a spam cannon? Enter Chris Anderson’s concept of the long tail, and the related notion that search terms are inexhaustible real estate, for which there is, on the whole, lucrative demand. You can never run out of increasingly niche products to sell, aligned to increasingly specific search terms. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Finally, we have a context in which to frame a natural search product that will appeal to the pragmatic early majority, won’t upset the search engine companies, and provides one of the first viable alternatives to pay-per-click advertising. The dire need to develop it was clearest to New York PR pros who live close to the media, and think of search as one of the last great bastions of un-fragmented media. And having developed the technology, these same PR pros are the very ones to position it, package it, and let it loose upon the world.

It does not conflict with the other messages you will hear from PR circles–messages centered around “engaging in the discussion” or “optimizing press releases”. In fact, we consider both of those as necessary components to an overall online PR campaign. We just feel that natural search is the underlying common theme to both of these approaches, and they need a more solid core; a core that guides both your blogging AND press release endeavors for maximum effect; a core that can be understood and embraced by the pragmatic majority standing on the sidelines.

And that core is the practice of HitTailing. It ties in perfectly well with Chris Anderson’s concept of the long tail–so, it can FINALLY be communicated to the mainstream (thank you, Chris). It satisfies the search engines, because instead of trying to come up on irrelevant words, you are on an ever-improving quest for precise spot-on relevance. The Achilles heel of this approach is that it hinges on writing skills. But as a marketer, you will ALWAYS do well to exercise your writing skills, whether you’re applying it to press releases, the corporate brochure, website copy, or yes, even blogging.

Super-informed writing is the common theme. And super-informed writing is not an alternative method to those prescribed by my collogues. On the contrary, I imagine that some day soon, they too will be practitioners of HitTailing, using it to fine-tune and hone their own methods, and the PR industry as a whole takes another giant step forward — proving once again that we are one of the most nimble, adaptable and always-relevant branches of marketing in existence today.

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