The PR industry has failed to embrace search marketing. That was the conclusion of a group of PR, social media, and search marketing professionals that met yesterday as part of the CIPR’s Social Media Summer series to debate the issue.
There are well-publicised exceptions highlighted by the recent NMA search league tables but the majority of the PR industry has seemingly yet to wake-up to even the basics of search marketing.
Analysis by Escherman’s Andrew Smith shows that the majority of the PR Week Top 150 agencies are failing to make even basic efforts to optimise their own web sites.
But perhaps that’s not important. It is unlikely that PR and search marketing will be integrated until clients break down silos and recognise the opportunity for an integrated approach. And that’s going to take at least a generation of marketing professional according to We Are Social’s managing director Robin Grant.
“The opportunity for earlier wins lies in targeting entrepreneurs, small-to-medium sized businesses and marketing directors that outsource their marketing programmes,” said Grant.
Friend and foe: PR vs search
Site Visibility’s creative director Kelvin Newman spotlighted the similarities between PR and natural search. Content creation, syndication and engagement are all PR techniques he said.
Newman’s view is that the integrated use of PR to drive brand and search to drive sales is a potent combination.
But never the two shall meet according to Nixon McInnes’ managing director Will McInnes. PR and search are completely different disciplines with their own unique cultures.
“We’ve been talking about integrated PR and search marketing for at least four years. If it was going to happen it would surely have happened by now,” said McInnes.
But developments such as the semantic web and social search could provide the PR industry with fresh impetus to regain ground according Klea’s director David Phillips.
Phillips is a long time PR industry commentator and said that he believed that the next generation of search engines are likely to make it increasingly difficult for search marketing agencies to manipulate search results.
Uniting around a crisis
Crisis management is the one area where search marketing and PR are integrated and the role of the normally discrete functions is well understood according to Lanson’s head of digital Simon Sanders. PR typically takes the lead advisory function but will pull in search professionals to clean up the aftermath of a crisis in search results he said.
One person that has been closely observing how PR and search marketing shakes out is Daryl Willcox, chairman and founder of DW Publishing, the media group whose products include ResponseSource and SourceWire.
In 2007 he wrote a white paper that warned that the PR profession risked being sidelined by search marketing. Today his biggest customer is a search agency.
“A fifth of the 850 press releases that are posted on SourceWire a month are from search agencies. Less than half of the releases from PR agencies include links [indicating a low awareness of SEO],” said Willcox.
Many of the individuals present had a story to share about media confusion that had resulted from search marketing agencies using what have
traditionally regarded as PR channels to distribute content.
Search agencies buy PR skills
PR agencies may have been slow to embrace search but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that search marketing agencies are hiring PR professionals in a bid to understand the editorial world.
But it’s not just the talent that they are seeking. We Are Social’s Grant said that a higher premium was placed on search marketing agencies. “Valuations are at least three times the multiple of PR agencies,” he said.
Grant predicted that search marketing agencies may start to seek out PR firms as acquisition targets in a bid to create scale. It’s unlikely to happen the other way round.
The CIPR’s Social Media Summer Series will continue to explore different aspects of digital PR and social media each Thursday evening in London throughout the summer. Please check the wiki for upcoming topics.