Since the advent of public relations, earning positive coverage in the news media was perhaps the most important strategy of PR professionals. The news commanded a large audience, which overwhelmingly trusted its judgment, making it an ideal target to ply a brand’s message. No longer.
Google is now the intermediary trusted with connecting audiences to the world around them.
- From its zenith in the 1970s, the audience commanded by the nightly news has fallen precipitously. Worse, trust in the news media took a similar plunge beginning around the same time (once above 70 percent, it now hovers around 40 percent — a historic low according to Gallup).
- Over the past couple of decades, Google has grown to represent an audience that performs over 3 billion searches each day. Use, which is perhaps the best measure of trust, is also in Google’s favor — it commands nearly 70 percent of the search market share in the U.S.
Every PR pitch to a traditional news outlet has declining value, while conversely every improvement to a website’s SEO pays an increasing dividend. Don’t believe me? Look at the analytics for your website; doubtless the visitors delivered organically by Google vastly outnumber all others.
The parallels between PR and SEO are uncanny. For old-school flaks, here are some ways to think of the similarities between the two:
Earned media: The value of search is third-party validation — just like the value of “editorial” content for earned media. Heatmaps of user eye activity seldom show much activity on digital ads. Users know what they seek will lie within the “editorial” content of the organic search results.
The inverted pyramid: Effective pitching demands the ability to translate a brand’s messages into an intelligible and parsimonious lede with the most important details up front. Similarly, reaching search engines requires that web content be properly coded to concisely communicate the essence of a webpage at the outset.
Manage relationships for the long term: Reputation is the most important currency for any brand, whether in the analog world or the digital one. Deceptive and spam-like behavior will invariably be rooted out and a brand will suffer for it.
Personalized pitching: The best PR pros know that every pitch should be based on research and carefully crafted to be relevant to the target reporter. Each page on a website is a pitch to a prospect, and should be just as carefully researched and crafted.
Nothing is off the record: As PR pros have always counseled the c-suite, nothing is “off the record” in either the traditional news media, nor in the world of digital search. Once uttered, anything can potentially be cached and republished elsewhere online.
Bridging strategies: A core competency for interviews in PR, this is the function a robots.txt file performs for a website. It steers a search engine back to the timely messages and away from less relevant discussion.
Though the world continues to evolve rapidly around us, the fundamentals of good communication remain unchanged. Our task is to apply sound public relations principles in a new context.