PR Isn't Dying, It's Converging

PR Isn't Dying, It's Converging

Search and PR compliment each other. Combining both teams companies can streamline your marketing process and reveal numerous benefits. Additionally, the public relations industry is starting to evolve, resulting in more of a technological focus. As such, many PR firms are incorporating SEO and online marketing into their traditional workflow.
Because of the changing nature of website optimization, marketing and public relations, we wanted to chat with a PR expert to explore this further. Managing Director at Hotwire Public Relations, Leslie Campisi, joined us for on a FOUND Friday Google Hangout. Leslie is in charge of both the New York City and San Francisco offices of Hotwire’s international communications consultancy. GinzaMetrics COO Erin Robbins O’Brien joined as well.

Similarities between search and PR

I began the discussion by pointing out some of the similarities between search and PR. One of the major themes in both is that most people don’t fully understand their significance or trust the people running them.
“PR is not just about press releases, and SEO is not just about being No. 1 one on Google,” I said. Leslie then set the stage for our discussion by talking a little bit about Hotwire’s philosophy on PR and how it all helps clients.
“We’re a global agency,” she shared. “We’ve been around for 13 years and always especially focused on technology clients.”
Leslie shared Hotwire’s four differentiators.

  1. Domain expertise in technology.
  2. A sense of accountability.
  3. Talent.
  4. Applied innovation.

“We’re looking not just at serving tech companies, but also thinking about how we can really treat Hotwire as a tech company,” said Leslie.

PR & Search Challenges

I brought up the fact that SEO behavior has been shifting away from keywords, and asked how PR firms are affected.
“I think that PR has a lot of room to grow and a lot of space,” replied Erin. She explained that there is a lot of opportunity especially as markets continue to shift and expand. “Brands need smart, strategic consultants now more than ever. And then they need quick effective action as well,” she said. “I think that marrying this idea of being both smart and strategic, as well as being able to act and react quickly is a place where PR has a really great opportunity.”

How Search Fits in with Agencies and Clients

“I think that one of the things that search and PR both have in common these days is a focus on breaking news,” said Leslie. She explained that a columnist and futurist from Wired magazine had predicted that people would stop talking about the internet as a whole and start to focus on specific brands and companies.
From personal experience at Hotwire, she said that this prediction had come true. “Where media relations has shifted, it’s so focused now on jumping in for future commentary, paying attention to what’s going on in the news, and it’s almost always, at least from the tech and business press side, focused on following what these giant 800 pound gorillas in the industry are up to.”
Erin agreed with Leslie and added some of her own input. “In my experience, there’s kind of two roles within a company. Either you are helping make the product or doing the service, or you are helping that thing get found.”
With the advent of the internet and social media, Erin explained that these two positions are closer than they ever have been in the past. “Everybody that’s on the side of helping something get found is dedicated to that. In some way, shape, or form everybody that’s in marketing, customer service, advertising, public relations, SEO, organic anything. Whatever it is, it’s all about findability.”
Erin said that having a product get discovered by the right people is essential for a business and that all of people working to get their product found are essentially on the same team. “Brands are found in multiple ways. We all need to make sure that when they are found we understand how,” she explained.
Erin went on to explain that the majority of content that gets sought out is related to major news events. People will hear about a contemporary issue, and then go to Google in order to learn more about it. She felt that being able to integrate content with an ongoing or recent occurrence was something that was a wise move for anyone trying to get their product noticed.
Leslie noted that this approach had a few drawbacks. She gave the example of Nelson Mandela’s passing and how certain companies have tried to capitalize off of it. She explained these tactics could backfire and run the risk of being tasteless. “Findability can’t come at the expense of diminishing someone else’s relevance,” she said.
Erin agreed and said that she felt that there was definitely a line as to what was appropriate and what was not. She said that there was a big difference between capitalizing off of something benign and taking advantage of a crisis.
“PR is not always just about brand awareness for us either,” said Leslie. “Sometimes, from a PR perspective, it is more about differentiation.” She explained that being found is not the only thing PR officials are concerned about.
“If you’re trying to move from one particular image of a brand to a new image of a brand, then creating content around a new image, so that when people go look for that you’re there, will help differentiation,” said Erin.

The Death of PR?

Another thing that PR and search have in common is that they’re both dead or dying on a regular basis. I asked Leslie to talk about you talk  how PR is evolving to keep up with the constant changes in the search and other areas of marketing.
“I think the perception is perhaps just PR people talking to PR people,” Leslie said.
“We’re kind of living in a golden age of PR. This is an age of curation. And if you think about the role of the PR person more as a curator, it’s someone who helps you make sense of all the information that is out there whether that’s brand to end user or end user to brand. I think PR’s not dying at all. I think that it’s shifting,” she said. Leslie went on the explain that she felt that the boundaries between PR and other types of marketing were getting looser and starting to blend together.
Erin agreed and said that she felt that Leslie’s opening comments about the need for talent were accurate. She said, “People from various backgrounds all have a lot of very important things to do. What’s important is that everybody takes whatever their educational and experiential background is from five, 10, 15 years ago and continues to grow and build on it and make it into something that’s relevant continuously.”
Erin explained that she also felt that titles or experiences never really become irrelevant. “I don’t think having a communications background, or an analytics background, or the ability to write a sentence is ever going to be irrelevant.” She explained that no skill ever becomes obsolete because it can be applied to something else.
Leslie agreed, saying, “I switched to PR halfway through my career. I worked as a content manager. I worked in house on the market side. I worked as an interactive producer. I just happened to meet someone who was starting a PR agency and thought ‘there’s a new thing for me to learn,’ and that’s the kind of attitude that I look for.”
Erin also noted that entirely new search options have begun to emerge. She mentioned that applications like Siri had brought new dimensions to how content is found and how people arrive at websites. “We’re entering a very interesting time,” she said.
“Do you see things reaching a point of convergence?” Leslie asked. “Is the agency of the future is this a team comprised of all of these people in-house at a brand? Is it one agency that can offer all of these services? Or do we still need all of these deep domain specialists?”
“I’m going to say the cliche thing,” responded Erin. “It’s whatever works for a brand. And I would say that that really depends on the brand and where they are.” Erin explained that startups typically need to find an individual who can do multiple tasks. She also noted that large companies need to focus on communication in order to make sure that everything operates smoothly.
“Do you see your clients sharing their information?” Leslie asked.
“Not as much as they should,” replied Erin. “From our end it’s even harder because a lot of our clients are agencies. And so an agency will use us and they will send our data to a brand.”
“There’s a certain mindset that says ‘that’s our value add,’” noted Leslie. She said that this wasn’t a very good strategy because sharing insights and information helps everyone.

Tips to Improve PR and SEO Campaigns

Improving their your PR and SEO campaigns starts with initiating the relationship with your clients, Leslie said. She explained that this was essential for properly meeting needs and understanding the client.
Erin agreed and added, “Knowing what tools somebody is already invested in, and if the answer is none then being able to make some smart recommendations, especially in a way that doesn’t immediately cost the client a lot of money upfront but shows the value of making that a budget line item, is really important and valuable.”
Erin also explained that communication is important. “Being able to able to say ‘hey, here is what people come across when they type this phrase into a search engine or when they type it into something on Twitter or Facebook, and they’re really looking for something,’ has a really profound impact.”
Watch the hangout below, and to subscribe to be notified of our next FOUND Friday hangout.