There is an interesting debate in the offing, started on Twitter – and one Stuart Bruce, the founder and managing director at Wolfstar has covered on his stuartbruce.biz blog in a post ‘Public relations is about reputation, not SEO‘. In his post, Stuart suggests that ‘Public relations is first and foremost about reputation and behaviour’, and that PR is better placed as ‘guardians of the brand’ (not Stuarts quote) to manage the reputational needs of a client, rather than SEO.
I have to agree with aspects of what Stuart says – but I wholly disagree on a number of other points. This is a debate I have had on a number of occasions, particularly when working as part of a large regional agency of which the PR part of the organisation played a prominent part. Stuart is indeed right to a certain extent when he suggest that PR understand the facets of reputation management better than most (not all) search practitioners do – and SEO is by no means the answer to all online reputational management needs (and neither will it ever be).
However, it is a tool of the trade (as Stuart) puts it, and in the modern day communications environment environment, a very important tool of the trade. I think it is important to stress there as well modern day. The communications environment over the last couple of years has changed significantly. In the ten or so years I have been in online, I have seen online take a larger and larger chunk of the pie, not just because products are packaged better, however I would suggest this is reflective of user behaviour, as broadband in particular has revolutionised how people buy, talk and interact.
Reputation is no longer purely confined to offline. Certainly some of the biggest PR issues have started online – and it is the ‘viral’ speed of online that means Search (not just SEO), Social Media and PR should be working together now more than ever. Reputation is not a PR function, it’s not an SEO function it’s a corporate function, and as such the organisations that should be best placed to exploit this are the organisations that can bring all facets to the table – both online and offline.
I would like to come back to the point – search above. SEO is just one facet of that jigsaw. SEO is no longer just about ‘write a compelling news release’ and ‘make it SEO friendly’ and to a certain extent it never was just that. It’s a facet, but as a search practitioner I wouldn’t be doing a job, if I didn’t look at the bigger picture. With so many more tools to bring to the table such as PR and Video, it’s more a case of combining skillsets and specialisations like never before, and there is obviously the implications of brand association of search (and obviously the implications of negative results with Search (and social media channels – such as YouTube). Modern day users to an extent trust search results and as a result search has to play an important part of the reputational management mix ( I draw your attention at this point to the Enquiro Research piece on brand association)
So ultimately who is better placed? I would suggest neither. In Stuart’s piece, he states
However, one danger of SEO agencies getting involved is that they just focus online and therefore miss the bigger reputation management issue, potentially causing significant damage to a brand.
I hate to say it but I personally feel that comment is wholly unfair, and the reverse can often be the case in terms of traditional PR agencies. PR’s (for whatever reason) often do not understand the implications of digital, and as such are just as likely to cause ‘significant damage to the brand’ (just look at the Edelman/Wal-Mart issue from a couple of years back).
Not until both parties come to the table – and work together do I think clients will see the full value of a holistic reputation management service. In the modern day environment, neither can and neither should do without the other….