Monday, March 20, 2006

"Search" Tells A Story

Should the PR industry be prepared to add Search Engine Marketing (SEM) to its "PR 2.0" bag of tricks?

I've written before about this opportunity. More than once. Thrice, even. But, not as comprehensively as Pete Blackshaw, nor as eloquently as Kevin Dugan, nor as insightfully as Rohit Bhargava.

First thing we need to agree on is that PR folks could reasonably claim this marketing function. Advertising does not "own" SEM. The SEM companies that have sprung up to own SEM don't even "own" SEM (frankly, too many of them come off as carpetbaggers). Skills-wise, an SEM campaign takes some strategic insight, direct-marketing experience, copywriting ability, etc., but the barriers are still low enough, and the sector young enough, to consider SEM "up for grabs."

The question is, "Do we want it?"

Without simply parroting the gents mentioned above, it's hard to move the ball downfield in this debate, but, here's the essence of why PR ought to participate in the SEM landgrab:

Since a majority of online interactions that impact clients start with search, it follows that a large percentage of the clients' core narrative ought to be instantly visible via SEM - regardless of whether the audience is a prospect or customer, journo or blogger, competitor or complainer...
  • A generic search term (simply the "client name") ought to highlight the sales messaging.
  • A search for bad news about the client (e.g., a keyword search appended to phrases like "sucks", "complaints", etc.) ought to lead to an "Official Perspectives" SEM response.
  • Most importantly, even if the client has the foresight to have keywords and campaigns "good to go" based on both generic & negative keywords, they will need to be able to drop everything in a crisis to snap up relevant, specific keywords, as-needed.
A RapidReaction SEM campaign allows the client to tell their side of the story as searches happen (as discussed in the Emerging PR Tactics post, in relation to the mining tragedies of earlier this year).

Isn't it PR's job to help clients tell the story, in appropriate media? Why shouldn't PR pros consider Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc., as media channels? Why shouldn't we offer clients our counsel and tactical support to ensure that their key messages are front-and-center in relevant search results?

We could, we should, we can. But will we?


Blogger Mike Levin said...

SEM is a function of advertising (not PR), because you outright buy placement.

In comparison, PR is concerned with publicity that cannot be directly purchased, such as editorial coverage. This editorial coverage is often considered by consumers to be more genuine and trustworthy than paid advertising, which is a big reason PR is so effective.

Natural search listings (where you can’t pay your way in) are therefore much more in the realm of PR, because they are analogous to genuine editorial coverage.

March 22, 2006  
Blogger PR-Guy said...

Mike, you make a great point re: bought vs. natural, but, call me crazy - I think the whole caboodle is up for grabs right now.

The ad guys have not seemed keen to jump on the SEM opportunity - at least not with enough vigor to have boxed out the SEM specialists, while it was still early...

Nor do I think that the advertising agencies are excited about the short-money that clients would want to pay in order to keep tabs on the "industry conversation" in order to handle rapid-reaction SEM.

March 22, 2006  

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