Go BIG or Go Home: How SEOs Can Win at the PR Game

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James Crawford
James Crawford
Go BIG or Go Home: How SEOs Can Win at the PR Game

It seems that in the post-Penguin world there are fewer and fewer old school SEOs left as more and more agencies are offering blogger outreach, social media, inbound marketing and content services. For a time-served PR person, these offerings look very similar to what I would call public relations rather than pure SEO.

PR has for years generated inbound links almost as a by-product of press coverage. A very small number of agencies distributed anchor text-heavy news releases, but this one-dimensional PR tactic was the extent of their efforts. Few PR agencies really comprehend SEO, analytics and how to measure conversion. However, the times are a-changing. I know of at least 5 major SEO businesses that are employing PR people as their Content Directors. I am thoroughly convinced that traditional SEO businesses will be battling it out for a place in the PR Week league table very soon. Here are my top tips for SEOs embarking on PR, content marketing or whatever buzzword you want to call it.

1. Go BIG

A willingness to risk it all on expensive content is one of the reasons why most PR firms charge bigger retainers than search marketing companies. We’ve been doing big content for decades. We are not scared to pitch in the big idea. £15k a month fees are pretty standard. In a recent presentation at the UK’s biggest search conference, BrightonSEO, (here it is) Hanna Smith of Distilled pointed out countless examples of PR research from the business insurance sector, some of which were probably quite expensive to commission. I’ve been targeting small and medium-sized businesses with ‘content’ for years, and you really need to work hard to find an original angle.  Pretty much everything has been done before. However if you do find an original theme, the prize can be big. Links, traffic and conversions will follow. The risk, of course, is that the client spends a lot of money with you and they get very little coverage. It happens! Being original can also be expensive. Not all content can be curated from existing data from the internet.  In fact if you have just pulled together a bunch of data from the web, a journalist might just laugh in your face when you try to pitch it. You might need to spend big on original research. Don’t worry about budget, if you have a good enough angle your client will sign off. Go big or go home. Be original. Which brings me onto my next point.

2. Content Marketing Shouldn’t Always Involve Data

Check out this great example from British bookmaker Paddy Power. As a result, it achieved coverage from over 150 pieces of online coverage including Daily MailThe SunDaily Mirror, Metro, Daily Telegraph and Daily Record. Now if I am being critical, I’d have got a few more inbound links out of that coverage and I’d have tried harder to drive traffic. That said, it is a great PR idea.

3. Have More Influence with Executives Using Analytics and Measurement


Image source: Shutterstock

The biggest barriers that search professionals face in helping shape PR and content strategies is that public relations professionals still have more influence amongst the executives. This is not the case for every business, but generally PRs still have more influence, for now. Once again, times are changing. The PR profession’s Achilles heel is its failure to be able measure outcomes. PRs tend to focus on measuring reputation, which is intangible and very difficult to quantify. It is even harder to attribute to PR and content activity. Meanwhile, search professionals are incredible at tracking the a campaigns impact on the bottom line. For example, I’ve heard tales of PRs that have been patting themselves on the back after apparently very successful campaigns. They’ve presented their clients with piles of impressive press cuttings. In the same meeting, search professionals, with their access to the client’s website, analytics, goals and eCommerce tracking, have presented data that contradicted this view explicitly. Conversely, search professionals have also provided insights about unseen success stories, such as campaigns which have generated hundreds of links or sent huge volumes of traffic that converted and would have otherwise gone unreported. For the past five years I have worked with SEOs to demonstrate the impact of our PR. The reality is that most PRs still don’t know that the link equity in their press coverage is powering the online visibility of their clients’ websites – let alone the more complex analytical ‘stuff’. If a search professional thinks that the analytics show that a PR or marketing campaign isn’t working, then they should point out to the client why – and don’t hold back. This is their chance to reinforce their position at the marketing top table and guarantee influence among the c-suite. The PR / SEO relationship shouldn’t be adversarial though. Search professionals can win friends and influence people by partnering with the marketing and PR teams to help them track their campaigns more effectively. For years we have measured goals, conversions and eCommerce revenue from:

  • Branded traffic (until recently that is…thanks Google)
  • The link equity generated by PR content.
  • Subsequent increases in non-branded traffic
  • Traffic reallocated from direct traffic by using tracking codes
  • Social media traffic
  • Referral traffic

We’ve created client dashboards, looked at attribution and lots of really great stuff – all of which was shown to me by amazingly talented SEO people. The surprising thing is that most PR agencies wouldn’t be able measure their PR properly. Go and show them how it is done. By annotating key content and PR outcomes to revenue we can track the impact of reputation on the bottom line. I have the search industry to thank for teaching me this. 

4. Don’t Just Think like a B2B PR Expert

My main grumble about SEOs who do content marketing is that many think like a B2B marketer rather than a consumer PR. Many search professionals are very good at their own PR. They understand the value of thought leadership, Google authorship and writing expert posts. Hell, blogger outreach has even been automated by SEO link builders, so it is safe to say that the search industry loves expert voice PR. The trouble is that expert voice articles are largely a B2B tactic. If I am a consumer looking to buy a television, I don’t really care if you are an expert in TVs or not. I don’t always want advice on, say, what High Definition screen is best. I just want to find a cheap TV. PRing a TV is about put the brand front of mind and connecting with the consumer emotionally. There are some exceptions of course, such as the financial services where consumer advice is important, but generally writing expert posts is really a B2B tactic.

5. Look beyond the Infographic – Think Strategy

If I see another poorly executed infographic I might scream. Sure, there are good examples out there, but why focus on the tactics rather than the strategy or story?  By all means present data graphically but why not do it in other ways? How about writing a grown up industry report (with data graphics), a video or podcast?  Journalists and bloggers love an authoritative report and they will link out to your content. The data needs to tell a story. There needs to be some element of human interest, so start with a compelling narrative, rather than trying to create a pretty graphic. 

6. Think of the Five Ws: What, Where, When, Why, & Who

Writing a news story? Start at the beginning with the elevator pitch. Make sure you address the five Ws: what, where, when, why and who. This sounds obvious, but so many stories miss this. You are creating a story so make sure you tell it in an articulate way and with passion. Even in strange, obscure niches you must create a narrative with passion. Believe me, I’ve had clients as niche as cardboard box makers, server hosting businesses, and recruitment firms.  A compelling narrative can be found in any sector.

7. Talk About Reputation – Not Links

Links are a reputation metric but what clients really want from their PR person is someone who can improve, change, or shape their reputation. Links and online visibility will be a by-product of a good campaign. Invest big in big tactics and the links will come.

8. Use the Content You are Already Creating

In the UK, pretty much every public company produces an annual financial report. As an example, here is one for the Admiral Group. Generally these reports are produced by the corporate PR team and the CFO. This team’s focus is on reporting the company’s financial performance to the stock market, not content marketing, so these reports tend to be full of missed opportunities. Here’s what Admiral could have done instead:

  • Instead of hiding the annual report behind a PDF, make it more search friendly and break it out into a number of pages etc.
  • Make sure the accompanying press statement has links in it
  • Make sure the company spokesperson refers journalists to the website in all media interviews
  • An annual report will get a lot of press coverage in the national and trade media so make sure you are picking up the links from it too.

The Takeaway fors

  • Pitch big content campaigns rather than small tactical pieces. Lots of content campaigns fail because they aren’t ambitious enough. For example, is your big idea an infographic? Sorry, not big enough. Your big idea should burn budget but offer maximum commercial return.
  • Don’t get obsessed by data-based content ideas.  Just because search is a data business doesn’t mean that surveys and statistics are the only trick in town.  Let your creative juices run wild.
  • Use your analytics to make friends and influence people. Your analytics are the ace up your sleeve, so many other content disciplines, like PR, are terrible at reporting and ROI.
  • Don’t just think like a B2B marketer.  I see so many content marketing stories focusing on thought leadership and expert advice.
  • Think about the broader strategy not the tactics. This happens time and time again. For example, don’t do think about doing a press release or an infographic. Think about doing a broad, dynamic campaign that includes lots of different components for many different types of media
  • Know the basics of what makes a story. Does your story include the What, Where, When, Why and Where?
  • Talk like a PR. Don’t obsess about links. Instead, talk about reputation and brand.
  • Don’t forget your client probably has lots of content that is not utilized properly. Research what the client does and make better use of it.


Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock

James Crawford

James Crawford

Managing Director at PR Agency One

Managing Director of PR Agency One, a B2B and Consumer PR agency based in Manchester, UK. PR Agency One is ... [Read full bio]