How SEO is Stealing PR Business : A Case Study

SEO is stealing PR business

“I’m currently trying to save my business model from annihilation by SEO agencies.”

That’s what an experienced communications professional told me in response to my recent posts on how SEO agencies have become a serious threat to PR. While, having written about them, I wasn’t surprised to hear about the issues she’s facing, I was struck by how, as she says, she needs “skill to negotiate survival”.

Intrigued, I asked more about the situation.

She prefers to remain anonymous to protect her business interests. And while she may be an independent practitioner rather than an agency or in-house team, there are lessons here for all communicators.

Can you start off by telling us a little about yourself?

I’ve been working in social media and PR for about 5 years, having come from a background in journalism where I worked at the BBC for ten years. I started out when the whole area was so new that everything was very much up for grabs. I found myself working either solo or alongside existing marketers and PRs who had not yet got a grasp of social media, carving out a niche for myself doing the bits they could not do.

What’s the situation you’re currently facing?

One B2B client that I worked with as a copywriter had social media profiles which I considered to be rather poor. I spoke to them on a number of occasions about how it might be done better but they always said that it was run by their SEO company.

It looked like the agency wasn’t that bothered about the quality of the content. The Twitter feed was particularly poor, publishing stuff that was not relevant to their niche (like moments from history and birthdays) and the blog had relevant keywords in it but the content was dull.

It was evident to anyone who took five minutes to read through the stuff they were producing that the content was being created by junior staff members without any great knowledge of the client’s business.

About six month ago I managed to convince the client that good content was more than just a question of getting new material out on a regular basis. I suggested to them that if I actually engaged their clients, many of whom are well-known and with large Twitter followings of their own, then we might get somewhere. I managed to increase both their following and retweet rate pretty rapidly and added in relevant blog content that was good to read.

The client has now employed a new SEO agency that wants my slice of the pie, and it’s an attractive prospect to them.

Can you tell me a bit more about the agency?

The agency markets itself as the guys who create and manage websites with a complete inbound marketing service that covers SEO, email, marketing, blogs and social media (as well as website management and design).

The person who runs it is from a content marketing background, and they have people in-house as well as using freelance writers to produce content. My impression is that they are good at what they do.

By adding in the content part of their offering they make an excellent case to the client for having an ongoing billable relationship rather than simply overhauling the SEO as a one-off project and then moving on.

But it means an SEO agency is getting work which might otherwise have gone to a communications or marketing company. This is the heart of the issue.

How does their approach differ to that of a communications professional?

I always approach a brief with the idea that I am going to create the best possible content I can. My view is that to make it shareable it must be readable, informative etc. Using keywords within that is obviously important, as is making sure that you add in things like alt tags. An awareness of SEO informs everything I do but it is not my starting point.

But whereas I am looking more at ‘how can I showcase my client and foster a reputation for quality, thought leadership and usefulness’, these guys start from the point of view of ‘how does it help to get the client found online’.

The agency automates a lot of what they do using Google alerts, schedulers and automated tweeting, whereas I tend to trawl manually offering what I believe is a more responsive and bespoke service. I can do this as I only have five or six clients. I know the subject matter really well so I know where to look, and I can respond to breaking news.

Their ideas about how to target influencers are also different to mine. For example, I would never post content just to court an influencer if I didn’t think it was of benefit or interest to my client’s community as a whole.

I’m less about people finding my client and more about people using them.

So where does this leave you as a communications specialist?

It calls into question my whole business model of being a freelance social media content provider.

With this particular client, I have been integrated into the team but have lost some of my autonomy. I think what is saving me at present is my journalistic skills and writing ability.

To accommodate them I have had to change the way I do things. For example, I have to write several blogs in advance and schedule them rather than taking a more reactive approach. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I do agree with their content ideas broadly.

However, it could easily have been different. It was evident that if I was let go then the SEO agency was going to farm out some of the blog writing work to their freelancers…who know nothing about the client’s business. I have developed a detailed knowledge of the client’s niche over the two to three years I have been writing for them so that would have been an obvious nonsense. But it could have happened.

I worry, because even when the whole debate over who gets social media, PR or marketing was going on, there was space for freelancers who could fill in the gaps. Now I feel that this land grab from the SEO agencies is sweeping all before it.

What do you think are the implications for the PR industry as a whole?

It seems that clients really like the SEO agency pitch that puts search first. Some clients are just not that bothered about the content being created on their behalf and, as long as it doesn’t make them look foolish, they don’t have the time to make fine choices between different writers.

SEO is still the thing communications, marketing and social media people don’t do well. We are weak in this area; it’s our achilles heel. Smart agencies who can integrate it all well have got something pretty strong to sell.

I have seen it being done really badly (the first agency in this example) and worryingly well (the second). And I have to question whether clients know enough about the subject as a whole to ask the right questions and make sure they are not signing up to link bait merchants.

In the meantime, people like me who have specific communications skills and who have developed knowledge and good relationships with clients risk being swept away.

What are your thoughts? Is my anonymous guest right to worry about her business? Is this a common scenario? And should the rest of the PR industry be fearful?

When Cakes Go Viral it’s Time to Worry

hurtThe internet can be a cruel place. Hidden behind their computer screens and mobile phones, people are quick to slate anything that doesn’t fit into their idea of the perfect world.

Brands and organisations are big targets. Many are still scared of opening up to a social media-driven internet for fear of doing or saying anything that might attract negativity. Trolling-type behaviour is commonplace, and commenting on or sharing brands’ ‘mistakes’ seems to be a favourite pastime for many.

But there are ordinary people behind those companies, and they aren’t immune either. And the impact of such seemingly ‘innocent’ cruelty can be devastating.

Herd mentality is a big problem on the internet.

People join in with the latest ‘thing to be outraged about’ or ‘hilarious gaffe’ without really thinking things through. It’s just too easy to click ‘share’ or fire off a derogatory tweet and then move onto the next thing.

There have been two examples in the last week of such bandwagon-jumping behaviour.

Football Frenzy

The first surrounds this tweet by the English FA celebrating the arrival home of the successful women’s England football team at the World Cup.

lionesses

“Sexist!”, they cried. “Patronising!”, they stormed. But is it? I mean, really? Naive, yes. The FA should have been aware there was a possibility of that kind of a response and worded the tweet much better. But offensive? Come on.

The sentiment of that tweet is clearly overwhelmingly positive and full of pride. And the infuriatingly-PC reaction lacks context. England’s players are semi-professional; they WILL now go back to their ‘normal lives’. And furthermore, if it was an England male semi-pro team and you switch the language around to reflect that, would anyone have batted an eyelid? Nope.

So the tweet gets deleted and the sentiment of pride in the ladies’ outstanding achievement is lost among a storm of unnecessary negativity.

Personally I think the nickname ‘Lionesses’ is more patronising than the tweet, but maybe that’s just me.

Cake Calamity

Leaving the FA aside, the second story is about a cake that went viral. This image was posted to Reddit with the text: “The cake that was ordered and the cake that arrived”:

elsa cake

People laughed and people mocked and people shared. Suddenly every man and his dog was aware of the “horrific” Elsa cake. But as ever, there was far more to this than a botched attempt at cake decoration.

As it turns out, the person who made the cake on the right, who is quite obviously an artist of the highest magnitude, knew nothing of the cake on the left. The back story is that the ‘horror cake’ was donated to a charity called Icing Smiles, which delivers cakes to critically ill children. And that the person who made it had only two hours to deliver it after she had spent the day comforting her mother after her grandmother had died. “I didn’t want to let that sick baby down”, she said.

The founder of Icing Smiles commented: “The child is so upset her cake is being made fun of. It’s impacted her as well and we’re dealing with a sick child that now is down in spirits and we’re coming back in and re-serving her with another cake to try and boost her spirits again.”

Not quite so funny now, is it?

Icing Smiles published this on Facebook:

“My heart broke for the baker because I know how much of herself she puts into her donations. My heart broke for the family should they come across the posts because it may take from their joy of receiving the gift. It broke for our team whose extraordinary efforts were used in this way. Our Sugar Angel wasn’t commissioned to copy Shawna’s work, she was asked for a Frozen cake for a sick child and she did just that.

When I finally got past the initial shock, I fearfully reached out to our Sugar Angel, Lisa to offer my sympathy and boy did she change my attitude. Her facebook page was loaded with comments to which she graciously replied with humor and self-deprecation. She even commented that she knew it wasn’t her best work and maybe Elsa was getting back from rehab. The best part was that she didn’t care because she made a child happy.”

McGreevy Cakes, which made the ‘good’ cake, also published this:

“I know, guys, that no one means any harm, here. It’s just that… well… this is what I think- I think someone tried. I think someone had the guts to go for it… even when, I’m sure, they didn’t know if they could pull it off. They took the chance anyway and put themselves out there. And maybe it didn’t come out they way they were hoping, but it’s their WORK.

I look at it this way… what if it was done by one of my kiddos, or someone in my family who I love dearly? What if they really wanted to try this out, and were scared to, but decided to do it anyway, knowing they had to start somewhere? Would I be ashamed? Not in a million years. ‘Cause at the end of the day, they took a risk, and instead of hiding in their safe little comfy box, they stepped out of it for a second and gave it a go. And THAT’S what I think this life is all about.
I’ve had epic fails. LOTS of them. Am I hoping they’re never put in the spotlight for all of the world to laugh at? Yes.

So am I loving that my photo (which clearly has it’s own serious faults) is being used as a comparison to someone’s who decided to step out there and give it a shot?
Naw. Not really. Again, not wanting to be harsh here guys… just wanting to keep it real.”

So what’s the moral of these stories? Actually, while I would love to sum this all up in some definitive, insightful conclusion, I don’t have one and I don’t know.

I guess it’s just to stop and think before we react to something we read or see online. Don’t take things at face value. And consider who we might be hurting if we go ahead and click the share button.

As Jerry Springer once said: “Take care of yourself. And each other.”

How to Adopt the PESO Model and Boost Your Career

peso model benefitsIf it is to kick-start the evolution that is becoming increasingly urgent, the communications industry needs guidance. Agency bosses and senior communications executives both in-agency and in-house are generally aware of the need to adapt to technology and data. They’ve read the articles, they’ve been to the seminars, they’ve had the discussions.

But they don’t know where to start.

This has become more and more apparent to me since I started working with multiple companies after I set up independently at the start of the year. The issues they face are similar in nature and, whether overtly or as a hidden agenda, they’re asking for help. Progression paralysis is very common.

They want someone to give them a starting point. They want something that helps them build out their digital offering and provides a comprehensive, modern communications service. They don’t want theory; they want actionable strategies.

This is where I’ve been focusing the training and consultancy I’ve been doing over the last six months; strategic and tactical initiatives that can be implemented the very next day.

And I believe that adoption of the PESO model could very well be the start point and the guiding force that people are looking for.

At the FutureComms15 conference a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on this topic. The response was fantastic, as evidenced by this blog post by John Brown of Hotwire, and by the delegate (who shall remain nameless) who approached me excitedly afterwards to say: “That was really interesting! Look, I’ve even made loads of notes!” (He’s not the sort of guy to make notes, trust me.)

The PESO Model Explained

PESO stands for Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned. It describes the four types of media that now exist but, more than that, it illustrates how to use them in an integrated manner to build fully-formed, intelligent communications programmes. This diagram by Gini Dietrich in her book Spin Sucks is the best illustration I’ve yet seen:

the peso model

Used properly, it can significantly increase the reach of a message, provide fantastic audience targeting and generate truly measurable results. All the things that marketing, digital and SEO consultants have been saying for many, many years.

PR has traditionally played in the Earned media sphere. And while most consultants have dabbled in Shared and Owned to one extent or another, many still view PR as ‘earned media’. Which is wrong on so many levels and is holding the industry back.

Charles Arthur, former technology editor of The Guardian, said it himself at FutureComms: “Earned is becoming a smaller and less important part of what people share”.

Paying for Media: Like Paying for Sex?

When it comes to Paid Alex Myers, f0under of Manifest, said at FutureComms: “Paid media is like paying for sex: you only have to do it if you’re not engaging enough to get it for free”. It’s catchy and it’s funny, and it’s true that the PR industry sees Paid as somewhat dirty. Paying for message distribution is cheating, isn’t it?

Well, no. And I couldn’t disagree with Alex more. In the past, this may have been the case. Well, it definitely was. But in 2015, absolutely not.

Paid is, or should be, part and parcel of getting a message in front of relevant people purely due to the nature of the way we all consume content. Whether it’s Facebook advertising, promoted tweets, Google Adwords or Taboola native advertising, Paid should be something that’s considered for every campaign.

There was an interesting point made from the audience at FutureComms when someone from Tower Media stated that: “We’re buying content from SEO agencies, which is where content has moved to in the last couple of years, and from display [advertising] and from marketing…the one place we’re not buying it from is PR”.

This is telling. Other areas of marketing are comfortable with Paid. So why not PR? Do we think we’re above it?

Whatever you think of Paid, if there’s one thing to note it’s that creativity must always come first. In Danny Whatmough’s words: “Paid media is not an excuse to produce shit content”.

Adopting the PESO Model: Where to Start

The PESO model is not an instant solution to all of your woes. As the actress said to the bishop, you get out what you put in. But it does provide true guidance into how to amplify brand messages and, as such, should be used to build campaigns. It should be used as a framework. Trying to retrofit campaign elements into it will not work.

I’d suggest creating your own version of Gini’s diagram above. Create something proprietary that you’re comfortable with and that is as expansive and detailed as you can cope with. Use it at the point you’ve devised a standout creative idea.

Once you’ve settled on your concept, use your PESO framework to plan and build out the different campaign elements. Use it to define how and where you’re going to distribute your message, and set about creating specific content for each specific channel, whether that be media outreach, video, Google search, influencer outreach, social media…

Sell that plan in to whomever it needs to be sold to, whether that be a client in the case of an agency or an internal stakeholder in the case of an in-house team. Demand the budgets you need to make it work as an integrated programme.

And then measure against all of those elements. Be intelligent about the way you plan and set goals for your activity and suddenly you’re be proving ROI like you’ve never been able to do before.

Success will breed success.

To be clear, you don’t need to know the detail of how to activate all of this stuff yourself. Don’t understand Google Ads? No worries. Don’t know how to put together an SEO strategy? Fine. All I’m saying is, learn the basics and get to grips with what specialists in those areas can do, and then work closely with them to deliver.

Don’t be afraid of this. If you’re tentative about it, so are most others. But the PESO model is a real opportunity for the communications industry to kick-start that evolution.

Why shouldn’t you be at the forefront of it?


If you’d like to catch up on more from the PESO discussion at FutureComms, here it is in all its glory:

5 Words That Need to Die in PR

die storytelling dieWho fancies a game of Buzzword Bingo? Here are five words to get you started that I’ve noticed being used with increasing regularity inside communications agencies and at industry conferences…

Content

Content marketing is just about the most overused and overhyped phrase in the public relations industry at the present time. In 2015, PR is all about the content. “We’re no longer a PR agency, we’re a creative content agency.” Pur-lease…

The problem is that PR has latched onto content like a Cambodian leech onto an unsuspecting backpacker. PR is using ‘content’ as a solution to its woes when in actual fact it’s still getting to grips with what content marketing actually means and is.

In this context, the word ‘content’ is largely meaningless. If we’re honest, your content editor or head of content or whatever the hell else you’re calling them is all smoke and mirrors, isn’t it?

Die content, die!

 

Engagement

“What’s the key objective of your social media programme?”
“We want people to engage with us.”
“Engage about what?”
“Our brand story.” (see ‘storytelling, below)
“And how are you going to measure the success of that?”
“Engagement rates.”
“What will that mean to the business?”
“It will show that we’re a conversational brand that loves to engage our customers. It’s all about the conversation, don’t you know…”

You see how ridiculous this is, right? Engagement is not an objective, or an outcome. It’s just a method of achieving bigger, more important things. If that, even.

Measure it? Absolutely. Talk about it in any other context than a by-product of a proper strategy? Forget it.

Die engagement, die!

 

Millennials

When did millennials become ‘a thing’? Because boy, are they a thing. What they think, what they do in their leisure time, what they eat, how they communicate, when they poo…you name it, someone’s written an article about it. Google ‘millennials’ and you get 13.5 million results.

The thing is, Gen Y covers anyone born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Anyone. To say ‘we need to target millennials’ is bullshit. You can’t label everyone born in a single year, or month or even day, let alone an entire generation, with the same characteristics. But PR pros like to do that because it’s “using data and insight”.

Die millennials, die! (Not literally…)

 

Storytelling

If you and I were sat in a room with one hundred PR people and we asked everyone to write down a definition of ‘storytelling’, we’d get an amazingly diverse set of responses. And not in a good way.

Storytelling has become to PR what a guide dog is to a blind man. Along with ‘content’, it’s a crutch that PR uses to try and explain why it’s so much more beneficial than other forms of marketing. Except that this crutch is made out of marshmallows. (I’m applauding myself silently for excellent use of mixed metaphors.)

“PR has always been great at telling stories”, is something I see written with alarming regularity. But what does that actually mean? Answers on a postcard please. Or drop a comment below just for shits ‘n’ giggles.

Die storytelling, die!

 

Viral

Ah yes, ‘viral’. The holy grail of all public relations and social media marketing. I’d sell one of my kids to have something ‘go viral’ for a client. Seriously. Because that would solve all of my client’s problems and I could retire a happy man. Right?

Here’s the thing: one man’s viral is another man’s ‘meh’. In the past I’ve had a client email me very excitedly to tell me about a piece of ‘content’ (see above. You’ve no idea what that means, have you?!): “we’ve gone viral!” For them, I guess a few tweets was genuinly exciting. For the rest of the world it was at the most hum-drum, at worst a car crash.

Viral has no context and no link to anything meaningful, and anyone using the word outside of a visit to the doctor should be banned from practising in the communications industry.

Die viral, die!

 

All this said, if you can engage millennials with content that tells a story, you’ll go viral.

And that would be awesome!

FutureComms 15: You Can’t Handle the Truth!

FutureComms15: You Can’t Handle the Truth!Thursday morning in London was rather joyous. As I arrived at The Crystal, the venue for this year’s FutureComms conference, it was a beautiful, warm day with the sun gleaming off the glass angles of the eye-catching, post-modern building. Everything seemed right with the world.

That was at 9am. By 11am, the atmosphere had dropped significantly into something tetchy, fractious and approaching volatile.

It was kicked off by Chief Strategy Officer of the Content Marketing Institute Robert Rose’s assertion in the keynote that “we [marketers] are not in the business of truth; we deliver what ought to be the truth”.

Say that to a room full of communications professionals and you’re going to get a reaction. It did. Hackles rose and two hundred coffee-fuelled PR types lit up the #fc15 hashtag (which is the PR equivalent of writing a rather strongly worded letter to the editor).

By the time ex-Edelman President Robert Phillips took to the stage to explain/defend (delete as applicable) the assertion in his book that “‘PR is Dead” [for a review, click here] the room was already bristling. Phillips’ somewhat arrogant delivery did little to quell the rising tide of vitriol. This was perhaps illustrated no better than during the Q&A session at the end of a well-conducted interview by MyNewsDesk CMO Jonathon Bean, during which Rachel Miller passionately criticised Phillips for the tone of the book, calling it the most frustrating and irritating book she’d ever read.

Photo via Rachel Miller
Photo via Rachel Miller

There was still time for more, however, and before we even hit the first refreshment break of the day, a panel supposedly put together to discuss the divide (or not) between content and PR was hijacked by panelist and CIPR President Sarah Pinch stating that she was “bored and cross by the conversation” thus far (to that point it had been a tad naval gazing in nature and not really future focused at all) and, in agitated manner, stating how the PR industry has already “got our shit together”. Which was a facepalm moment for me. Really?!

As I say, this was before the first coffee break of the day. It was like being hit around the face repeatedly with a wet tuna before you’ve even settled into your seat.

Breaking the Normal Routine?

So what should we read into this cantankerous opening to the UK’s premiere communications conference? If anything, in fact?

From a personal perspective, I can only say that I’m grateful the panel session  I was asked to take part in (on the subject of the PESO framework) was scheduled for the afternoon! Phew! Side-stepped a firing squad with that one!

Seriously though, two things have stuck with me from those opening three sessions. First, it was fantastic to be at a conference where there was vehement disagreement of opinions, even if it did affect the atmosphere for a while. This tweet summed it up perfectly:

Too many conferences toe the line with safe topics and case study speakers with a corporate agenda. FutureComms is different and, having had an advisory hand in both last and this year’s programmes, I can tell you for a fact that the organisers want this conference to spark conversation and debate with a view to moving the communications industry forward. To my mind, events like this should do exactly that; they should get people thinking and talking.

But second, a couple of hours of debate over whether the industry really is in the ‘truth’ business, whether or not it’s evolving fast enough (or at all) and what we call ourselves (yes, really…) points strongly to the introspective mess that the industry has become.

Despite the best efforts of the likes of former CIPR President Stephen Waddington over the last year, it’s directionless.

Change is happening at snail’s pace and for every progressive, technologically-savvy and data-led PR team or organisation, there are ten who don’t have much of a clue. Hence the arguments.

Essentially, it’s time to step up to the plate. The remainder of the FutureComms agenda pointed to ways in which the industry can embrace a bright new future, and by the time comedian David Schneider had us in stitches with his ‘Is the Internet Making us More Stupider?’, the mood was a lot more positive.

Between you and me though, I can’t help but wonder whether Schneider will have replaced the word ‘us’ with ‘PR’ in his presentation in five years’ time. That’s the ‘truth’ in this.

Resources

I will be publishing a more detailed post on the discussion surrounding the PESO framework later this week.

I’ve curated a Twitter list of all of the speakers and participants at FutureComms 15 here if you’d like to subscribe to their thoughts. You can also catch up on all the FutureComms chat through the #fc15 hashtag (note: ignore the odd rogue tweet from a separate conference in the USA!)

Further reading on FutureComms:

7 insights on the future of PR from Future Comms 15 – Stephen Waddington
PESO: Please Evolve Soon OK? – John Brown
Paid: A Must not a Maybe for PR – Danny Whatmough
A tetchy Future Comms moves on from the past – eventually – Rob Smith
Conclusions from FutureComms – Sarah Pinch
FutureComms15 felt like dipping in to a bag of allsorts – Alissia Knight

On a personal level, it was great to meet and to catch up with so many people in person at FutureComms. Thanks for making the time for a quick chat Neville Hobson, Rachel Miller, Danny Whatmough, Jon Bernstein, Stephen Waddington, Stella Bayles, Gary Preston, Jonathon Bean, Adam Cranfield, Jarrod Williams, Gemma Hume, Sara-Jane Brown, Emily Mukalazi, Carole Scott and Emma Duke (sorry if I’ve missed anyone!).

How to Prove ROI with an Actionable SEO PR Strategy

SEO PR1If you work in PR and you do only one thing away from your to-do list this week, make it this: download and read the new ebook from SEO PR consultant Stella Bayles.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post laying out why I feel that SEO is now the single greatest threat to the public relations industry. On the back of that post, I was contacted by Stella to assert that, in her opinion, the opposite is true: PR is the greatest threat to SEO. So confident is she in this, she’s written ‘Public Relations’ Digital Resolution’.

Stella has spent over a decade split between PR and SEO and, unlike me, she believes that PR is in a great place. This is because, essentially, it already has the skills and the talents that SEO needs; those of relationship building, communications and editorial content expertise.

She counters this by clarifying that, to take advantage of this, PR has to start to realise the wider impact of its work on search rankings, website traffic and sales/leads. “We’ve been underselling ourselves for years!”, she asserts, citing a lack of clarity from inside the industry on the true impact of work and a lack of awareness of what the rest of digital marketing is doing and reporting on.

And I agree wholeheartedly with all of this.

PR_Digital _Resolution

Desire and Ability to Change

Where perhaps we differ is in our belief that the industry is capable of change. At least, in a suitably timely fashion. You see, maybe I’ve become jaded by it, but as I stated in my previous post, the industry’s failure to adapt to data and technology will take a generation to work through, whereas SEO companies are looking at it right now.

“We may need to re-train our brains and unpick the way we were taught through the ranks of our PR agencies in order to take action”, says Stella. And she’s right. But the issue with many, many PR people (not all, but many) is that this is way too much effort. And as a result, SEO companies hold the cards when it comes to online marketing.

Let me take an example from Stella’s book.

She cites the example of Inteflora, which was famously removed from all search results by Google as a result of contravening its policy on paid links in 2013. About a year after this occurred, the company I was working for at the time (a PR agency) was contracted to provide Interflora with ‘conventional’ public relations; raising awareness through media coverage.

Working alongside Interflora’s new SEO agency, which was on a mission to rebuild the Interflora link profile and domain authority, was a complete nightmare. Lists of influential bloggers were written and rewritten and scrapped and rewritten, backlinks from sites were altered or removed altogether so as to appear more ‘natural’; the whole thing turned into a mess.

The ironic thing is that both the PR agency and the SEO agency were trying to do the same thing, and yet coming at it from completely different angles and strategies. I don’t believe this was the fault of either party, specifically. But I do believe that the only evidence I’ve seen in the last six months of one party attempting to properly understand the other is from the SEO side of the fence.

Is All Lost for PR?

So given all this, why do I recommend reading ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ so highly? Because in my heart I haven’t given up hope, and because this is a fantastic call to arms. Let me state right here, right now that I will help any company or individual get ahead when it comes to this. Please just ask.

The book focuses not only on outcomes beyond awareness and on pressing the case for complete digital integration, but it explains why. It provides actionable tips that any SEO PR person can employ immediately. It suggests free tools that will help you do so. Chapter Four goes as far as outlining a framework that you can adopt today to help you to start proving proper value right now.

Consider this example. Ever wondered why the Mail Online’s infamous right hand column is packed full of celebrity gossip that really should not be making news? You’ve probably assumed it’s just poor editorial standards, right? Far from it, as Stella explains:

“Every month there are approximately 2,000,000 global searches for ‘David Beckham’. When the Mail Online publishes content on [David Beckham or other] topics or celebrity figures with enormous search volume quicker than [its] competitors, [it] stands a chance of that huge crowd arriving on [its] site. The Mail Online is giving the public what they want.”

That’s SEO PR in action. So does that imply that you need to start writing content about Rhianna? No. But it does illustrate that you need to take things like search trends into account and be developing a search-centric PR strategy if you truly want to impact your clients’ business results. On the topic of print coverage, Stella says:

The Need for SEO PR Curiosity

Stella talks in the book, quite rightly, about ‘curiosity’ and it’s importance to PR people. You may not think you have time to be curious. You may feel uncomfortable stepping out of your public relations mindset and into SEO territory. But you must develop this curiosity and desire to learn, to fail, to try again and to do things better in future.

Does this book change my mind about the prospects for PR? No. I still feel that SEO is more of a threat than an opportunity to the PR industry.

But does that mean you can’t do anything about it? Not at all. You can start working to combat that threat and to grow your business right now. And you can do far worse than use ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ as a start point.

You can download Public Relations’ Digital Resolution here. It’s a quick and easy read. Do it!

Why Bad Headline Writers Need Lots of Pants

effective headline writingI have a confession to make. Although if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, it may not come as much of a surprise to you. The fact is, I’m an awful headline writer and I don’t have a clue what to do about it.

For a long time now I’ve had the sense that my blog post titles aren’t doing me any favours. I know the theory inside and out. I’ve read and experimented with all of the tips over the last few years. I’ve even taught people how to write great headlines and (enviously) watched them succeed. Give me an hour and I could teach you!

But when it comes to writing blog headlines of my own, I struggle. I mean, really struggle. There are times I’d rather castrate myself with a blunt, rusty knife than write another post title.

You’d think that someone who’s been blogging regularly for six years would have the art of headline writing down by now, wouldn’t you? Be a master at drawing their audience in with just the right balance of intrigue without over-promising? Well, not me.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve published posts thinking “no-one’s going to read this with that headline” but been unable to come up with anything better. In fact, it’s rare that I’m happy with a blog post title.

And this paranoia has now got to the point where I wet my pants every time it comes to putting the headline to a post I’ve written. It’s costing me a fortune in trousers.

Take my last post about the threat to the PR industry from SEO companies, for example. For that post I tried about ten different headlines…and I still dislike the one I ended up using.

The Power of Headlines

The thing is, headlines are vital. Your title is probably the most important part of your entire post or article.

Research shows that, on average, 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest of the copy. Or, to put it another way, 80% of readers will never make it past your title.

When you consider that two million blog posts are published every single day, it’s not really surprising that this is the case, or that a really good headline can spike traffic by up to 500%.

So listen, I want your help.

First, let me know below how you find headline writing. Does it come easy to you, or do you struggle with it as much as I do?

And second, I have a post sitting in my drafts covering advice on writing great headlines (yes, I know it’s ironic. Shhhh…). I want you to title it.

I could call it ‘How to write great headlines’ or ‘5 top tips for writing great headlines’ but, you know: yaaaaawn! Drop a comment below if you’ve got a better idea, I’ll pick the one I like most, credit you and we’ll see how it does.

Why SEO Companies May Seriously Damage PR Agencies

SEO PRDigital media has long been both an opportunity and a threat to the public relations industry. For a long time it was touted that digital marketers were going to steal PR’s lunch. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it is, in fact, SEO agencies that are nicking food from PR’s plate while it’s looking the other way.

It should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone working in marketing communications that PR and SEO are converging. It’s been happening at least since Google introduced the Panda search algorithm update in 2011, realistically since long before then.

Panda was four years ago. So why hasn’t the public relations industry taken the threat from SEO seriously? And could it be costly?

I’ve recently been speaking to a couple of very successful SEO agencies with regard to helping them integrate social media and PR more effectively into their technical teams. And it’s my firm belief that the SEO industry is now the single greatest threat to public relations.

PR needs to wake up and see this for the battle it is or suffer the consequences. Let’s consider why.

Why SEO is diversifying into PR

Around the time that Google introduced the Penguin update in 2012, old SEO tactics stopped working. Penguin penalises websites that use ‘black hat’ techniques to artificially increase the ranking of a webpage by manipulating the number of links pointing to the page. When Penguin hit, the SEO industry had to adapt. Fast.

And adapt it did. Or at least, adapt the good agencies did. And if you follow the breadcrumbs it’s not difficult to see why they set their sights on PR.

A couple of years ago, SEO switched its focus from high volumes of low quality links to high quality links relevant to specific search terms. But high quality links are much harder to achieve. They typically come from sites that feature high quality content. High quality content means editorial. And editorial means PR.

The SEO companies I’ve spoken to are making a conscious and determined effort to diversify away from traditional ‘technical SEO’ in the same way that PR agencies are moving away from traditional ‘media relations’ (or should be). The two are colliding in the area of content marketing and ‘storytelling’.

SEOs have realised what PRs have known for a long time; that the ability to tell a great story is extremely powerful. So they’re embracing the concept of gaining quality links by developing and pitching stories to the media and to influencers. And they’re approaching this in a far more methodic and process-driven manner than I’ve witnessed in any PR agency.

To call it clinical may be too harsh, but an SEO’s approach to identifying potential targets is much more rigorous than a PR’s. SEOs are used to using technology to do their jobs and more readily adopt and utilise software tools to help them with things like influencer outreach. PRs, well…don’t (in my experience).

Can PR offer anything that SEO can’t?

What PR people have always been great at, and still are, is building beneficial long-term relationships with journalists and bloggers. In line with their process-driven mindset, SEOs tend to take a short-term view of outreach: get the editorial and link, and move on to the next ‘target’.

This rather cold approach only goes so far, and SEO agencies are finding outreach tougher as bloggers and influencers wise up to understanding their own value and expect recompense for their time, effort and influence.

PRs know how to frame a story and how to pitch that story to a journalist in such a way that the chance of it being picked up is greater than if an SEO were to do the same job. And the relationships they’ve built over time play a major role in that.

That said, however, SEO companies are starting to address this weakness too.

Some are employing communications specialists and social media professionals, or contracting people like me, to help them evolve into more rounded service providers.

And here’s what makes the SEO threat so compelling: it’s easier for an SEO agency to extend its services into social media and communications than it is for a PR agency to extend into technical SEO and digital content creation.

Why is public relations so reticent about SEO?

SEO scares PR people. Fact.

It involves coding and analytics and things like domain authority and meta-data and other things that PR people just don’t understand. And as a result, the bosses of PR agencies don’t know where to turn and so bury their heads in the sand about it.

How many of the top 150 PR consultancies do you think employ at least one technical specialist, or are planning on doing so in the next six months? My guess would be about 10%. Probably fewer.

And yet, if they haven’t already, SEO agencies are making moves to bring in communications specialists right now.

PR is resistant to change. We know that already. But when you consider that SEO is an industry built on change, even before the likes of Panda and Penguin, the threat is all the more serious.

PR’s failure to adapt to data and technology isn’t news. SEO’s systematic and targeted methodology to take a large slice of the PR pie is.

The threat is real and it is now. React or die.

5 Compelling Reasons I Ditched Spotify and You Should Too

spotify v google play musicI love Spotify. I’ve been a huge fan and a big user since it launched in the UK way back in 2009. I thought the updates the service made in late 2013 saw it take a big leap forward in terms of usability, and brought it closer to being a true music library. And yet…it’s not.

A couple of months back I finally took the plunge to digitise my entire CD library. But after many hours spent ripping 400 albums, I needed a home for them; a place where that music wouldn’t just sit idly on a hard drive in the way it had sat idly in boxes for the last few years.

I wanted to rediscover my music collection.

Spotify, for all its streaming beauty, doesn’t enable that. iTunes does, but it doesn’t cater for those who like streaming their music (yet). So I set about looking for a solution that would not only allow me to store and listen to my old stuff, but to discover and stream new stuff. All in one place. If something like that actually existed.

As it turns out, Google Play Music does it all and more. And after a free 30 day trial, I had no hesitation whatsoever in closing my Spotify Premium account in favour of the Google option. Here’s why:

1. Stream, upload, buy and discover

The major benefit of Google Play over Spotify is that you can upload your own music. So if you own a big (or small) library that you’ve collected over the years that you don’t want to just throw away, it provides a space not only to store that music, (it’ll store up to an amazing 50,000 songs in the Cloud) but also to play it from using any device (the mobile app is excellent, and you can play music offline if there’s no internet connection in the same way that you can with Spotify Premium).

But added to that, you can stream music (Play and Spotify both have approximately 30 million songs available), buy music (just like iTunes), discover new songs and artists, get recommendations personalised to your taste, create playlists and listen to ‘radio stations’ formed around artists you like.

Google Play does everything you can do with Spotify and iTunes, but all in one place.

2. User interface

If there’s one thing Google does well, it’s UX. Play has Google stamped all over it, as you’d expect, with a crisp, uncluttered, simple and easy to use interface. Take a look at the screenshots below (taken from the android mobile apps).

spotify v google play artists

When Spotify (left) first introduced it’s new redesign, I really liked it. I still do, to an extent. But it pales in comparison to the Google Play design (right), which is not only easier on the eye and better to navigate on a mobile device, but which also makes scanning through artists, albums or songs much, much quicker.

Which works better for you?

3. True library

Take a look at this screenshot of albums from the desktop version of Google Play. Can you see which of these I’ve uploaded from my CD collection, which I’ve purchased as a download and which I don’t own but have saved as a streaming file? (Click the image to see it larger.)

Google Play Music albums

No? Precisely. When I scan through my music collection, I don’t care what the source file is, I just want to listen to those songs.

The idea of integrating every type of file quite simply works superbly.

4. Search by genre

You know when you’re on Spotify and you’re not sure what you want to listen to? Frustrating isn’t it? 30 million songs; nothing to listen to.

Google Play has addressed this very effectively with ‘genre search’. Aligned with the more effective user interface, you can scan your entire library by genre and select an album or song(s) from within that.

If I’m in the mood for a bit of indie, I just click on genres, select ‘indie’, and I can then listen to any album within that genre or play a random selection of all of the songs within it on shuffle.

Google Play makes music discovery easy, and that is a huge plus point.

5. Customisation

So you’ve uploaded all your old music, you’ve imported all the music you’ve downloaded and you’ve saved other stuff that you’re going to stream into your library. Wouldn’t it be great if you could organise the entire library how you liked, not with the tags that the publisher insists upon? Oh wait…you can.

Maybe it’s just me, but I hate the way that genre tagging works when you download (or upload) any music. I want the music in my library to be easily accessible according to a dozen genres that make sense to me, not fifty bizarre sub-genres each with only five albums in (1970s folk alternative jazz blues rock, anyone?).

In Google Play you can customise everything. You can change the genre an album or song is listed under, you can alter the name of the album (if it’s preset with ‘2014 Deluxe Edition featuring 2 new songs’, or something equally annoying) and you change the album cover from the one the download says it should be to the one you recognise.

This is an awesome feature, believe me. Below is the way I’ve organised my library.

Google Play Music genre search

Twelve genres some of which I’ve made up, like ‘Mainstream’ (which to me means stuff like U2 and Crowded House that’s not ‘pop’ but nor is it what I’d call ‘rock’) and ‘Recent’ (which is stuff that I’ve added recently and so might be listening to more at the moment).

So there you go. Five pretty solid reasons why I’ve given Spotify the elbow despite loving it.

Give Google Play Music a try and you’ll do the same. It’s free for 30 days (and then the same price as Spotify Premium) so you’ve got nothing to lose really. Let me know how you get on.

Lessons on Best Practice Facebook Post Boosting

Lessons on Best Practice Facebook Post BoostingFacebook post boosting is considered to be good value, but if you’re looking for tips on how best to utilise it from your peers, you might be out of luck.

That seems to be the conclusion from recent research I carried out.

A couple of weeks ago, I published a survey among my networks to try and benchmark how Page administrators are utilising post boosting with the intention of defining some guidelines for best practice.

Prompted by consultancy work I’ve been doing recently with different communications agencies, the topic of post boosting is one that I had an instinct that very few, if any, yet have a fully defined strategy for.

Most (all?) seem to work on gut feel and their own beliefs, and I had a hunch that this has led to two distinct approaches: posting frequently to social channels with minimal paid media spend behind any individual piece of content, or posting infrequently with a heavy spend behind each piece of content.

In turns out, if the results of this research are to be believed, that I was right. And that I was wrong. Let me explain.

Spend on Facebook Post Boosting

The first questions I asked the 87 people who responded were how much they spend per month on Facebook post boosting, and how many times they post per month on average.

The vast majority of Page administrators spend less than £250/$380 per month in total. However, nearly one in five spends between £500/$760 and £1000/$1520 per month. This points, in part at least, to the divergent approaches I have previously talked about, with some using small levels of paid media and others large.

average facebook post boosting spendThe average Page manager is posting 24 times per month, with very few posting less than 20 times per month or more than 30 times per month.

I then asked what percentage of those posts people boosted every month, and there is a very clear split between those who boost less than one in four posts and those who boost virtually all of their posts.

This is more evidence of the differing mindsets that have emerged when it comes to Page management. Some are relying heavily on organic reach generated through engagement, while others are boosting heavily to gain reach.

Facebook post boosting frequency

If I stop here, my theory stands up. A little more analysis of the results tells a different story.

Boosting Variance

When I worked out how much individuals are spending per post on average, the variance is huge and there is no identifiable correlation between average post spend and how often an individual posts, which was the crux of my hunch.

Nearly two in three people typically spend less than £15/$24 on any given post boost, with many closer to £5/$8. Indeed, only 14% of people typically spend more than £50/$80 on any given boost.

What is revealing is that how much an individual typically spends on a single post boost bears no relation whatsoever to how many times a Page posts or what percentage of those posts are boosted.

And it’s that which blows my ‘post frequently with minimal boost or post infrequently but boost heavily’ hunch out of the water.

There is no discernible pattern in how Page admins are using post boosting. It definitely seems to be the case that there are two camps of people, one which uses post boosting more heavily in terms of volume.

But your guess is as good as mine when it comes to best practice in how much to spend per post. There is little, if any correlation between how many times a Page posts and boosts, and how much they are spending per boost.

The Value of Facebook Post Boosting

The final questions I asked were who people are boosting to, whether they feel their spend is likely to increase or decrease, and whether they feel post boosting is good value.

When it comes to audiences, 92% of Page administrators use the option to use custom targeting, pointing to a strategic use of demographics and interests. Interesting, only 4% boost to current fans only, suggesting that most see this option as ineffective in gaining engagement or community growth.

Facebook post boosting targeting

In the next 12 months, nearly two in three Page administrators expect their spending on post boosting to increase, with only 12% expecting it to decrease. Those 12% are all among the top spenders, however, so this would seem a reasonable conclusion for them to have come to.

So do Page administrators see post boosting on Facebook as good value?

The answer is a definite ‘yes’, but with a number of reservations.

“If your content is great, it can be great value”, says Viki Coppin, my former protege and now Digital Account Director at Cirkle. “But I’m a little concerned with how competitive the market will become with so many brands getting the need to boost content now; great for ensuring we’re all producing high quality content but I can see the budgets creeping up year on year.”

Danny Brown is concerned not so much by the value, but by the way Facebook goes about business, and (as usual) doesn’t hold back: “Post boosting is good value, but only for audience/page growth. Facebook as a business tool sucks. They’re happy to take your money for ads, but then won’t let you organically reach the audience you’ve paid for. I can’t think of another business model that’s so shitty.”

Others, however, disagree.

“Facebook gives you a targeted response that is far superior to Google AdWords”, says Rich Hikins from IRepairTech. “My conversion is far better on Facebook. And not only that but I can get rated by the customer. They share, I share and I get more business.”

And, in a blog post that stemmed from my initial query and a resulting conversation, Gini Dietrich says that she’s “a big believer in organic anything – media, content, search engine optimisation – but there also comes a time when throwing a few dollars at your efforts amplifies it in ways you just can’t get with elbow grease alone.”

What do you make of this research? Is Facebook post boosting good value? And have you identified any best practice tips you’d like to share?