Should PR agencies invest in search engine marketing capabilities?

Rosa Alfonso-McGoldrick and Ally Saxe debate on whether PR agencies should invest in search engine marketing capabilities.

YES:

Rosa Alfonso-McGoldrick

Corp. affairs/comms director, American Express OPEN

Launched SearchManager to help firms meet clients' demand for search and social ad services

The responsibility for search engine marketing (SEM) and social network advertising lies with those who have both the know-how to master this digital territory and a keen understanding of a client's brand, market, and audience. In addition, this responsibility goes to those who can successfully integrate SEM with other media. For many businesses, this description best fits their PR agency or corporate communications team.

PR and communications pros are uniquely resourceful and practical in delivering a client's message and building brands. Their success doesn't depend on one or two channels. It's in their ability to identify and master any and all media that can reach a client's audience. Just as today's PR firms and corporate communications teams blur the lines between PR, marketing, and even advertising by drawing on a variety of tools, they have adopted SEM because they understand its place in the media mix.

Savvy PR firms and commu-nications teams are adept at building their mix through solid alliances and partnerships. Even small PR agencies today can wield considerable SEM power by drawing on trusted SEM experts or online solutions, such as American Express OPEN's SearchManager.

Search is a natural fit for PR and corporate communications because properly used SEM depends on the strategic thinking inherent in these trades, as well as on the rapid response required for successful PR campaigns. Shifting tactics due to changing market conditions, media coverage, or the latest buzz online are all part of successful PR and SEM.

As social media's importance grows, the link between PR and SEM is only strengthened. PR and communications teams are the minders of fast-paced social media. As conversations about a client take a turn on Facebook or Twitter, SEM requires tactics that change accordingly, with shifting keyword bids and other moment-by-moment decisions.

Strong SEM is part of a larger media strategy where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Who better than PR firms and corporate communications teams to bring it all together. l

NO

Ally Saxe

Managing founder, Ubiquity Public Relations

Former broadcast journalist has focused on tech and b-to-b PR for over a decade

I doubt there are many PR professionals who deny the importance of online strategy as part of an intelligent PR campaign. However, to determine that we should be the ones to assume control of this piece is naïve.

How many times have you found yourself shaking your head with dismay because the client allowed their marcomms agency to take a crack at a press release? You don't even have to read it to know that it's probably not up to par. The fact is anyone can write a press release, but it takes someone with real expertise in PR to know what's going to get covered or when to ditch the release altogether.

The same is true for SEO, SEM, and any type of online marketing strategy. Anyone can buy words. It takes an expert to know how to do it right. While it's critical that results produced by PR be leveraged to help with search strategy - such as optimizing press releases, pushing the content to multiple sources, and tagging - this strategy should be quarterbacked by online marketing experts.

PR, when done correctly, is hard enough without trying to do someone else's job. And, at the end of the day, our job isn't to drive website traffic (though it's a nice benefit and very typical result).

We shape and share the story, build the reputation, and manage the intangible. We construct conversations and build relationships through a variety of channels, including online and social media. After all, it's just another conduit to share the message, position the expert, and connect with the customer. Having the knowledge of how online content moves to drive leads is important, of course, but it's not a permission slip to take control.

Any time spent offering services outside our core area of expertise accomplishes two things: amateur online strategy for the client and watered-down PR. Let's stick to what we do best, let the online marketing pros do what they do best, and make every effort to work seamlessly together. Nothing will derail a campaign faster than people driving outside of their lanes.

Inasmuch as search engine marketing is part of a larger comms strategy, PR agencies' tech savvy and knowledge of their clients' brands, markets, and audiences make them strong candidates to take a leading role in SEM.

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