Make search engines work for you

The velocity of adoption - by consumers - of search engine technology poses complex challenges for both the media and PR industries. But neither seems ready to deal with them.

The velocity of adoption - by consumers - of search engine technology poses complex challenges for both the media and PR industries. But neither seems ready to deal with them.

The dramatic shift in the way that information is created, shared, and stored has long worried - and baffled - media executives. Look no further than the latest statistics for newspaper circulation and ad revenues. Other traditional PR targets like newsweeklies and business magazines face the same issues. And as circulation and ad dollars sag, so do the resources available to news outlets to cover "news."

But the changes faced by PR are just as significant, if not necessarily as obvious. And those changes are forcing us, as PR pros, to change the way we approach the media and how we define success for our clients. It is also forcing us to grapple with the erosion of our traditional role as information intermediaries between clients and the media. And it is challenging us to help clients use PR techniques to create a new marketing paradigm that works in this new landscape.

For the media industry, there are a number of headaches. First, big media has lost the under-30 consumer, probably forever. It is also losing more and more managers who don't have the time to read print anymore. Online users want access to content - not media or media brands. That instant, online access to relevant information turns readers into users of content, enabling them to direct their reading and searching, bypassing editors who have long held that role.

Competition for big media includes specialized blogs and online content aggregators that are diminishing the value of media brands at the same time as they feed user demand for content. Social media sites are becoming their own media.

At the same time, PR faces its own challenges. The traditional corporate press release doesn't work as effectively in a search engine environment where the need is to speak directly to the consumer. Tools like Google News and Google Alerts make it much more difficult to control information, much of it created outside of the corporate PR loop.

Blogs are increasingly important arbiters of taste and buying decisions - but inherently more difficult to manage and control than traditional media. Social media sites are also much more difficult for traditional PR to access and manipulate. As such, clients are struggling to develop a new marketing paradigm that succeeds in this world - and they are looking to PR to fill in some of the blanks.

These are enormous challenges. How the PR and media industries respond will reshape their relationships - and determine their fortunes - for years to come.

So what should we be doing now? Here are five practical steps.

1. Use the Web as an electronic billboard for our companies and clients;

2. Find ways to use the Web to talk with customers - not at them;

3. Create customer-centric content and repurpose it across online vehicles like blogs, consumer advisories, and social networking;

4. Create campaigns around key words that search well and help drive organic search;

5. Become online content managers.

Instead of PR 2.0, maybe we should call it Google Relations.

Greg Miller is president of MarketcomPR

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