Google’s recent changes to the search algorithm and webmaster rules were heralded as “killing” the traditional public relations firm, ZDnet, “Did Google just kill PR agencies?."
In reality, for public relations professionals, Google’s algorithm change may have brought back the importance of thick rolodexes and three-martini lunches with reporters.
Google’s new rules ban links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other websites. Google will punish those who utilize these schemes by pushing their search results deeply beyond page one, where few searchers ever visit. In short, Google will effectively punish the public relations tactics frequently used by firms today, such as replicating content and syndicating the same press release on hundreds of websites in an effort to influence search results.
While the change makes our job as public relations consultants more challenging, it also provides a potentially lucrative opportunity. Under the new rules, those with thick rolodexes of solid media relationships will soon be better able to influence search results and thus opinion--and those without those relationships have work to do.
Qorvis, where I have worked since 2004, considers itself the trailblazer in the online reputation model utilizing the aforementioned search engine optimization tactics. We built virtual newsrooms and created and replicated our own content, ranging from standard press releases to video news packages--and some staff gave up on direct media relations. We had enormous success for a while, and soon, other firms caught on to the need to engage in these digital tactics over traditional media relations. The highly-paid public relations executive who spent many hours (and expense account dollars) persuading reporters and bloggers to run a story on a client nearly disappeared, while lower-paid employees churning out content began to fill the cubicles.
Digital deliverables and self-created content are no doubt informative and will continue to influence the search space and public opinion. Under Google’s new rules, however, to effectively influence search results, we cannot just create our own content. The public relations executive with friends in newsrooms has an ever more important role to play, too.
What constitutes effective public relations now? Persuading CNBC, or perhaps the competitive international channels like Russia Today or China Central Television (CCTV), to interview your client’s CEO--and then persuading bloggers to review the interview, not simply repost it. Obtaining a mention in the Wall Street Journal or Page Six. Placing stories on your client’s recent court victory in the legal trades and blogs. Consultants did all of these things over the past few days. These activities were always important, but once again, they have moved to the forefront of our work, and the forefront of internet search.
It’s become clear that we public relations consultants must dust off those rolodexes and take a reporter out to lunch. It’s also become clear that we need to train junior staff on traditional media relations, including making friends with reporters and bloggers at Washington functions and learning the art of the pitch. It’s no secret that the millennial generation does not like to pick up the phone, but the junior associate needs to be as comfortable with calling a reporter at the Wall Street Journal as they are with following that reporter from the client’s Twitter account. We all do.
This new era in Google search will reward the public relations strategies of the past, and in turn, foster stronger deliverables for our clients and better influence public opinion. The gregarious young graduate willing to make connections will rise quickly through the profession--and contrary to recent opinion, the veteran pitchman with the rolodex will have a new lease on his career.
Matt J. Lauer is president of Qorvis Geopolitical Solutions and a partner at Qorvis Communications, a global public relations and advertising firm.