Background on Public Relations
Along with branding, public relations is one of the few things that save you and I from commoditization. Every business (and business model) has flaws, hidden costs, value propositions, and has stories to express the delivery of value. PR aims to minimize the downsides of the flaws while making the upside look much larger than it is. Alternatively, public relations can also be used to diminish the upside of competitors while making their flaws look much larger than they are.
The Idea of a Fair Market
Is buying links fair? Is buying and holding domains fair? Is linking to a friend's site or your own new site fair? Is buying out competing sites fair? Is syndicating your spin through your own media outlets fair? Business does not care about the concept fair. It only cares about results.
The word fair is typically used to manipulate people. Markets are not fair. Humas have a bias toward that which they have an affinity to, and business is self-serving and inherently dirty.
PR aims to exploit the media and our inherent biases to create an affinity for a brand or product while viewing other brands or products lowly. Low kicks are allowed, though not recommended unless you thought through the potential consequences ahead of time.
Who Uses PR?
- Governments use public relations to create and maintain support for wars. In The Fog of War, Robert S McNamara discussed how he manipulated public perception to keep the war in Vietnam going. Today, due to poor public relations, leading to a recruiting shortage, the US government is pushing recruiting illegal immigrants to fight as conscripts in Iraq.
- Like governments, most successful businesses use PR.
- Search engines are so powerful largely because they are so good at public relations. Every week you see Google partnering with someone, fighting for a cause, or talking down competing companies like Microsoft.
- Much of the media you consume was created because a PR firm pitched a story. All media is biased. Look at how people who watch Fox News thought Saddam was involved with 9/11.
- The Wikipedia's PR article and Paul Graham's essay The Submarine offer good introduction articles into how prevalent public relations is in the mainstream media.
- Thank You for Smoking is a DVD about how the tobacco market spins their product.
Why PR is so good for business
- People and search engines have to trust something. Good public relations campaigns target the trusted parts of the web, by targeting either general authorities or related topical experts.
- PR is hard to duplicate. Each story has a main storyteller. Another people retelling your story wont make the right people want to talk about them. Other SEO techniques, such as link buying, are much easier to duplicate and much easier to penalize.
- Some of the best PR stories get to be told over and again by the main storyteller, surfacing that person as a topical expert whenever their field comes in focus of the media. Awareness builds relationships, which allows you to spread other stories.
- Being trusted by one expert makes it easier to be trusted by others. The exposure builds an affinity to your brand and builds credibility.
- Some things are popular only because they are popular. Good public relations stories can go viral and produce Justin TImberlake-like results. Using large seed sets makes it easier to ensure success, even if the story is not as viral as you would like.
- Media exposure gives a sense of credibility. My landlord called me to tell me he read about me in the Wall Street Journal. It is much easier for him to view me as a topical expert after reading that article.
We Love You
Good public relations campaigns spread so well because they make the target want to share the story, by making them feel important, sharing their bias, and/or giving them some incentive to spread the story.
- Salary.com created a story about how much work at home mothers should be paid, high-balling the numbers. Every year they re-release the same story and the media eats it up as though it is new.
- All of the blog value calculators high-ball the value of the blogs to get people to want to talk about how great their blog is.
- Even if you hate the concept of SEO it is hard to hate a version of it that is useful, free, and co-branded with Firefox.
Even if you fail to spread to spread these types of stories right away, you can still passively target the right audience using AdWords for less than 10 cents a click.
We Hate You
Many smaller companies make a name for themselves by stating how impure competing businesses are. Creating a common enemy makes it easy for people to identify with you.
The key is not to rant, rave or bash the enemy, but to provide an underlying theme that shows youâ€™re all in it together against the enemy. When framed that way, youâ€™re not a salesperson; rather, youâ€™re a comrade who can lend a hand. Establishing a thematic enemy allows you to focus on providing solutions without coming across like youâ€™re hard selling, and is a perfect technique for white papers, tutorials and blogging in general.
- In some cases small market players can garner support when businesses attacks them. Once lawsuits are filed you never know how much support the competitor will get. When I was sued by Traffic Power my fight was for freedom of speech online and saving blog comments. It was an easy story to want to share, so people did. Within days of my blog post about it, the story was featured in the Wall Street Journal.
- When we submitted a story about the fall in the value of the US Dollar to Netscape the story was titled How Bush Devalued the Dollar. They like political stuff on Netscape, so the story quickly shot to #1 on their homepage, stuck there all day, and sent over 15,000 visitors to our site.
Please Hate Us
Some public relations ideas play both sides of the coin - creating controversies then fixing problems they created. For example, PayPerPost went lowbrow with their marketing, offering unmarked editorial blog posts as a service, then came up with their Disclosure Policy site to correct the problem they created. They got press on the way down and the way up. They probably would have never received VC funding if they were not so lowbrow with their marketing.
Love him or hate him, he is great at public relations. Most Weblogs Inc. content is at best average, yet he got a nice payout for it, and he used the PR machine again to launch Mahalo.
- Weblogs Inc. worked because it got so much link equity from the media, which wanted to tell a story on blogging.
- Jason maintained that all you needed to be successful was great content, but they had first mover advantage, paid low rates, and scraped by on profitability by selling spammy links.
- Jason got a lot of press for Mahalo by claiming the death of SEO. Mahalo is a human compiled scraper & the URLs are seo friendly.
- A week into creating Mahalo they already scraped trendy keywords off the Google hot terms list and now anyone can get paid a near livable wage building the manual scraper
SEO can also be used to aid your public relations for your core branded terms. Reputation management works by helping favorable documents rank better, which suppresses the rankings of negative documents.
Can PR be Dirty?
Just like SEO, public relations can be used to push things that are good or things that are bad. Seth recently published my favorite marketing rant post ever. Here is a quote:
I believe that every criminal, no matter how heinous the crime, deserves an attorney. I don't believe that every product and every organization and every politician deserves world-class marketing or PR.
If you get asked to market something, youâ€™re responsible. Youâ€™re responsible for the impacts, the costs, the side effects and the damage. You killed that kid. You poisoned that river. You led to that fight. If you canâ€™t put your name on it, I hope youâ€™ll walk away. If only 10% of us did that, imagine the changes. Imagine how proud youâ€™d be of your work.
PR Watch highlights some of the misuse of and abuses by the public relations industry. They also publish videos to YouTube. I marketed some really dirty stuff when I was new to the web. As I learn more about the power of marketing, I am less willing to market things that only sound good when ignoring the hidden costs.
Gain a Competitive Advantage Today
Your top competitors have been investing into their marketing strategy for years.
Now you can know exactly where they rank, pick off their best keywords, and track new opportunities as they emerge.
Explore the ranking profile of your competitors in Google and Bing today using SEMrush.
Enter a competing URL below to quickly gain access to their organic & paid search performance history - for free.
See where they rank & beat them!
- Comprehensive competitive data: research performance across organic search, AdWords, Bing ads, video, display ads, and more.
- Compare Across Channels: use someone's AdWords strategy to drive your SEO growth, or use their SEO strategy to invest in paid search.
- Global footprint: Tracks Google results for 120+ million keywords in many languages across 28 markets
- Historical data: since 2009, before Panda and Penguin existed, so you can look for historical penalties and other potential ranking issues.
- Risk-free: Free trial & low price.