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Increasingly, I’ve been speaking to public relations professionals about Internet marketing–most especially search marketing and social media marketing. And one of the problems, when I do so, is the name Internet marketing. It’s that “marketing” word in there–public relations folks don’t consider what they do marketing. They’ll cop to corporate communications, or even publicity, but they don’t think of themselves as marketers. And it doesn’t get any better of you call it viral marketing or word-of-mouth marketing, because that “marketing” word is still in the name. But both search marketing and social media marketing aren’t the kinds of marketing that most marketers understand. Both are closer to old-fashioned PR.

If you think about it, marketers are trained to dump messages into their target markets. Paid messages. They buy the advertising time or space, and the message runs. It’s creative work, to be sure, but marketers have free reign. Whatever they can think up, they can run. As long as they pay the bill, their message is on the air.

Social media marketing and search marketing don’t really work that way. They’re not advertising. There’s no one to pay to get your message out there. Instead, it’s the Blanche Dubois approach: You’re depending on the kindness of strangers. If you have a story that a blogger wants to talk about, then your message gets out there. If you post a YouTube video that people want to recommend to others, then your message gets attention. But you can’t force it, even if you are willing to pay cash.

That’s where public relations comes in. PR pros are comfortable working in the world of influence. They’ve always had gatekeepers who decided whether their message got in front of the target audience. The TV producer decides what stories run on the news. The newspaper editor and reporter control whether your message hits the streets. Good PR people always knew how to get past the gatekeepers with an interesting story that peddled the message their client wanted out there.

Social media marketing and search marketing are no different. The Internet sets up new gatekeepers, but the thought process is the same. If you can come up with a story that the audience is interested in, then the gatekeepers will let you through. So, bloggers are new gatekeepers, because they decide what they’ll write about. Your customers are also gatekeepers, because they decide which messages they’ll pass on to others and what ones they pay no attention to. Google and other search engines are gatekeepers, because your story must appeal to search engines (using the right keywords, for example) to be found and passed along to searchers. PR people have spent their lifetimes crafting stories that get past the gatekeepers–messages that people want to hear and to pass along themselves. They have a unique perspective on search and social media that companies ignore at their own peril.

But public relations people have an even bigger edge over marketers for social media: they know how to listen and respond. Marketers, for all their skills, are trained to deliver a message, stay on message, and control the message. PR pros know that in their game, the message can’t be controlled, just influenced. PR is a constant give-and-take, an ongoing conversation. Social media is also.

(Warning: shameless self-promotion ahead) Some public relations people have awakened to the power of Internet marketing, but many I run into have not yet taken the plunge. If you’re finding yourself on the outside looking in, Bulldog Reporter is offering you the ability to get my one-day, in-person class on search marketing for PR pros, held in four different U.S. cities this January. If you’ve been wondering how to get started in public relations using the latest Internet techniques, this is the place to be. And this is the perfect time to register, because you save $100 off the regular registration fee if you register before December 31.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, Revealed Context, and SoloSegment. Mike is the author of three books on digital marketing and is an instructor at Rutgers Business School. He is a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO, a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research, and a Certified Speaking Professional.

10 replies to this post
  1. Mike, I agree that there are many parallels in social media and PR. So much so that I recently launched a website that aims to bridge the gap between traditional PR and social media. It’s called IvyLees and I’d love to get your take on it.

  2. Internet marketing is increasingly becoming more of a PR job than a tec job. We hired a PR person full time last week to come on board. A lot more internet marketing agencies will catch on soon i think.

  3. Great point Mike! PR and Social Media probably are fundamentally similar. The problem is that Social Media involves a lot of technology, an area where marketing is probably traditionally stronger.
    That, plus the fact that Search Marketing and Social Media are getting pretty blurred and I don’t think PR folks are going to be able to remain purists much longer.
    Time to come on over to the dark side! We’re all selling something!

  4. You are so on the money about the strange relationship between traditional PR and search marketing in the corporate space. IMHO some PR folks seem to over trust publisher media impressions report. At the end of the fiscal year they report hundreds of millions of relatively useless media impressions.
    Any PR person who would like take their data driven mind set to the next level would benefit greatly from taking your search marketing for PR pros course.
    Step up, or get cut.

  5. “PR pros know that in their game, the message can’t be controlled, just influenced.”
    I think that point hits the nail on the head. PR pros also realize that social media has to be constantly monitored. Many marketing gurus will put their message in place and hope that the market runs with it.

  6. Interesting that these comments are so similar–I especially agree with the idea that traditional PR must change and that specialties must merge in order to remain affective. Marketers, PR folks, even market researchers must work together and cross-pollinate rather than remaining in their specialties with bright white lines painted between each other. The Internet is changing everyone’s job description.

  7. Nice aricle. You point out something that I’ve been observed for quite long. Great to know that many people have the same opinion. This can trigger the traditional PR change soon.

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