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Why should PR people care about paid search?

Public relations is about getting free attention to your message, so you’d think that paid search is the last thing that any PR person would need to care about. Paid search, after all, is the quintessential “buy now” form of marketing. But paid search is increasingly becoming a valuable tool for PR people in a crisis, and you should think about it, too.


Think about what happens when you face a crisis. You’re spending most of your time fielding incoming media requests, getting your story out there, and trying to get ahead of the story. One of the ways that some companies do that is with advertising–you’ve seen those full-page ads from a big company when a crisis hits.
More and more, I’m seeing companies turning to paid search in a crisis. Right now, I am seeing big companies doing it, which makes sense, but I suspect that small companies will find this an affordable part of their crisis management even though they never used offline advertising for PR in the past.

Google AdWords Headline Test

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Coca-Cola used paid search a few years ago in the face of the “Killer Coke” allegations brought by Colombian union organizers–charges that were thrown out of court. Coke used paid search in the days following that court victory to get the word out. The Killer Coke campaign had caused several colleges to ban Coke from campuses and paid search seemed a great way to get the word out to anyone searching on the subject.
More recently, Hunts Tomoatoes found its business imperiled by the tomato scare of 2008 that embroiled McDonalds and other businesses selling foods containing salmonella-tainted tomoatoes. Hunts responded with paid search ads proclaiming, “Hunts Tomatoes Are Safe” which led to a special landing page explaining the issue so that consumers recongnized not all tomatoes had the problem.
In both of these cases, the costs were probably less than what those old-style full-page ads would have cost, but they also have another advantage. When you buy those full-page ads, you’re doubtless exposing some customers to the negative message that they’d never seen before. By focusing on negative search terms, you’re aiming to persuade only those customers that have already heard the bad news.
But what about small businesses? Can it work for them? I think that in the right situation, it can. I’d love to hear about anyone who’s tried it, but small businesses would likely pay much less for very targeted keywords than the big boys do for their broader ones. In addition, local businesses can use geotargeting so that their paid search ads are shown only within the area they do business.
If you’re a small business, you might not have found paid search a worthwhile investment, but in order to use it in a crisis, you need to take steps now. Open accounts on at least Google, but perhaps other search engines, too. The cost is minimal or free for almost every search engine worldwide and you don’t need to run any advertising until you really need it.
Think about what kinds of issues might crop up for yourself and prepare a few ads and landing pages in advance. Then actually run them for a bit–you can do it for some weird keyword that no one will enter but you. Test to be sure that you know what you are doing. Do a little keyword research. Change your bids.
Why? In a crisis, you won’t have time to learn something new. If the account is open, you know what you’re doing, and all you need do is tweak some ads and landing pages and then submit, then you’ll be as ready as you can be.
Think about paid search as another weapon in your fight for your good name. When bad news strikes, you need to respond and paid search is one of the ways to do it.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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