SEO is Critical to The Public Relations Pro of the Future

Shel Holz & Neville Hobson of the For Immediate Release podcast (Show #411 on January 5, 2009) had a great discussion inspired by a PR Week video and series of blogs posts by John Bell of Ogilvy Public Relations on the PR Professional of the Future.

(Note: Shel and Neville, congratulations the fourth anniversary of FIR! You're a big part of my ongoing education in all things business communications.)

John Bell's blog series under discussion, The 13 Skills of the Public Relations Pro of the Future, is part John's also excellent blog called "The Digital Influence Mapping Project."

The full posts are well worth the read.

In this post, I'd like to riff just a bit on #4 on John's list of skills PR Pros must master: Design and deploy an advanced search engine optimization program.

Readers of this blog know we've been trumpeting the role of PR - and one tool in particular, the search-optimized press release - as having a critical role in a company's SEO.

But for PR Pros to take the lead in SEO, well, that's a radical thought.

One I like a lot.

In our work with HR vendors, we know that many firms are still figuring out SEO. And many struggle not because SEO is too hard nor even too technical; it's because no one has stood up and taken ownership of it. Even in 2009, I still see two common problems:

  1. The traditional organizational silos impede companies from taking advantage of the Web. The company website is a politicized body of work, with turf wars between marketing, IT, legal, and perhaps HR.
  2. Corporate leadership does not value SEO.

However, both of these problems are fading fast.

  1. The turf wars have died down as content management has gotten a lot easier, enabling content publishers to have direct access to the Web enabled by IT.
  2. However the most powerful accelerating force in this direction is that CEO's now "get" SEO. They're serious about it and willing to fund it. In that environment, someone has to stand up and take accountability for it.

A year ago, in one of our bi-annual "Trends in HR Marketing" reports on how vendors and suppliers deploy their budgets and do their work, we put our finger on some of these trends. From the report's conclusion, an excerpt:

Where the Suppliers Are Headed in 2008

What continues to be worth our attention is the breakdown of the barriers between traditional marketing and PR disciplines and the convergence of Web 2.0 practices as evidenced by a new breed of marketing and PR professionals. While not directly addressed by our research data, a deeper reading combined with what we know of marketing and PR professionals shows another subset of convergences happening. PR and media pros are learning how their work impacts Web visibility and SEO. Internet marketers who are often thought of as tacticians and technical mavens of SEO are coming to the fore of marketing communications and impacting company brands as much as or more than the ad execs or the PR team. Multi-disciplinary generalists are working alongside tactical specialists in a more unified approach to marketing and PR.

As the people behind the marketing/PR curtain continue to reorient and reinvent themselves in an increasingly noisy and competitive marketing communications environment, we expect to see the mix of traditional marketing and PR, online and Web 2.0 marketing, and public relations evolve accordingly.

While we don't do much prognosticating, I think we hit on something important going on within the marketing and PR professions. Now one year later, I expect we're still in the early days of the new breed of PR/Marketing Pro.

What do you think? How is your job evolving? And do you agree SEO is one of the new critical skills of the PR profession and an area in which it should take the lead?

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