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A couple of weeks ago I was invited along to an event organised by the Charted Institute of Public Relations, discussing whether the PR industry had missed a huge opportunity to get into the lucrative SEO industry.
As is often the way, the offline event was triggered by sequence of blog posts and tweets, on the subject. Those I particularly recommend reading are from Andrew Bruce Smith, where he compared SEO company performance to PR agencies and an interesting slideshare from Stephen Waddington. John Straw also talked about how SEO is morphing into PR in a recent Econsultancy interview.
Being a search marketer who had seen myself going into PR while I was in university, I was interested to hear what the industry thought. It was a very interesting debate with a number of opinions, but the short answer is yes, they missed a huge opportunity.
While the technical skills of SEO may be beyond the reach of most PR agencies, many of the tactics an SEO would describe as link building and development are starting to sound more and more like how PR would identify their own work.
They’re not identical, there are some very real differences in approach.
For example the goal is often different. An SEO wants the link while the PR is far less concerned about the snippet of hypertext. They measure the success of a campaign in a completely different way, but the strategies, tactics & processes they are engaging in are becoming ever more similar.
So will PR agencies start winning work from SEO agencies? I just can’t see it. Search firms have measurement and analysis in their DNA; a strong hand when budgets are under huge scrutiny.
Plus search agencies are cocky, and I mean that in a good way. They see an opportunity and take it. They started tweaking code, then they took paid search advertising from under the eyes of ad agencies (although advertising companies are doing a much better job of getting search than their relatives in PR). Even social media, which has to be multi-disciplinary, is being delivered by search agencies with measurable results and happy customers.
Even in difficult times, the best search agencies have continued to grow despite the economic situation over the last couple of years, it might be an under-dog, can-do attitude or just blind luck, but I think search as an industry is better equipped for the future than just about any discipline out there.
And PR firms must not want to do search. If they had the will they could be earning significant revenues from search in just a few months. There has been a history of mergers and acquisitions in the search space and if a PR group had a big enough war-chest I’m sure they wouldn’t struggle to find good match.
Even recruiting a search team isn’t the challenge it was a couple of years ago. Good talent still demands a good wage but there isn’t the dearth of search talent there was 18 months ago.
They could even partner with a search agency; whether it’s a strategic deal or a white-label arrangement, a few hours on the phone in front of the Econsultancy directory and a PR firm could have a whole new revenue stream with a healthy margin.
It’s not that hard, so I can only assume the desire isn’t there.