In My Opinion: Hugh Anderson: Marketing, public relations and SEO. Turf war ahead or collaboration?

THREE weeks ago, Jon White provocatively began his column on by saying that “public relations practice in the UK is shot through with self-satisfaction, complacency, apathy and ignorance”. Well, as a professor in the field of journalism and media, he should know, though it is worth quickly pointing out that the observation was one of a number of possible future scenarios for the industry – as considered in the document, ‘PR2020: The Future of Public Relations’.

Recommendation number six of this report states that “[PR] practitioners need to move faster to develop their knowledge of digital communication”.

This is of critical importance. Firstly, because digital is fast becoming the most important area of communications in general; and secondly, because it is a space that other professions (read marketing and SEO folks) have a strong interest in.

In Scotland, the traditional media (ie newspapers, magazines, TV and radio) probably still plays a larger role in how news is disseminated than other parts of the UK or the developed world.

This is driven by Scotland being a relatively small country with local communities that still hold on to strong ties with their local Press. However, the trend is only going one way as information dissemination via digital channels becomes the norm – our children will all be ‘digital natives’.

So the future of news consumption and consumer research lies in the digital sphere – businesses must adapt to digital channels or die in the era of ‘Digital Darwinism’ as Brian Solis puts it.

Taking this to a more granular level, I recently presented on the subject of digital outreach at the Edinburgh Social Media Meetup. Essentially, it covered the principles, process and value to be derived from finding influencers on the web and effectively working with them to grow a brand or business.

In ‘PR-speak’ this is known as ‘blogger outreach’ – a term that PR professionals are getting more familiar with.

But it wasn’t just public relations folk in attendance. It was an interesting and diverse crowd. The PR guys were joined by a number of digital marketers. The noise levels around ‘influence marketing’ (ie rather than target the market, target the people who influence the market) are increasing as the potential of it grows.

There are undoubtedly other facets and the potential to use deeper analytics to drive this kind of marketing, but many of the principles are common.

Finally, watch out for the SEO consultants. Not blogger outreach, nor influencer marketing, but link building (which you can read about, here). As Google continually smartens up its algorithms to banish previous ‘black-hat’ practices, the SEO guys are recognising the need to seek out quality, engaged sites to target – digital outreach to blogs being the obvious answer.

So the web, Google and the digitisation of communications in general is forcing the disciplines of PR, marketing and SEO to trample on each other’s turf.

How this pans out remains to be seen. Many people are espousing the ‘integrated agency’ approach – last week’s post in Econsultancy by Kevin Gibbons of Blueglass UK articulated the challenges to the ‘agency model’ beautifully, but it emphasises Professor White’s point: those who are slow to embrace change will simply not survive.

Hugh Anderson is the co-founder of Forth Metrics Limited and Inkybee, which he describes as “a new web tool for smarter digital outreach”.