Online PR, a powerful marketing channel – I think not

 I am speaking this week at the IAB’s seminar, demystifying online PR. It is interesting that in their blurb on the seminar they say…

Demystifying [tag]Online PR[/tag] – Online PR has changed the roles of creative and PR agencies in a client’s communication strategies. This seminar is aimed at both – showing how you can combine an understanding of online as a powerful marketing channel as well as an appreciation of traditional public relations best practice.  With experts from the industry this event will provide a thorough introduction to the subject, share key case studies and illustrate how you can use online communities to spread your marketing message, monitor online commentary on a brand and distribute press materials online for the best results. 

The idea that online PR is another marketing channel is a common mistake. And completely forgivable. We all want to fit online PR in a box: to understand how it integrates with our other marketing and PR efforts. So it is easy to see why it has been billed this way.

But online PR and [tag]social media[/tag] relations is unique. Why? Because it is the only medium in which your brand can be ‘marketed’ without you!

OK, maybe not marketed. But it is the only space where your advocates will shout and your detractors will shout louder! To approach the discipline with the intention of spreading a marketing message is to misunderstand the huge shift in brand ownership online.

It requires marketers to change their mindset completely. I often get asked to justify budgets against recognised [tag]online marketing[/tag] ROI. Online agencies and brands want to push all online activity together and create metrics that work across the board. They want to compare online PR campaigns with ad campaigns, affiliate marketing, SEM.

But it doesn’t work that way. There are no comparisons for reputation in the [tag]blogosphere[/tag]. No way to benchmark the feedback and loyalty you engender by being active in communities.  

Yes, online PR will drive traffic to your site, it will increase your visibility, done right it can also generate advocacy and positive sentiment. But it is a much more complex discourse. It requires greater integration with a company’s ethos, transparency, adaptability, and basically a change in marketing mindset, from pushing messages to starting dialogue.  

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