SEO And PR: Setting The Level For Long Term Success
The following article originally appeared on my regular column at Forbes.com.
“Revenue can atone for an abundance of sins.”
I first heard this statement from the podium of a regional Utah Technology Council (UTC) event in approximately 2004. One of Oracle’s global sales executives was talking about the company’s adjustments following the now infamous Dot com bust of 2000-2001.
In the speculative bubble that fueled the meteoric investments in tech from 1997-2000, sales organizations could do no wrong, he had noted. Every strategy was heralded as an immediate win.
Then came the crash. It was devastating. But it was also healthy as it directed a floodlight on the inefficiencies that ample revenue makes all too easy for organizations to ignore, to hide or to not even realize had existed.
The principle applies to many aspects of business, small and large. For small and private organizations the pain and realization of these discoveries will probably arrive even faster than the investors’ and shareholders’ wrath.
We hear a version of this statement most often from companies who are selling readily—so far—and so they see no need to put a focus on communications or public relations. It sounds something like this:
“We are poising for a big upswing in sales. When we invest in PPC (Pay Per Click ads) we know the exact ROI of our investment. But with PR… not so much.”
“The analysts already love us. One of the most notable individuals in our sector is one of our investors. Others are on our Advisory Board. I have a list of at least 50-plus customers ready and waiting to purchase. I see no indication customers are compelled anymore by what gets covered in eWeek or InfoWorld. In fact I’m not sure anybody’s even reading those mags anymore. I really don’t believe we have a need or use for PR.”
These are more difficult lines of thinking to counter when the sales are flowing like water. But what happens with the revenue starts slowing or stops? And what happens when you poise for hockey stick growth and the hockey stick never happens? (All the more painful as you watch your competitors shine.)
Even if the sales are running reliably right now, the day will come, if it hasn’t yet, that the “clutch moment” in sales negotiations will boil down to the reputation you and your competitors have or haven’t created that can validate your position in the eyes of the press.
1. Press coverage is your customers’ due diligence. Think about the process your customers go through to make a decision about their purchase. Maybe they start the process based on a word of mouth suggestion or a PPC ad. In most every case they will continue the process by running a standard Internet search to see what else they can learn. Is this the right product to choose in the category? What do reviewers say? Do they seem viable? What do their customers say?
As to having advisors and analysts who understand your strategy and are favorably inclined – how will customers know this is the case without a plan to have their impressions and thinking published and readily available to customers as they look?
Yes, in an enterprise sale it’s possible you can reference these credible experts and if needs be even set them up to join a conversation with the customer in question. But imagine the advantage of having their impressions and opinions broadcast (or readily findable) for the entire marketplace. Why not put the sales ammunition on turbocharge in a way that allows the engine to be perpetually fueling itself?
2. PR coverage enhances SEO. In fact genuine earned media appearances are currently the most powerful form of SEO, and help to substantiate and amplify the messages in PPC ads.
3. Customer reviews are increasingly a part and parcel of your company’s PR. No, I am not suggesting you should try to “buy” or unduly push positive reviews. That is inauthentic behavior. However, as part of a strong PR program, you should be aware of the way your customers currently regard you. It is entirely appropriate to encourage your happy customers to share their impressions by publishing reviews in Yelp and other locations. And if there are any customers with unfavorable opinions, you should be working to address their concerns and resolve their issues as quickly as you possibly can.
4. Social media is a vital part of your program. Even if you market your product or service through a channel or program that doesn’t directly involve social media in the process of selling, at a minimum you should consider involvement on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter that will make you part of the right industry dialogues. Social media is an increasingly valuable mechanism for providing customer support. And the valuable information you post should be designated with hashtag search terms that will make it readily findable and useful for the prospective customers you are hoping to win.
Sadly, however, times of seemingly ample revenue and plentiful customers leave organizations with less incentive to put the right kind of PR and social media activities in place, whether you do so internally or with the help of an external PR resource. However, even if new customers are plentiful enough to fill your sales pipeline today, is that pent up demand strong enough to take your company to its ultimate goals without the help of business communications and PR?
Yes, there is such a thing as too much PR and too much social media that isn’t closely measured and managed to align with your company’s goals.
Furthermore no amount of good PR can atone for an inferior product. And if your goal is merger or acquisition, no amount of good press will make up for faulty balance sheet or a business model that’s lacking (although it can certainly help. In one notable example, one of my agency’s clients, serial entrepreneur Tyrone Pike, actually took a start up company all the way to acquisition before a single customer yet existed based on a business model, a product in progress, and strong validation for the product’s value proposition and model as verified by select articles that had appeared in the press. Don’t try telling Tryone that PR doesn’t matter.)
If you fail to answer these questions effectively, the day will come that your competitors will. When that day arrives, your revenue, once so abundant, will falter. And without the shield of the plentiful revenue that was once so easy to find, the industry you serve, your customers and your investors will be acutely aware of your sins. Then what?
I welcome your thoughts.