Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The right to reply - Media agencies muscle in

I've been fascinated reading the discussion thread following the interview I gave PR Week last week about the future of PR agencies and SEO. Read the original interview here:


For starters, and for the record, I don't think that the days of the PR agency are numbered. As a matter of fact, as a business, we employ a retained PR agency and use a number of other agencies on an adhoc basis. However, I do believe that marketing agencies have probably done a better job of adapting to today's competitive environment than many, but not all, PR agencies have.

When Volvo decided to move into this area, it did so with eyes open and on the back of my previous experience as the UK motor industry's first and only New Media PR Manager for BMW and MINI. And this is not about letting the chosen agency set sail with your brand and steering in whichever direction they see fit. It's about partnering with an agency who really understand the Volvo brand, its customers as well as the online audiences and influencers. It's also about partnering with the right agency who can deliver on the brief.

And I do believe, also for the record, that social media PR can play a key part in a SEO strategy. Yes, digital PR has a role to play in influencing online audiences and shaping brands as it has always done in the traditional world but ultimately, all online PR activity should be geared towards driving customers to our own website. And, at the end of the day, selling cars – after all, that's what we're all here to do. The days of long lunches and the vast MP-style expense budgets in the PR industry went a long time ago and now, more than ever, PRs need to justify what they are doing and why they are doing it.

So, if SEO and driving consumers to your website is a large part of the goal, but you also need to execute a social media strategy, what do you do? Employ a PR agency and hope they'll deliver on the SEO brief too? Not us, we've decided to employ an experienced SEO agency who, for the record too, also have a great deal of experience in creating and managing social media PR strategies alongside the in-house team to make sure the off-line and on-line activities complement one another.

This decision may have caused debate, but debate is good. We live in a world of flux where very few decisions are simple anymore and there are more and more grey areas opening up. This one, in particular, highlights the possible gap between a Marketing and PR function, and we need to ensure that nothing falls between the slats. That's why we believe that a joined up approach, working in close partnership with all stakeholders to ensure that everybody delivers exactly to the brief, is the right way to proceed. You make your own choice as to whether you think it's the right thing to do.

But does this mark the end of the PR agency as we know it. No, just companies breaking down the barriers that have traditionally existed to make the most of the resources that they have available to them.


  1. Nicely put..
    Though I don't know that I would agree so completely with the "hard sell" of we're here to sell cars... Yes, the cars maybe what generates the revenues, but if you fall into the mindset of "we have to sell cars" - it negates as a business, all other forms of transport, and business. If I'm not mistaken, Volvo make more than just cars.
    At the brand level of the bigger picture, you can't track the relationship of "positive" or "negative" buzz to the large commercial corporate sales, but one will most definitely start to bear influence on the other.

    Social Media isn't just about direct conversions to sales, but it's about an entire brand, a company, a product. If for example, no-body in the Volvo group is monitoring Social Media for the term Volvo, then nobody has an overview of the discussions about Volvo brand/cars/trucks/coaches/industrial/aero etc.. and consequently, one bad bit of information in the wrong place, could spread like wildfire, and before you know it, the chinese whispers effect could spread the name of Volvo in an unfavourable light..

    In principle I agree that the long term objective has most definitely got to be a marked increase in sales, or reduced cost of customer acquisition, but more importantly, it needs to be seen as a long term strategy (minimum of 6 months to a year), because any "short term" impact, is just effort and noise, and Social Media is more about building relationships and trust. The sales happen as a function of that trust, not because people are sold on the product. But that's just IMHO.

  2. The debate is developing on Econsultancy's Digital Marketing/Ecommerce blog.This is not a debate about which discipline owns online pr/social media/SEO. It is one about who understands a clients' business, business objectives and customers and stakeholders best and has the people who can guide clients and help them to deliver against those objectives.

  3. An interesting and largely valid justification of your decision. However, like the person above I would also question the argument:

    "all online PR activity should be geared towards driving customers to our own website. And, at the end of the day, selling cars – after all, that's what we're all here to do."
    Unfortunately, many consumers are not going to make the purchase decision based what is on your website. There are a host of other factors influencing their decision: your dealer network, what is on your competitors websites, reviews in automotive media and perhaps most importantly, off and online conversations with with friends, family and people who actually own Volvos (or are thinking about it or have done in the past).

  4. There is a huge area of overlap between SEo and Online PR these days. From a pure SEO perspective I have heard the phrase total digital management meaning making the most of all digital assets. Whether it be online Press Releases, Social Media, Video, Photography, Display Ads, Google Maps, Flickr, Picasa etc etc. This approach ensures high link popularity but also maximum presence on Search Engine Results Pages where the traditional organic search results are getting crowded out by PPC ads, Local Business Search, Video & Image Results.

    In my view to manage all these different types of assets needs the help from somebody who really knows about online PR. Who better to write the online press releases anyway.

  5. I think Jonathan makes a very good point in response to the strong case made by Duncan.

    Much of what Duncan says I agree with, but I think the point made above regarding how the potential buyer makes his/her buying decision is very pertinent.

    Of course, not all purchases are made on an entirely rational basis - and there's evidence of this all around my flat. Lots of it. And surely this is even more the case when it comes to a big-ticket, emotional purchase like a car.

    I want to trust and believe in the brand I'm buying, almost as much as I want to know that I can afford to pay road tax, get an annual service and fill the fuel tank once a week. I want my reasons for making the decision to be endorsed by my more practical best mate. And I want to hear from/read about other customers experiences.

    But I don't expect to get all this information from the vendor's website. In fact, I want independent, trusted commentary from like-minded souls. And I want lots of it.

    So, though driving traffic to a vendor's site is clearly hugely important, so is managing the brand's reputation online in destinations that - very often - have little to do with the vendor directly. And then there's offline PR too.

    So, I agree. It's not about PR vs media agencies vs ATL vs BTL vs... It's exactly what Duncan says; break down those barriers and deliver a joined-up approach. Yes it's about sales now, but it's also about sales in the future - and brand reputation has to be at the core of long-term success.

  6. Hi @farhan, Jonathan

    Just to clarify, I agree entirely about the need to build brands, and see this as a vital part of PRs role, both online and offline. However, confusingly, Volvo cars are a seperate entity to trucks / coaches etc.

    The strategy, therefore, once we are up-and-running with Mindshare, is to build long-lasting, trusting relationships with the online infleuncers in this arena. This third-party endorsement and buzz around our products will not only drive customers and prospects to our website but also to our dealers. What happens after that is yet another part of the purchase cycle.

    Keep the thpoughts coming - there's more at - http://econsultancy.com/blog/3795-how-can-a-pr-campaign-not-include-seo#blog_comment_8547


Clicky Web Analytics