Robert Glazer Wins Glassdoor #2 CEO Award

Client Acceleration Partners’ Robert Glazer has won a Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Award recognizing the Highest Rated CEOs for 2018 in the U.S. SMB (Small & Medium Business) category. Glazer was rated #2 of 50 CEOs with a 99% approval rating from employees. Among the 770,000 companies reviewed on Glassdoor, the average CEO approval rating is 69 percent. This Glassdoor trophy will take its place on the Acceleration Partners mantel along with its Ad Age’s Best Place to Work, Entrepreneur’s Top Company Culture, and Inc. Magazine’s Best Place to Work.

Glazer regularly speaks and writes on affiliate marketing, company culture, and leadership, including contributing bylined articles for Forbes and Entrepreneur. He also pens a popular weekly email called Friday Forward, which has attracted 35,000+ subscribers in two years, in which he dispenses inspiration personal and business insight from his unique point of view.

Where Do You Find Data For PR Storytelling?

Last week’s post covered the trend of data-driven storytelling in PR.

But where does the data come from? For many of our clients we field quarterly surveys designed to generate relevant news or insights. But there are lots of other options for PR pros to source relevant data, and many are inexpensive and fairly easy to find.

Data to power PR storytelling

Social listening sets the stage

Social monitoring and listening not only give us a heads up on customer service issues or negative PR, but they can illuminate industry trends and customer behavior. A PR campaign can include a general theme or direction found in social media data or patterns, or the social data can inform a content calendar. Social listening is also a great method for coming up with fresh ideas that will resonate with a specific target audience.
Surveys are the data gift that keep giving

Polls and surveys are time-honored PR tools for developing campaigns, fine-tuning messaging, and generating earned media and content. The survey possibilities are endless, but here are our favorites.

Omnibus surveys

They’re beloved among PRs because they’re quick and affordable. Unlike custom marketing surveys, they’re administered on behalf of multiple organizations, thus spreading the cost over many sponsors. A good omnibus is a solid way to inform thought leadership content or to grab relevant data to attract media interest. They can also be used like flash polls after a news event. If you’re a cybersecurity firm, a 1000-person survey conducted after a public security breach may show behavior change, persistent sloppy password habits or new attitudes about smart home devices. Whatever the outcome, it’s likely to yield fascinating material for content. Media love poll-results story pitches, especially when accompanied by visuals like infographics. See our earlier post for more on how to make surveys work for PR.

Quality data may already exist

Even a small company may have thousands of marketing contacts collected from CRM, website visits, and social followers. Social platforms like Hootsuite or a marketing one like Hubspot can collect, visualize, and collate data analytics on subscriber demographics, email engagement, website activity, and social engagement. If you do customer satisfaction surveys, you can throw in a question to support a specific storyline or uncover customer concerns useful for PR programming.

Public-domain research is high-quality and often free

A PR pro can find in-depth research online from many government and non-profit sources, all in the public domain. Data.gov, Healthdata.gov, U.S. Census Bureau, and other public agencies routinely produce data analyses and statistics collected over many decades. You can cherry-pick studies from different sources, combine and cross-reference to yield an original piece of secondary research – and a story. For a mattress company, we converted NIH data on how many hours people sleep every night into a branded national index of “most sleep-deprived cities.” Our out-of-pocket cost was $200 for the statistical software that made the calculations.

When all else fails, try a straw poll

They’re unscientific, but they’re cheap and easy. If you’re stuck for byline or blog ideas, you can always ask a handful of peers, customers, or sales reps for feedback on their biggest needs, concerns, or frustrations. The most cost-efficient are online tools like SurveyMonkey and Fieldboom for DIY polling. There are even smartphone apps like Poll Everywhere to facilitate more informal online polls with onsite participants at conferences and panels.

Formal third-party research builds thought leadersip

The high-end method is a partnership with an industry analyst or research firm to create a piece of branded research as a corporate communications centerpiece. We helped a credit-union client with a financial literacy platform team with a trade group to develop a national financial literacy study, white paper, and speaking tour. It’s an expensive proposition, but it can anchor a PR campaign and build credibility over years.

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet On Choosing A PR Agency

Deciding it’s time to invest in PR is one thing, but selecting the right agency is another. It’s time-consuming, occasionally intimidating, and often confusing. What’s more, the people who are skilled at internal communications aren’t always prepared to conduct an agency search. Here’s a cheat sheet on finding the right PR firm while saving time and frustration.

Skip the RFP

Instead, rely on a one-pager that outlines the goals for partnering with a PR agency. It should contain both agency deliverables as well as the all-important business objectives for seeking outside support. Don’t worry about offering background on the company unless it’s relevant information that can’t be obtained through the agency’s own research.

Limit the “deciders”

A large committee will be time-consuming and unwieldy. It’s better to solicit buy-in on the goals for bringing on an agency from a broader group of stakeholders but to keep the selection group small. The benefits are obvious. But if the company founder or chief executive will be involved in the agency program, he or she should be part of the decision process.

Be clear on your goals

If the internal stakeholders can’t agree on goals, you’re not ready to bring on an agency team. If the goals are vague (“raise visibility” or “build buzz”) it’s best to qualify them and attach specific parameters or metrics. An agency may offer their own way of quantifying deliverables and measuring goals, but the objectives should be articulated by the client.

Determine your must-haves

For most companies the must-have list includes relevant sector experience, geographical coverage, and the absence of conflicts, but it’s also worthwhile to think about agency size. Bottom line, if your budget is less than $15,000 per month, you should limit your search to smaller agencies (loosely defined as those with annual billings under $5 million.)

Seek relevant recommendations

Nothing will save time and resources like quality recommendations for your initial list. But the trick is to make sure the recommendations are based on the experience of someone you know and trust, not a random LinkedIn contact or a board member’s wife’s PR firm. Professional groups are very useful, but always ask for names from those who have first-hand knowledge of the agency in question.

Winnow the agency list in advance of meetings

Three agencies for serious consideration is an ideal number, and five is a good maximum. If you must start with a large group of potential agencies and can’t cut the list through research, send the agencies a 2-page questionnaire to ensure relevant experience, desirable geography and suitable size. Then cut the list and proceed with meetings.

Set a budget

Some businesses are coy about budget because they’re hoping to get a good deal through competition, and that can actually work in a poor economy. But in today’s environment, if you don’t share your budget range, you’re likely to waste time or get proposals that are unrealistic or not suitable. In the worst case, you’ll eliminate the strongest agencies because they don’t feel compelled to pitch for accounts without full information.

Ask for a conversation, not a presentation

One problem with the dog-and-pony route is that it rewards salesmanship and preparation at the expense of quality thinking. All are important, so it’s wise to aim for an in-depth meeting that affords the time for a substantive conversation about upcoming issues, roadblocks, and opportunities.

5 Reasons Tech PR Is A Different Animal

If you’re an aspiring PR professional or even a seasoned veteran who has never worked in the tech sector, you may wonder what it’s like. Is all PR basically the same? The fact is, the public relations industry is becoming more specialized and diverse. Agencies who work in tech PR are part of an industry whose signature attribute is innovation – which is both stressful and exciting. The day-to-day work can also be different. Here’s how.

What sets tech PR apart

A transactional PR-journalist/influencer relationship

The tech sector’s rapid news cycle can contribute to a more transactional relationship between PR people and the journalists they know.  Prominent tech reporters are compelled to grab the latest news, publish, and keep the ball rolling on to the next thing. And while tech isn’t the only sector where being first is a journalist’s  goal, it’s among the most brutally competitive. Most tech PRs learn to negotiate for “exclusive” story placement on behalf of clients when it comes to funding or innovation news. Additionally, tech PR firms must nurture mutually beneficial relationships with analysts, just as they do with journalists. Here, the goal may be to score a mention in a key report in the absence of a paid relationship. A positive recommendation in a Gartner or IDC is a valuable third-party endorsements for an up-and-coming B2B technology player.

Taming the technology beast

In recent years the tech sector has faced a reputation problem, from its lack of diversity to data privacy issues. Problems vary with the individual company, of course. But PR agency teams today can face an extra challenge when it comes to poorly understood sectors like digital advertising technology or blockchain, for example. Then there are regulatory issues that demand the communication of a company position as well as internal adaptation to new rules. The recently enacted GDPR European data privacy rule challenged virtually every department in most companies, but it also offers opportunities for relevant commentaries and point-of-view content.

The need for speed

All PR moves at a rapid pace, driven by the news cycle and the speed of digital technology. But in tech PR, that pace is accelerated, for several reasons. Many tech companies are young businesses or high-growth startups, and they’re highly entrepreneurial in style and speed. The acceleration also stems from the current boom of private equity investment in tech startups. Finally, it’s the pace of innovation. There always seem to be new startups, more financing rounds, new offerings, and of course fresh technology breakthroughs. It’s also a crowded mediascape where there’s fierce competition for share of voice. That means PR teams are on their toes, reacting quickly to trending news or relevant issues or moving to fill the innovation story pipeline.

High-tech is highly “technical”

A PR pro working in any sector needs to be well versed in the language of that industry. Consumer PR teams become familiar with their clients’ products, and investor relations pros must know their way round Wall Street. But tech PR people must master a language that is sometimes more complicated. In adtech and media, for example, we assimilate terms like “native programmatic direct” and alphabet-soup acronyms like GDPR, OTT, and DMP. More importantly, it’s often the job of the PR rep to streamline, simplify, and translate the language of technology into tangible and relevant customer benefits. Tech startups in particular are known for being in love with their technology, sometimes to the detriment of the overall story. Our role is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

What tech? Where?

Adtech, martech, fintech, biotech, and greentech offer ample opportunities for corporate communicators, especially in New York, San Francisco, and Boston. If you’re a recent college graduate enamored with the cutting edge or a seasoned PR pro itching for a new challenge, a tech agency could be a great new adventure. You don’t have to be a computer geek, gamer, or data scientist to work in the sector. Most of us don’t have computer science degrees. We study and absorb knowledge as we go, and it soon becomes second nature. Technology is a beast that grows and evolves, offering a stimulating environment for public relations professionals. And lucky for us, it’s far from an endangered species.

How Data-Driven Storytelling Drives PR

 

For many B2B technology brands, data is not only a business asset, but a PR tool. No one should underestimate the power of data for storytelling. What we call a “data bureau” – the ongoing release of fresh and relevant information as part of a B2B program – can generate strong media interest in the absence of hard news. The data is often derived inexpensively from behavior surveys or flash polls, or it may already exist within the company’s own research unit.

Yet it can yield real insights for inclusion in a thought leadership program for key executives or a brand PR campaign. Sometimes it’s just another way to add a new dimension to an existing storyline.

Whatever the case, B2B businesses are in an excellent position to use data-driven storytelling as part of a PR strategy. Here are some compelling reasons why tech PRs should embrace the trend.

5 reasons to embrace data-driven PR

Data-driven pitches win points with journalists

Journalists look for pitches that are backed up by data in the form of charts, graphs, tables, or interactive infographics. It offers a clear story map and lends credibility to the pitch. In the last few years, as the news industry has been in flux, data-driven journalism has become the standard, as journalists forage for interesting data to either find a new story or support a current one. “Data-driven journalism is the future. Journalists need to be data-savvy,” said Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide WebSince there are now fewer journalists hustling to cover more beats and sift through more pitches, a tech PR team can win media relations points by offering readily packaged data-driven stories. Even better, media contacts will come to welcome and expect more relevant data-driven stories about your company over time — which amounts to a fruitful media partnership.

Data-driven stories support truth in media

“Good data journalism helps to combat information asymmetry,” said Tom Fries, Bertelsmann FoundationSince PR and journalists (as well as publishers and social platforms) are on the front lines of the war against false news, they value data-based storytelling. Although survey data can be poorly executed or even misleading, statistics add immediate credence to media stories. Once again, a B2B PR team can help journalists by supplying a consistent stream of reliable, compelling data-driven story premises.

Data-driven PR drives marketing engagement

data-driven PR in Tech B2B
Infographic from a 2017 article in MarTech Advisor

The overall PR/marketing trend is toward more content, and specifically more visual content. Given the documented power of visuals in the attention economy, it makes sense that data tables and infographics get shared and clicked more than plain text stories. Infographics also offer SEO opportunities for both the news outlet and the sponsor. Social sharing of graphics generates targeted referral traffic and earns links from niche-relevant websites. In other words, data-driven storytelling produces leads.

Data makes great thought leadership

B2B tech enterprise firms have a natural advantage in harvesting data for storytelling. For example, a marketing intelligence platform has built-in tools for generating incisive data-driven stories. An enterprise cyber-security firm should routinely conduct research surveys into business leaders’ security priorities and concerns – their packaged results not only inform the company’s R&D, but also can populate the company’s data bureau of thought leadership, with each media placement underscoring its expertise. The data-driven stories can be repurposed into various white papers, blog posts, and webinars, thus elevating the brand’s reputation as an industry authority.

In lockstep with the business and PR trends

In an increasing personalized marketing arena, data-driven PR stories can help create relevant content for highly targeted prospects. The well-documented trend toward individualized marketing using the ABM model demands more tailored content. Certainly marketing data analysis can help identify the targets. On the other end, rich visual content driven by data can help convert the lead. A PR team can design research surveys designed to generate content that appeals to high-value customers or partners. For example, if a new marketing software wants to attract more upwardly mobile marketing managers, it may design a survey on how millennials feel about location-based ads.

A good tech PR team should be asking what narratives are compelling, and what kind of data is needed to support it. They may even be sitting on existing data research that simply hasn’t been mined for relevant story ideas. Your next winning concept may be in a research study or consumer survey spreadsheet, and all you need to do it find it.

10 Signs It’s Time To Invest In PR

If timing is everything, how does a business know when it’s time to invest in a public relations program? Here are some of the most common signs.

Competitors are beating you to the punch

They may be beating you in business deals, customers, or simply mindshare. If your B2B service isn’t in the consideration set often enough, you may need to increase the kind of organic visibility that gets it into the first few pages of a google search. Over time, earned media and so-called “owned” content placed in relevant trade or business publications can help accomplish exactly that.

You have news

The most common trigger for hiring a PR agency is a hot new product or service. Media run on news, so the launch of a new product can kick-start a successful PR campaign. Like a first impression, you typically get one chance at a launch, so it pays to plan a program that includes earned media, owned content, and possibly paid media to support it. A well-executed public relations program targeted to prospective customers and stakeholders will help position it to your high-priority business audiences.

You have no news

If it seems like I’m stacking the deck here, well, maybe. The truth is, a great PR team can’t work miracles for a brand that truly doesn’t have a story to tell or news to share. But the right resource will help identify, shape, and communicate what’s new and different about your business. Then they’ll help you tell it to the people who count.

You have a lot of explaining to do

Public relations does a great job when a product or service category requires in-depth explanation, or when an educated customer is your best prospect. Where paid media can lack the space and depth for technical education, earned or owned content can work well, and it often includes evergreen pieces that pay long-term dividends in terms of organic SEO. Relatively simple content items like white papers, explainer videos, bylined articles, and op-ed pieces can help educate prospects in a less commercial and more credible way than advertising or SEM.

Perception lags reality

Maybe you’ve added services or expanded into new areas, but not enough customers realize it. In meetings with prospective clients, you get questions that show a dated perception of your business. Long-term employees might fall back on an old elevator speech when asked to describe the business. A sustained B2B PR program can correct misimpressions and offer an up-to-date picture of the company and its offering.

You’re planning a liquidity event

We’ve had some of our greatest successes with clients who are transparent about their goals, including plans like a VC fundraise, an IPO or an acquisition by a third party. If you want to be in the consideration set, it pays to get an early start and lay plans that position your business as a strong contender for acquisition in a rapidly consolidating category, for example. No one wants to be left alone at the dance.

Big changes are coming

If your industry is facing rapid change, or your own business is transforming quickly due to internal or external factors, now is the time to position it properly for the future. A crack PR agency or internal team can help by developing a strategy to navigate industry changes and gain competitive advantage.

You’re missing opportunities

A competitor was quoted in an article about your industry. A big RFP came down and your business wasn’t included. The sharp recruit you were wooing decided to join a better-known company. Reputation matters, and if your business rep isn’t what it could be, it may be time to set precise goals and examine what a strategic PR program can do to elevate your positioning among those who matter – namely, prospective customers and employees.

You’re always in reactive mode

If you’re spending too much time responding to competitive publicity, you’re in a reactive cycle. If media inquiries to your company go unanswered or are passed around to employees who aren’t trained in PR, or, worse, if you never get inquiries, you’re letting others dictate the business narrative. It may be better to bring on a qualified team to create the best possible positioning and narrative with the help of proactive, PR-driven storytelling.

You’re coming out of a crisis event or near-death experience

If you’re coming out of a business reversal or a full-blown crisis, you’ve probably been prioritizing your very survival. But if the tough times are behind you, investment in strategic PR can help turn the page and rebuild your reputation as better days loom ahead.

PR Tips For Successful Speaking on Panels

Public-speaking engagements are a strong component of a good B2B PR thought leadership plan. Industry discussion panels in particular can be very effective, whether part of a larger conference or trade show, or created as a customized event for prospects. The best industry panels are not only well attended, but promoted and covered by relevant media. They can also present valuable networking opportunities. Above all, a panel is an excellent way to develop original content around a hot-button industry issue. When live-streamed or taped for repurposing as short videos, they demonstrate expertise and expanding brand visibility well beyond the panel event.

Like every other public relations activity, panel speaking requires preparation. If you’ve ever attended a dull panel event where one person pontificated endlessly, or the moderator didn’t spread the wealth, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Here are some guidelines to help you shine in your next panel appearance.

How to be the star of your next panel

Arrive early

Arriving a few minutes early will save any anxiety about being late, and, in the case of smaller audiences, it can offer the opportunity to mingle with members of the audience and possibly other panelists. Audience knowledge is important for tailoring your comments within the group discussion, and for those who get nervous about speaking in front of a group, it’s a good tip for boosting confidence.

Don’t advertise your brand

Your name and affiliation on panel materials and your stellar participation in the group discussion should be enough. Most thought leadership panels are created with the tacit – or stated – understanding that they are not meant for commercial purposes. There’s no need to digress into an advertisement for your company or service (although a good introduction is essential, as outlined below.) Show your expertise with facts, short anecdotes, and insights. And while it’s fine to jump in and add to someone’s comment, no panel member should try to outshine others by talking over them.

But make sure you have a strong introduction

Don’t leave your introduction to chance; make sure the moderator or panel planner has an updated bio that captures your experience and accomplishments. Too often a PR person will simply google around for a biographical blurb, but it’s better to create or tweak an impressive bio for purposes of the industry panel. Also, it’s a good idea to bring an extra copy in case it falls through the cracks.

Present the best face of the company

Dress attractively, sit up straight, speak naturally, and listen to others as they speak. As actors are trained to do, panel participants should enunciate and project just a little bit more than normal, speaking clearly into the microphone. Make eye contact with the audience rather than only with the moderator or other panel members. Any mumbling, slumping, or other presentation foibles will detract from the insights offered. Going forward, the audience will think of the panelist’s face and voice when they think of your company. You want them to remember you as an engaging communicator and an expert resource on the topics at hand.

Above all, don’t be boring

Bring a spark. If you hold a minority or contrarian opinion about a specific issue, this is a great opportunity to share it. If you disagree, say so respectfully and briefly explain why. If you agree, don’t just say so. Be prepared to elaborate, offer an anecdote, or introduce a new issue. There’s nothing wrong with being entertaining on an industry panel. Have a cup of strong coffee and let your charisma elevate the energy of the event.

Get in the know

Do the requisite research on the personal and professional backgrounds of the panelists and the moderator. This will help you anticipate questions, answers, and other points of view – allowing you to prepare retorts ahead of the event. Know your audience. Calibrate the amount of techno-speak and jargon based on the sophistication of the attendees. Also, don’t forget to prepare an outline of answers from a list of potential questions. If your panelist is inexperienced or not a natural public speaker, your PR team may want to offer some spokesperson training ahead of the panel.

Shining on a panel at a conference can lead to other thought leadership opportunities for an executive spokesperson, like invitations to other panels, podcast guesting, byline contribution, and media placements. Most importantly, a young B2B tech brand can begin to cultivate real brand voice, credibility, and point of view, all of which establishes a solid reputation for competitive advantage. Along with keynote speaking or workshop participation, paneling is one of the best ways to make the most out of industry conferences and trade shows. See this earlier post for more on placing execs on panels and other speaking gigs.

5 Rules To Break In B2B PR

Long ago, the PR gods handed down a set of rules around media relations and competitive engagement for the business of public relations. For the most part, those unwritten rules stand up well. Yet, in the digital age, technology, time and trends have a way of changing the game. After all, each client is distinct, and every B2B PR program is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of philosophy in our business.

Sometimes, ideas that are counterintuitive can foster dynamic invention. Here are some B2B and general public relations “rules” that were made to be broken – at least occasionally.

B2B PR rules that don’t always apply

Stick to facts and features for B2B programs

To close deals, B2Bs must grapple with long selling cycles, often against competitors who look the same or make similar claims. These companies are typically selling to highly informed prospects whose decisions will be made carefully and after thorough research. A B2B label makes it sound like impersonal entities exchanging goods and services. But the truth is, enterprise businesses are made up of people, and decision-makers who greenlight enterprise purchases are influenced by other people’s opinions and expertise. They may also be reached through storytelling. B2Bs who want to stand out can break the rules by communicating in a rich, idiosyncratic brand voice.

As a principal analyst at Forrester put it, “Like it or not, B2B just got B2C-ed; the consumerization in B2B is here to stay.” B2Bs can produce lively, entertaining PR content – and their spokespeople can have a personal point of view. Salesforce and Slack have broken this rule to their benefit. See our earlier post for B2C tips for adding life to B2B programs.

Don’t mention competitors

It’s survival of the fittest, right? Let’s say you’re a software platform in tight competition with two or three companies with similar offerings. Potential customers in the middle of the sales funnel are likely aware of competitors and will be doing intense research into each offering. If you publish fair comparative information about all the companies on owned media on your site or through trade media channels, your firm will be viewed as more trustworthy than the average sales pitch. Plus, you’ve provided valuable content, which just might help win the business. But if you take this high road, make sure the association is with quality competitors and that the content is scrupulously accurate. Cooperation can lead to the sharing of knowledge and experience that makes everyone more fit. For insight into befriending competitors, check out this Entrepreneur article.

Negative press should be buried

Nobody likes having bad things said about them. In most cases, PR teams work quickly to combat any negative publicity, whether a business loss, a scandal, or a bad review. But if you’re a startup or a very early-stage company, a little negativity can introduce you to the world. A Stanford Graduate School of Business study indicated that “negative publicity can increase sales when a product or company is relatively unknown” and “the ‘negative’ impression bad reviews created seemed to diminish over time.” The study results are pretty counterintuitive, and we don’t recommend bad PR as a visibility strategy. However, if negative reviews or inaccurate perceptions are quickly countered with facts and constructive feedback, they can turn critics into advocates. A negative review, for example, can help a company learn from its mistakes and make things right with customers. If the business is responsive and the situation is corrected, it also builds credibility for that company. And it’s worth remembering that failure is an opportunity to rise in a bigger and better way. When it happens, it’s a BIG story. Everyone loves a comeback – just ask Bill Gates.

Don’t send the same pitch twice

Common PR tactics have informal rules, too. If you’ve sent a pitch to relevant media and it’s met with crickets, you can resend it, but conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t bombard media with emails. That’s true, but if a story’s right for a given trade or business reporter, it’s fine to sharpen the subject line and try again. If the pitch is truly a solid or compelling one, there’s nothing wrong with adjusting the pitch by changing the angle or reframing the story. Another way to reuse is to target different journalists and customize the approach for their background or beat. Sometimes a good story maybe be hamstrung by a deficient pitch, in which case it’s time to get feedback from a colleague and rewrite. See this earlier post for tips on pitching the media like a boss.

Never say “no comment”

From a literal standpoint, a PR pro shouldn’t utter the words “no comment,” because the phrase carries a “pleading the Fifth” connotation. Yet there are times when it’s best not to comment. As detailed in our strategic silence post, there are times when saying nothing may be preferable to speaking out. This is particularly true when the facts aren’t known, or when the chance of litigation is high. The social media mob can be another factor here; if trolls have targeted a business or brand, it may be best to let advocates leap to the defense, rather than entering the fray directly.
But there are rules to breaking rules. Be cautious in choosing which situations, what timing, and which clients warrant coloring outside the lines. Good PR teams never bend the rules just to shake up the status quo; every risky tactic should have a goal that supports the overall PR plan. What other rules do you sometimes break?

5 "Founding Fathers" Of PR

As Father’s Day approaches, it’s a good time to remember the legendary figures who shaped modern public relations. As those of us who work in PR practice the science (and art) of the profession, we rarely think about how it evolved. It’s fascinating to chart the growth of public relations over the last century by looking at those who had the vision to create the industry.

5 who shaped today’s PR business

Bernays gets top billing as PR’s “father”

A nephew of Freud, Edward Bernays (1891-1995) “invented” modern PR and coined the term “public relations.” He used a blend of psychology and media savvy to influence public opinion. Like other PR men who would follow, he started by doing propaganda work for the U.S. government, but Bernays’ era was World War I. In addition to the brilliant but now-dubious “torches of freedom” campaign that advanced social acceptance of women smoking in public, his work convinced Americans to eat bacon for breakfast. Bernays surveyed thousands of doctors (the original third-party influencers), and most said that a large breakfast was conducive to good health. The published results trumpeted bacon and eggs as the “All-American breakfast” and bacon sales soared. Today, statistically valid surveys like his are still used to create news and build credibility.

Lee was a leader in media relations

Ivy Ledbetter Lee (1877-1934) is credited with refining the art of media relations, but his most celebrated engagement was a train wreck – literally. He helped Pennsylvania Railroad Company manage the press’s coverage of a fatal 1906 railway accident by using a document called a press release. He invited reporters to the site of the accident rather than trying to cover it up, embracing what was then a very unusual practice of transparency. Lee also proposed to John D. Rockefeller Jr. the concept of two-way internal communications to improve the company’s image after a mine strike massacre. Lee urged Rockefeller to visit aggrieved coal miners and make a public event out of the outreach. In his 1906 manifesto, “Declaration of Principles,” he articulated his recommendation for honest, open, and accurate communications between companies and the public. But his reputation was mixed; despite his introduction of transparency into the practice of PR, Lee, like Herb Schmertz 60 years later, was hailed as an innovator but also criticized for working with the “robber barons” of the time. Some things never change.

Edelman elevates marketing PR

Dan Edelman (1920-2013) brought products to the public’s attention in a way that was new at the time – by getting their stories in newspapers and on television. He started the PR agency that still bears his name in 1952. Like his contemporary Harold Burson, Edelman got his start during World War II, where his job was to document and refute German propaganda. But Edelman really thrived later when his agency built a reputation for creating product marketing events and stunts. As some who worked at Edelman can attest, the agency used to begin every presentation with a slide of a stunt Dan dreamed up in the 1950s. As the story goes, he had haircare client Toni Co. send six sets of twins on a cross-country trip in a “perm box” trailer, inviting the public to guess which twin had the Toni home perm and which the expensive ($15!) salon job. The media tour was born, and the rest is history.

Schmertz created confrontations

Herbert Schmertz (1930-2018) introduced the idea of corporations fighting criticism and espousing principles with his creation of the “advertorial” in the 1970s. As head of corporate communications for oil behemoth Mobil, Schmertz was the most powerful man in PR at the time. But don’t imagine that he was simply a corporate shill for big oil. The enigmatic Schmertz also ran political campaigns with three Kennedys, was a mainstay of the NYC cultural scene, and worked as a labor lawyer. But as VP of public affairs, he fashioned a unique response to mounting criticism of Mobil during the energy crisis. Mobil took out full-page advocacy op-eds in the New York Times to share the company’s viewpoint on public issues like technology, mass transit, and energy independence. He also massaged Mobil’s corporate image by sponsoring PBS programming, which elevated the image of the oil giant. Most of all, Schmertz pioneered “creative confrontation” with media by corporate communicators. His hardball tactics and paid op-eds paved the way for corporate PR officers to influence policy. Today, corporations not only advocate for their own interests through proactive communications, but they’re almost expected to articulate their values by taking a stand on social issues.

Burson nurtures relationships

Living legend Harold Burson (1921-      ), co-founder of global PR juggernaut Burson-Marsteller, is perhaps our greatest PR visionary. A one-time journalist in Tennessee, Burson bore witness to history after being assigned by American Forces Network to cover and transcribe the Nuremberg Trials in 1945. He then switched to doing PR for an engineering company and eventually started an agency with his ex-employer as his first client. Burson believes that what a corporation does is more important than what is says. He sees the term “communications” as reductive, implying that the message means more than actions. He pioneered the integration of marketing and B2B PR and was a proponent of nurturing genuine relationships, both with the press and with employees. Burson was the guiding force behind Johnson & Johnson’s historic handling of the Tylenol episode, setting the bar for crisis management for decades to come. Like Ivy Lee, Burson is a man of sturdy principles, known for his conviction that the corporation should be a force for social good.

All the PR “fathers” weathered controversy in their careers, perhaps indicating how complicated and challenging the practice of public relations can be. As in real life, patriarchs are often flawed, but they make an impact. These trailblazers made powerful contributions to the evolution of a field that continues to grow in stature and influence.

What PR People Should Know About SEO

Public relations and SEO were once worlds apart, with no overlap between them. A PR team or agency would work to build brand credibility through news announcements and feature stories. SEO focused on getting backlinks and website-stuffed keywords to drive search rankings.

What changed? Now there’s a growing area of commonality as traditional public relations has gone digital and algorithm updates have changed SEO practice. What’s more, PR people are ideally suited to help clients advance their search ranking while driving visibility and reputation. All it takes is an understanding of recent changes in search and content marketing, Here’s how PR and SEO can work together.

PR’s earned media coverage is more important than ever

PR people hate to be seen as mere publicists. That’s one reason why PR agencies like to emphasize the range of what they offer. Yet publicity results, also known as earned media coverage, is still essential. And not just any coverage, but top-tier publications that are recognized. Stories in outlets like The New York Times and Business Insider not only confer credibility, but they have high domain values. That means the stories can turn up in search results for years and boost the page ranking for any brand that’s prominently featured. To be clear, PR is not really about link-building. A good public relations program builds visibility and credibility rather than lots of links. But the ones earned from top publications can definitely help boost page ranking over time.

Brand mentions are “implied links” – an SEO win

Website authority used to hinge on backlinks – until things got out of control with spurious link schemes by shady SEOs. Google changed its algorithm, then changed it again, until publishers started moving to nofollow links for fear of being penalized. Links from credible publishers are still important, and PR people will work hard to secure a link to a client’s website in the stories and profiles we arrange. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don’t. But here’s the important thing: even without follow links, brand mentions are now widely considered to be implied links. Google’s panda patent made the change, and the status of brand mentions has been confirmed by its own quality guidelines and webmaster analysts. This has been a slow evolution, and it may seem like a fine point, but it’s not. It’s another big reason why SEO and PR should work in tandem.

Contributed content can work hard for both PR and SEO

Guest blogs, op-eds and especially bylined articles are time-honored PR deliverables that can have a whole new life when PR and SEO work together. High-quality contributed content tends to combine a reasonably tight keyword focus with the authority of top domains, particularly then the content is developed for known B2B and trade media targets. Again, there’s likely to be reasonable domain authority for established trades. And an aggressive PR campaign will expand mentions – and SEO benefits – beyond trade and news sites to niche blogs, review platforms, and social forums. As a bonus, a good PR person can help promote onsite content, helping to obtain organic links.

PR creates fresh content

Fresh content means more content, and more content – in skilled hands – means the right keywords. Google loves frequent updates and will index a given website more often when new content is posted, giving it more chances to be indexed and optimized. But most importantly, fresh content means authority on a given topic. The more we post about productivity software for small business, for example, the greater our authority becomes. This is why blogging is so important for B2B programs, and why posting on forums like Quora can help build reputation and gain authority on relevant topics. The trick here is focus. Content built around niche topics represented by narrow keywords (“b2b tech PR agency” as opposed to “tech PR”) are apt to be most successful.

PR can use keywords – but wisely

This is where the PR practitioner mentality comes into play. PR people are trained to veer away from overly commercial messages or overt brand plugs in favor of more nuanced mentions that position our clients as experts. What some PRs don’t know and can learn from SEO professionals is that despite the blizzard of content around popular topics, there are still opportunities to own more “boring” keywords. In fact, if you’re in a niche industry or want to build expertise on a narrow topic, the search competition may be surprisingly light, as with the “b2b tech PR” example.

Align earned and owned messaging

PR and SEO can truly work together when paid messages and those conveyed in owned and earned media are aligned. For company-generated content, the key is making it relevant. Do readers find it useful? Does it answer common questions and offer solutions and insights that satisfy user intent? If so, bloggers, influencers, and regular users will share it and link to it. Over time, this will build visiblity, credibility, and all-important search position.

By working together more closely, SEO and PR can influence search ranking and even increase site traffic. But more importantly, the two build strong brand associations and drive market authority, helping reach customers at every point in the sales journey.