Andrew Smith Podcast

#405 How to Better Integrate PR as Part of a Wider Digital Approach: Interview with Andrew Smith

In Internet Marketing Podcast, Social Media & Online PR, The Digital Marketing Blog by Sean0 Comments

In today’s episode of the Internet Marketing Podcast, Andy is joined by Andrew Smith, Managing Director at Escherman PR to talk about integrating PR into a wider digital approach.

On the show Andy and Andrew discuss:

  • The relationship between PR and SEO throughout the years and whether they’ll ever merge into one another
  • Andrews post:Ranking by proxy: the hidden SEO value of great online press coverage: 
    • The idea of ranking through online press coverage & how you can do it
    • How you can use Buzzsumo as an opportunity finder
  • How you can measure the success of a PR campaign

Finally, Andrew provides us with his one top tip/key takeaway for the audience.

If you’d like to connect with Andrew, you can do so on Twitter here.

Full Transcript of the Show

Andy:                                 Brought to you by Site Visibility at sitevisibility.com, this is Internet Marketing.  Now before we start today we have a request.  If you are really enjoying what we do here on the Internet Marketing podcast, then if you could please leave us a review on ITunes, or your podcast app of course, that would be fab.  It really helps us to grow the podcast and ensure we bring you great marketing tips and advice each week.  Now today I’m joined by Andrew Smith, Managing Director at Escherman PR.  Andrew, how you doing?

Andrew Smith:                 I’m not doing too bad, thank you very much.

Andy:                                  And you reside in, or your business resides in, Richmond, Surrey don’t you?  Lovely leafy Richmond.

Andrew Smith:                 Indeed, a very nice part of the world, Richmond Park.  Watching videos about it with David Attenborough… [00:00:59.15] yes very good indeed.

Andy:                                  So are you mates with David Attenborough, because he lives in Richmond, doesn’t he?

Andrew Smith:               I’d be lying if I said that he was my best mate, but yes.  You occasionally see him around the town.

Andy:                                  If only this was a wildlife podcast but it’s not, it’s about internet marketing.

Andrew Smith:                 Yes, it might get [00:01:15.28] later.

Andy:                                  So let’s start off.  Tell us a little bit about yourself and Escherman PR.

Andrew Smith:                 Okay well I like to characterise myself as an old digital native.  I began my career back in 1985 as a journalist and back in those days for me, PR stood for proportional representation.  I hadn’t a clue that this whole area existed.  So after a couple of years working as a journalist, I realised that – god these PR people seem to get paid a lot more money than me and it seems a right doddle, I’ll give that a go.  So I moved into the world of PR and soon discovered within five minutes, oh look it’s a lot more complicated than that, but I’d always had an interest in technology so it’s my only minor claim to fame, that I was apparently the second person in Britain to send a press release by email.  That was twenty seven years ago that I did that.  At the time I think there were about five journalists in the country who had email addresses and one of them happened to be a chap called Jack Schofield, who at the time and was for many years the Tech Editor at the Guardian, and he picked up on the fact that I’d done it, because people always ask – well who was first?  And it was a chap called Frank [00:02:23.19] who was the then PR manager at Apple so he beat me by about two weeks, but we were the first guys to do it.  So I discovered the glory of the web back in the early nineties. I think I am right in saying I was the first PR person in Britain to build a webpage.  It took me a couple of weeks and involved things like CompuServe and the like, so I’ve been immersed in digital for a couple of decades, that’s how I like to characterise it.  So I worked for agencies through the nineties and started my own business in 2000, but in 2008 I decided to go all in on digital so I started Escherman in 2008 because I figured even then that with emerging disciplines like search engine optimisation and pay per click, given I’d come from a classic PR media background, I realised even then that social media, all these things, weren’t going to go away.  So I made it my mission to both get more involved, but obviously I thought – that’s something that people are going to want to have more of in terms of consulting, advice etc.  over the years.  I’ve also morphed into a bit of a trainer as well because I do lots of training work so I worked out the other day I’ve had representatives from around 650 organisations that have sat in a training workshop with me over the last five or six years, from just literally every sector, industry, you can mention – whether it’s government departments, NHS, commercial organisations, [00:03:58.19] all shapes and sizes, around things like SEO, pay per click, but more increasingly around how those kinds of things sit with more classic marketing disciplines like public relations for example.

The Relationship Between PR & SEO

Andy:                                  So you’re really well placed then aren’t you, because you started off more in the PR side of things and then I’m guessing as the years went by you moved over more to the SEO – I don’t like to say the word modern because it makes people sound old – the more recent digital things.  Let’s talk a bit about that relationship between PR-ists, SEO-ists, through the years.  Because I get the impression it’s a bit like oil and water, there’s a bit of toing and froing between the two groups, would we say?  But what’s your view of that relationship and how it’s changed over the years?

Andrew Smith:                 Absolutely.  You’ve characterised it well.  If you look at SEO, it developed from the mid-2000s, and PR people I think at the time were blissfully unaware that it even existed, and I know when some of those early SEO firms started to realise that things like content might be part of the equation, I know for a fact that some of them approached PR firms and said – hey we should be working together on this stuff.  And I think the reaction they got was either blank stares because they just hadn’t got a clue what they were talking about, or a bit of fear.  It’s like – hang on a minute, these SEO guys look like they’re going to start hoovering up all the client budget and owning the relationship and we’re just going to be the tail on the SEO dog, if that’s the right analogy to use. And in fact, I read a post back in 2008, a blog post, which asked the question – is SEO going to eat PR’s lunch? which I know sparked a bit of debate and conversation at the time, but to be fair back then as I’m sure [00:05:59.25] we all know, a lot of those old school SEO techniques such as – press releases, let’s write a press release and let’s plaster it all over these press release sites and get lots and lots of backlinks.  That was how I think a lot of SEO people saw PR.  It was nothing more or less than churning out releases and of course, quite rightly, PR professionals get very upset by that because yes it’s part of the equation, but there’s an awful lot more that goes into it. Having said that, I think it would be fair to say that the PR sector as a whole was relatively slow to figure out that – well maybe we should pay more attention to it, maybe there are things that we should be working more closely with their colleagues on the SEO side. But I think it’s fair to say if you go back ten years or so, that if there was a relationship then it was rather fractious.  I think again, to crudely characterise it, PR people thought that SEO was very techy, black box, nothing to do with them and I think SEO people maybe looked at PR professionals and thought – well what a bunch of fluffy bunnies, they don’t do very much. And clearly that isn’t the case.  That I think would have been true ten years ago.  Has the relationship improved over time? I’d like to think it’s getting better.  There’s clearly room for improvement. And it’s probably worth mentioning. there are PR sector well established trade bodies, there’s the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, there’s the Public Relations Consultants Association, these two very fine bodies annually conduct surveys in the sector and I’ve just been noting for the last several years both of those organisations have noted that when asked, PR professionals typically list SEO as a skill that they really ought to get more involved with and should spend more time on, but I also note that when [00:08:03.01] you actually ask PR professionals, well what do you actually do in a normal working day? SEO typically is not there at the top of their list.  It’s typically right down at the bottom. So there’s a gap there. There’s an aspiration I think on the part of PR professionals, not necessarily to be the people that do the work, but they certainly need to understand it more, so they can make more informed decisions about when they should be working more closely with SEO specialists. Conversely there’s probably an education job for SEO specialists to better understand what it is that PR is about and it’s not just about press releases.

Andy:                                  Do you ever see a time when either SEO will absorb PR into it, or PR will absorb SEO?  Basically what I’m trying to say is – do you think they’ll ever merge into one thing or do you think there’ll always be that separation?

Andrew Smith:                 Well it’s kind of already happening. It’s the old William Gibson quote about the future’s already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. I think what you often find is that in many organisations, there’s a PR team, there’s an SEO team if there is indeed an in house SEO, or at least there’s certainly an in house digital team, and yes it is very silo like. PR is over there and digital SEO is over there and everyone knows they all should be sitting together and working together, but for whatever reason they’re not. But clearly things are beginning to change, beginning to develop, and you could argue that these silos themselves will just disappear and it’s all part of the same ultimate end goal.   Organisations presumably exist for a reason, there is a purpose to them, there are goals that are to be achieved and figuring out the right route to get there will clearly involve a whole raft of skills and strategy and tactics and to treat PR and SEO as kind of totally separate worlds that will never meet I think is definitely going away. But it’s by no means universal, but the indicators are that this is changing.  Yes, absolutely.  [00:10:14.05]

Ranking by Proxy: How to Rank Through Online Press Coverage

Andy:                                  Now you’ve written some really nice blog posts on your site that I rather enjoyed reading and it gave a very nice example of how, I think the wording you used was ranking-based by proxy, or ranking by-proxy. You can elaborate on that for us. And it also had a very nice juicy ream of comments afterwards where there was a bit of an argy bargy. But tell us a little bit about this approach of ranking by proxy and how you can take this PR approach to SEO, if that’s the right phraseology.

Andrew Smith:                 Yes absolutely, so the thinking behind the concept of ranking by-proxy is that rather than always necessarily assuming that the goal of SEO is to get your own content or your client’s content to rank top of Google or any other search engine for that matter, but if you’re diligent and doing your initial SEO audit and assessment, you may well find that even if there is a desire or an aspiration to rank well for a particularly important keyword term, you may well find that your analysis throws up the fact that, well we’d love to be top, but currently the pages that are occupying those top slots are well entrenched, typically because whether it’s a Wikipedia page or it’s sites that have been around for decades and quite rightly have accumulated all the necessary factors to sit at the top, so the chances that a brand new site that was created yesterday is somehow miraculously overnight going to knock those kind of people off the top, it’s unlikely shall we say. However, does that mean that we should just give up and go home? Well, maybe not, because is it possible that you could [00:12:05.16]get a piece of content to rank highly in Google from a third party? And interestingly from a PR perspective, particularly high profile media sites typically in the eyes of Google and other search engines have high domain authority, high trust, therefore would it be worth considering what it would take to get a piece of content on one of those sites or better still, get one of their journalists to write something that would serve a similar purpose, namely that it would have a better chance of ranking well and that if someone was to search and then to click and to read that result, that you end up effectively with the same outcome, whether it’s awareness, visibility or obviously the holy grail, a journalist actually includes a backlink, which will, as we all know, deliver endless goodness for us. So that post was really to highlight that as an approach, partly because coming from the PR angle, I strongly suspected that this was an aspect of gaining online press coverage that many PR professionals, it didn’t even occur to them that this was something they should think about or factor in when trying to get that coverage. Conversely, would SEO specialists necessarily think that actually we shouldn’t always default to assuming we’re trying to get our client’s own content around, well if there’s a better chance of achieving it through a proxy, and yes you kindly mentioned that when I wrote that post it did generate shall we say a little bit of minor controversy. I think some people in the SEO world interpreted what I was saying as SEO people do not have the necessary skill sets to gain backlinks from journalists and various people told me in no uncertain terms that they had achieved precisely that [00:14:01.07] and that really wasn’t what I was getting at. I was more suggesting that PR professionals for many, many decades have been trained and skilled in building relationships with journalists to gain coverage and this was just a natural by-product of the kind of thing that they would already naturally do and perhaps with respect, that a more old school SEO by tactic of simply contacting a journalist and saying – give me a backlink – probably might result in a rather rude reply back from said journalist.

Andy:                                  Yes because the example you gave was – for example the Guardian, massively trusted domain, so it’s going to rank highly in Google. If I was doing an article on some sort of social media analytics and then if you were one of the commentators on it-, but what interested me was, you mentioned in that blogpost about ideally if you could get a backlink [00:15:04.00] that would be fantastic, but a lot of sites these days do the ‘no follow’ thing or they just won’t give links, you’ve talked a little bit on the blogpost about ways you could possibly get these organisations to do backlinks.  Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Andrew Smith:                 Yes Andy, you’re absolutely right because it sounds great in theory – wow, let’s just get journalists to include backlinks in their articles and heaven awaits – and clearly the practical reality and I get this feedback a lot from PR professionals and SEOs alike, quite often you might find the journalist would love to do it but they can’t for whatever reason, whether it’s because = and this is you may find strange in the modern world and what is generally known about how Google operates, but a lot of publishers don’t like linking out to other sites, whether they think oh we want to keep the audience on our site [00:15:59.26], because that’s how we make our money because we get the ad revenue by showing the banner ads to the eyeballs.  But I think I’m on fairly safe ground to say that many experts in the world of SEO would say, well actually from a Google perspective they’d find that rather unnatural. Their expectation of a natural link profile is both you receiving inbound links as well as linking out.  Not to anybody of course, but that’s the whole point. From a PR perspective you have to earn the coverage and I know the concept of link earning rather than link building has started emerging even in SEO circles, which is kind of interesting when you consider that actually PR has been described as earned in media for decades. So I find that quite interesting.  But yes, it can be partly just chipping away and hopefully we’re going to educate publishers that religiously don’t link out that it might be a good idea to do so as I said, not just to any old site but where it’s justified, it’s relevant and it adds value to the reader. If you think about it, it would hopefully improve the visibility of the publisher’s own content by being seen by Google to have a more natural link profile and therefore would be part of that whole process. So if you’re asking for tips, well one of the easiest ones is simply ask for the link. How often is it that, taking it from a PR perspective, you’re pitching a story and it’s tough enough to get a journalist to write about it in the first place and if you achieve that it’s often considered as victory and game over, rather than as part of that, asking for the link. And it’s interesting as well that for example tools like [00:17:54.26] and interestingly with a tool like BuzzSumo, which I know is one of my personal favourites, is often thought of mainly in conjunction with social media but it offers a really interesting perspective on the whole PRSEO debate where for example with BuzzSumo, you can monitor [00:18:11.26] mentions where you’ve been talked about but you haven’t got a backlink and it incorporates domain authority from [00:18:22.07] so you can almost use it like an opportunity finder that says – hey, why don’t we go back to the places where we were talked about, we didn’t get the link, but we can prioritise where we go to, to see if we can possibly get it.  And how much effort does it take to simply say – can I have a link?  They are either going to say no politely, or impolitely, they’ll think about it or who knows?  You might get it. And that’s extra value that’s being created. It’s as simple as that, not forgetting to ask for the link but obviously as part of the planning process, thinking about what kind of link you want. We don’t just necessarily want backlinks to the homepage.  If we’ve thought this through then in an ideal world you’ve figured out the things you want to rank for, you’ve figured out the kind of content that you believe has got the best chance of doing that, from a PR perspective or media relations perspective, you’ve identified the target media, both in terms of the right audience will hopefully be exposed to content but obviously there’s the SEO angle that says – yes, if we are to get coverage here and we do get a backlink, and it’s a followed link – all this other good stuff will flow from it. And I think without doing down the knowledge of SEO within the PR sector overall, I suspect at the moment that that kind of approach is not particularly widely used. At the same time, I think that SEO specialists, particularly as we well know, the role of content in links etc. well documented, today [00:20:01.21] could probably learn a thing or two from the PR world too.

Andy:                                  Yes and I suppose you also mentioned in the blogpost about making it worth the journalist linking back, so I suppose that links to pardon the pun, that is related to you talking about choosing carefully about which page it’s going to link back to.

Andrew Smith:                 Yes, absolutely right, because again, even when people do think – oh it’s got a link, it’s great – back to the homepage, but that as we well know is not necessarily the right page to potentially have the best chance of ranking well.  It goes back to; it’s SEO 101 – what are the keywords we want to rank well for? Is it just because the managing director wants us to rank number one even though only two people in the country look for it? – Versus these are the keywords and the phrases that we know that the target audiences actually do use, if we were to get these kind of positions, this is the likely incremental extra traffic we would get from that, [00:20:52.29] we’re doing all the other things right then this in principal is what it should translate to in terms of a very, very concrete outcome and it isn’t necessarily always going to be the homepage that you want to be linked back to. So definitely that should be thought of.

How to Measure the Success of PR Campaigns

Andy:                                  So let’s talk about measurement, because if you’ve got a backlink that’s going to be relatively straightforward, Google Analytics, whatever, but how do you measure the effects of some PR [00:21:24.20] sort of activity, when there’s no backlink how do you measure that?

Andrew Smith:                 So I think we could be here until midnight talking about measurements.

Andy:                                  Yes, it’s going to be a long show folks.

Andrew Smith:                 It will be a very long show yes, don’t go away. No I mean in all seriousness, the whole debate around measuring and evaluating public relations, it was a thorny topic when I first started in PR back in the 1980s and it quite frankly hasn’t gone away. I think all we can say is that there’s been increasing pressure on [00:21:58.07] the PR sector to demonstrate what actual value – I mean without getting drawn too much into the granular nature of the debate, but one of the continuing burning issues around PR is a metric called advertising value equivalence, so for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with it, I’ll try and explain it. The idea is this – PR isn’t just about media relations, it’s not just about getting coverage, but assuming for example you did get that piece on the Guardian and it does or it doesn’t contain a link, what is that worth? So a crude method of putting an economic value on it is to say – well what would it have cost of us to advertise on that space? Now of course in the world of digital it gets even more complex and even more ropey comparison because AV is rooted in the days of print media. For arguments sake, it would have cost £50,000 to take out a full page ad in the FT. Hey look, we got a half page story about us in the FT, ipso-facto, is that story worth £25,000?  And then to complicate it further – oh well of course, editorial coverage is more valuable than advertising, so let’s multiply that number by three, for example, an apparently arbitrary number.  [00:23:12.23] but the point being, you end up with a number that’s got a pound sign or a dollar sign in front of it. For many, many years or certainly since I’ve worked in PR then managements everywhere have probably realised it wasn’t a particularly robust metric, but it kind of did the job, but increasingly that’s being called into question, and should PR only be valued in terms of digital column inches or almost certainly not. Having said that, there’s clearly ways in which you can understand some of the effects of that coverage.  Clearly if you get a link then you can look at the traffic figures in GA, you can look at things like the trust flow domain authority of the page involved, which might allow you to calculate some form of SEO impact and SEO value, which if you’re really good at it you would be able to put a reasonably accurate economic value on that contribution. So without being a consultant about it and saying – it depends – all I would say is that the ability to have more robust ways of measuring and understanding the actual impact of public relations is clearly there and some of the tools have been around and with us for some time and if you read my blog posts I’ve talked for many, many years about how Google Analytics, when it’s set up properly, can be used as a more broad based measurement and evaluation platform, not just for public relations, but for digital marketing generally, but that’s probably another podcast to go into the detail on that.

Andrew’s Top Tip/Key Takeaway

Andy:                                  So just finally, we talked about a fair few things today along these lines of the union of PR and SEO, if that was possible, some nirvana type state, but if you had one or two top takeaways for our listeners today around that subject, what would they be Andrew?

Andrew Smith:                                  Okay so if I come at it from the PR perspective, there’s a PR firm called Edelman. I think I’m right in saying that they’re still the world’s largest privately hold PR consultancy and for the best part of a decade if not longer, they’re run an annual global study called the Edelman trust barometer and very simply finding out who do people trust? Since the financial crash, the headlines around the survey typically revolved around how we continue apparently to not trust banks, I guess unsurprisingly. We don’t trust the media, in fact I think it was last year there was a dip in trust levels for NGOs and charities, but what struck me is [00:26:00.14] really interesting from that massive global survey over the last couple of years is that the second most trusted source of information on the planet, whether we like it or not, is Google, or specifically – Google search results. There’s no questioning that pivotal role that Google search results play in shaping and framing people’s views, perceptions, their trust, in brands and organisations of all shapes, types and sizes. So PR practitioners like to talk about that it’s more than just press relations, it’s about reputation management, it’s about building trust, it’s about relationships, well you can’t ignore Google in that question.  So it behooves, I think, PR professionals to absolutely roll their sleeves up and better understand how that works, what role SEO can and should play in the whole process. Conversely, I think SEO professionals; the opportunity there is clearly to work more closely with their PR counterparts. There’s definitely mutual benefit and opportunity in both sides of the equation working more closely together. How will they actually achieve that practically? Well, if I knew that I guess I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere.  But yes as a professional optimist, there’s no question that the tools, the resources to be able to get better at this, are if not freely available they’re relatively inexpensive. It really is a  question of putting your mind into it and figuring out, whether you’re working on the agency’s side on behalf of clients or if you’re working in house, it’s I guess helping organisations themselves to get better at figuring out – well what is it that we’re trying to achieve? And seeing what role these various things play in that whole process. But whether we like it or not, and who knows whether Google will still dominate in a decade’s time, if I was a betting man I don’t see Google going anywhere soon, so that pivotal role that search plays in so many aspects of how we perceive the world is definitely something that PR people and SEO professionals alike need to focus on and I look forward [00:28:17.23] to the day when it’s all sweetness and light and it’s not us and them. We’re all working happily together.

Andy:                                  Yes, certainly food for thought there. Thank you so much for joining us Andrew. How can our listeners find out more about you and Escherman PR

Andrew Smith:                 The usual suspect routes – the website is escherman.com and naturally if you Google Escherman or Andrew Bruce Smith, what a surprise, you’ll find relevant results at the top of both of those results pages.  Or you can obviously find me on Twitter, it’s @andismit and all the other social platforms I have a presence on so no excuse for not finding me, should of course you wish to find me.

Andy:                                  And just for our listeners, Escherman is spelt E-S-C-H-E-R-M-A-N, is that correct Andrew?

Andrew Smith:                 A-N .com, absolutely right.    That’s the one.

Andy:                                  Well thanks Andrew and thanks for our listeners for listening. The show notes are in the usual place, sitevisibility.com/Impodcast.  If you want to connect with me personally, I’m doctorpod, D-O-C-T-O-R-P-O-D on Twitter and LinkedIn.  If you want to send us an email, podcast@sitevisibility.com. If you want to Tweet, us, @sitevisibility and don’t forget the Site Visibility group on LinkedIn. Well that’s all from me, Andy, and it’s all from Andrew.

Andrew Smith:                 Thank you.

Andy:                                  And we’ll see you next time, on Internet Marketing.

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