It can be said that companies earn their success based on two factors: their brand and their public reputation. Without a positive reputation, companies suffer. Negative press can ruin customers’ good faith in a brand, cause boycotts, lawsuits, and support of legislation to punish the wrongdoers. Ultimately it can cause a once-thriving company to go out of business.
Consumers are also taking more interest in the merit of the companies they buy from, not just the value or quality of their products. With the rise of the internet, marketing has shifted from a product and company-based approach to a consumer-based approach. If you can’t win the price war, you have to win market share with your brand image.
But, you can’t rely on your company’s goodwill and the loyalty of a few good customers to build a brand. Consumers want to buy from recognizable brands with meaningful brand messaging and personality. A brand with character and a positive reputation (I.e. a brand that stays true to its mission and values) has a better chance of creating a following than the one with the lowest price.
This is the new role of public relations: to create brand personalities and good rapport with the public. However, the traditional methods that PR specialists use to build brands are not nearly as effective. Consumers get a majority of their news through online journals or social media, as opposed to print news, TV, or radio. Therefore, a modern PR manager’s task of creating and maintaining a brand image starts with online reputation management (ORM).
The partnership of ORM and PR is the best way to make sure that your reputation is covered on all fronts. While traditional media is still highly effective if you ignore ORM you are ignoring the majority of your audience. And because the web isn’t filtered or cycled through like traditional media, your online reputation faces a higher risk of damage from false or unjustified criticism that lasts long-term.
ORM and public relations are complementary components of a bigger strategy. The brand image you create, as well as the feedback and reviews you receive from others online, can have major effects on your relationship with the public. ORM is now a necessary part of any PR campaign, and if done well can even replace PR firms in the future.
What is PR?
Public relations is the practice of shaping the public opinions of a business, organization, or individual. PR firms and specialists create relationships between the media and their clients to gain attention on television and in print. They also try to minimize the effects of poor publicity, in the event of a crisis or public scandal.
PR indirectly connects consumers to businesses in their community. The variety of tactics that PR specialists use is unlimited. But they all have the same goal in mind: to portray the client in a positive light. Different campaign strategies yield different results, and it is only by trial and error that PR firms can make a long-lasting impression on their target audience.
PR specialists research their client’s target audience. They learn about their client’s niche, their consumer’s wants and needs, and the community issues that concern them the most. They also conduct surveys to determine client’s strengths and weaknesses in the public eye. Most businesses, from the moment they serve their first customer, have a brand reputation. It’s the job of the PR specialist to define this reputation, and figure out ways in which it can be used as a tool to connect the business to more customers in the future.
Some PR campaigns use a proactive approach, by promoting community events and cultivating good press for the company. These campaigns are used to establish a growing brand. PR campaigns can also include unconventional tactics to attract shocking or “breaking news” worthy press. Again, the goal is to have the client appear in the media without an ad placement or sponsorship.
However, many PR campaigns are launched in reaction to negative attention. Crisis management PR campaigns try to minimize the effects of bad news in the media. Companies suffer tremendously when their name is associated with a scandal, environmental crisis, or employee outbursts, for example. PR firms help their clients recover from the incident and rebuild their reputation in the community.
PR initiatives can include employee training, such as how to respond to crisis events internally and publicly, or how to act during news coverage events. These sorts of campaigns usually occur after an issue with one employee goes public. For example, if a company’s employee is accused of a criminal offense on the job, the company may want to publicly announce new HR protocol or release details about the reprimands of that employee to clear their reputation.
PR campaigns rely on reactions from the public. Whether that audience is local or nationally-based, the PR manager’s job is to make those interactions as positive for the consumer as possible. However, creating those positive interactions happens differently online, which is where ORM specialists come into play.
What is ORM?
ORM is a behind-the-scenes effort to create a positive image around an individual or brand. Just like a traditional PR manager, an ORM specialist will develop comprehensive campaigns to attract consumers’ attention and send positive messages about their clients online. The use of social media has made it possible for any individual or brand to use basic ORM tactics to augment or position their brands.
ORM is usually implemented as a reaction to negative publicity. If an online journal or unhappy customer posts poorly about a brand, the negative content rise to the top of the search engines. That content will then be seen by potential customers, therefore altering their view of the company as a whole. This is similar to a company receiving bad press on television or in print, but this negative information stays at the top of Google results. It can cause long-term effects on a brand’s reputation if not handled correctly.
To curb the influence of negative content on a brand’s reputation, ORM specialists will find ways to remove or suppress negative URLs in the search engines. They research keywords that populate negative search results and target those keywords in an ORM content strategy. They post articles relating to the brand that is optimized for those keywords, and over time their ORM content outranks the negative content.
Though most ORM campaigns are reactive, proactive ORM campaigns can resemble proactive PR campaigns. They promote a company’s mission, values, and involvement in the community. The more content published about a brand’s positive reputation, the less likely it is for a negative article or review to climb to the top. Proactive ORM campaigns serve the same purpose as a proactive PR strategy in traditional media.
Many proactive ORM campaigns focus on social media as a content distributor. Traditional PR uses media connections with journalists, news stations, and contributors to major media outlets to gain publicity for their clients. ORM specialists, however, don’t have to use connections with others to gain attention. Social media is a place where any and all news is shared, and its reach is largely determined by what the audience finds relevant and useful.
Proactive ORM can also include employee training, in how employees talk about the company online and on social media. Employees can get many companies into trouble by posting information about them online, especially if it is leading or falsely incriminating. Employees should be trained on how to properly use social media in regards to their employer’s protection.
The Future of PR
PR specialists are now expected to have a wider range of digital media skills. Without these skills, their career and their clients suffer. PR firms that aren’t implementing digital media solutions for their clients will fall short of modern media’s demands.
PR firms need to change the ways in which they provide value to clients. Firms that already offer digital media services are ahead, but they need to offer more than social media and website services. Much of digital media marketing can be done by the companies themselves. But not everyone has the expertise nor the time to be aggressive with their ORM campaigns. The distinction between an average PR firm and exceptional ones is their willingness to collaborate and educate clients on campaign strategies that competitors aren’t already using.
Robert Wynn, public relations specialist and Forbes contributor, wrote in a recent article:
“Public relations is quickly evolving as the industry barrels down a three-pronged fork in the road with three separate directions: Traditional PR, Advocacy PR, and Social Media… The media business is changing, and so is PR. Fewer consumers are reading newspapers and magazines on paper each year as they consume their news online.”
This statement is hinting to companies that traditional media isn’t the only, or even the best PR marketing method to use. Do consumers still pay attention to these methods anymore? To some degree, yes. But consumers are increasingly pulled away from traditional media by the allure that online and social media presents to them. It’s better to integrate digital media now before your competition learns to do it better.
It’s a significant change of mindset to accept marketing, public relations, and digital media as a unified practice, rather than separate disciplines like they were in the past. In some ways, it makes planning and executing your marketing initiatives more difficult. But, in the end, your brand image and reputation will be upheld by multiple channels all working towards the same goal. ORM and PR are two sides of the same disciple, and when you improve one, you can improve the other.