While online public relations (PR) and other online marketing strategies are relatively new, the disciplines of marketing and PR have been around for ages, ever since one intrepid caveman found out he could sell more of his hunting services if he painted pictures of himself throwing spears at fearsome animals on local cave walls. Cave walls had their limitations though, so man moved on to print, radio, and television in order to reach a broader audience.

Today, PR and marketing strategies continue to evolve as the Internet has taken its place alongside these traditional mediums and become a mainstream marketing channel. The Internet is still in its infancy though and the methods of online PR and related online marketing strategies continue to change. However, there are several vehicles, new and old, that have emerged as best practices in the Internet frontier. These online PR and marketing strategies include the following:

Press Releases

Press releases were originally invented in the early 1900's by Ivy Ledbetter Lee and while the definition of a press release hasn't changed much over the years, the means, speed of distribution, and methods the media and general public use to find them have.

With online PR, Internet newswires, such as PR Newswire and Business Wire, distribute press releases instantly to regional, national, or international media outlets (depending on your preference). Though some wires have a free version of their service, newswires generally charge a fee for distributing press releases that ranges from $80 to over $600 depending upon the functionality required (i.e. breadth of distribution, photo inclusion, tracking parameters), length of the release, and wire service used.

PR and marketing professionals also have to adapt and use online marketing strategies to get press releases in front of members of the media. Since newswires distribute hundreds and sometimes even thousands of press releases each day, reporters have started relying heavily on search engines to help them sift through all of the data and find relevant information to include in their articles.

Generally, a company's press releases will only generate search results for people searching on the company's name or brand. However, the release can also generate results for industry terms if online marketing strategies are used to "optimize" the release. Optimization adds these industry terms into the copy throughout the release a reasonable number of times. This practice improves the visibility of the release because it enables people to find the release without having to know the company name or the correct spelling thereof, just the associated industry terms.

Expert Articles

Comprehensive online marketing strategies also include expert articles, which are bylined articles, case studies, and white papers that discuss topics of interest in your industry. Many companies already produce this content and include it on their websites as part of their online PR and marketing strategies. However, companies can generate additional exposure by promoting their expertise through the placement of online PR articles on third party sites.

Generally, white papers that discuss a topic objectively (i.e. without branding, sales copy, or mentions of your product) are the easiest to publish. While third party websites may also publish content that promotes your specific product or service, they usually charge a fee to do so since the content is essentially an advertisement for your company. You can see examples of this type of advertising in what is typically called a "sponsored white paper" section of a website or on websites like Tech Target and Knowledge Storm that charge companies to syndicate online PR content to their affiliates.

The rationale behind publishing online PR content to these sites is the same as developing and publishing articles in traditional print media: to generate greater exposure for your company and improve its reputation as a leader in its industry. However, online PR has additional benefits including greater measurability and synergy with search engine optimization that print media can't match.

Greater measurability means the website visitors that come from articles you publish online can be monitored to measure quality and tracked back to those website publications. Generally, the visitors generated by a company's online PR and marketing strategies spend more time on the site, and in doing so, view more pages and are more likely to take some sort of action (i.e. fill out a contact form or sign up for an email newsletter). Thus, they are more qualified prospects for your company's products and services.

These online PR articles also increase the effectiveness of your search engine optimization campaign in several ways. The most obvious way is by building links. Nearly every website publication that accepts articles gives the author space at the end of an article for biographical information that can include a link to your company. These links are vital to your online PR and marketing strategies because they bolster your company's quality link count, which is one way search engines evaluate the importance of your website. The other benefit to search engine optimization is that these online PR articles can also be added to your website (assuming you did not agree to provide a particular piece of content exclusively to one publication) to generate search engine rankings and increase your site's value to visitors.

Email Newsletters

Email newsletters are another one of the prominent online marketing strategies and have grown more sophisticated in recent years. Ideally, email newsletters are a mixture of informational content and subtle advertising requested by the person receiving the email and at worst unsolicited spam. These newsletters are created using text and/or HTML and can include articles, information about sales and promotions, news alerts, and surveys. Email newsletters are one of the more popular online PR and marketing strategies because of the speed with which they can be created and delivered to subscribers, their cost, which can be lower than traditional direct mail campaigns, and measurability.

To create an email newsletter single-handedly, a individual will need to have moderate to advanced skills in HTML and database programming and be able to dedicate a significant amount of time initially to create the look and feel of the newsletter. Then, that person will have to allot time to produce a new issue of the newsletter at regular intervals.

This barrier has spawned a new type of company called "email service providers" or ESPs. These companies can help with the HTML coding, graphic design, and tracking metrics, and already have a standard database to house all current subscribers and automate the addition of new ones. Users just have to create and enter the new content each month. The cost of ESPs varies, based on the functionality the client requires, but ranges from less than $100 per month to several hundred dollars per month, plus a fee of approximately one cent per email sent. ESPs also have measurement systems built into their email platforms that track who opened an email, what links each subscriber clicked in the email and their responses to survey questions. This functionality enables the sender to test different variables with each email sent and improve their online marketing strategies over the long term.

What About Podbloginars?

They're big and scary and there's one behind you right now. Seriously, there are several other online PR and marketing strategies (many of which may have been named after villains on Saturday morning cartoons) that are becoming mainstream methods of interacting with the public on the web. Here is a brief overview of these terms:

Blogs: Also known as "web logs," these online journals are written by a company executive or thought leader in an informal, conversational style that communicates the writer's opinion of events in the industry and within the company. The benefits of a blog with respect to online PR is that the blog's informal communication style enables corporations to create an image of the business that is more personal and realistic to interested parties than formal corporate communications. A blog also helps improve products/services and online marketing strategies by acting as a virtual focus group that generates nearly instantaneous feedback from the public on the thoughts presented in the blog entries.

Webinars: An abbreviation of "Web seminars." These online PR seminars can be delivered to a live audience or recorded, posted to your website, and replayed for interested visitors. Webinars usually include audio and video elements that use your computer and/or telephone to deliver PowerPoint presentations, product demonstrations of web applications, and live video.

Podcasts: This is one of the newest online marketing strategies. Podcasts are audio recordings of broadcasts that can be downloaded to iPods and other MP3 players. Today, this format is used mainly by independent radio programs, but large media corporations are also pursuing podcasting as another channel of distribution and potential source of advertising revenue. In the future, large public corporations may also include podcasts in their portfolio of online marketing strategies and offer audio portions of shareholder meetings, executives' speeches, and industry commentaries.

Conclusion

The Internet and the corresponding online PR and marketing strategies are just as integral to promoting a company's products and services as traditional media channels. Without a comprehensive Internet marketing plan, companies miss the opportunity for additional exposure and risk giving competitors a distinct advantage in the marketing arena.

Meanwhile, companies that are using the online PR and marketing strategies mentioned in this article should also write content with search engines in mind. With a little planning and research, content can be optimized and have its visibility dramatically increased. Without it, the content is just another of the 8.1 billion pages in Google's index.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.


February 28, 2007





Brian Cooper is the director of online public relations at Medium Blue, where he promotes the company’s clients on the Internet. He has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Georgia State University where he graduated summa cum laude. Medium Blue Search Engine Marketing was recently named the number one search engine optimization firm in the world by PromotionWorld. Visit www.mediumblue.com to request a custom guarantee based on your goals and your data.





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