Coming from both a programming and public relations background (odd mix I know), I tend to get really annoyed with PR Firms that think they can just jump right into online marketing by adding it as a "piece of our services", when they really have no idea what goes into an online marketing strategy.  They see blogs as another place to send their press release, they see Facebook and MySpace as just another place to get an ad or message slapped on a web page.  They think that because that new hire right out of college has over 100 friends, they know how to work a social networking campaign.  They think it's something "so easy" and "fast".  That's where they go wrong.

So what do you look for when a public relations company who claims that blogging, social media and online marketing is their specialty?

  • Is Their Website All In Flash?  Is It Image Heavy?  Does the Site Work?
    If their website is all in flash, and they do not offer an html version of their website, then you know this isn't a serious area of practice for them.  They only flirt with online marketing, because if they truly understood online marketing, they'd understand that entirely flash sites have difficulties with the search engines.  Same applies to image heavy sites.  If the keywords are embedded in images and those images don't have alt text, you might want to rethink using this company for optimizing or marketing your site online.

    Does their own site work properly?  You may think this is a really silly question, but walk through their site.  Is it easy to navigate; do they have unique title tags; are there broken links?  Do things look "right"?  If their own house isn't in order, how can you expect them to make sure yours is?

  • Is Their Website Comprised with Fluff?
    Is it all about the awards and honors they won?  Is it about the client names in their portfolio?  Is there anything of substance?  Are you immediately greeted with the fact they won 5 awards?  It's very typical of most PR firms to tout the awards they won, over results they gain for their clients.  They spin the fact they won an award for a PR campaign that was OFFLINE, not online and try to turn that into you thinking that will help your campaign.

  • Do They Have a Company Blog?
    If they don't even run a blog for their own company, how in the world do they REALLY know what goes on in the blogosphere?  Don't let them snow you with buzz terms like 'technorati', 'feeds', 'rss', 'web 2.0', 'subscriptions', 'widgets'.  Unless they can point to their own blog and the successes they've had with it, how can you truly expect them to know what they are doing with your blogging initiatives?

  • Success Stories - Real Live Success Stories
    Ask them what their success stories are.  Ask for references; ask for statistics; and ask to speak to those clients.  Again, don't just believe the hype, go out and do the research yourself.  Armed with the company name, a search engine and a few other tools like Alexa, Yahoo Site Explorer, Technorati, and the ability to look at social media sites, you can really get a feel for just how successful (and truthful) the success story is. 

I've got many friends in public relations that truly know they aren't equipped to handle online PR strategies.  They know that the offline world of PR and the strategies they use handling crisis or promoting clients just doesn't translate well to the online world.  It's why these PR strategists work with online marketers to do what's best for their clients.  If the PR company does truly know online marketing, you might be waiting in line for their services, as undoubtedly, everyone will want their expertise. 

When it comes to looking at online marketers for PR related issues, be just as careful.  Do your research!  Not all online marketers understand and know Public Relations.  As with any company you deal with - do your homework before you sign on the dotted line.
January 30, 2008

Liana "Li" Evans is the director of internet marketing at KeyRelevance Search Engine Marketing. She oversees all social media, online PR and word-of-mouth marketing efforts for a variety of clients within the company’s portfolio. Li also collaborates with the team on all SEO (Natural Search) optimization for clients. Since 1999 Liana has been active in the search marketing arena, becoming well versed in all avenues of search marketing but with particular focus on natural search, image search, and social media. She also has substantial experience in areas of the retail industry regulated by the FTC. Prior to Li’s tenure at KeyRelevance Search Engine Marketing, she helped to design, plan, and implement an Internet Retailer 500 company’s efforts into natural search optimization, successfully revamping outdated navigation and site architecture. Li is an accomplished programmer and database programmer/designer familiar with the demands of large-scale, dynamic retail sites.

Liana holds a B.A. in Information Systems with a minor in Public Relations from Susquehanna University, and an Associates Degree in Mass Communications/Public Relations from Pennsylvania College of Technology. She currently lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Limerick, PA and runs the search marketing blog Search Marketing Gurus.



I call on marketing and PR agencies quite a bit, and I always visit their website before I call. I'm always amazed at their self-described scope of services, but see too many instances of where they don't practice it. One agency in town talks about how they help with blogging, but don't have their own blog. Others claim they do direct mail as one of their services, but don't list a single client or entry in their portfolio. And when I ask them about it, they say they don't it.

I asked one of those agencies, "But why is it listed on your website?"

"Because we might want to do it one day."

I worked in PR for a while, so I understand how they think. That doesn't mean they make any sense though.

Great post.

Erik Deckers

I'm up late at night reading internet marketing articles. I have a small traditional advertising (TV/Radio/Print-Outdoor)agency...trying to compete with the "big boys". Reading your article confirmed that I have to push myself to learn online marketing. Your article was worth reading 3am in the morning. Unlike other ad/pr agencies, I'm not afraid to give you credit. I'll look for other articles by you. Thanks- Good night...I mean, Good morning :)

Your comments are spot-on. Do you have any recos for agencies that work well in the online arena? Thanks in advance!

We have to update our thinking about this function called PR as it is evolving into something called D-PR - digital PR. This newly emerging discipline leverages technologo to do what PR has done all along - have a raltionship with "the public" -- not just reporters or the media. Here's a post explaining what I mean -


I'll come across your website and found it more interesting in Public Relation Firm. I learn more, thanks for the information you share, i'll come back often.


Dux Marketing

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Search Engine Guide > Liana Evans > Most Public Relations Firms Are Not Online Marketers