Using search for PR management

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Although we may credit our college professors or our first marketing job, we should thank our parents for our very first public relations lessons. We were taught at a young age the importance of reputation management. Each time we were forced to return the gum we accidentally shoplifted from the convenience store, or to ring a neighbor's doorbell and apologize for breaking their front window with our baseball, our parents were teaching us the value of managing public opinion and steps to restoring trust.

These life lessons about telling the truth and tackling tough issues can, and should, be applied to our corporate personae and brands.

Of course, when catastrophe strikes in the professional sphere, corporations can't just knock on the next-door neighbor's front door and meekly say, "I'm sorry; may I have my ball back?" So, how do they begin to reach their consumers and manage their reputation in a crisis? The answer is search.

As we know, offline events drive search activity. Negative press is no exception. In early February, we saw searches for "JetBlue" and "JetBlue news" double overnight on the heels of news stories detailing JetBlue passengers trapped for hours on the tarmac because of inclement weather. The offline buzz drove consumers to search for the whole story.

JetBlue took advantage of the opportunity to control the conversation with their customers and responded quickly. They tackled the press head-on by launching prominent paid-search listings on all JetBlue-related search terms with a straightforward apology and its Customer Bill of Rights.

JetBlue is not alone in leveraging search to manage marketplace messages. Top marketers, advertising agencies and PR firms understand that they can't pass up the opportunity to communicate with consumers who are searching for information about their clients and brands. As Kevin Lange of SMG Search said, "Paid search is a very effective tool for delivering a timely PR message in response to a current event or news story. By choosing the right keywords and targeting, you can ensure that the users most impacted by the event have easy access to your side of the story - while it's still top of mind."

Hewlett-Packard and its search agency, Performics, have managed a comprehensive search strategy for years, and PR has become an increasingly important element of the overall strategy, including support for its PR efforts around product launches, events, and reputation management.

Many of us are focused on evergreen search campaigns, tracking engagement, ROI, and trying to crack the code on measuring brand impact. In a marketing world of silos, some may not consider themselves PR professionals. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that brand protection and reputation management is everyone's business. Now that we're grown up, we must be the guardians of our clients' brands and equip them with the best tools to make, keep, and restore their relationships with their valued consumers.

The good news is that, although you can't knock on your neighbor's door, search is making it pretty easy to have a straightforward and timely dialogue with the consumer.

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