PR vs. ORM: What They Teach One Another

Posted in: Reputation Management

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A generation ago, brand management was a lot more straightforward. Looking to get the word out on your product or service? Hire a slick advertising agency or a well-connected public relations firm and you’re off to the races. But the digital age has demanded more from marketers. With an increasingly skeptical and digitally-savvy culture, consumers have turned to review sites, social channels, and good old-fashioned online search to help steer their purchasing decisions. As we like to say around here, word of mouth is digital.

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I started my career in a fairly traditional PR agency (think writing press releases and pitching media – that sort of thing) before transitioning into the growing field of online reputation management, and that has given me a lot of perspective on both industries. While they differ greatly in how they go about putting a client’s best foot forward, I have learned one thing – both disciplines can fit together to accomplish their goals. In fact, our online reputation management agency partners with a number of PR agencies and publicists to help fill in the gaps that traditional media relations or crisis communications strategies might miss.

It has proved to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Having worked on both sides of the aisle, here’s what I’ve recognized as the items one industry can learn from the other.

Crisis Management is a Short-Term Solution

There is absolutely value in hiring an experienced publicist or PR agency to control messaging during or shortly after a brand crisis. Alternatively, ORM is most often brought in to help clean up the residual search result damage that may remain several weeks or months after public outrage has died down. Even if a crisis is navigated perfectly, negative publicity or review sites spammed with hearsay and rumors might still outrank a brand’s own content. When pitching stories to media might not be enough, bringing on an ORM team for search results or online reviews improvement might be the way to go.

The Press Release is Not Dead

I’ll admit – I was guilty of calling for the demise of the press release even when I was working in PR. Most will agree that the era of blasting a media list with a generic press alert and hoping for the best is behind us. But there is still value in the press release from an ORM perspective. Distribution platforms like PR Newswire have high Domain Authority, and a well-optimized press release can often rank high enough to suppress more negative content in Google’s search results. Depending on the service you’re using, various outlets that run press releases verbatim can also fill the search results with a few more positive URLs.

Owned Content is Still Important

Don’t overlook the value of owning and staying active on content platforms you can already control. This includes social media, a personal website, profiles on sites like Crunchbase,, and Medium, as well as other free listing services across the web. A strong presence here can help demote a negative page that ranks, or fortify your search results for proactive online reputation management. This is especially true for individuals who have unfairly negative URLs ranking – those unfortunate enough to share a name with a criminal, the subjects of negative stories that went on to be retracted, etc. Back in the PR world, the automatic reflex might be to pitch an interview or issue a statement, and that can certainly help from an ORM perspective as well.

Leverage PR for Link Building

When it comes to working with authoritative online media to place links, it helps to have a digital PR agency that can leverage existing relationships. Receiving quality links from reputable sites is still a great way to nudge positive content above less favorable URLs. We’ve learned from working hand-in-hand with our PR partners that when we’re aligned on what the positive URL targets are for promotion, the digital PR team can work to get that quality link built into a piece of positive publicity if the opportunity is there.

Commit to an Online Review Improvement Strategy

There are many forms of marketing that look to control brand perception, but online review sites are where you’ll find true consumer sentiment. Companies can often feel powerless when it comes to fighting negative reviews, and dealing with them has become a bit of a blind spot of traditional PR and advertising agencies. Many times, we see a correlation between a negative search result issue and reviews on either consumer or employee review sites. A good ORM partner can craft strategies for requesting, deleting, and responding to online reviews. Your online presence isn’t scrubbed fully clean until these reviews and ratings are addressed.


Public relations and online reputation management don’t have to be an either-or decision for marketers to make. Depending on the situation and goals, either specialty can be effective. A good agency partner can utilize the inherent advantages of each discipline to repair and maintain a positive public-facing image, online, or in the media.

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