Many people think that managing online reputation and publicity are interchangeable concepts, and the two are often confused. Although they share similarities and may be used in conjunction with one another, they serve very different purposes.
An online reputation management (ORM) firm isn't a public relations firm. Digital PR is usually more forward-facing and visible to members of the public. PR firms tend to be more relationship-based, whereas online reputation management firms are usually more technical and content-oriented.
ORM services usually occur behind the scenes, often quietly supporting PR campaigns in the background, and are not as obvious to casual observers. The best online reputation agencies use PR firms as a go-between with publishers while they work their magic. Think of reputation agencies as the "man behind the curtain."
- Differences between PR and ORM
- What is public relations?
- What is online reputation management?
- How PR and ORM work together
Example of the difference between PR and ORM
Most people are familiar with the typical PR activities associated with promoting a brand. These activities can range from writing and promoting press releases to scheduling news conferences, interviews, and possibly even events.
While ORM services may seem very similar to PR, they are not the same. ORM services are focused on the long-term reputation strategy for the brand, rather than the promotional nature of public relations. Publicity is usually more about creating buzz around a brand or project, often in a short-term effort with the goal of leading to longer-term exposure or sales.
For example, an ORM firm normally wouldn't phone the New York Times or Good Morning America to pitch an interview for its client. On the other hand, a PR firm wouldn't normally aggressively manipulate third-party online visibility of dozens of websites while improving reviews and pursuing Google content removal requests.
Do they both ultimately shape the public's knowledge or feelings toward the brand or entity? Yes. But they achieve this using completely different strategies and toolsets.
PR Works in the Spotlight, ORM Behind the Scenes
Although ORM and PR are not the same, the two can work together to achieve optimal results for a company or brand.
Large companies set aside sizable budgets for marketing expenditures like TV spots, billboards, and online banner ads. But for companies and individuals alike, two other promotional activities, public relations, and online reputation management, are no less important. In fact, these two functions are becoming increasingly vital, and although they are not identical, they do go hand in hand.
What is public relations?
According to the Public Relations Society of America, public relations is defined as: “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
To put it simply, the goal of public relations is to improve the public image of a person or organization. It is equal parts proactive and reactive, and is built on a thorough analysis of the client’s relationship with the public, as well as rapid responses to unplanned crises, commonly known as “damage control.”
Although planning and internal crisis management are important aspects of public relations, PR is inherently forward-facing; after all, “communication process” and “public” are right there in the official definition.
Core Components of PR Campaigns
Public relations campaigns are designed to achieve a specific goal by utilizing different strategies, tactics, and activities and can occur in tandem with ORM campaigns.
Public relations campaigns may include the following components:
- Assessment. Evaluate your public image among peers, prospective customers and others. This produces an honest readout of your strengths and weaknesses (online reputation management's research phase has a similar function, although it applies specifically to your digital presence).
- Image. Public communication policies may limit unsanctioned or off-brand statements by employees or associates (which may require training).
- Promotional campaigns. Goal-oriented planning for a public-facing promotional campaign, covering everything from media outreach to advertising spending.
- Branding. This can be personal or corporate branding (or re-branding in some cases).
- Media relations. A number of tactics can be used to manage media relations, including public functions, events, and outreach to influential bloggers, corporate patrons, industry luminaries, and others with a public “megaphone.”
- Social media campaigns. This is also a core function of ORM and can include promotions, contests, and giveaways that inspire participation, buy-in, and brand loyalty among customers.
- Press and media releases. These announcements highlight all of the above initiatives and provide statements to reporters, bloggers, and the general public who help get your message and brand out into the world.
Many PR components, tactics, and processes are labor-intensive. Costs can quickly add up as a full-blown PR campaign may require the hiring of an outside PR firm or additional employees to handle certain customized duties. In recent years, digital PR initiatives have taken center stage to build a more robust online presence. While many of the tools may be new, it's always about catching the public's attention. Some PR efforts can be very clever, while some can end up being controversial.
A famous anecdote from the early days of Hollywood was the brainchild of infamous press agent Harry Reichenbach. At the time, he represented an unknown actor named Frances X. Bushman. In order to create buzz, the PR agent had the actor walk down the street while dropping pennies behind him. By the time the actor arrived for a studio meeting, Reichenbach pointed out the huge crowd that had assembled (to grab the coins), and executives assumed Bushman was an extremely popular actor and cast him as one of the leads in the new film Ben Hur.
Although not all clever publicity schemes go as planned. In 2007, a marketing team placed numerous LED placards around Boston and surrounding cities to promote the upcoming film Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned when police and others mistook guerrilla art as potential explosive devices. Eventually, Turner Broadcasting and the marketing group paid $2 million in restitution and fines.
What's Online Reputation Management?
Online reputation management is sometimes described as “technical public relations.” ORM services tend to be "quieter" than traditional PR. ORM leverages SEO, content management, social media, legal tactics, and more to improve the online image and reputation of a brand.
ORM campaigns are similar to PR campaigns, but they tend to be much more technical in nature and often out of the public eye.
Online reputation management campaigns typically include some or all of the following:
- Comprehensive research on the state of your pre-campaign online reputation and sentiment, including risk analysis
- Search engine optimization and marketing
- Content removal and suppression
- "Technical" PR
- Development of controllable web properties (owned websites, blogs, social media, third-party sites, etc.) in order to push SEO results higher in Google searches
- Content creation and management for each property: blog posts, guest posts, social content, white papers, multimedia, and more
- Systematic, scheduled publication and broadcasting of finished content
- Re-targeting of content in response to changes in search engine behavior
- Ongoing promotion of content and properties in search engines and social media
Typical Activities During a Reputation Campaign
Along the way, ORM campaigns may utilize some or all of these actions:
- Boosting the SEO value of existing web properties, pushing positive content and higher search engine result page (SERP) mentions, thereby pushing down negative content
- Creating new web properties that serve as additional sources of positive content
- Managing online review sites such as Yelp, highlighting positive comments and scores without impacting objectivity.
- Outreach to and formation of content-producing relationships with influencers in a related field
- Monitoring, tracking, and improving the performance of all owned, earned, and paid-for content channels
- Responding directly to some online messaging and reviews
- Submitting takedown requests (under applicable laws and customs) when online publishers post inaccurate or defamatory information or even taking legal action in some cases
- Attracting social media followers and buzz, thereby creating brand advocates that drive traffic to your positive properties, reinforce their SERP standings, and generate reputation-enhancing social mentions.
How Similar are PR and ORM?
Yes, at their core, public relations and reputation management are similar. This is because content marketing, or the practice of using content to create a favorable impression around you, your company, and/or your brand, are indeed similar.
One of the main differences can be attributed to the speed or approach. While it can definitely be part of a larger plan, PR might be a quicker event or application, such as an interview or press release, but it creates a connection with your customers, both current and potential.
This is important because recent studies have shown how important emotional connections can be. An estimated 65 percent of customers surveyed said they felt an emotional connection with a brand. It's estimated that these "fully connected customers" are 50 recently more valuable than even a highly valued customer.
ORM is about fixing the larger issue and making sure that the changes are long lasting as to not negatively affect your online reputation. It's also about interacting with your base and clients and making sure that the changes stick and that the positive reputation you are creating lasts well into the future.
Whether that content is part of a front-facing public relations initiative or a behind-the-scenes reputation management campaign to boost online brand authority, there is a powerful argument in favor of using both PR and ORM together to put your best brand face forward.
Differences: PR and ORM FAQs
What are the main differences between PR and ORM?
What are typical PR activities?
PR often secures interviews, releases press releases about activities or products, and invests in advertising both online and off.
What are the typical ORM activities?
ORM activities can include research on online reputation, addition of articles and content for higher SEO, and removal or suppression of negative content.
How can ORM and PR work together?
The creation of content and interviews through PR allows ORM to create a positive reputation with that content.
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning online reputation management agency. He has over 15 years of experience with SEO, Wikipedia editing, review management, and online reputation strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics.