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. 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 pitching 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 towards 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.
What are the core components of public relations 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 the guerrilla art as potential explosive devices. Eventually Turner Broadcasting and the marketing group paid $2 million in restitution and fines.
What is 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.
Are online management campaigns different?
Yes, they certainly are. The unique needs of the client, the industry, as well as the nature of the relationship between the client and the ORM firm often require different services. But the goal is always to cultivate greater sentiment around your web presence while minimizing or eliminating the impact of negative content.
How should a comprehensive campaign look?
As noted, online reputation management and traditional PR can, and should, go hand-in-hand. You also don't need a Fortune 500 marketing budget to afford both.
Online reputation management firms offer services at a variety of price points and engagement levels. Many, including ours, offer white label ORM services for public relations agencies (meaning the system looks branded to the clients of the PR firm). The system’s flexibility allows for easy scaling as you grow, whether you have just a handful of web properties and PR targets or hundreds.
What traditional PR activities could I leverage in a comprehensive promotional campaign?
There are a substantial number of aspects including:
- Donating time, goods and money to local charities and community organizations, using related events as authentic opportunities to “show you care”
- Securing interviews and promotional spots on TV shows, podcasts, influential blogs and other news and media outlets relevant to what you do to showcase you and your brand
- Sending out branded press releases highlighting achievements and news about your brand or company
- Investing in the positive off-line press, such as TV commercials, outdoor and indoor ads and more
These ideas serve multiple purses. While they create initial buzz, they also add to the foundation of your reputation. When people begin to search for you or read about your brand, they will come across references to your activities as well as people's response and interactions. As more of those are added to the public record, they will help to develop your positive online reputation and sentiment.
Are PR and ORM two sides of the same coin?
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 recent 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 Between PR and Online Reputation Management 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.