PR Reputation Management - Differences Between PR and Online Reputation Management

6 min read

PR Reputation Management - Differences Between PR and Online Reputation Management

Updated on 04/16/19 9:30 AM PST by Reputation X

An online reputation management (ORM) firm isn't a public relations firm. PR firms tend to be more relationship-based, whereas ORM firms tend to be more technical and content-oriented. The best online reputation agencies use PR firms as a go-between with publishers while they work their magic behind the scenes. ORM firms also tend to operate in stealth mode, often quietly supporting PR campaigns in the background.

Reputation management and public relations (PR) are often confused. Although the two share similarities and may be used in conjunction with one another, PR is more forward facing and visible to members of the public. Online reputation management (ORM) services often occur behind the scenes and are not as obvious to casual observers. Think of reputation agencies as "man behind the curtain."

Example of the difference between PR and ORM

Most people are familiar with the typical PR activities associated with promoting a brand. While ORM services may seem very similar to PR, they are are not the same and are focused on the longterm reputation strategy for the brand. 

For example, an ORM firm normally wouldn't phone the New York Times pitching an interview for its client, whereas a PR firm normally wouldn't aggressively manipulate third-party online visibility of dozens of websites while improving reviews and pursuing Google content removal requests. 

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.

According to the Statistics Portal, the total U.S. ad spending in 2015 was a massive $183 billion. This increased by 6.8% in 2016, and is predicted to go up with every passing year.

Obvious marketing expenditures such as TV spots, billboards and online banner ads comprise a big chunk of this figure. But for companies and individuals, two other promotional activities, public relations and online reputation management, are no less important. Although they are not identical, these two functions 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.”

In plain English, 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 on 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.

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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. They focus on long-term goals rather than short-term gains and represent a scenario in which PR and ORM can be very similar.

Public relations campaigns may include the following components:

  • Assess 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).
  • Public communication policies that limit unsanctioned or off-brand statements by employees or associates (may require training).
  • Goal-oriented planning for a public-facing promotional campaign, covering everything from media outreach to advertising spending.
  • Personal or corporate branding (or re-branding).
  • PR may utilize a number of public-facing tactics and processes, including:
    • Media interviews
    • Public functions and events
    • Outreach to influential bloggers, corporate patrons, industry luminaries and others with a public “megaphone”
    • Promotions, contests and giveaways that inspire participation, buy-in and brand loyalty among customers
    • Social media campaigns (also a core function of ORM)
    • Press releases highlighting all of the above
    • Statements and leaks for public consumption, typically to the media

Many of PR’s components, tactics and processes are labor-intensive. Budget permitting, a full-blown PR campaign may require the hiring of an outside PR firm or additional employees to handle certain customized duties.

What is online reputation management?

Online reputation management is sometimes thought of 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 of a brand.

ORM campaigns are similar to PR campaigns, but they are usually much more technical in nature. Online reputation management campaigns typically include some or all of the following:

  • Comprehensive research on the state of your pre-campaign online reputation including risk analysis
  • Search engine optimization and marketing
  • Content removal
  • "Technical" PR
  • Development of controllable web properties (owned websites, blogs, social media, third party sites, etc.)
  • 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
  • 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. (A recent Pew Statistics report found more than 75 percent of Internet users trust peer recommendations more than traditional advertising).
  • Outreach to and formation of content-producing relationships with influencers in a given field
  • Monitoring, tracking and improving the performance of all owned, earned and paid for content channels
  • Responding directly to some online messaging
  • Submitting take down requests (under applicable laws and customs) when online publishers post inaccurate or defamatory information
  • 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. (Social is a relative newcomer to the reputation management world, but it is critically important: The same Pew Statistics report found that 80 percent of online shoppers use social media to vet retailers). 
Please note that this is not a fully comprehensive list, and there are many other aspects that are also addressed. 

Are online management campaigns different?

Yes, they certainly are. The unique needs of the client, 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 do not need a Fortune 500 marketing budget to afford both, either.  

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 100 or more.

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 opportunities to “show you care”
  • Securing interviews and promotional spots on TV shows, influential blogs and other media outlets relevant to what you do
  • Sending out branded press releases highlighting achievements
  • Investing in positive off-line press, such as TV commercials, outdoor and indoor ads, and more

Are PR and ORM two sides of the same coin?

Yes, at their cores 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 similar.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of Internet users feel “closer” to a person or company after reading or viewing their content. Moreover, relevant, customized content produces favorable impressions (versus negative or neutral) in 60 percent of users.

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.

Reputation X
Written by Reputation X

The Reputation X team is a collection of online reputation experts working in the areas of content planning, reputation strategy, search engine marketing, social media, technical public relations, and other more esoteric realms. We provide white-label reputation management, protect reputations and clean up search results for agencies, brands and people.

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