The difference between PR and online reputation management

An ORM firm isn't a PR firm. PR firms tend to be more relationship-based, whereas ORM firms tend to be more technical and content-oriented. 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 mixed up. And 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.

Example of the difference between PR and ORM

or 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. 

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PR works in the spotlight, ORM behind the scenes

According to the Statistics Portal, the total U.S. ad spending in 2015 was a massive $183 billion.1 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 industry association, 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.”3 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.” And 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 relation campaigns?


  • Comprehensive assessment of your public image among peers, prospective customers and others, which 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 one or more part or full-time employees to handle certain customized duties, in addition to an outside PR firm.

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 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 an ORM 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).4
  • 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).4 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 there 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 promotional campaign look?

As noted, online reputation management and traditional PR can, and should go hand in hand. And 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

    Your five-step online reputation management campaign as described above, is intended to work hand in glove with PR to strengthen online outcomes.

    Are PR and ORM two sides of the same coin?

    Yes, at their cores they are. 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 part of the same coin.

    According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70 percent 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.5

    Whether that content is part of a front-facing PR 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 to put your best face forward.


  1. The Statistics Portal (n.d.). “Media advertising spending in the United States from 2015 to 2020 (in billion U.S. Dollars).”
  2. Marketing Charts (2017). “US Ad Spend Trends, by Medium, in 2016.”
  3. Public Relations Society of America (2017). “About Public Relations.”
  4. Neilsen (2015). “Recommendations from friends remain most credible form of advertising among consumers; branded websites are the second-highest-rated form.”
  5. Content Marketing Institute (2012). “2013 B2C Content Marketing Research: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.”