LCI blog: SAO – Search Agency Optimization

By David Landis, LCI President
David Landis, LCI’s faithful President here.
I just returned from a very fruitful couple of (very snowy!) days in Denver.

(Yes, that’s snow, not a light show, in front of Euclid Hall in Denver)

Last week I met with my Western U.S. Public Relations Global Network affiliates (   LCI is the network’s San Francisco member agency.  I always find these meetings exhilarating and return with innovative ideas for our clients and our agency, as well as renewed passion and creativity for the industry.
During the meeting, Jim Licko at Ground Floor Media (, our Denver PR partner, raised a provocative question:  Who in the marketing/communications world, he asked, will own the world of social media?

Jim Licko, Ground Floor Media, Denver
It’s not a new question. But the way he posed it made me think:  the brave new world of Web 3.0 could be the PR industry’s to lose.
You see, there are advertising agencies who claim they can do what we do. Biting at their heels are the “search engine optimization” folks who claim, as one local agency in the Bay Area does, that “not every link to your website is equal.  We build powerful relevant links for you.”
But who really is best equipped to do this work for clients?
I say it is public relations professionals.  We have spent our careers developing relationships with influencers, media and business partners to help tell the stories of our clients – all with the goal of helping build brand awareness and support for their businesses objectives.  Who better than PR professionals to engage broader community conversations, listen, and make the most of those opportunities?
Let me give you an example, as told by Jim:  SEO companies claim that they can engage “business partners” – but in reality, what do they do?
For paid search, it’s straightforward.  They optimize buying keywords with an aim to place a brand at the top of paid results.  But when it comes to organic search, PR companies not only compete – we do it better.
SEO companies put a person barely out of college (or utilize “bot” software) to build links that have no real relationship to the client.  Conversely, how do public relations professionals build those links?  We create partnerships by establishing real relationships with targeted bloggers (and traditional media who all have online components), providing valuable content that helps the client and the blogger/journalist at the same time.  That content drives traffic to each partner.
But I’ll tell you what those SEO companies do better:  they are in the habit of quantifying their results (through click-throughs, Google analytics and the like) that demonstrate return-on-investment for their clients.  This is why I say this piece of the business is the PR industry’s to lose:  unless we follow this example and provide solid ROI, clients will go elsewhere – even if those services aren’t, in my humble opinion, as beneficial.
So, if you’re a client looking for social media services, I’d say optimize your search for an agency. Don’t just assume that because someone says they do SEO, they have the best interest of your business in mind.  Take a look instead at the public relations professionals who have built a career on building partnerships that help grow the business of their clients.
And PR pros, beware:  unless we embrace ROI and demonstrate true return on investment, our industry may join the ranks of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.


What do you think?  Please email me at:  [email protected].

7 thoughts on “LCI blog: SAO – Search Agency Optimization

  1. Thank you for the post (and the mention!), David. To be sure, the question of ownership is one that won’t be completely answered soon. While messaging and “conversations” with the public have traditionally been a role of public relations, as communications experts we’ll need to continue to learn and evolve if we want to keep the trust of our clients. Exciting and challenging times, all at once.

  2. Great post – we talked about this at the latest PRSA Phoenix event. It all kind of circles back to misconceptions of PR, that what we do is a tactical and not strategic, and for a lot of companies, it comes down to the numbers and ROI. I agree that ROIs have no real benefit and use what I consider to be arbitrary calculations. But hey, maybe if that’s what the CEOs want, it might be worth providing so we keep our social media clients, they don’t have to know that there really is no way to tell. Just like they don’t know SEO doesn’t provide any real engagement, just pleasing numbers. That or we protest, refuse to give up our accounts like Scott said – hell no we won’t go!

    1. I do think there are ways to craft a PR program at the outset so ROI metrics are legitimate. We did a program for a hotel chain that wanted to improve the number of leisure travellers on the weekend. We put together creative weekend packages, promoted them only through our PR efforts, took credit for those packages sold – and demonstrated an increase of half a million dollars in new business for one hotel. Those numbers speak volumes! Cheers, David

Comments are closed.