I have heard some interesting thoughts this week from various people in the industry, I have also met with a number of SEO specialists who have asked us at Prohibition if we can help with the outreach phase of their SEO campaigns. I value SEO and its importance at keeping our clients at the top of search engines and I believe technical SEO will always remain as a requirement for clients. However, I am hearing from people in the SEO industry that the outreach phase is becoming increasingly challenging for SEOs and that is why they are recruiting more and more PR people. It seems that as bloggers, influencers, maverns, mums and celebrities become smarter at working with outreach teams they are becoming more and more selective.
I have argued in my digital PR lectures at Leeds Beckett University that SEO is harming the PR industry up here in the north. I have noticed several SEO firms, hiring PR executives and some attempting to poach our staff, and paying them big salaries to join their teams and help them develop their in-house PR abilities. There is nothing wrong with competition but I am not convinced this is good for the long-term viability of the PR industry up here in Yorkshire.
These larger SEO companies can often have more than 100 people working in fancy open plan offices, (I have ten staff) and I am told they are very focussed on generating as many press releases as possible and getting the numbers and links in. I would never claim to be an SEO expert but I know my way around best practice SEO. However, I am finding the actual strategic thought behind these campaigns to be lacking – often the campaign/story created is still purely for link purposes without any genuine brand association and for me this is a huge disconnect. All of these companies claim to look at brand properly and then marry their campaigns up but although I am sure their are good companies doing this I am still not really seeing it.
Brands spend millions on telling us their detailed stories, values and visions. So getting their marketing right is critical but now many have a brand agency, a design agency, PR agency, a social media agency and an SEO agency and increasingly more and more people around the table are from our sector and I am left scratching my head thinking why?
I have also noticed the SEO companies have far higher budgets (some up to £45K per month) and in turn can offer PR graduates much higher salaries to work in their content factories. Well done to them for securing such great budgets, and congratulations to those working in this sector, because the money is great. But my question is this – is SEO a genuine career opportunity for a PR or Journalism graduate? Will these companies really develop your knowledge and strategic understanding of our sector, and help you grow, or will you be forced to chase the short-term Google rainbow and just become one of many? I believe PR people get better with experience – I certainly hope they do anyway. If you are only involved in a very linear area of public relations how are you going to get this experience?
Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against PR practitioners joining SEO companies for the money, I have friends that have and we all have bills to pay, but I think this shift is effecting the quality of the work being delivered to clients and we are heading towards a skills gap precipice whereby even the top tier PR agencies could eventually start struggling to attract the talent on salaries that are respectable, once this happens the whole game will have changed. Or will the SEO companies continue to rebrand themselves from content and link building factories to PR agencies?
Is this just happening in the north of the UK, or is it, as I suspect, occurring everywhere across the world?
Photo credit to Stuart Miles.