It’s easy to understand why organizations continue to be seduced by the ridiculous pitches of online reputation repair consultants who promise to make negative search results vanish, guaranteed!

For one thing, few of us ever fully outgrow our childhood fascination with magic. Just as we  believed our wacky uncle was able to pull quarters out of our ears, people believe what they want to believe, often against the most obvious logic.

But the main reason I see is that for most people “How does Google work?” is somewhere north of “Why do fools fall in love?” on the list of life’s greatest mysteries. Peddlers of reputational quick fixes are counting on this algorithmic naïveté to make their outlandish claims sound at least somewhat plausible.

Read on for my take on why PR pros need to better understand and take ownership of online reputation, which means taking ownership of the PESO model, too.

A version of this article appeared originally on Spin Sucks.

Why PR Must Own Online Reputation and PESO
by Jon Goldberg

I spoke at the PRSA Western District Conference in Phoenix recently, where I had a chance to hear my dear friend and occasional co-conspirator Gini Dietrich muse about the future of public relations as the worlds of PR and marketing continue to converge.

As the originator of the acclaimed PESO model for integrating paid, earned, shared and owned media, the blurring boundaries between PR and marketing have Gini worried. They concern me, too, for slightly different but related reasons.

I Know There’s a Fine Line Around Here Somewhere

A 2017 report from USC’s Annenberg Center for Public Relations noted that 60% of PR and marketing executives saw their domains becoming one by 2022. With three years to go, not much has changed. According to this year’s report, 60% of marketing executives still believe PR and marketing will be more closely aligned three years from now, while roughly half of PR pros feel the same way. (Whether the difference suggests active resistance on the PR side, or mere wishful thinking, remains to be seen.)

Where Have All the Experts Gone?

Lately, Gini and I have both started to see SEO consultants claiming expertise in earned media. What they’re selling is mainly link acquisition, not media relations in the usual sense, but calling it earned media is not inaccurate. Online reputation repair firms are likewise touting their ability to create content, which they use to flood search engines in hopes of suppressing search results their clients find unsavory. They’re not doing either of these things well, not surprisingly, because it’s not what they know. From what I see, much of what’s being passed off as “content” is probably doing their clients more harm than good.

This, Gini argues, is why PR, not marketing, needs to own PESO.

Reputation Repair is a Long Game

I was at the conference to speak about managing online reputation, and why entrusting this precious and fragile organizational asset to self-proclaimed experts who claim to have a magic eraser for Google is, if you’ll excuse the technical jargon, a bad freaking idea.

I’ve been talking about this topic a lot, lately. It seems like I can’t go a week without encountering yet another horrifying example of questionable SEO tactics going awry and leaving some entity thousands of dollars poorer and with an even bigger online mess to clean up. Granted, cleaning up reputational messes is what I do, but it still bugs me. What bothers me even more is to see otherwise sophisticated organizations continuing to fall for the fantastical and often technically preposterous promises of “reputation repair“ companies that are either short on experience or long on chutzpah. It shouldn’t be happening. And from where I sit, it’s only going to get worse.

This is not to suggest that all online reputation consultants and SEO providers are cut from the same cloth. Unfortunately, however, plucking the experienced, well-intentioned advisers who promise only what they know they can deliver from a sea of digital charlatans is much easier said than done. If there’s anything the black-hat operators have figured out how to do quite well, it’s getting themselves found on Google. If they invested similar time and attention to curating their clients’ online reputations, I’d be looking for something else to talk about. Alas, that’s not their model. Chicanery is a volume business.

But I digress.

PESO is Essential for Managing Online Reputation

Gini was scheduled to speak right before me, a time I ordinarily reserve for anticipatory pacing. I was more than a little interested in hearing what she had to say, because if there’s one thing she and I violently agree on, it’s that PESO in all its integrated glory is essential to building and sustaining a powerful reputation both online and off.

The whole point of my presentation was that managing online reputation, like managing reputation anywhere else, is and will always be the rightful province of PR. Public relations – not marketing, IT or <shudders> legal – needs to own it.

Paid Social Belongs in PR

Think about it. Who better to produce credible, high-quality owned content than innate storytellers grounded in the principles of objective journalism? Is there a discipline more qualified to use shared (aka social) media to build relationships than the one that has “relations” right in its name? And while paid advertising is still seen as marketing’s turf, paid media under the PESO model involves things like sponsored content and native advertising that arguably are much more closely related to PR than advertising.

One more thing.

Marketers caught their very first glimpse of the PESO model when Gini’s second book, Spin Sucks, came out in 2014. PR pros have been applying and perfecting the building blocks of PESO, or their strategic forebears, since marketing legends like Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy were in short pants.

It’s what we know.

To protect the organizations and clients we serve, PR pros need to own online reputation. And that means PR must own PESO, too.