It’s Not an SEO’s Job to Create Content

Search Engine Watch blasted out this headline and accompanying post last week.

It’s yet another piece of evidence for why we’re (and public relations) in a better position than SEO consultancies to implement organic search campaigns.

As discussed before, the SEO consulting industry sprung out of Google’s license to print money which goes by the acronym PPC (pay per click). Paid search puts a premium on technical acuity and clever messages, not narratives that prompt the reader to say “Check this out!”

Organic search has always been more of an afterthought for the SEO consultancies. And when they did have to futz with the organic side, it turned out that their technical approach could game the system.

But that’s no longer the case as content takes on increasing importance in what Google serves up when folks insert a word or phrase or question in the trusty Google box.

Demise of Technical Gamesmanship - organic search

Which brings me back to the Search Engine Watch piece and some vignettes worth highlighting:

- Creating content is freakin’ hard. Successful content doesn’t happen by accident – a lot of hard work, creativity, and planning goes into effective content marketing. 

Any time you can slip in a “Freakin’ hard,” you automatically lift to the narrative. There’s some irony in there somewhere.

- Moreover, the skills necessary for content creation aren’t naturally found within an SEO. Some SEOs may have those skills, but they traditionally aren’t there.

True. On the other hand, need to sync your washing machine with the air conditioning, look up your local SEO.

- Content creation takes time — time that SEOs typically do not have. If we were to focus all our time on content creation, it wouldn’t leave much time to do actual optimization work.

Now this is deep. I think what he’s saying is “the journey is the reward.” That works when you’re backpacking across the Czech Republic, but not so much when the client expects increased traffic from organic search.

- Let’s be honest, SEO as an industry hasn’t always been portrayed in the most flattering light to the general public …

Right. Buying from link farms in Bangalore and Krasnoyarsk aren’t exactly brand-building moments.

- SEO has its own merit and value, and it is not dependent on content.

I’m lost. Not dependent on content? That’s like saying a stand-up comedian is not dependent on humor.

By repeating the Search Engine Watch headline in this post, I have doomed my post to a subservient position in future searches.

And don’t say I should optimize the hell — I can play the cuss game too — out of the content.

It won’t work.

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A Special Post to Help PR Agency Professionals Decode 11 Client Phrases

Cipher Machine- de-coding your clients as a PR agency

Cryptology, the science of coding and decoding messages, doesn’t appear in the mass communications syllabus at universities.

And PR consultancies don’t invest in cryptology equipment like the handy “Lorenz SZ.42 Cipher Machine” pictured above (it’s a beauty).

Yet, how PR professionals on the front lines interpret a certain client phrase can make or break an account.

No need to run out to Office Depot to check out the fall lineup of cryptology machines. As a service to the profession and advancing the client-agency relationship, we’ve captured client phrases that consistently find their way to PR agencies and what they really mean.

1. Client Phrase

“We need to pump some life into the news release.”


 “When did a news release become literature? Put that adjective shaker to work.”

 2. Client Phrase

“How’s the media outreach going for the upcoming announcement?”


 “The CEO pinged the CMO who just pinged me. Give me one journalist we can count on to write a story.”

 3. Client Phrase

“Even though the budget starts out low, you’ll grow with us.”


“I was lucky to finagle these dollars out of the founders who view PR as a cost center.”

 4. Client Phrase

 “That’s not on brand.”


“That idea scares the bejesus out of us.”

5. Client Phrase

“Our CEO doesn’t expect to be on the cover of Fortune.”


 “The CEO expects to be on the cover of Fortune.”

6. Client Phrase

 “It’s natural for a new CMO to evaluate all marketing spends.”


 “I suggest you start preparing for an agency review.”

7. Client Phrase

“Rut roh. You need to be available 24 X 7 starting now!”


“Carl Icahn just tweeted about our company.”

Carl Icahn - PR agency client communication

8. Client Phrase

 “Brad finds staying on message can be a challenge.”


“If you think the media training helped Brad, think again.”

9. Client Phrase

 “Is the article available in the hardcopy?”


“Our senior execs still perceive online coverage as a fleeting fad.”

10. Client Phrase

 “I’m thinking we take a pass on producing name badges for the press conference.”


“Too many ‘no shows’ doesn’t look good for either of us.”

11. Client Phrase

“Let’s try pitching the bloggers in this vertical.”


 “I know there’s no news value, but somehow, some way we need to produce coverage.”

Consider this list as a starting point.

If you have additions, by all means jump in.

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Every Online Interaction with Your Readers Can Be a Brand-building Moment

You may be a company in the bowels of B2B.

The content may involve something as mundane as an email signoff or, in the case that I’m about to highlight, subscribing to a blog.

Every online touch point offers the chance for storytelling and making an impression that builds your brand. Keep in mind that my definition of storytelling in business does not mean building out a story arc with a protagonist, bad stuff and redemption. Just having fun with language can qualify as business storytelling.

The humble subscription to a blog makes for a good Exhibit A. While I’m using an example from Alcatel-Lucent, the reality is that over 90 percent of companies take the same path with their blog subscriptions.

When you click to subscribe to a Alcatel-Lucent blog subscription, you get this:

company blog subscriptions - storytelling

The content is perfectly fine, again taking the same approach that virtually every other company takes.

Which means even a slight deviation from the status quo can stand out like the following:

  • Well done! You’re close. Enter your email address and click ENTER.

Next, an email arrives with the confirmation link:

company blog subscriptions storytelling

An example of what fresh language might look like for the confirmation email:

  • Please take .00234 of a second to click on the link below to confirm your subscription.

After confirming the subscription, a profile page surfaces offering yet another opportunity to bring fresh language to the fore.

company blog subscriptions storytelling

Once the profile page is squared away, a final screen shot closes the loop.

Counting the blog promo, the process delivers five touch points with the reader, each one providing an opportunity to show the reader that there are human beings with a sense of levity on the other side of the interaction.

ALU Blog Subscription Flow Chart

Look, a prospect isn’t going to buy your product or service because subscribing to your blog stands out.

Instead, it’s about capitalizing on every interaction with the prospect no matter how seemingly inconsequential because in aggregate, they do make a difference.

Years ago Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wrote about ordering a product from a company called The package came with the following note:

“If you are actually reading this note you should be super happy. First, you have received your order, reading is fun and getting something in the mail (even if you bought it yourself) has got to make the day better. Second, I put your order together all by myself.”

Here’s the punch line from Costolo:

“That’s a fun note to read. I like Moosejaw more because of that note. Is it silly? Sure, it’s a silly note. Why does the note make me like Moosejaw more? People like it when companies have personalities.”

That’s another way of putting it.

Show your personality in every interaction.

Side note: For more on this topic, I wrote a post on how we applied storytelling techniques to our own blog subscription

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Mr. Whippy at the Ryder Cup, Dishing Dirt on Innovation and That Pesky “Send” Key

Today brings a grab bag of business storytelling for easy consumption.

Here goes —

Incredible Product Placement and Mr. Whippy Didn’t Pay a Quid

It turns out there was more than one winner at the Ryder Cup.

Not only did the Euros trample that happy-go-lucky bunch from the U.S.A., but Mr. Whippy — Scotland’s famed purveyor of ice cream — managed to dominate a New York Times photo that was part of the per-Ryder Cup coverage without paying a bloody quid.

Mr. Whippy at Ryder Cup

It’s a shame Mr. Mickelson didn’t make a stop at Mr. Whippy. While there’s no correlation between the consumption of ice cream and being able to stick a seven iron, at least Mr. Mickelson wouldn’t have been so grumpy.

Lest you think Mr. Whippy’s free pub was a case of being in the right place at the right time, check out this section on its website that shows a dash of PR savvy.

Mr. Whippy Services

 Update (10/15/14)

I am a fan of HARO, the service that puts journalists in touch with sources.  While I can certainly be a rule breaker as my Mom will attest — feel free to post a comment, Mom, and let the good folks at HARO know this isn’t the first time — I found their cease-and-desist email a bit harsh.

From: Kathryn Gaab, Senior HARO Editor, HARO Publicity From Vocus []
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2014 10:55 AM
To: Lou Hoffman; ‘’
Cc: Alyssa Banks
Subject: HARO Warning

Good afternoon Lou,

Thank you for using HARO. A fellow HARO user has brought to our attention the fact that you have reposted HARO queries on your blog ( ). Please note that this violates one of our Five Rules of HARO  (found here: as well as our Terms of Service (found here: ). We ask that you kindly remove this information from your website. Please note that this is a warning. Continuing to post queries on your blog or failing to abide by our other rules or Terms of Service will result in further action.

We thank you for your understanding and cooperation in this matter.

Best regards,

I guess asking nicely isn’t as effective as the threat of legal Dobermans.

I have blacked out the offending copy (below), but for the record a simple “Hey, we don’t allow HAROs to be published so would appreciate you removing the one in your 10/12 post” would have had the same effect.


Financial Times Trigger-happy at the Keyboard

I sent out this tweet on the first Thursday of the month in the morning.

Financial Times Email

A few minutes later this arrived in the mail.

Financial Times email

Actually, I wasn’t wondering.



If Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built, We’re the PR Agency That HP Built

HP’s decision to cut along the dotted line and create two companies signals the end of an era.

We supported HP’s communications efforts from 1988 to 2002 when the Compaq merger resulted in a game of musical chairs with the PR agencies … and left us standing. To this day, the experience rates as one of the most painful in my professional life.

The loss involved more than just revenue. We had grown up with HP by landing a sliver of the HP business in 1988 – the application support division (ASD) and specifically the transfer of minicomputer documentation from paper to this crazy invention called CD ROM – which kept growing and growing.

And we kept learning and learning.

Up to that point, my business experience consisted of rising to shift leader at Straw Hat Pizza during my college days. Say what you will about the Carly drama and Dilbert-like bloat that came toward the end of our tenure, HP was a damn good role model. For those prepping for a game of HP Trivial Pursuits, the R&D manager for that documentation on CD ROM project was none other than Ann Livermore who later came in second to Carly in the quest for the CEO reins.

I got my first exposure to problem solving when HP’s corporate communications function informed the ASD general manager, Marc Hoff, that he wasn’t allowed to hire me since “I wasn’t sanctioned by corporate.” It’s safe to conclude that the PR stewards at HP weren’t keen to welcome a one-person PR agency which had opened for business two months prior.

“No problem,” replied Hoff. He promptly had his assistant rescope the engagement characterizing me out as a CD ROM consultant who would support communications as opposed to a PR consultant supporting a CD ROM application.

And we were off and running (sorry about the photo below; not easy to find a shot from 20 plus years ago).

HP CD ROM - PR storytelling

One of my all-time favorite quotes was uttered during an HP LaserRom press tour in New York when a journalist asked the HP developer why HP didn’t program the CD ROM application in Windows: “Have you ever tried to write Windows code? It’s like chewing bricks.”

Two years later our HP business consisted of the company’s  entire support business known by the “clever” acronym of WCSO (worldwide customer support organization). The relationship with WCSO definitely shaped our mentality and what I consider to be a healthy zeal to help our clients get more than their fair share of attention. Keep in mind the media gravitated toward HP’s cash cow – the printer business — and to a lesser extent the enterprise servers. We had to scratch and claw to generate interest in the decidedly untrendy area at the time, customer support and services.

Others at HP noticed our work, which led to additional opportunities with storage, software and later servers. In fact, we won a prestigious Silver Anvil for our work launching HP’s miniature disk drive (1.3-inches) in 1993.

 HP’s miniature disk drive

More importantly, we started to seriously hone our business storytelling chops. We brought out the humanity in the Kitty Hawk narrative, piecing together how the team worked out of a dingy trailer away from the HP campus (in Boise) so they could toil without distractions. This was also the time I got the anecdote religion, gaining mileage from snippets on the manufacturing process and showcasing Citizen using its watch-making expertise to drive screws in the disk drive so small they couldn’t be seen by the naked eye.

All the goodness from the HP relationship — revenue, brand cachet and learning — came together in 1996 when we made the decision to build a global footprint. There’s a reason that the mega shops dominate the global PR playing field. It’s very expensive to create a global infrastructure one brick at a time. Thanks to the HP business, we had been accruing a war chest with the idea of tapping it when the right opportunity came along. Two of our vice presidents at the time, Susan Baldwin and Rachel Imison, deserve credit for managing the HP business and making sure the trains ran on a time.

Fast forwarding to today, we’re a 120-person communications consultancy with offices dotting Asia, Europe and the United States that outperforms the big guys.

The 14 years supporting HP made this possible.

Still, saying I wish HP good luck and I wish HP good luck doesn’t have a great ring to it.


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