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New PR reality: Link over ink

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For years, media relations professionals have struggled with the question of whether coverage in prominent print publications is worth more than online mentions. Clients and executives mumble “That's nice” about a Web link but get excited about a reference in their daily Wall Street Journal. Now the rules have changed. It's time to embrace the new reality: Online results are now unquestionably more important than print PR success. Let me demonstrate with a personal anecdote. In January, one of my blogs benefited from references from two prominent media bloggers—Jeff Jarvis and Tim Windsor—as well as from citations in The Economist and The New Yorker. The first three references provided dramatic and immediate results: In each case, daily visits to my site surged by the hundreds; subscriptions to my RSS feed and newsletter jumped; and daily traffic settled down 10% to 15% above previous levels. More important, one of those links resulted in an inquiry that generated new business. In contrast, the reference in the pages of the venerable New Yorker had no measurable impact on my blog or my business. The difference? There was no link from the New Yorker Web site. Oh, it's likely that there was some lift, but I have no way to tell. There was no discernable change in online activity and no direct inquiries. Compare that to the demonstrable benefit of the links: More subscribers created more repeat traffic. I could see who navigated from the entry page to my “About” profile. Google performance for certain keywords jumped almost immediately. My profile on blog search engine Technorati climbed. The average daily number of comments to my blog doubled in the following weeks. All of these have the potential to create more business over the long term. As the recession settles in to stay, marketers are under unprecedented pressure to measure the results of their every action. Old-line executives are comfortable with print-focused traditional PR because they believe it works and because, well, they read those publications. But as the b-to-b economy rapidly transitions to a network of online relationships, conventional branding techniques are becoming less and less relevant. The emerging link economy drives buyers directly to the destinations that interest them where marketers can take over and guide them to an action. Consider: In the last month, how many times did you search for something you read about in a magazine? Now think about how many times you clicked on a link to something you discovered in an e-mail message or on a Web site. Chances are there's no comparison. Conventional media relations will always have value, but in a marketing discipline that's increasingly driven by metrics, links are what you really want. M
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