Digital PR in the Gemini era

Hannah McIntosh

Hannah McIntosh

Digital PR Director

13th June 2024

~ 12 min read

It’s been quite the rollercoaster ride for the SEO industry recently. Where do I begin? The ‘rocky’ rollout of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Overviews? The unprecedented Google Documentation Leak? Never a dull moment for us ‘content goblins’. 

In this article, I break down my thoughts on five key digital PR considerations as we enter the new era of search and in light of the recent leak rumblings, alongside juicy opinions from Croudie Digital PR experts, Erica Vonderwall,  Iona Townsley and Tanya Oates.

But first, I’ll share my tuppence worth on recent significant industry moments.  

Right now, we are entering the new era of Gemini. Which means saying farewell to the old King Of Search as we know it and adjusting to its new makeover. Whilst Google has spent a long time cooking this up in the background, teething problems have already been reported on left, right, and centre in AI Overview’s infancy. Talya Minsberg’s recent NY Times feature is a particularly hot take on its damaging answers to health questions. A rock a day keeps the doctor away, right? A PR nightmare. 

However, despite its imperfection, I agree with this statement from BrightEdge Founder, Jim Yu, this week: 

“Big picture is that the AI moment in search is inevitable, and I think it’s going to get much better”. 

We have seen wild advancements in AI technology in such a short period of time and whilst nobody has a crystal ball, we should anticipate that AI Overviews is here to stay, for now.  

Alongside navigating the new and reimagined search experience, another Google reveal, though accidental, sent shockwaves across the industry last week. A Google Leak. The first leak of internal documentation for Google Search’s Content Warehouse API. 

After 32 hours of crickets, Google confirmed the leak, but have urged taking the data with a grain of salt: 

“We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information. We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors that our systems weigh, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from manipulation.”

The aftermath of the leak has been noisy. However, for link acquisition specifically, analysis from Michael King and Rand Fishkin have been digestible and interesting in my opinion. Weigh-in from James Brockback and Liv Day on specific takeaways for digital PRin light of the leak, is also an insightful interpretation and provides a great deal of food for thought. For example, hints at the importance of fresh high-quality links from credible sites, links from sites in the same country strengthening relevancy, and links from traffic-driving pages holding more weight. 

This inflection point in SEO has inspired me to wade in with my thoughts on shifts within the digital PR space. Plus King’s recent comment: “Look at that, I just made digital PR cool again”. Hasn’t it always been? 😉

Diversifying the media mix to expand your storytelling

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that AI Overviews is troubling the online journalism industry. From a wider media lens, news site owners have been going through it. The September 2023 Helpful Content Update, as investigated by Lily Rae, caused a significant traffic drop for many news sites, hitting independent publishers particularly hard. 

Adding more salt to the wound, we now have AI suggestions in the search engine results pages (SERPs) stealing traffic away from longstanding, authoritative news sites which have worked tirelessly to build up content credibility overtime. For more context on this, I’d highly recommend following Lily Ray’s X threads on the topic, who continues to shine a spotlight on how these changes are impacting site owners. 

Source: @lilyraynyc | X

Founder of Search-First PR Consultancy, Heroine, Editor of The Grapevine and Croudie, Iona Townsley adds: “AI Overviews has been met with such severe backlash, from both those in the SEO community and everyday Google users, that I don’t think it will stay in its current form. However, I also don’t think they’ll get rid of it entirely.”

So, how should we prepare for this within the digital PR industry? 

We are still in the great unknown. However, I feel more than ever that storytelling should be designed to appeal to multiple media channels. Keeping on the pulse with media consumption at market level is paramount. According to the latest State Of Media Report, news sites are planning to be more active on Instagram (44%), X (24%) and TikTok (21%), with journalists sharing that adapting to changing media consumption is a major challenge. 

I think it’s a critical time to integrate brand-building strategies across a holistic media mix. Think outside of the box on what ‘golden coverage’ looks like and consider blending innovative strategies which will reach your target audiences, including:

  • Crafting stories for dominant social channels 
  • Influencer and creator collaborations 
  • Email marketing amplification 
  • Broadcast media opportunities
Source: Search Engine Land

Iona also discusses the value of relevancy in media targeting: “Google particularly tags and particularly likes links from “newsy, high quality” sites. Although, targeting more niche and hyper-relevant sites does absolute wonders, especially if you’re a larger brand battling for the top few rankings. 

“Gaining links from sites like the BBC, New York Times and The Telegraph is likely to still benefit the overall ranking of your website greatly. The only people who are likely to see this as new news are the ones who were engaging in grey hat link-building tactics in the first place.”

Relevancy will continue to be king in winning over journos

This one isn’t groundbreaking. Across the digital PR community, awareness continues to increase around the importance of relevancy over virality. I’ve taken this stance across the brands I’ve worked with for some time, stressing the positive outcome of a high-quality, relevant coverage hit, though we still encounter the hangover of link volume expectations. 

Industry takeaways on the recent Google Leak have also underlined the importance of relevant links. This includes the interpretation that links included in content that have nothing to do with the topic, may actually be ignored by Google! Further digging into the documentation leak from Liv Day also suggests that earning links in the same country as your client may be more valuable.

Source: Cision’s State Of the Media Report

From my perspective, relevancy should be at the heart of PR planning as we approach the search shake-up. I see relevance in the digital PR context being two-fold: campaign connection to client, and campaign connection to media. 

Campaign connection to client  

  • Ideation: brainstorm angles which strike a balance between aligning with your client’s brand vision and themes, which will drive resonation amongst its audiences. 
  • Tactics: select tactics or ‘formats’, which make sense within your client’s industry.
  • Media selection: identify a media mix which aligns with your client’s brand vision, audiences and market(s). Don’t be afraid to challenge outdated viewpoints on media selection - as media consumption evolves, so should your media targeting.
  • Creator selection: foster creator collaborations which align with your client’s brand vision and audiences. These can double up to unlock new audiences across social.

Campaign connection to media 

  • Journalist selection: the number one journalist request to PR professionals is to pitch relevant content. Investing time in contact sourcing is incredibly worthwhile to ensure client stories are landing in the right inboxes. It’s a task and a half to keep up with journo moves, but media database tools such as Roxhill are a godsend. 
  • Tactics: implementing an intuitive approach to individual journalist needs: are they a fan of a ‘lived experience’ case study? Will they likely request an expert viewpoint? 
  • Assets: across asset creation, from video content to infographics, heavily-branded content can affect journalist interest and approaching creation with a specific vertical in mind e.g national tabloid, can support boosting relevance.

Iona Townsley adds: “I think every time we receive new information from Google (leaked or otherwise) we’re told time and time again the value of digital PR. This leak in particular has cemented a lot that digital PRs were saying anyway.” 

“The content that you promote to other sites should be relevant to what you naturally talk about on your own site. Relevancy is one of the most important factors in coming up with a campaign or story, and Google will likely demote the link if it doesn’t deem the content to be relevant enough. I personally don’t think this is awfully hard to do. 

“I’ve always said if the campaign doesn’t look like it would naturally appear in the blog section of your website, it probably isn’t relevant enough.

Building a consistent media drumbeat with agile tactics

Digital PR is a long game. Brand-building miracles don’t happen overnight. Across the digital PR industry, we’ve seen the rise and fall of campaign tactics and right now, agile techniques are the new way forward. Reactive and proactive PR specifically. 

From an SEO perspective, building a regular drumbeat with media through storytelling helps to develop healthy link velocity to a website. On the point of link velocity, the Google Leak has also hinted that the freshness of high-quality links is important for rankings. As Ann Smarty discusses on Medium, this isn’t a new revelation but provides further backing. 

The long-game vision will ramp up in importance as we enter the Gemini era. This includes designing strategies which consider credible PR tactics that get results across a range of different channels, which will support publishers to hold fast in the SERPs: 

  • Reactive PR, including expert viewpoints, ‘lived experience’ stories and rich data
  • Proactive PR planning to keep your clients ahead of the curve on calendar moments
  • Data-driven campaigns 
  • Product PR creativity 
  • Topical ‘hero’ campaigns 

Freelance Digital PR Specialist, Creator of Colourful Comms and Croudie, Erica Vonderwall agrees, adding: “I’ve long done away with too much planned activity for my clients in favour of a more fluid and adaptable strategy that allows for the agility the current media landscape calls for.

“I plan around media-friendly awareness days and holidays, while updating previous campaigns with current data and new expert comments to ensure they remain relevant so that when I see a request come in, or a new trend go viral, our expert comments are ready to go alongside strong data and insights.

“Where I used to work on pitching one strong campaign every month, constantly updating angles to try and make a square peg fit a round hole, I now just make sure I’ve got lots of round-fitting stories ready to go when needed. Some months I’ll have pitched eight different stories based on various requests or new trends, which just means so much more opportunity to earn coverage and build relevant links.”

Crafting stories which help publishers maintain credibility

Earlier this year, trust in the media saw a major drop worldwide. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer underlined how trust declined across 15 countries, particularly a large drop in the UK. Last year, over a quarter (27%) of journalists worldwide stated that “maintaining credibility and combating fake news” was the biggest challenge within online journalism. 

Within the new AI world, there’s already been a rise of misinformation sweeping the internet. This is particularly worrying within the current affairs realm. For example, last week the BBC reported on fake AI-generated videos featuring party leaderson TikTok as the general election coverage ramps up. 

I feel PR specialists have a major role to play in supporting publishers to rebuild trust. Enter the importance of curating expert voices. We understand that Google has placed great importance on expert input within content and this should connect back to our PR stories too. Curating ‘expert banks’ and pitching credible viewpoints will continue to be valuable. 

Source: Press Gazette, BBC, The Guardian, The Economist and NBC News

Across the PR community, we’ve all seen data-driven campaigns perform which have a woolly foundation, but credible data analysis which goes the extra mile is everything - from index ranking analysis utilising public data sets to pitching clients’ own data insights to contribute to a topic. 

Freelance PR consultant, Tanya Oates at Tanya Marie PR, and Croudie, says: "Accessing the news is easier than it ever has been, especially with the rise and development of TikTok now being used as a key search engine. This is something we've been talking about for years so we're not necessarily saying anything new here. What is new is the development of AI-generated content. Inevitably, the development of AI content has led to a rise in fake news, making it harder than ever for consumers to distinguish between what is 'real' and 'fake' news. 

“PR definitely has an important role to play in supporting publishers to build trust within the media. Having an authoritative brand voice is one of the most effective and valuable tactics you can utilise in your PR strategy. Brand expertise can be used to add authority to campaigns, to share unique insight for reactive and newsjacking opportunities and to create and shape topical and trend-led stories relating to your industry. Most importantly, journalists are looking for insightful and relevant expertise more than ever before to add credibility to their content.

"Almost every brand or organisation will have an expert in-house who can offer useful insight. For example, this could be a product specialist or merchandiser, a medical or wellbeing expert, a technical specialist or a travel expert, depending on the industry of course. As a PR, I'd always recommend getting to know your client's organisational set up as soon as possible so you can understand the type of expertise available within the business and how this could be used as part of your PR strategy.

Source: Cision’s State Of the Media Report

"For brands that don't have a relevant expert within the business, it could be a good idea to onboard an external expert to act as a brand ambassador. This is a tactic I've implemented across a number of clients in the past in various industries, from interior designers to dog behaviourists. Having someone on hand to offer expertise quickly and efficiently, whether it's for a reactive media opportunity or to form expert-led campaigns and stories, is proving to be one of the most successful PR tactics right now. It also enables you to create a flexible and nimble strategy that can be tailored to the media agenda."

Classy clickbait should be part of your PR strategy

I’m aware that going from the topic of media credibility to now referencing clickbait is highly contrasting. But note my use of classy

Poorly executed clickbait rightfully has a bad reputation. But can clickbait be done right? Absolutely. Two further major nuggets from the Google leak on links: links that are clicked are apparently the “best” and the more the link makes a visual statement, the better. 

As AI snippets continue to infiltrate the SERPs, clickbait within online journalism will remain and will continue to get craftier. Over half of journalists are already bringing AI into the newsroom too, particularly for supporting research and brainstorming story angles. 

But, how does one put classy clickbait into practice? In a nutshell, ensuring pitch headlines reflect the content and provide the reader with what it says on the tin. A classy clickbait formula should consider headlines which match the article contents and the user experience, highlighting the information upfront within the article to avoid frustrating the reader. Across the majority of digital PR formats, crafting click-bait headlines will continue to enhance pitch cut-through.

Key takeaways

Now to wrap-up. As we transition into the great unknown of the Gemini era, I think it’s a pivotal point for the digital PR community to continue being as innovative and resilient as ever. The company we keep in this industry inspires me all the time and I’m looking ahead with optimism. 

Key considerations for this strategic shift: 

  • Diversifying outreach targeting, particularly moving away from news sites always being the pinnacle. 
  • Thinking about storytelling placement holistically and adapting to show up where audiences are spending time is probably my biggest takeaway. 
  • Crafting campaigns which are steeped in relevance from the outset, along with conducting reactive tactics to build a media drumbeat will be increasingly important. 
  • Under the umbrella of PR tactics, reactive strategies which can help rebuild media trust, such as thought leadership and data-driven campaigns, will be very much here to stay. 
  • And finally, clickbait isn’t going anywhere, but let’s keep it classy. 

Remember that PR professionals have been adjusting since the dawn of time. From its origins in Ancient Greece to its official beginnings in the second half of the 20th century, PR has continuously evolved and particularly within the digital age. So, let’s see what this new evolution for the industry brings! 

If you have any questions for our PR experts on what’s been discussed, or your wider PR strategy, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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