PR, SEO, and thought leadership coverage – do marketers really have to pay for the privilege?

A couple years back, we explored how when done right, the great trifecta – PR, SEO, and thought leadership – can reap huge rewards for B2B organizations. In that particular blog, we honed in on the power of backlinks, and the time honored question: To pay or not to pay for the privilege?

Well, two years on, we’re using Forbes Magazine – well actually is the case in point – to delve into what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, and what PR and Marketing pros can do differently to boost those metrics – without costing the earth!

Forbes – blurring the boundaries of pay for play journalism?

So under the lens goes Forbes. Forbes has come in for some heavy scrutiny of late with its 30 under 30 selections, and its choice of independent contributors. Let’s look at why.

Since 1917, Forbes has been known for its business focused, and highly-respected content – but one area unknown to many, is that and Forbes magazine are two different entities. In fact, has very little to do with the official publication, and its articles are mostly written not by editors of the magazine, but by columnists from around the world some of whom pay for the privilege.

Often, these articles are not fact checked, and not modified by Forbes editors. Via the Q&A site Quora, marketers have been found to be dishing out up to $5,000 for a mention.

It’s not the first and it won’t be the last publication to be found blurring the lines between paid and earned media. Marketers themselves are guilty of trying to mix the barrier between “Church and State” – who can forget the “coverage for cash” example that did the rounds on PR & Marketing social media last year? Where one London-based agency was recently outed for offering payment to journalists in exchange for press coverage.

Truth be told, it’s unnecessary if an effective PR program is running at full tilt. One thing is for sure, earned media still carries its weight, way more than pay for play.

At IBA, we’ve secured placement of thought leadership content in the likes of the WSJ,, eWeek, Computer Weekly, TechTarget (the list goes on) without any pay for play – all earned, just using the powerful trifecta – PR, SEO, and thought leadership.

Read on to see how!

One of our most well-read recent strategy blogs was a piece we wrote on the link between PR and SEO – a relationship not all marketers are aware of. In this new blog, IBA decided to delve a little deeper into the SEO benefits of a well-targeted PR campaign and address the topic of backlinking.

The PR and SEO secret is out of the bag, more marketers are beginning to realize the role PR can play in the digital marketing mix. In recent post on the SemRush blog, digital entrepreneur John Hall cites: “In 2021, brands that are adept at both PR and SEO are going to see their rankings increase significantly…Companies that intentionally integrate SEO with their PR will reap huge rewards.”

Ambulance chasing just doesn’t cut the backlink mustard

Forget spending time chasing newsjacking opps that so many traditional PR agencies are now selling to try and make their service “look” more current by simply reacting to running media stories. You’re just ambulance chasing – and no high flying and respected B2B firm builds its brand ambulance chasing – but more on this in an upcoming blog.

Hall continues that, to hit the sweet spot where thought leadership, SEO and PR overlap “you have to publish consistent source content that offers helpful thought leadership. And that content will need to be written in a way that it is optimized for SEO.”

Backlinks embedded into placed (earned) media content help execute this perfect trifecta.

Backlinks paid vs. earned

Most marketers will be familiar with the PESO media model – IBA refresher here if you need it – and how that applies to comms campaigns. The general rule is that earned media carries far more thought leadership quality than paid media and the same can be said when comparing earned vs. paid backlinks.

Google and other search engines have evolved and become wise to “spam” backlinks from black hat SEO techniques. These are cheap links that can be bought in bulk for cents per link. We’ve all seen the emails from mass-mailers claiming they can “feature your domain across 100 sites”.

But the websites these links are housed on usually make no sense at all. Mass backlinking services such as these use link farms or websites that masquerade as news outlets that are never visited by a human, not a human could even fathom the keyword-stuffed content!

Quality links begin with quality content

Consider this from SEO and digital marketing guru Brian Dean on his Backlinko blog when he lists the seven best techniques to generate quality backlinks. Number one, first and foremost – become a source for reporters and bloggers. “If you want to rank on the first page of Google, you need to build backlinks from authority news sites and blogs.” This means white hat links on authoritative source sites.

Sounds easy but this is not a case of waving a credit card and filling the WSJ with a sponsored content. We’re back to the PESO model again, we’re talking about engaging directly with journalists to place earned media content in target publications.

By targeting the publications read by your customers and prospects you are firstly building brand awareness through thought leadership, but embed backlinks into that content and you are providing a clear route for your website to be visited by a highly relevant audience.

Add a piece of enticing gated content on that landing page – such as a deep dive industry white paper, market report or informative webinar – and you may even begin to start capturing extremely targeted leads.

PR delivers earned backlink results

With earned media placements, not only do you get the instant route to your website, Google rates highly backlinks on these authoritative domains when ranking your own site in its organic search results. A consistent PR campaign with even a modest budget can generate 3+ bylined placements per month in a particular industry or geography.

Extrapolate this over the course of a year and the SEO benefit to your own website ranking could be huge. Indeed, one of IBA’s enterprise technology clients counted over 250+ web referrals from placed content over the course of a 12-month Pitch&Place campaign.

Next time the paid backlink email comes in, just remember: quality beats quantity – whatever the medium!

Jamie Kightley is Head of Client Services at IBA International.

Leave a comment