Luke is head of digital PR and SEO here at TopLine Comms and has been at TopLine from the very beginning – October 2008. He’s a human encyclopedia of all things integrated marketing.
We sat down with Luke to find out more about his experience, his SEO advice for clients, and what he predicts the marketing industry of the future will look like.
We know you’ve been a part of TopLine from the beginning, but how did you get into the PR business?
Luke: I studied English Literature and Language at university, and I liked writing, so PR was a good fit. Plus, journalism doesn’t pay as well. I spent 18 months job hunting; I think I went to over 10 interviews. The problem was that I lacked experience, but I couldn’t get that experience if nobody was prepared to give me a chance. It was the classic chicken and egg situation – how do you get your foot in the door? This really stuck with me, and it’s something we consider when recruiting for entry level jobs – we’ve hired a few people over the years without degrees or experience and they’ve turned out to be excellent.
Eventually, I landed a three-month trial at an agency, which subsequently got extended to six months. The role was split between assisting the PR team and assisting the media training team. The first day they gave me a list of journalists’ names and phone numbers to call, with news of a new data centre storage product. The list included some DIY publications that sold self-storage for the home, an altogether different pitch. “We’re interested in hammers mate”, was the response I got three calls in. I learned an important lesson on day one: there’s no substitute for proper media research.
TopLine launched in 2008. We started as a traditional B2B PR agency, but we quickly realised that times were changing. We had great clients; we were getting great results – but coverage wasn’t enough. So, we started looking for other opportunities, and quickly realised that our PR skills could capably be applied to the worlds of SEO and inbound marketing. Search engine optimisation, in particular, grabbed me – I viewed it as a measurable way to build and maintain a company’s reputation while also helping them sell more. I have a touch of the natural geek about me, so once I got under the hood of Google, it quickly became a core focus.
What is some of the most important advice you can offer a CMO?
Luke: Firstly, I’d say digital PR and SEO have to work in harmony to be effective – one drives the other. Consider consolidating your PR and SEO agencies to avoid one getting in the way of the other, or duplicating efforts.
Secondly – consider the timescales involved. If you need ROI tomorrow, no amount of PR and SEO will do it. But they will win in the longer term, and it’s important to have this conversation regards timescales before you sign the contract.
Finally, if it seems too good to be true, it absolutely is! SEO has a chequered history, because once upon a time you could game the system. A lot has changed since then, and ultimately Google wants the internet to be a better place, so heed their advice. Ask your agency to back up their recommendations with actual statements from Google.
You’ve seen a lot of change over the past decade in the industry, what do you think the future looks like?
Luke: Print may die out completely. Logically, if it isn’t profitable, it will go. I picked up the last ever editions of News of the World, London Lite, and Shortlist to show the grandkids.
Google will continue to monetize search engine results pages in new and monopolistic ways. It’s harder than ever before to tell the difference between ads and organic on mobile, and real estate that didn’t contain adverts is now starting to, which will open up more possibilities for paid marketing. It’s not all doom and gloom though – organic still way outperforms paid search (latest figures form June 2019 show organic gets 45% of the search clicks and the ads a measly 4%) and we have seen organic success in our work with Access Self Storage.
We’re also slowly but surely seeing Google competitors (with a focus on privacy) beginning to grow (e.g. DuckDuckGo).
Microtargeting of persona niches will also increase. There are so many different channels available now, from news on Snapchat to cryptocurrency on TikTok. Behaviours can change drastically based on the platforms and channels—and from experience, those habits tend to stick from generation to generation. The future will see the rise of micro marketing strategies based on really specific age and channel-based personas.