How to use PPC in a PR crisis


When it comes to online reputation management (ORM) there’s no doubt the strong role PPC can play if you need something quick to address a problem. 

Following on from Marcela De Vivo’s recent article on online reputation management here I’ll be sharing with you ways you can combat bad press during times of public relations crises by using PPC as a weapon in your ORM arsenal.

A true story: when a PR crisis hits

Luckily my agency has had only one experience with a client’s brush with bad press over the years. A regional C-level executive at our client’s company made some controversial comments, and as can happen, people took to the internet to learn more by searching for this executive’s name plus the name of their company.

Normally, the company only spends less than $10 per day on branded terms in this region, but by the end of the first day of the PR crisis, we were shocked to see the branded campaign had spent over $300. We had not yet been alerted to the crisis but we reached out to the client immediately to see what could be happening.  


The client didn’t even think to monitor PPC during the event and ultimately decided to ride it out with minor changes to the PPC strategy. However, we did think a lot about the best approach to handle it, and created strategies with the client in how we’d respond in a more prepared way in the future. 

It’s crucial to have a team proactively managing paid search accounts for situations such as these, when the in-house team doesn’t even have paid search on the radar as something to think about during a PR crisis.

Four things to consider when using PPC to combat PR and ORM issues

1) Target new keywords

In the case of the PR kerfuffle just mentioned, this is one area where the client wanted to take action: keywords. We set up campaigns for the executive’s name and added terms like ‘reviews’ and ‘complaints’. We did the same for the company name as well. 

This is an easy way to start claiming some of the space in the search results with positive messaging.

2) Make use of sitelinks

Consider updating the sitelinks strategy for your branded campaigns during a time of crisis. You might link to a web page on the corporate charity program, client testimonials or even a blog post explaining the company’s stance in light of the crisis event.

This type of approach is mainly for branded campaigns, however, if your crisis is a little more severe or longer lasting, you might consider tweaking the sitelinks of other existing campaigns while keeping in mind best practices for relevance and AdWords policies.  

3) Perfect the ad messaging

You might not know the best approach to communicating in a PR crisis yourself, which is why corporations hire public relations teams to handle these types of things. When in doubt, the best first step is to get in touch with internal and external PR teams to get up to speed on the communication plan.

The PR teams should be able to collaborate on the PPC ad messaging, review the proposed ads and so on to ensure it’s a concerted effort across all communication channels. 

4) Don’t forget callouts

As part of your ad messaging, you’ll want to use every feature available to highlight the positive. The callout extensions provide another opportunity to do so. Focus on things like expertise, awards, years in business and so on. It might require a brainstorming session with the client to make sure you’re thinking of everything.

So there you have it, a variety of ways you can take control of your messaging in a very important place online: the search results. I hope you never have to deal with an ORM issue, but with any luck these tips will serve you well if you do. 


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