Domino’s Pizza Retrospective: Why PR Must Own the “Google Top Ten” in Today’s Era of Online Reputation Management

This piece was written by David Goldman and originally appeared in the Daily Dog on April 27, 2009.

PR firms are responsible for their client or company’s reputations. Similar to the Domino’s fiasco, if a negative video or blog reaches into the top ten of Google search results for a client’s brand name, it’s called a “PR problem.” So why aren’t PR firms called on more often to fix the problem with their client’s online reputation?

One answer is that most people assume that Google search results are like the weather. We have the tools to measure them and possibly predict them, but we can’t change them. Fortunately, the situation isn’t that bad. Experienced online reputation management (ORM) firms working in tandem with PR firms can control a client’s search profile. The best way to get rid of negative results on Google is to take control of your reputation online. Another answer is that online reputation management should belong to the client’s SEO firm. This is a missed opportunity for PR and oftentimes untrue.

Progressive agencies are taking ORM seriously, partnering with firms or making internal hires to accommodate the growing need for bridging their traditional and even online efforts to ORM services. They realize that PR firms are competing with SEO companies to provide these services and understand the strategic as well as the financial sense in getting there first. Agencies should understand that they are often creating the message and image of the brand while SEO firms are technology people.

The Domino’s Case Study—Timely ORM Tips to Consider

Just over a week after the Domino’s “PR Nightmare,” many communications professionals are asking two questions: What can the brand do to salvage its reputation after the fact? And what can we do to prevent our clients from a similar crisis? Here is how our firm would work with Domino’s PR to clean up the mess:

There are at least three things that Domino’s Pizza should be doing now to clean up their online reputation. Although the buzz around the infamous video will continue to wane, the postings and marketing articles about the incident have the potential to linger for months, possibly years, unless the brand takes action. If you’re Domino’s, here’s what you need to do today:

1. Tweet to a stronger presence online. A company that is such an important part of American culture should be actively creating positive buzz online. Domino’s didn’t even have a Twitter account until after the crisis broke.

Pizza Hut recently posted a job offer for a summer intern to work on their Twitter account (see the posting here: That’s the type of planning that helps soften a social media crisis when it arises. With 125,000 employees at their disposal, Domino’s could easily distribute an internal memo advocating that employees open Twitter accounts and post positive comments about the work environment and the company. Twitter is one of the fastest ways to have a positive impact on a brand. Domino’s employees have a real interest in making their brand popular and keeping it strong. This will not only help supplant the negative content from the top search results in time, but help prevent a future crisis as well.

2. Develop and execute a video strategy. Currently, most of the videos that appear on YouTube and video-sharing websites for the keyword “dominos” are not about Domino’s Pizza. Had Domino’s occupied the top ten spots on YouTube for the keyword “dominos,” the effects of a rogue negative video would have been greatly mitigated. There was a lost opportunity as the millions of searchers for the keyword “dominos” could have also been exposed to positive messages from the brand in the form of videos.

In addition, the brand’s TV commercials should be systematically re-posted and optimized so they occupy the top spots for video searches of the word “dominos.” Management should also ask employees to create YouTube videos promoting the brand, empowering the employees to feel like they are part of the solution, not only the problem.

3. Go “deep”—leverage mini-sites. Domino’s probably thought that by having a consumer-focused website and a corporate homepage they had their bases covered. In truth, their web presence is shallow.

Creating mini-sites on a few important topics can garner excellent PR while protecting the brand’s online reputation. Some topics Domino’s could consider for mini-sites: a) Passion for Pizza (The Internet is the perfect medium for expressing the passion you have for your product or service.), b) Domino’s and the Environment (focusing on recycling or other green initiatives), and c) Domino’s Scholarships (or Domino’s Community Projects). Each of these mini-sites can occupy a top spot in the Google results if created and optimized by ORM experts.

The Bigger Picture—Why PR Must Own ORM

All of these suggestions are facets of a full-service online reputation management program. When ideas like these are implemented together with a program of reputation management focused on positive articles and links, a negative situation can be transformed into a reputation-building opportunity.

Although Online Reputation Management (ORM) has existed for several years, today the need for this service is more relevant than ever. It isn’t a question of whether companies need and seek this type of service anymore. The real question is: To whom will they turn?

We have met with many PR firms in the U.S. who offer a “blogging strategy,” creating and maintaining an optimized corporate blog for their clients. While this is an excellent first step, online reputation management requires much more than one well-run blog. These firms often subscribe to outside services in order to track their client’s reputation online, but rarely do they offer a solid measurable solution.

So what is the better model?

Answer: Stop offering blogs and start offering “search profile optimization.” A search profile is essentially what someone sees when they search for your client’s brand or product name; it’s the “Holy Grail of Search;” it’s the Google top ten. Today, there are several ORM firms with whom agencies and consultants can partner—offering a white-label solution to their clients to improve their search profiles. The ORM firm provides charts and graphs that track the progress of their work for the PR firm to merchandise back to the client with their ‘look and feel.’

There are methods (especially for clients who are vulnerable to the “Domino’s Effect”) that can greatly reduce the collateral damage of a scandal before it takes place. By “owning” the Google top ten before a crisis breaks out, PR firms can effectively prevent a catastrophe. On a brand’s marketing team, only the PR firm knows when the bad news is coming. Whether it’s layoffs, a poor earnings report or a discrimination lawsuit, this knowledge can be used to minimize damage to the brand by securing the Google top ten in advance of the negative announcement.

Providing ORM services for clients is a way for PR firms and crisis communications professionals to stay vital to their clients and gives clients another reason to stick with their agencies. In this uncertain economy, every PR professional should be finding new ways to increase revenues and retain their clients. Offering ORM services allows PR firms to do both.