Before co-founding SEO-PR, Greg Jarboe and Jamie O’Donnell headed public relations firms in Boston and San Francisco, plus corporate communications departments at Lotus and Ziff-Davis.

Jarboe and O’Donnell have more than 40 years of combined experience directing high tech PR firms and managing Internet public relations campaigns. Between them, they have hired, headed and trained dozens of PR agencies in Boston and PR firms in San Francisco. They have also developed a deep understanding of what clients from coast to coast are searching for: Effective public relations that can generate traffic as well as generate publicity.

High Tech Public Relations

Jarboe graduated from the University of Michigan in 1971, attended the University of Edinburgh, and completed all the course work for his Masters at Lesley College. He was a journalist, editor, and newscaster in the 1970s and won two New England Press Association awards. In the early 1980s, he held a variety of PR, marketing communications and public affairs positions at Data General, Sequoia Systems, Stratus Computer, and Wang Laboratories.

O’Donnell graduated from Boston College in 1973, earned a Masters degree from Boston College in 1975 and completed a second Masters degree in communications at Boston University in 1981. Prior to joining Lotus in 1984, he held a variety of PR, marketing communications and public affairs positions at New England Electric, the largest retail electric company in the Northeast. He won two Bell Ringer Awards from the Publicity of Club of Boston.

Jarboe and O’Donnell met each other in 1986 at Lotus Development Corp., when it was the largest independent software company. Jarboe became the company’s 13th Director of Corporate Communications, eight months before Lotus celebrated its fifth anniversary. At the time, O’Donnell was a public relations manager at the company.

After his first month on the job, Jarboe took a very thick clip report to Jim Manzi, President and CEO of Lotus. Manzi took one look at it and said, “If I could deposit these clips in a bank, they’d be worth something. Until you can measure the value of PR in cold, hard cash, don’t waste my time with these reports.” Jarboe says, “I’d never heard it put that bluntly before, but Manzi was right.”

Over the next two years, Jarboe set out to discover the answer to Manzi’s implied question. He re-examined basic assumptions, commissioned proprietary research and conducted pioneering experiments. He did all this while also spending 55 hours a week launching several new products, including Lotus Notes, and winning a Hatch Award for the company’s 1986 annual report to shareholders.

When Jarboe left Lotus in 1988 to become the Director of Marketing for PC Computing, a new magazine being launched by Ziff-Davis, O’Donnell assumed that the quest for PR measurement would come to an end.

Public Relations Firms in San Francisco and Boston

In 1989, O’Donnell left Lotus and Boston to become Vice President of the Enterprise Software practice at Hi Tech Communications in San Francisco. At Hi Tech, a Shandwick Company, he developed and supervised PR programs for leading companies such as Sun Soft, Informix and Borland among many others.

In 1991, after PC Computing was relocated from the Boston area to Foster City, California, William “Bill” Ziff, Jr. called Jarboe and told him to start a PR agency. On April 1, 1991, Jarboe Communications was launched with Ziff-Davis as its first client. Over the next two months, the agency launched magazines for Ziff-Davis in France, Germany, and the U.K., which all broke records for newsstand sales and ads in the premier issues.

Four months later, Ziff-Davis acquired Jarboe Communications and Jarboe became the first Director of Corporate Communications in the company’s 64-year history. He also became a member of both the company’s Leadership Council and Marketing Council. Over the next eight years, he helped launch dozens of new media, including Yahoo! Internet Life, ZDNet, and ZDTV, and worked on the Ziff-Davis initial public offering (IPO) in 1998.

Jarboe also continued the innovative research and experiments that he’d started at Lotus. Using bingo cards and unique 800 numbers, he showed a number of companies how to measure the impact of specific articles on enquiries and sales calls. This prompted Jeffrey Tarter, the editor of Softletter, to dub Jarboe, “the guru of lead tracking.”

In 1994, O’Donnell left Hi Tech Communications to become President and co-founder of the JONA Group, a Bay Area public relations and marketing communications agency. JONA Group provided more than 40 startups as well as established companies with PR and launch programs. Under his leadership, JONA Group grew to a staff of 30 and $3 million in annual billings in less than three years. He counseled CEOs and vice presidents of marketing at market leaders, including Arbor Software, Net Dynamics and Lucent Technologies Worldwide Services Division.

O’Donnell also began to pioneer new forms of online public relations including news releases with embedded URLs that would bring readers back to the client’s web site. This represented the seedling of PR measurement. After distributing a news release to press and web news portals with a trackable URL, O’Donnell was able to tell a client how many website visitors were generated from a press release.

In 1999, O’Donnell sold the JONA Group to his partner and became President and co-founder of IDM Partners, an online direct marketing agency with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He continued to learn and develop new measurement techniques with the online advertising and direct marketing campaigns that IDM conducted for clients.

O’Donnell says, “After a year of applying WebTrends Reporting Series and micro-sites to online campaigns, it became apparent that all online activities could be measured for click-throughs, form fills and eventual new product sales. Greg and I began to envision that public relations, through news releases distributed to online media, could become as measurable and trackable as online ads or opt-in email campaigns.”

Internet Public Relations Campaigns

In 1999, Jarboe left Ziff-Davis to become Vice President of Marketing for WebCT. Among his accomplishments, he helped to triple the company’s installed base, from 700 institutions in 36 countries to 2,172 institutions in 75 countries. He also launched WebCT.com and helped it become one of the Internet sites visited most often by college students. Using IDM Partners, he was also able to cut the cost per visitor in half.

In 2002, after the dot com bubble burst, Jarboe became the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Backbone Media, which provided search engine optimization and other Web marketing services. While there, he increased Backbone Media’s revenues, added new clients, and formed several strategic alliances. He also created a new service, which was initially called internet public relations. One of the first clients to test it was IDM Partners. In addition to being Backbone Media’s top marketing and sales executive, Jarboe also promoted the benefits of integrating SEO and PR. He wrote articles for leading publications and spoke at industry conferences.

Public Relations That Generates Results

In September 2002, Google News was launched. Jarboe and O’Donnell were amazed to see that Google News aggregated headlines from the major press release distribution services right along with more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide. Convinced that they had finally discovered a way to measure PR in cold, hard cash, Jarboe and O’Donnell co-founded SEO-PR in early 2003.

Jarboe says, “SEO-PR had developed a new way to optimize and promote websites that combined search engine optimization and public relations. This offered both clients and agencies the tools and techniques they needed to generate traffic as well as generate publicity and enabled public relations departments and PR agencies to get full credit for their contribution when a company measures its ROI in marketing.”

O’Donnell adds, “Our mission was to help and teach those who direct high tech PR firms and manage Internet public relations campaigns how to optimize their press releases, marketing newsletters and other public relations content. This would improve their search engine ranking when both prospects and the press were actively looking for relevant keywords. Embedding trackable URL’s also meant that companies could measure PR using the same metrics applied to other online marketing programs.”

Early reaction to their approach, on both coasts, was very favorable.

Jeffrey Tarter, Editor of Softletter and a well-known industry analyst, said, “Greg Jarboe always seems to be ahead of the curve whenever there’s a major shift in technology marketing. He’s now figured out a brilliant way to integrate search engine optimization and public relations, creating a powerful strategy for generating leads, building Web traffic, and getting publicity messages in front of potential buyers at exactly the right moment.”

Stuart McFaul, President and Founder of Spiral Group Public Relations, said, “Jamie O’Donnell has a strong reputation in Silicon Valley for insisting that successful PR programs need to address the expressed interests of customers and journalists versus the self interest of a client company. SEO-PR now takes that principle to the age of search engines where customer interests are measured in top key words and phrases.”

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