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How digital PR varies from traditional PR and why you need them both
Traditional Public Relations involves an indirect approach to reaching audiences, utilising staple channels such as television, radio, newspapers and magazines for disseminating news, and managing everything from third-party endorsement, events, reputation management and even handling a crisis. Digital PR engages directly with its audiences and hinges on using digital channels such as websites, social media, and various other online channels to drive brand awareness and simultaneously influence search rankings via SEO and link building initiatives. It’s also very easy to monitor and measure performance because every online interaction leaves a digital footprint that can be tracked and reported on.
While these approaches require different tactics, traditional and digital PR share the same fundamental goals: building brand awareness, promoting services or products while putting together a positive message for relevant audiences. While the ways in which those goals are reached and measured are very different, in today’s fast-moving media landscape, both are combined to achieve maximum impact and heighten the chances of increased sales.
What is traditional PR?
Before the widespread use of digital platforms and social media became endemic in the noughties, the world of public relations was very different. PR practitioners relied heavily on nurturing their media contacts, with journalists at the epicentre of their efforts to obtain favourable coverage for clients.
The success of PR activity was measured according to the number of press releases issued, the amount of coverage and whether that coverage was positive or negative. In addition, to justify the cost of PR, practitioners provided monthly reports detailing the Advertising Value Equivalent of their editorial publicity. This measurement is notoriously unreliable and in recent years declared invalid and should not be used by any self-respecting PR practitioner.
You can find out everything you need to know about how to measure PR performance and ROI in our detailed guide, explaining how AVEs are calculated and what constitutes best practice today.
What is digital PR?
Digital PR is an extension of traditional PR, offering multiple online channels and a vast range of new opportunities to reach and engage with target audiences.
The advent of digital PR started in the mid-noughties and it’s become pivotal to a company’s success in the last decade – particularly in the last five years or so. The launch of new technologies, apps, automation of processes, social media, as well as innovations in products and services have made the digitisation of public relations strategies and tactics an absolute must.
Digitisation means advisers need to know how to build a digital PR strategy, plan, choose tactics and manage campaigns. It also has implications for measurement and evaluation.
To be effective, public relations in business must identify these changes and find out what is driving them so that PR strategies deliver the right content to the right people at the right time.
Practitioners need to stay ahead of the news, where possible, and anticipate what’s coming up. This requires keeping a laser-eye on everything that may affect a client’s operations and being up-to-date with what’s being said about them and their competitors on social media.
What are the differences?
One of the main differences is that digital PRs need to understand Google’s ever-changing algorithms and have a working knowledge of SEO to work effectively alongside SEO specialists, content marketers, and social media experts.
Additionally, a significant difference between online PR and traditional PR is that digital campaigns can be effectively tracked, monitored, and then measured, allowing for transparent reporting that clearly demonstrates the exact value of a campaign.
To create genuinely impactful campaigns, digital PRs draw on a host of internet-based strategies, including link building to support SEO strategies, content marketing, influencer outreach, and social media.
Here are some of the top digital PR tactics that highlight the difference between online PR and traditional PR.
- Quality backlinks drive qualified traffic. Gaining quality backlinks is a tried and tested digital PR strategy that can boost your SEO and forms one of the main differences between online PR and traditional PR. But gaining worthwhile backlinks isn’t easy. You’ll need to publish high quality, informative articles that answer customers’ questions and are of interest to other specialist sites. Obtaining backlinks from relevant and authoritative websites will improve organic search engine rankings. Editorial links are particularly highly valued as they are viewed favourably in the eyes of search engines like Google.
- Creation of content people want to share. Content marketing is a pivotal part of a digital PR campaign. The days of simply advertising your product and then expecting sales to come in have long gone. Today’s savvy consumers have more choice than ever before and brands that can connect with them in a meaningful way are far more likely to succeed. Indeed, content marketing is an important difference when considering traditional PR versus digital PR strategies. It is also vital to understand that in today’s online world podcasts, images and videos have taken on increasing importance as content that people want to share.
- Influencer-led strategies that speak to your audience. A major difference between online PR and traditional PR is the role of the influencer. Finding the right influencer to connect with your target audience is of paramount importance. You’ll need to find an influencer who is passionate about the brand you want to promote and has the knowledge and know-how to authentically showcase it in a way that sparks conversation. Of course, they also need to share the brand’s vision and values.
- Savvy social media that sparks dialogue. Digital PRs are fluent in social media and will be able to work alongside dedicated social media managers to harness the power of these platforms. Through social media, digital PRs can connect with customers and influencers, sparking dialogue and excitement around a brand. Effective social media campaigns have the power to subtly persuade and influence a qualified audience through well-crafted posts, a key area to consider when examining the benefits of traditional PR versus digital PR.
- Search and social media monitoring. In an online world, we have new opportunities to gain insights about our customers through strategies such as social and search listening. By utilising tools such as Google Trends, Google Alerts, web and social analytics as well as customer reviews (and much, much more) you will also be able to understand more about your existing customers to assist in the creation of PR strategies and appropriate tactics to ensure increased customer satisfaction.
How a combination of approaches will help you grow your business
While digital PR is becoming increasingly popular as online media rapidly overtakes traditional print media, it’s vital to understand that there is still a place for traditional PR strategies.
Indeed, it is vital to use traditional PR tactics when required – such as press trips, workshops, seminars (webinars in the digital world) and product launches for select journalists to gain coverage in the right places.
Digital PR can be hugely beneficial to a brand. However, remember that in a digital world, where brands are more transparent than ever, reputational damage can be one click away. The speed of potential bad publicity augments the need for an effective crisis communications plan.
PR is all about maintaining positive relationships with anyone who comes into contact with your company or brand. Done right by a qualified practitioner, you’ll earn positive results for your business including sales growth. This is because PR is about influencing both internal and external stakeholders to say good things about you, your company and its product or services. Creating informative blogs that answer your customers’ pain points help maintain these relationships, and thought leadership pieces will get you noticed as an expert in your field.
Given that a stakeholder is anyone who comes into contact with you at all possible touchpoints, good PR is critical to your financial success.
A combination of traditional and digital public relations will achieve the very best for clients and business owners by building and enhancing its reputation.
How PR augments the marketing function
It is vital to include public relations in marketing strategies. Marketing tends to be focused on promoting and selling a specific product or service, whereas PR is focused on maintaining a positive reputation for a company as a whole.
These two functions need to work together to achieve the best outcomes for clients.
Publicity gained via PR activity is a reliable way to move your company forward in the eyes of consumers.
So, when it comes to creating your marketing strategy, it is crucial to ensure all messaging and tactics align with the best practices used in PR.
Messaging: PR is used to effectively communicate key messages to a diverse public. You will need to identify your target audiences and then tailer the message accordingly so that each takes the desired action. Try using this PR approach when developing messaging for your next marketing campaign.
Customer relationships: A key benefit of having publicity in your communications plan is the ability to develop a more intimate relationship with potential customers. PR helps you interact directly with your target audience, ensuring that the right people are aware of your brand and are interested in it. Developing these relationships, and sparking a dialogue, will not only help you build a strong base of devoted customers, but it will also give you a group of people who will provide you with honest feedback and hold your business accountable.
Positive company image: You must have the tools and know-how to counter any negative social posts, comments and reviews. Using PR in your marketing mix can turn the tide of any potential negative coverage by continually providing positive news stories. A good PR practitioner will be in constant contact with your consumer base and community to showcase the good things you do. Whether it’s creating or participating in a charity campaign, demonstrating your firm’s positive work environment or being an active member of your business community, it is important to leverage publicity to show the world how great your company is for its internal and external stakeholders
External support is more cost-effective
Public relations is about perseverance. It takes time to formulate a strategy that is in line with top-level goals and objectives and then decide on the appropriate tactics. Then there’s the all-important media relations element of the job. This is a time consuming and long term task. Don’t expect results overnight. You will need to spend a long time hiring the right people with the right expertise to focus on traditional and digital PR that fits with your overall marketing strategy. You will then need someone whose job it is to oversee your entire communications strategy full-time.
This can be expensive and take up a great deal of management time. If you are an SME, you will likely save time and money by hiring an external agency. Agencies are adept at working in a flexible and agile way, to fit with your individual needs. Most will be prepared to take on project work, but for a more effective and closer working relationship that provides the very best ROI it is worth hiring a specialist agency on a monthly retainer. The amount you pay will be based on the hours that are needed to fulfil the job in the most beneficial way.
With a PR agency, you can draw on the thinking and inspiration of several people – not just one. In a good agency, these people will be at the peak of their PR game, many of them far more experienced than the person you can afford to employ in-house.
Given the importance of visibility and reputation, it is surprising that some companies are yet to realise the value of public relations – until a crisis hits.
Yet, it is worth considering the extent to which you or your client is vulnerable to misrepresentation, and the consequent reputational damage. This is especially critical in the digital age, when fake news, anonymous online reviews and feedback could damage a brand’s reputation in a click.
Your audience’s attitudes and beliefs have enormous influence over your success. It is therefore critical to have a public relations professional on board to help monitor and control conversations about you and manage your reputation in the marketplace.