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Public Relations (PR) Digital Marketing Technology

So what is 'Digital PR' anyway?

By Emma Carney, Senior SEO manager

Harvest Digital


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February 27, 2017 | 7 min read

Digital PR. It’s one of those phrases that has been buzzing around the industry for some time and if you are unsure what this is exactly, then let me assure you, you're not alone.

Little girl dressed as Wonder Woman.

Digital PR can seem overwhelming to the uninitiated.

There are two main origins of today's ‘Digital PRs’. The former is the traditional publicist. Now let’s stray away from the Ab Fab stereotypes for one moment; these PRs are hardworking opportunists working the phones, pitching their client at every meal, submitting their self-written press releases and articles to every relevant journalist on behalf of their clients.

Traditional PRs have a tendency to be in love with print, but they’re happy to get coverage on websites and deal with social influencers if it benefits their clients. Their craft is traditionally offline, so the digital revolution has been a quick learning curve for the older generation of PRs.

The second set are the scrappy, battle-worn SEOs of 2011’s Penguin update. Those SEOs who have learned the hard way that ‘content is king’ and are also fully aware that they have another 200 ranking factors to consider on top of that kingly content before they really measure a piece of content as successful.

These two types of PRs have become hybrids and followed the creative career path into optimised content strategy, rather than the more technical side of SEO.

Digital PR is where these two skill sets merge into one hybrid role. I personally like to imagine myself as a digital marketing Megazord - combining my knowledge of SEO with the knowledge of PR to help our clients really gain the most from their online coverage.

What is the difference between 'Digital PR' and 'Traditional PR'?

There are a few differences between the two. In reality, one could say that digital PR is just traditional PR expanded and eventually onsite and offsite PR will be covered by the same term.

However, digital coverage is still relatively new and there is a gap missing between the two, this is likely to remain while traditional PR try to catch up to the fast moving world of digital. But I predict the gap will be closed soon.

Traditional PR

Traditional PR covers crisis and reputation management, brand awareness and advocacy as well as brand messaging. Publicists will have a book of valuable contacts such as journalists, products and influencers that they use to push content out. Traditional PRs tend to have a speciality niche, hence why they guard their contacts so closely. These contacts are typically built up over many years.

Do not get drawn in by the Ab Fab comparison, every client and niche is different and the coverage has to adapt to that niche. It’s also key to point out that there are longer lead times for coverage to go live, especially with print publications. So unlike their digital counterparts, they are experts in patience.

Digital PR

Digital PRs take into account their client’s digital stipulations such as differing types of links, e.g. affiliate or tracked, increased number of followers etc., and develop a digital strategy in order to achieve these KPIs using various channels. It is a much more holistic process, where every channel can potentially assist each other when it comes to these goals.

Now, here is where it gets complicated. It’s when you add the SEO element that things get a teeny weeny bit confusing for the traditional types. Digital PRs have to consider Google webmaster guidelines, link quality, and roughly another 200 ranking factors. Sounds easy, right? For a digital native like myself maybe, but a publicist who has worked in the industry for 25 years may just start hyperventilating.

Case in point, I recently partnered with a publicist for a skill exchange and the look on their face at the types of websites that I wanted to get coverage from was of pure horror.

You see Digital PR with SEO doesn’t really care much what the site looks like, but instead, what the Google algorithm thinks of it. Turns out Google prefers many other things before being pleasing to the eye.

Measuring success of Digital PR

Traditional PR has always struggled to attribute its value to a company's bottom line, at least until there is an inevitable crisis for a brand. It’s those times when PR really shows its worth and impact.

Now I am not saying that it isn’t a huge contributor to the overall revenue to a company. What I am saying is it can be hard to quantify the specific impact that a piece of coverage had, as it’s very hard to track broadcast media in the granular and precise way a digital marketer would wish to, and print numbers are estimations on potential audiences or the average number of readers per month, not actual 'eyes on the coverage' numbers.

As we know in the digital world, pretty much everything can, and is, tracked and monitored. So, we are always aware of every placement and measuring the impact so when we come to reporting and invoicing we know that every piece of coverage has added value, because it’s actual value is literally right there in the data.

Can Digital PR be offline?

Or course! Just think of bloggers events, hashtags and brand social tags at award ceremonies, peaks in traffic after a TV/radio advert; basically all things that take the action onto a digital platform can be considered Digital PR. Even the hoi polloi are doing Digital PR, a quick glance at Pinterest will tell you that it is now the on fleek trend to have a hashtag at weddings.

Which of course raises the question, if even the non-marketing people are having a go, why aren’t you? I know, I know. You don’t need, or want another digital marketer whining about some confusing acronyms and other jargony words that mean very little until you get to the bottom line, but this is why I am whining about it. Digital PR impacts your bottom line, big time. Huge. Trust me, I am a PR.

Emma Carney is a senior SEO manager at Harvest Digital.

Public Relations (PR) Digital Marketing Technology

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Harvest Digital

Harvest Digital is a leading performance-based full service digital marketing agency based in the heart of London. Our clients span many different sectors – finance,...

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