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Public Relations (PR) Marketing

Copycat PR campaigns are making brands forget their own audiences

By David White, Founder and content marketing director



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January 11, 2024 | 7 min read

Connective3’s David White calls out an increasingly popular dark art in the world of digital PR: copycat campaigns, with no relevance to a brand’s customers.

An imposter behind a dramatic mask

Copycat PR campaigns: short-term benefit and long-term damage? / Sander Sammy via Unsplash

Back in 2012, digital PR consisted of spamming the web and trying to build as many backlinks as possible, often through fishy and paid-for tactics.

Thankfully, the industry realized that these links and articles drove little to no engagement and never reached their target audience. Google also became aware that these articles were placed there to manipulate their search results, and the industry was forced to change how digital PR campaigns were created.

As a result, we’re now seeing more brands investing in digital PR. That’s a good thing: using digital media, we can measure business impact much better than with traditional PR. But that investment has a dark side: the copycat campaign.

The emerging trend of copycat PR campaigns

Does it sit right with you when brands create irrelevant campaigns that are off-brand, simply to jump on a PR trend?

Welcome to the world of copycat PR: a place where brands see a campaign style working, and immediately copy it in the hope of gaining the same results.

The sad truth is that these copycat campaigns often work and land big coverage, driving top-tier links back to the website. I’m fine with that if the subject is relevant to the brand. What I’m not sure about is when brands create this type of content solely for links, sacrificing relevance and risking not reaching their target audience.

A clothing brand, for example, could create a PR index showcasing the best places to buy rare Prime energy drinks in the UK. Would it get media pickup? Most likely. Would it? drive big links? Most likely. But would it reach your target audience or pass on SEO value? No.

The relevance to the brand is simply not there. Too often, we see brands copying PR tactics and losing sight of what they’re trying to achieve (presumably: organic visibility, sales, traffic, etc).

Relevance, relevance, relevance

Instead of copying what’s working for other brands, the question should become instead: how do you create digital PR campaigns that will get in front of your target audience and drive relevant backlinks?

The answer, in part, is social listening.

Social listening tools allow you to input your brand, social channels, competitors, and relevant topics into their system to reveal findings like: who is engaging with these topics the most? Who is influential in that space? What other topics are they engaging with? And, what do they read online?

Of the million social listening tools available, my recommendations are Meltwater, Brandwatch, Pulsar, and Youscan.

These tools allow us to see exactly who our audience is, what they like and dislike, and where they go to answer their questions.

This data is critical to creating relevant campaigns. By knowing the answer to the above, we can create campaigns our audiences want to read, and target journalists we know they listen to.

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Using social listening to drive relevance

Here’s an example of social listening-empowered digital PR in action. I’ve recently used Brandwatch to reveal insights into the second-hand car market in the UK.

I am searching editorial channels, social media, reviews, and forums for people searching for ‘used’ and ‘used and approved cars’. Instantly, the tool allows me to see the car brands that are talked about the most, in a bar chart. With that, we can see where we should focus our efforts.

You can also dig deeper into data for specific brands, and trending subjects relating to them.

The great thing about social listening is that we can explore how people feel about those subjects, quantified in charts and graphs. Social listening helps you understand what people are talking about, what they like, and where they hang out online. This provides insights that could support your PR brainstorm, and allows you to focus on creating relevant campaigns.

How the campaign looks will still require creativity and brainstorming from your PR team/agency. But by starting with who we want to target and with what subject, your campaigns are much more likely to drive better results.

So, next time you run a digital PR campaign, remember that jumping on a trend is great – if it also reaches your audience and is relevant to your brand. If this is ever not the case, you should rethink your approach as any results gained will undoubtedly pass little to no value.

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