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How to change your approach to digital PR for better results in the ‘new normal’

by Laura Hampton

November 5, 2020

Written by Laura Hampton, head of digital PR at Impression.

The global pandemic is something that’s hit businesses in many ways. And while it’s been an overwhelmingly difficult time for us all, the need to adapt, pivot and refocus has reaped positive rewards for those working, and investing, in digital PR.

Specifically, the ramifications of Covid-19 have changed the way the media landscape looks and, as a result, the focus on quality and relevance of content has grown. Furthermore, the need of the businesses investing in PR has, arguably, become more user-centric than ever, noting how PR feeds into the marketing funnel and, ultimately, keeps the pipeline strong for those businesses for whom future sales are as much as consideration as current.

Adapting to the new media landscape

One of the biggest differentiators between successful digital PR and their less successful counterparts is a knowledge of the media landscape. News acumen is an essential characteristic of a PR because, at its very core, the purpose of our discipline is to help the press by giving them content that’s worthy of inclusion in their publications.

That means that, in ‘normal’ times, it was relatively straightforward for a PR to align their campaigns with common holidays like Halloween or Christmas and see a return. The press was, based on historical evidence, highly likely to share content on those key calendar dates and as such, we became used to top Christmas playlists and most Instagrammable Halloween decorations and which celebrity was paid the most for promotion of Black Friday products.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with these kinds of campaigns. But today’s media landscape moves much more quickly and while those trends may still stand true, the shape they take and their prevalence in the news is going to be quite different.

Those investing, or indeed working, in digital PR should expect the festive period as an example to be a different media opportunity than it was pre-pandemic. The nature of the expected lockdown, combined with the weight of a difficult year for us all, means that we shouldn’t expect the same ‘ease’ of coverage that we might previously have enjoyed.

This isn’t just about the Christmas period. The media landscape is adapting to the ‘new normal’ as much as the rest of us and success in placing content will depend on the ability to read those changes and provide content which is going to be useful for journalists and of interest to their audience.

Actionable tip: Invest in PRs who follow the changing media landscape. As a PR, make time every single day to read the news as well as tools such as Response Source and #journorequest on Twitter which will show you the requests journalists are making and the kinds of content they’re looking to use.

Measuring the impact of links

The changing media landscape isn’t the only consideration for digital PRs in this ‘new normal’. Mass coverage in the tabloids might look cool, but the investment that our clients are making in our services is likely to be under scrutiny in the coming months as the economy reflects the impact of the pandemic.

That means we must be showing the impact of the links we earn in terms of the wider digital marketing aspirations of the businesses for whom we work.

Google uses links as a means of quantifying the credibility and therefore rankability of a website. Which means that, for any business with a specific focus or audience, the most relevant websites aren’t those which feature broad topics, like the nationals, but those which have clear authority in the focus or audience areas of the business.

In the ‘new normal’, digital PR strategies need to be assessed not simply on the ‘vanity’ coverage they earn, but the SEO gains they support. Those SEO gains need to be tied to real business goals - rankings for traffic for sales for revenue.

Actionable tip: Ensure every digital PR strategy is underpinned by a solid SEO strategy and defined by the traffic earning potential of the keywords they boost.

PR as a pipeline builder

Relevance of links has always been a key topic of conversation and the benefits of focusing on links from relevant publications may not be easily attributable to specific SEO gain - but they can be tied to pipeline building activity.

For many businesses, the pandemic has been a period of massive uncertainty and continues to be so. In some cases, the virus led to an influx in sales - exercise equipment, home improvement, anything to do with banana bread… it all did well to start with, while industries like travel and office property have suffered. But for every business that continues to operate, keeping a strong pipeline for the future will be integral to growth once we’re out of this period and government support has dried up - and this is somewhere where PR can help.

PR is what we call a top of funnel activity for the most part, meaning it isn’t about placing sales messages and adverts, but exploring topics that relate to the product/service we’re trying to sell in an editorially appropriate way.

A great PR strategy is built on an understanding of the consumer journey. Building campaign topics around those topics which speak to people before they even know they need the product or service, or those which start to address the challenges or problems people face just prior to starting to shop, will benefit the business by attracting people who can viably be expected to move through the conversion funnel (with the right persuasion).

For example, by crafting campaigns which highlight issues that are solved by the product the business is aiming to sell, PRs can attract potential future customers. By integrating that strategy with SEO and paid media, those potential future customers can be retargeted with relevant messaging that moves them further down the path to conversion.

Actionable tip: Invest time in researching, defining and documenting the customer journey and craft PR strategies which speak to people at some point in that journey. Tools such as Google Analytics can be useful here, as can simple techniques such as speaking to your sales and customer service teams or - and here’s the biggie! - your actual customers. Find out what problems your product/service answers for them as use that as a springboard for your ideation.

Digital PR in 2020 and beyond

Digital PR, like all disciplines, has been hit by the pandemic and it’s forced us all to reflect on the way we work and the strategies we employ. But while in many ways the pandemic has been completely catastrophic, the positives we can take in terms of refocusing our PR efforts on measurable gains and broader benefits will underpin our re-growth in the coming year.

If you’re looking for help with your digital PR strategies, or want to know how and where to invest your budgets in 2021 and beyond, get in touch with the team at Impression.


Digital PR