A decade ago, there were no “digital” or “traditional” PR agencies, there were only PR agencies.
As time went on, some agencies embraced the opportunities digital had to offer and evolved into full digital agencies. The others were left behind, and became known as “traditional” agencies.
The Evolution of PR
Since the digital revolution, PR has been forced to adapt. Search engines, blogs, forums, and online communication tools have offered fresh ways to gain exposure, leaving the traditional media (offline, TV, radio) trailing behind.
What has remained consistent however, is the need for unique content, which is still the vital component of any successful PR campaign – online or offline.
A traditional PR agency’s focus is on offline visibility, and it mainly involves the distribution of press releases. Press conferences and events usually play a big part too. Traditional PR agencies convey information to a wide audience, without much feedback, and the communication is one-way.
Conventionally, a press release would be no more than five paragraphs long, including key messages and promotional information. It was by far the most popular means of communicating the message. After it was sent, it would be followed up with a phone call, a meeting, or a fax – no emails back then!
In 2015, press releases are no longer the fool proof PR tool. They are too formal and too factual, and many recipients find them invasive and irritating. Editors want informal, fun, engaging, and exciting content; so ultimately, they should be whatever length is required to relay the message.
Blog posts are a natural progression from press releases, generating interest without being considered a sales pitch. The benefit of blogs is their flexibility. There is much more scope when choosing a topic, making it easier to excite and engage the reader. Although not directly promotional, blogging can still result in increased brand recognition.
Life in a PR Office – 20 Years Ago
Transparencies were sent out with the press release. These were usually photographs, the images used to illustrate your pitch. They were very costly and time consuming to produce, and both PR specialists and editors were expected to work on them. Prior to email and Drop Box, they were an unavoidable evil!
Mail Merge used to be a trained skill. This was the process of sending press releases to pre-researched media distributions lists. Learning how to format a letter to properly fit into a window envelope was the key.
Franking Machines were the item to have in any well respected PR office; licking stamps on envelopes was far too time consuming. The daily deadline for letters was 5pm, when a friendly post man came in to collect the bags of post. It was our job to befriend the postman, so as to alleviate his impatience during the days when the 5pm deadline was not met. Rushing late print runs was also an essential skill.
The Post consisted of letters, possibly with windows to save us writing by hand; old-fashioned newsletters; press releases; and company brochures from the sales team – remember, there were no websites!
Floppy Disks were used to copy documents, files, and anything else. Futuristic PR people started to attach them to press packs for exhibitions, trade shows, and press meetings. It made you look good and at pace with the times. Little did we know what was round the corner.
Media Tours were essential if you worked outside of London, home of all the main titles and publishing houses. You had to make it your job to get to know the media personally. Media tours were “the thing” to do, and part of every well planned strategy. Usually they ran across two days, packed with as many press meetings as possible, sometimes up to eight a day: three or four in the morning, and the same in the afternoon. Our job was to run across London carrying press samples and press packs, all tucked inside a wheelie luggage bag. We would meet and greet editors, editorial assistants, and freelancers. This was done on a regular basis to promote upcoming features – and of course, to be seen as the friendly, supportive PR professional.
Media Tour Follow Ups were done after a tour when you were back at your desk. Comprehensive reports were sent out, reminding contacts about our client’s brand, products, and services. Did they like the pitch? Did they like the products? What are they working on? Will they be featuring our clients?
Thanks to social media, in 2015, PR specialists barely need to leave their desk to find out what they want to know about their media contacts.
A digital PR agency focuses on online presence. With the rise of Google and other search engines, it’s their job to ensure that a client’s website ranks highly in online searches. High quality links are needed, as well as optimising the website itself.
PR has been hit by all things digital. Original online marketing strategies relied heavily on the technical knowledge of SEOs, with only small amount of input from creative minds. Yet with the evolution of PR and Google’s ability to understand online content, the time has come for SEO and PR to join forces. As both disciplines demand the need for high quality relevant content, creativity now plays a more vital role.
They say “content is king”, and digital PR agencies are rising to the challenge, creating everything from infographics and quizzes to elaborate interactive content. Social media has the transformed the way that content is spread, and it’s now possible to reach massive audiences at the push of button.
Readership and circulation figures, which dominated traditional PR in the past, have been replaced by unique visitors, Domain Authority, Page Rank, number of followers, number of tweets, and number of likes. Shareabilty is the key in Digital PR. If your content is useful, unique, and engaging, you may find it gets shared and circulated without any extra effort.
So How Has PR Evolved?
- Press releases are being replaced by infographics, blogs, vlogs, video, and in-house interviews.
- PR agencies have adapted to incorporate digital marketing PR activities. If they haven’t, they will soon; if they don’t, they will be out of business soon.
- Results are much harder to measure in traditional PR than they are in Digital PR.
- Digital PR is backed by data, and is therefore more quantifiable, and ROI analysis is more detailed (e.g. views, clicks, shares, and likes.)
- Digital agencies are winning because they understand the online world and its fast development. Companies offering an integrated PR service are well ahead of the game.
- Digital PR is not something you can simply add onto a traditional PR strategy. It is now fundamental to the success of any marketing campaign.
One Final Thought
Digital PR shouldn’t be about mocking the efforts of traditional PR, purely because it’s perceived as an ‘older’ discipline. This is not a competition. As with all the other tools in the marketing box, each has its own purpose. But for increased brand awareness, and high value links, Digital PR is clearly the way forward.