December 1, 2021 |

The PR industry has fought its way through some big changes over the past decade. Traditional practices have been challenged as newsroom staff were cut, the rise of clickbait content stole readers’ attention and the high churn rate of journalists made relationship building all the more tricky. Hello digital world.

Trevor Palmer, founder of PR Week 150 recognised, Nottingham-based PR agency, Tank, describes how the industry has embraced the change and found greater relevance.

The PR industry isn’t in a state of flux, it’s in a state of change – a renaissance, albeit a very bland one. The more progressive agencies are doing things differently seeking great results for clients under the new catch all mantle of ‘digital PR’.

The term digital PR takes many forms, with different clients and masters calling and dictating the shots. Agencies are worshipping at different temples now – Google, brand and reputation, with many not worshipping at all and simply rebadging what they’ve been doing forever so as not to be left behind.

Digital PR offerings are ranging from hard core link builders with tight SEO strategy, those focussing on ‘digital coverage’ (online coverage anywhere with no links, social media and message board chatter) and the more usual PR offerings (press, features, awards and crisis). Increasingly now though lots of agencies are beginning to offer all of this – full service digital PR if you like.

So, with the trend being towards everyone becoming digital PR agencies, and the definition of this being as varied as the agencies offering it – what makes the difference? Content. Without launching into some tired ‘content is king’ verse, it’s fairly obvious that worthwhile content is something someone wants to read, publish or share. For PR professionals this has always been the case – it had to be.

If you go back say 15 years there was no social media to speak of, operating in our industry. This means that there was no online mechanism that wasn’t paid for to run any campaign you fancied – say something that wasn’t great, but someone would engage with. So, to get something into a publication, it had to be a genuinely newsworthy creative idea aimed at the print and broadcast media. Anything that smacked of promotion wouldn’t get past the door and you would probably be invited to pay for it like an ad. For any media channel worth being on, the same is sort of true today, but for marketeers the goalposts are enormous with the internet being some infinite encyclopaedia with a thirst for not always the highest integrity (but nonetheless justifiable) content.

So as most PR agencies operating now usually have some people who remember when you couldn’t essentially ‘self-publish’, or perhaps create an infographic to soften the lack of an actual story, it’s easier for them to naturally create stronger content. News sense and the integrity of the story are so ingrained in a lot of them, and thus digital PR is a practice that they naturally suit.

I put myself in this ‘I remember when’ bracket. In the early noughties, my team and I developed a bit a knack for being able to pull huge stories from smaller organisations. We launched a small but controversial fashion brand internationally and helped a local Royal British Legion event appear like the national Poppy Appeal launch, by finding and exploiting the news hooks. We had to settle for a few dozen national press and broadcast pieces across the world, but if it had have happened now, we may have not broken, but given the Internet a headache – not to mention driven thousands of sales for the fashion designer and mass donations for the charity.

Clients of all levels of marketing experience are now coming to us and asking for digital PR – having different levels of understanding of it (usually reflecting its relevance to their sectors). The ones that ask for pure digital PR (leading to improved search performance for key terms) tend to be marketing managers in the consumer, fintech or healthcare sectors who want to be found by people searching for their product category (or pain point it alleviates). The most recent was for a food intolerance company that wanted us to use digital PR as part of their strategy for entering the US market.

Whilst the internet is bloated with content, and the perception might be that it’s harder than ever to make an impact, this is not the case.

The good thing is (and especially for the PR industry) that for the time being at least, most good media platforms recognise content quality, perhaps most importantly Google does too – and even as a factor of the bidding for its ads. So, content with a good news hook, well written and structured with a point of genuine interest or relevance remains the dominant force. This means in will rise quickly above the melee of inferior content. This means that PR companies are still hugely prominent, sought after and relevant to the now mainly digital marketing mix.