How Public Relations Went Digital
Mark Twain is rumored to have advised a friend against picking fights with people who bought ink by the barrel. At the time, around 1900, he may have been right. The printed word, and those who owned the presses, wielded terrifying power.
The media environment today has become digitized, reaching even larger audiences and wielding even greater power and influence. The tools for creating digital content have declined in price and complexity to the point where talented individuals of modest means can quickly turn out a respectable-looking message or publication by themselves – something that would have been unthinkable in the heyday of newspaper and magazine publishing. Even more importantly, the number of channels for distributing information has exploded, become essentially free, and in the case of social media, vastly more accessible both to enterprising publishers and potential audiences.
What this democratization of publishing means is that unlike in Mark Twain’s time, editors, reporters, and broadcasters are no longer the sole gatekeepers in determining whether someone’s news gets out. However, if the digital publishing that today’s technology makes possible is to be used effectively, putting out information, news, and opinion continues to require a combination of technical skill, a clear idea of its intended audience, and the channels through which they can best be reached. These developments have combined to give rise to the idea of “Digital PR.”
Digital PR is predicated on the recognition that today, organizations of every type issue a variety of communications – newsletters, blogs, social posts, images, video, and more – each of which requires a degree of expertise. But more than that, creating content which truly helps the organization to advance its goals requires an overarching strategy. In addition to crafting a compelling storyline along with supporting messages, a Digital PR agency can develop content in a way that reaches the appropriate influencers, at the right time, with the right approach, in the right media, and in ways that support the organization’s marketing efforts. These tactics frequently include securing client media interviews, preparing long-form thought leadership articles for business, trade, and popular publications; developing short-form pieces for blogs, newsletters, and press releases; creating timely social media posts; and exercising proficiency in search engine optimization to make those pieces easier to find online.
An agency’s talents are typically bundled into a combination of strategic counsel, messaging skill, and tactical know-how that optimizes the mix of media needed to engage target audiences in the ways they prefer to be reached. Some of these methods are digital and comparatively new to the PR scene. But others, including building relationships with media decision-makers, pitching editors of high-profile publications with timely story ideas to earn coverage in their media, and presenting ideas best suited to paid media opportunities, are important and continuing parts of the PR legacy.
If your organization is thinking about retaining a Digital PR agency, you’ll first need to perform a bit of due diligence. Ask what experience they have in crafting messages for your company’s industry. Ask for samples of long- and short-form communications they have created. Look at their social media posts. Learn what results those messages have generated. And find out how well they package the resulting publicity for the client’s internal consumption – their own sales personnel and other staff members who need to become familiar with their company’s public image and external communications.