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The Two Faces of PR: Traditional Versus Digital

In the last year, we have seen the two faces of PR battle it out: traditional versus digital. As PRs, we have all asked ourselves whether traditional PR is still relevant in today’s digitally dominated business landscape. From attitude, cost to overall effectiveness; it is clear as day that the traditional forms of PR need to be re-shaped and made relevant to the digital environment.

The bottom line of digital PR

Digital PR directly affects the bottom line of brands. Essentially that is the bottom line of digital PR! Once upon a time, traditional PR had its own department and its own budget. If you worked in that department, you could go weeks without knowing its performance or activity.

Now in 2014, we live in a world where budgets have been cut, departments have merged and the only expansive marketing that exists is the one that affects the bottom line. This is why digital PR has become the weapon of choice in a marketer’s arsenal.

Defining Traditional PR

Traditional PR is like advertising on steroids; it is more influential than advertising, and is multi-faceted in that its purpose executes more than just brand exposure. To give credit where credit is due, it must be said that traditional PR has come a long way. Not only are old schools equipped with informative intelligence, like My Market Monitor and Durrants that analyse and compare, but they are using these tools to make their PR more strategic and streamlined. The outcome is that their plans can mirror a marketing calendar, working in harmony with every brand department they collaborate with. This is not what has made good old fashioned PR a success for years past however.

Traditional PR establishes a bond with journalists and uses them as a soapbox to their title’s audience. Resulting press hits are like an affiliate scheme with no affiliate link! To be clear, traditional PR consolidates strategic planning with relationship building; without these two activities in place, traditional PR would simply not work.

In comparison, most digital marketers come from an SEO background, where content optimisation and link building have replaced the relational aspect of their PR. In this regard, digital marketers will have to change their attitude if they want to achieve the same level of influence as their Traditional PR predecessors; instead of thinking like link builders (a term most of us are all too familiar with!), it is time to start thinking like old school PRs.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]If you can combine the savviness of a digital marketer with the cunning of a traditional PR, you’ll discover a PR goldmine![/inlinetweet]


Digital PR is faster, cost effective – and no budgets for expensive lunches at The Dorchester Hotel are needed. Traditional PR, on the other hand, may be more time consuming but pays off. After all, no great piece of coverage for a brand comes out of thin air!

5 Lessons Digital Marketers can learn from Traditional PRs: 

1)    Change your mindset

It comes as no surprise that traditional PRs are great at their job; it’s their bread and butter. Digital marketers and SEOs attempting to be excellent digital PRs can expect to find it difficult however. They will need to take what they know about digital marketing and try and inhabit the mindset of a PR pro to gain their insight on how to execute a campaign. This is vital for digital marketers going forward.

2)    Know your publications


Instead of throwing a press release into the digital wilderness, take time to look at the audience the publications cater for. A publication’s digital audience can be completely different to their offline audience. Look at Grazia for example. Their online audience is younger; they speak more about lower priced products and One Direction’s latest antics. Offline they are seen more as a style and showbiz bible, positioning themselves as a high end glossy to older consumers.

If you look after a brand that serves many purposes or sells a variety of products, do not be short sighted by thinking that only industry-related publications are the people to talk to. You can segment that brand from its services or products and push through different PR stories to different types of titles; by doing this you are making provisions, instead of targeting one industry and hoping for the best.

Knowing your publications means you should know their regular features. A traditional PR always knows what the journalists on their contact list typically feature and will only send them PR that they are likely to feature – making their lives easier. If you can make your PR sell-in relevant, helpful and time efficient, you will be on the journalist’s go-to-list.

3) Be a digital socialite


The difference between digital marketers and traditional PRs is that traditional PRs are social butterflies by nature. They can speak at press events, approach intimidating journalists and sell in a hard story without hesitation.  They can build lifelong relationships in a matter of months, sometimes even weeks.

Digital marketers have developed the bad habits of an introvert: working long hours behind the computer screen, crunching numbers, sending emails and searching for a programme or app that will make their life easier.

4)    No app in the world will build a relationship or transform you into a digital socialite. That is down to you!

Journalists, as a rule, are not tech fanatics; but they know Twitter is the most effective and time efficient way of building and speaking to brands and PRs. By simply following key phrases, implementing hash tags such as #JournoRequest and #PRRequests, you will get noticed more by the right people.

If you can ‘socialise’ with the right contacts, it will make the whole PR task a much easier and efficient one. 

5)    PR is not sales


It is clear that before any digital marketer starts delving into the world of PR, they need to realise that it is miles away from sales. Journalists and, to be frank, anyone aren’t interested in hearing how amazing a brand is, or how a product can ‘benefit’ their website or blog.

I have worked in PR long enough to know that by asking the simple question: “what are you currently working on/ have planned?” can give you so much insight into how to pitch your PR story.

Utilising the same approach that we should be using for content marketing, the mechanism of PR is about building that relationship and selling in that story. We need to be conversation starters above all else.

Before digital marketers start to panic, effective conversations can be had through phone, social or email. As long as you leave the sales pitch at the door and introduce yourself, you will be given a chance to talk about the brands you PR for. As most marketers know all too well, people buy from people.

What digital PR isn’t

Becoming a digital PR shouldn’t be about mimicking or rubbishing traditional PR. Like with everything that is cross platform, each service and tactic serves a purpose. For increased brand search and high value links, digital PR stands out! There is no battle!



Jodie Harris heads up the Digital PR division at MediaVision. She has worked in publication relations since 2008. She specialises in bringing the rules of traditional PR to a digital platform.
  • James Perrin

    Hi Jodie, great post. I think you’re spot on – on the surface of it traditional PR is the complete antitheses of SEO and Digital marketing, but with the ever-changing digital landscape it’s essential that we, as digital marketers, take on more traditional PR skills. It also shows just how multi-skilled digital marketers are, and will need to be in the future. Great post!

  • There are some good points in this article so it’s a shame that there are also so many sweeping statements.

    Not all traditional PRs are great at their job and not all digital marketers are ineffectual, cave dwellers.

    I would also beg to differ on “Journalists, as a rule, are not tech fanatics”

    Perhaps the perspective from my cave is different to yours?