Everything you need to know about making the move from Traditional to Digital PR

By Olivia Pearce
8th June 2023

PR is an essential part of any marketing strategy and put simply, the goals of any PR strategy are to increase a brand’s presence. Traditional PR takes a long-established approach to amplifying brand awareness, through various different media forms whereas in contrast, Digital PR focuses specifically on online presence, predominantly centred around organic visibility.

The two practises share many similarities, yet there are also key differences in terms of objectives, approaches and outcomes, resulting in quite the progressive learning curve for anyone looking to make the jump from traditional to Digital PR.  If that’s you – read on to find out more about everything you need to know about making the jump.

Similarities between traditional and Digital PR

First, let’s take a quick look at where the two approaches cross over.

To an extent, both approaches are trying to achieve the same general goal of increased brand awareness and creating a positive reputation through creative media approaches.

Both traditional and Digital PR do this through written and creative media, which means both disciplines will likely have strong experience in everything from creative ideation, writing press releases, curation and execution of media lists right through to being agnostic on PR industry tools, being hugely effective in time management and organisation and ultimately having experience measuring and reporting on the impacts of PR.

This means that, as a traditional PR, the skills that you’ve acquired are highly transferable to Digital PR and vice versa.

Key differences between Traditional and Digital PR

Now we’ve defined what the core similarities are across the two disciplines, its time to take a look at the key differences.

Traditional vs Digital PR goals

Traditional PR is designed to be more of a direct approach to a brand’s self-promotion, aiming to gain coverage in above the line press (ATL), including print newspapers and magazines alongside radio, TV and podcasts. Often traditional PR is rooted in targeting the consumer directly through real-world channels, though more recently traditional PR strategies can be seen expanding to include some online targets too – for example social media or online press coverage.

That said, traditional PRs typically  look at online coverage as a further means to directly increase general awareness and share of voice within a target audience group, also considering metrics such as increased traffic or direct sales.

In contrast, Digital PR looks to specifically acquire online coverage as part of an organic strategy, combining technical SEO, content and Digital PR to improve online visibility. Digital PR’s too will measure wider impact on awareness, traffic and sales direct from coverage, but these metrics are often secondary to the direct organic impact that a Digital PR strategy can have.

Strategies and Approaches

When it comes to implementing strategies, Traditional PR  often utilises more tried and tested  tactics  which can include; calling journalists, traditional press releases, trade shows and interviews.

For example, I previously worked in traditional PR before making the jump to Digital PR, and my traditional role saw me support on store openings, brand launches and brand initiatives and events, gaining coverage and awareness of such activities for the brand.

Traditional PR can also see more of a hands-on approach for content curation, for example supporting a brand on video or photo content to be used across campaigns and platforms.

In contrast, Digital PR approaches to press are  quite different, in that they require a more subtle approach to client promotion. There’s also a bit of an unwritten rule for how Digital PRs work with journalists  safe to say in Digital PR I would absolutely never ring up a journalist!

Where traditional PR can sometimes work in tandem with events teams, Digital PR works hand-in-hand with SEO, working to improve organic rankings and online engagement.

One of the biggest buzzwords in Digital PR is “links”, and its something that as a traditional PR I had little awareness of the importance of. Aiming to secure  good quality backlinks is  a key part of an organic strategy, and its often down to Digital PR to devise strategies and campaigns that can make that happen, whilst also supporting other factors such as widening brand awareness at the same time.

Reporting

The final significant difference is the way reporting is structured.

Traditional PR has been historically seen as  difficult to report on, as the common KPIs (volume of coverage, circulation, reach and share of voice) are often difficult to quantify.

The impact of Digital PR, however, can be measured very clearly with easily understood results. This can include everything from more vanity-style metrics, the likes of volume of links and online circulation/reach, right through to more key, impactful metrics such as the direction and strength of links, relevancy of coverage and topic, referral traffic and conversions, social media impact and of course, organic impact against target pages and keywords.

To summarise, there is a lot of crossover in the skills needed to be able to execute both traditional and Digital PR. In both disciplines strong writing skills are an absolute necessity, as are creative skills in being able to formulate approaches that will catch the eye of a target, whether that’s directly the customer, or a journalist. That said, traditional and Digital PR are also two very different channels with different measurables and approaches, with each having their own place, depending on a brand’s objectives.

For me, making the move from traditional to Digital PR really showcased the value of what we do. There are so many skills I learned in traditional PR that transferred into the world of digital and gave me a unique perspective on some of motives for our strategies. Suddenly seeing the clear and quantifiable results that come with Digital PR also really helped me to see the impact that such work can have on a brand’s success.

If you want to learn more about a career in Digital PR, follow us on LinkedIn for more insights and get in touch if you’re interested in exploring a new role.

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