By William Furney, PR & content strategist, Reachology
Reachology’s team of highly specialised PR executives is expanding, and we’re delighted to welcome our newest member, PR supremo Danny Andrews, who lives in Sheffield, England – a place he describes as “full of imperfect people who would mostly do anything for you” and “the best-kept secret in the north”.
Danny’s down-to-earth origins and plain-speaking attitude mean our clients mercifully avoid the kind of gobbledygook jargon so prevalent at other agencies that like to talk big but deliver little. With Danny’s PR skills and no-nonsense approach, our clients understand their campaigns, what the goals are – and what to expect in terms of coverage in top UK and global media.
Here, we talk to our new recruit about his initial interest in this sector, the benefits of a digital PR service for companies and where he sees the digital PR industry heading.
Where did your interest in public relations and, more recently, the digital kind, come from?
I’ve never had an interest in traditional PR really. I’d say I first started to really experience digital marketing once I’d left university. Me and a friend of mine started running club nights in a busy, saturated market. That’s what really first exposed me to being creative and finding ways to connect with people – to stand out.
From there I got into SEO and began to notice digital PR from a different perspective, in terms of how the links could impact rankings. From there I’ve carried both lessons with me and I love the element of there being no real barriers: the data is everywhere; the hooks are everywhere; and it’s really on the individual, and team, to find them and make them work.
There are a million newsworthy stories and angles out there right now, untouched, which would absolutely capture huge media – I find that fascinating.
Do you think it’s a difficult business for someone to get into? What kind of skills do you need to work at a digital PR agency?
Like any industry, it can have its barriers, and you’re starting to find companies asking for a related degree. Generally, though, it’s an industry very much focussed on the individual rather than their titles. The web is accessible to everyone; the tools are accessible to everyone; and so you can test, learn and research what’s going on in the world of digital PR and really hone your ideas before entering the market.
It can take hard work, and you have to be able to handle rejection and remain positive and, really, you have to have an understanding of consumers – both product and news. Though enthusiasm and an attention to detail are two skills which will definitely serve you well as you break into digital PR, and there’s never been a better time.
Is the public relations sector shifting towards digital at a more rapid pace these days, and especially following the pandemic?
I’d say that’s accurate. It was already growing, but I don’t think enough brands took it seriously, especially at the mid-level. The pandemic shut down the shops and starved companies that had been more shy about their online presence having to pivot and take it seriously.
What’s the benefit, for companies, of digital over traditional PR?
I personally think digital PR is hugely advantageous. There’s the opportunity to reach engaged, captive audiences with your message, and each campaign can be split swiftly, and relatively cheaply, into new, fresher angles all the time.
There can be an immediacy to digital PR which you can struggle to find offline. Then, when done properly, there are also the SEO benefits, which can be impactful for rankings – so long-term, you’re adding substantial value to your site.
Look at the decline of traditional media: readerships are down, attention spans are down and peoples heads are looking down at their phones. That’s where the impactful marketing is being done these days – so to me, it isn’t a question of if you should choose digital PR over traditional; it’s purely about when.
In your experience, do you think company owners and executives really understand what digital PR is, or if most just have a kind of general, or vague, idea?
I think there’s a load of confusion about what digital PR is amongst the C-Suite, and that’s because different companies will offer you different things. Not only that, but because digital PR is so far-ranging, there are quite a few benefits, and companies do want different things, depending on size and industry.
It’s an industry-wide “issue”, but really what business owners should understand is that if they want to build audience, brand or if they want to increase the impact of their SEO, digital PR companies can help there.
And again, many firms run link-building campaigns, including with our sister company UK Linkology – how does that differ from digital PR campaigns?
In terms of their aims, they’re largely the same. Most of the work we do is to achieve topically relevant links from respected, authoritative sites. Most link-building agencies would suggest they were doing the same.
Digital PR cuts through better, though. You get access to the bigger publications who don’t entertain traditional “guest posting” methods. You also cut through better on an audience level. You get to control an overall narrative, and expose your business generally to higher traffic, more renowned/trusted websites.
Earned link-building is a big part of digital PR, but there’s no guarantee that if a top-tier – or any – publication picks up a news release or runs with your story they’ll include a link to a client, even if you ask them to link to a client’s survey results, on their blog, for example. Is this frustrating, or is it good to have a mix of links and company or brand mentions?
Any digital PR who tells you it isn’t frustrating is a liar. It’s rage-inducing at times.
That being said, there definitely is value in the mentions and no-follow links a company has. It balances the profile, but not only that there is increasing research that it can actually have impact, which is both interesting and understandable. There’s a lot of bought links in the industry, but people don’t tend to buy “no-follows”; there’s really an argument that they could be deemed more trustworthy, though that’ll be for the future.
What do you say to clients who insist on links from top-tier media that have featured their news or story?
I could say a lot of what I said in the last answer. But I think the question opens up a larger point: clients get blinded by “top-tier” media in general. Us PRs do to an extent as well.
What I’d generally say to a client, before we even launch a campaign, is to remember why we are doing this campaign and, overall, what we are trying to achieve. That will usually involve a lot of excellent niche sites alongside the general media. And it’ll involve a lot of mentions too, over links. The key is to have a strong media list, and making sure you are on the chases.
Google’s latest big algorithm change appeared earlier this year – the helpful content update – and immediately spooked website owners and agencies, who feared they and their clients might suffer a dramatic fall-off in traffic. What has been the result, in your view, and is the update good for digital PR, as it prioritises content for people over search engines?
To be honest, I think Google has a bit of a problem.
It knows its results are becoming a bit weaker, and that’s mostly because of all the rules it has put out in the first place. Everybody chases the algorithm over people, as, being honest, that’s what works. There’s no point having the best piece of content nobody ever saw.
But, yes, it’s definitely an opportunity for digital PR due to the ability to turn compelling data into meaningful, interesting pieces that often shine new information, or a different light, on a topic. Depending on how far Google goes over the next few updates, you might find the market becoming far more about earned, rather than bought, links.
Is digital PR expensive? How much of a budget would you need to devise and kick off a campaign at the lowest level?
On a DIY-level, digital PR can be completely free. It can be picking up on a headline in the news agenda and talking to a journalist.
Agency level? I really don’t think so. You get ideation, assets, pitching, re-pitching, relationship-building, audience-building, SEO boosts, brand recognition. The list goes on and on, and the work that goes into many successful campaigns can be extensive. Often too for successful campaigns, on a per link/coverage basis, it works out extremely cheaply.
Where do you see the digital PR sector heading in the next few years?
I see digital PR moving more into audience- and possibly even keyword-building. Brand search, brand recognition and creating a need within the media are all excellent things for a brand to focus on, and putting time into connecting, on a multiple campaign level, with that audience will be big.
I also see the industry having to be better. No more research commissioned on football by a random bed company – companies will have to be ever more creatives in their own verticals.
Interested in learning more about online PR and how a digital PR campaign can add more value to your company and brands? Schedule a free initial consultation with Reachology now.