Traditional PR vs digital PR – the top 5 differences

By William Furney, PR & content strategist, Reachology

It’s public relations – commonly just called PR – but not as you might know it. It’s the digital, or online, version that some call the evolution of the promotional practice. All kinds of companies are starting to use digital PR as part of their marketing, instead of the traditional form, and there are many added benefits. 

You can hire a digital PR agency to create strategies and campaigns for your company and its brands, or you can give it a go yourself. And because digital PR and SEO go hand-in–hand, you’ll get a big boost to your website too. In this piece, we’ll show you the differences between how PR has always been done and how it has adapted and changed in the digital era. 

Traditional PR vs digital PR: breakdown 

Traditional PRDigital PR
MediaPrint; such as newspapers and magazines; electronic: TV and radio.Online newspapers and other media outlets, blogs, social media.
ContentPress releases; direct pitching of story ideas to journalists.Press releases, articles, infographics, reactive PR, newsjacking, videos, blogging, SEO, influencer and social media marketing, content marketing, online reputation management
Audience and engagementAudience limited to national publication or geographical region; no direct engagement. Global audience and many opportunities for instant engagement, with articles, posts and social media. 
MeasurabilityDifficult to know the exact reach and impact. Breadth of tools show the precise impact, reach and effect. This can even be tailored. 
Cost Typically requires a substantial budget, often running into the tens of thousands. Far lower cost, and can be matched to budgets. Clear and efficient ROI.  

Traditional PR vs digital PR: media

Before the internet arrived, PR was carried out via the only media of the time – newspapers, magazines, radio and television. These are mass media, which has since been on the decline, as digital media increasingly dominates.

It’s impossible to precisely target a mass media audience. It’s a case of casting a message at a particular printed or electronic outlet and hoping for the best, that it will be picked up with a small element of the audience. It’s not efficient. 

The internet, on the other hand, opens up a vast media ecosystem with endless possibilities for companies – or their digital PR agency – to get their message out to highly targeted audiences. Common channels for digital PR campaigns are:

  • News websites
  • Magazine and lifestyle websites
  • News agencies 
  • Press release distribution and syndication 
  • Blogs
  • Social media, including Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook
  • Groups on messengers like Slack and WhatsApp
  • Email 

Traditional PR vs digital PR: content

Really all that traditional PR practitioners can do in terms of creating content is to write a press release and send it to the newspapers or broadcast stations. That’s about it. And there’s no control over the message and what happens to it, because you’re at the mercy of journalists and how they might shape it.  

But digital PR services incorporate a wide range of content creation to match all the various media and platforms on the internet. And you, often, are the master of your brand message, because if you’re publishing something on your blog, social media or elsewhere, it’s all up to you. 

Unlike with digital, producing printed newspaper articles is a lengthy and cumbersome process, and papers soon end up in the bin while online articles last for years if not forever.

A digital PR campaign also incorporates SEO – a vital element for websites – whereas traditional PR has little or nothing to do with SEO. So along with articles mentioning your company and brands published in some of the top news and other websites, you also get backlinks to your website – this is not, however, a guarantee of links, and don’t panic if you don’t get them. These links, and mentions, will make your website more visible online and increase your traffic and, potentially, customers and sales too. What’s more, you can even tailor your/your client’s website to ensure that the link equity you have secured diverts to the right areas and is trackable.

Don’t forget that all those digital articles will be around for a long time, constantly delivering benefits to your company, whereas printed media has a fleeting lifespan and TV and radio broadcasts are over in a flash. 

When devising digital PR campaigns, you can consider content including: 

Traditional PR vs digital PR: audience and engagement

Old media is mostly limited to specific geographic areas, like big towns, cities and countries. Digital media is global, and immediate – there’s no waiting around for print and broadcast production and deadlines before the piece is published or finally airs. 

And there’s almost no direct engagement with traditional media and old-world PR, unless you feel like writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper or phoning up your radio or TV station during a live broadcast, which few people do.

In stark contrast, online articles, blogs and social media have thriving conversations going with readers. Comment features allow everyone direct access to allow their views to be heard, which is an invaluable way to get people talking about your brand and enhance its reputation and value. Online coverage through digital PR also ensures greater shareability through social media and other channels, maximising your coverage beyond the URL location of your coverage. 

People commenting on an article in The Times online about the affordability of electric cars. 

Traditional PR vs digital PR: measurability 

Again, it’s like chalk and cheese. 

You may have pitched traditional-media journalists your story and they ran with it, but how do you know who has seen it and what the effect is? You can be sure some people have, although you won’t know exactly who or what segment of the market that’s applicable to your industry. 

Google Analytics gives a rich view of many vital digital PR campaign metrics. 

Digital PR, on the other hand, allows you a detailed look into your audiences, using various tracking and analytical tools, so you’re able to measure how your digital PR campaigns are performing and to adjust them accordingly, if they’re going off-track. At the end of a campaign, you can tot up the results and what you’ve achieved. You’ll want to look at:

  • The number of published articles and any links they may contain (if no links, you can ask the journalist to include, although they may decline)
  • What type of links are in the articlefollow or no-follow. A mix of both is generally good, to show a healthy backlink profile to Google. 
  • Mentions but no links. Brand mentions alone, without links to your website, can be just as important for SEO, as Google sees your company name and/or your brands being talked about. 
  • Traffic to your website since the campaign began and articles started appearing — it should have gone up. 
  • How your target keywords are ranking. With a successful digital PR campaign, they will rank higher. Bear in mind, however, that it may not happen immediately, as it can take a while for improvements to appear — up to a few months in some cases.
  • Social media — are there more shares and people talking about you?

Traditional PR vs digital PR: cost

Corporations and other large enterprises, as well as organisations and governments, have typically used traditional PR because they have big budgets. Much smaller companies generally don’t have the funds for such a hefty outlay; they simply can’t afford it. We’re talking about budgets running into the tens or hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds – especially if using offline media channels in tandem.

Digital PR opens the doors to everyone, no matter how small, because you can get a digital PR campaign devised and underway for relatively small amounts, and with the added benefits, you’ll be getting more bang for your buck. The key to making it successful and getting the most from your spend is the expertise required to implement it. 

Digital PR requires not just expertise in several areas, including journalism and SEO, but also nuances in the methods that sit around these key pillars. Pitching in the right way, creating the right content for the right goals and knowing how to measure the results are just some of the skills required to run a digital PR campaign. If you don’t have the skills, you should appoint a digital PR agency and its expert staff. 

Traditional PR vs digital PR: overall winner

We think, and we’re sure you agree, that digital PR is the hands-down winner over the traditional form – there are so many clear advantages and undeniable benefits. 

Digital PR gives you access to a wide media landscape, allows you to create all sorts of compelling content that will interest people, gives you local as well as global audiences, enables highly accurate measurability and is much less expensive than traditional PR.

We are, after all, living in the digital era. 

If you’re thinking of switching from traditional to digital PR and are looking for top-notch digital PR services, you can have a free initial consultation with the experts at Reachology — book yours now

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