Digital PR

Traditional PR vs. Digital PR: How Digital Has Changed Traditional PR

by Tom Buckland Updated On May 16, 2019

So, we are in the PR territory again.

It’s a wonderful place to be, because – as far as marketing goes – public relations is one area that will never stop throwing up surprises. Just think about every good, bad and ugly thing you’ve ever heard about businesses and brands – PR had a lot to do with many of those.

Public relations campaigns give birth to good stories, and bad stories give birth to more public relations campaigns. If you run a business or you are a marketer and you can see the beauty in this cycle, you’ll never need anyone else to tell you that you need PR.

But PR has been changing. What was a slow and sure change about ten years ago has now turned into a major paradigm shift. In this post, we’re going to discuss how ‘digital’ has transformed the very idea of PR.

Before we go into the details, let’s have a quick rundown on PR.


It’s Easy to Get Public Relations Wrong

Even today, despite having so much information and data at hand, it’s very easy to get PR wrong. Not many businesses take PR as seriously as they should, and the ones who do couldn’t be more apprehensive about their spending. As a result, PR and comms are the first ones to bear the brunt of marketing budget cuts.

It’s a bit of an irony – the thing that’s supposed to make others look good tends to get a bad rap across the board.


Bill Gates PR Quote - HQ SEO

Source: Microsoft Blog


The main issue businesses used to have about PR is the measurement and accountability. Spending as much as 20% of the entire marketing budget on things that may bring in more sales is, quite understandably, a bit much. But all is not bad. If your competitors are busy ignoring the power of a well-run PR campaign, you should only be happy about it.

A poorly-run PR campaign is worse than having no PR campaign at all. This is precisely why you need to understand how PR has changed over the last ten years or so.


What is Traditional PR?

Not too long ago, there was no such thing as ‘traditional PR’. It was all just PR – and that was about it.


There’s an easy way to define and understand traditional PR. Everything that has been happening the name of PR since before the birth of the internet is traditional PR. It’s not irrelevant today, it’s certainly not dead – it’s just changed a lot. 


Traditional PR is all about painting with broad strokes without paying much attention to finer details. The process itself is very straightforward – you create a piece, send it to your media partners and have them distribute it. But this simplicity is really what makes traditional PR flawed, inefficient and often ineffective.

The moment your piece leaves your PR agency’s desk, you hold no control over it. You can, at best, influence the distribution, but you can’t really fine-tune it. This is also one of the main reasons why businesses were so quick to accept digital PR.

Traditional PR focusses on traditional mass-media – print, television and to some extent, radio. The central objective for most traditional PR campaigns is to improve the brand awareness and enhance the visibility. As a result, press outreach becomes hugely important for traditional PR campaigns and agencies.


A Real-life Example of Traditional PR

Traditional PR may not be as popular as it was a few years ago, but it isn’t outdated. Many people and businesses still routinely turn to local, national and international print publications to get ‘good’ stories out as features. These press hits go a long way in creating carefully managed perceptions among general public.


Traditional PR Example - Elon Musk Wall Street Journal


Take this feature (see the image above) in the Wall Street Journal, for example. Guised as a piece of news, this press release does more than merely announcing Elon Musk’s new idea – it actually stirs curiosity.


What is Digital PR?

It’d be wrong to limit the impact of digital PR by defining it as the digital version of traditional PR. Digital PR, in fact, achieves everything traditional PR can, and then some.

Digital PR involves conscious, intentional efforts to collaborate with digital media, content creators, influencers and authority publishers. The central objectives may vary – from improving brand awareness to launching products/services – but the secondary objectives always remain the same. These include securing precious backlinks, creating long-lasting social proof and improving the overall SEO.

If you are new to this idea, my take on what digital PR is and why it’s an incredible tool for businesses will be a good starting point for you. If you want to implement ground-up digital PR or content marketing campaigns, we’d love to hear from you. To get in touch with us, click here. You can also request a fully-customised and free proposal at the end of this page.


A Real-life Example of Digital PR

We will continue with the same example we discussed earlier.


Digital PR Example - Elon Musk Wall Street Journal


A digital PR equivalent of the same press feature was published on the Wall Street Journal website. It carried the same information in a more internet-friendly tone, while also linking readers to Elon Musk’s Twitter handle – a perfect example of creating a social proof.


Traditional PR vs Digital PR – What Has Changed?

Digital has undoubtedly changed the way people look at PR. But what really sets it apart from traditional PR?

Let’s round up five major points of difference between the two.


The PR Objectives

If we were to pit traditional PR and digital PR directly against one another, this would be the biggest point of difference.


Traditional PR vs Digital PR Objectives - HQ SEO



In almost every case (barring routine, not-newsworthy press releases), traditional PR has one and only one eventual goal to meet – making people aware of your brand. In fact, we can go so far as to say that because traditional PR concentrates so effectively on brand awareness, it’s still relevant today. If you think from the viewpoint of a small business with a limited PR budget or a start-up with no seed funding, the brand-building objective simply doesn’t make any sense. This also means that businesses that have a somewhat-established brand to care for have the best shot at benefitting from traditional PR.

Digital PR, on the other hand, is more robust in terms of its objectives. There are really no limits to what you can achieve through it. You can tailor your digital PR campaigns to raise brand awareness, improve online visibility, launch products/services, generate leads and even make direct sales.

Having such flexibility has had one predictable outcome – businesses have started using digital PR as their first-choice PR vehicle. At HQ SEO, we know this first hand, because we’ve been a part of this change. If you want to learn more about how we tailor digital PR campaigns to your objectives, click here. You can also drop us a line here.


The Channels and Media Used for Publication/Distribution

I made a passing mention of ‘press outreach’ in the earlier point for a reason.

When we talk about traditional PR, the channels used for content distribution are three: print publications (newspapers and magazines), TV and radio (we won’t cover other offline PR methods like networking and event here).


Traditional PR vs Digital PR Channels Used- HQ SEO


In this light, press outreach becomes the single-most important job of PR agencies. A usual press outreach effort involves being in touch with journalists and media managers at newspapers, magazines, TV channels and radio stations; knowing what angle they are looking for; drafting your stories/press releases to fit that angle and then – well – waiting for these to be picked up. Sounds like a long haul? It is! This, quite predictably, limits the number of queries each campaign gets, further limiting the results.

Digital PR uses online channels such as authority publications, news websites, online magazines and social media influencers. It’s much easier to create and distribute digital PR campaigns because:

  1. A lot less is at stake for your media partners. They want new content every day, and it’s easy to find PR spots.
  2. You can create content on the fly, once you know what your media partners want.


That brings us to the next point of difference.


The Content

Traditional PR vs Digital PR Content - HQ SEO


If you have ever run traditional PR campaigns, you know that it’s very difficult to change things around once they are picked up by the media. The content you create (or is created for you by a staff writer) will always need to fit the publisher’s guidelines. There’s only so much you can do to make it stand out. Even the best press release will still be just another press release. TV does solve this problem to an extent, but it all comes at huge costs.

Digital PR has well-and-truly freed PR campaigns from these shackles. There is absolutely no limit to the kind of content you can create and use. Even a well-made infographic can be enough to turn a digital PR campaign around. Common content forms used for digital PR are: opinion pieces, guest posts, sponsored articles, online press releases, video content, just to name a few.

Altering your PR strategies to suit clearly defined objectives is the key to running successful digital PR campaigns. At HQ SEO, we take the confusion out of the equation by efficiently combining digital marketing and PR  campaigns. To know more about our services can help your business grow, you can contact us here.


Measuring the Results

PR agencies have struggled with this for far too long. Unfortunately, there just isn’t any sure-fire way of measuring the results of traditional PR campaigns. When you go down this road, instead of accurate numbers, you have estimates – the circulation numbers and the TV ratings. Honestly, in this age of data analysis, this level of maybe-perhaps-approximately just doesn’t cut it.


Traditional PR vs Digital PR - Measuring The Results - HQ SEO


Digital PR has none of these problems. You can easily track every campaign to the last link using free, easy-to-use programs and features (Google Tag Manager is our favourite). Fundamental KPIs such as click-through rates, lead stats and SEO effects are usually enough to know the direction your PR campaign is going in.

When you have all the data available and updated in real-time, it becomes easy to optimise future campaigns to get better ROIs.


The Communications

Traditional PR vs Digital PR - Business Comms & Engagement


Most PR departments now work closely with the communications departments. So, it’s only fair that we subject both traditional PR and digital PR to this test.

Traditional PR is a lot like a speech – a one-way communication, whereas digital PR is more like a conversation.

It’s really strange to think that the concept of engagement was a non-starter in the pre-internet world. But today, you can’t really do much without knowing what people think of the move. Digital PR yields significantly better engagement than traditional PR.


Traditional PR vs Digital PR: The Takeaways


  1. Traditional PR is very effective for long-run brand awareness campaigns. Digital PR is more versatile and can serve all PR objectives well.
  2. Digital PR offers more channels to publish and grow content.
  3. The content variety is limited for traditional PR. Digital PR lets you use diverse content forms.
  4. Traditional PR campaign results are not measurable. The success or failure of digital PR can be quantitatively measured.
  5. Digital PR encourages user engagement and feedback, unlike traditional PR.


The Best Way Forward

So, what should you choose between traditional PR and digital PR?

The answer will always be subjective. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, what your business is, how long you’re willing to wait for the results to come in and, of course, what your PR budget is.


There is, however, one simpler lesson to learn here – digital PR isn’t meant to replace traditional PR, it’s only meant to make it better. The best way forward will always be to combine the two in a way that works for you.


To know how we design and strategise digital PR campaigns and how they can help you get consistently high ROIs, feel free to get in touch with us. You can also use the form below to request a free proposal.


About Tom

Hi, I'm Tom, Founder & Director of HQ SEO. I live and breathe SEO. I hope you enjoy my findings. Interested in SEO?
Let's Connect.

Get More Clicks & Higher Rankings

Get in touch to see how we've helped rank over 100+ clients worldwide, generating tens of thousands of leads and millions in additional revenue using smart inbound marketing strategies.

Get my free proposal

We Help Our Clients Make More Money

Get my free proposal