The Emergence of Digital PR
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The Emergence of Digital PR

By Shailesh Goyal and Lipi Goyal

The Emergence of Digital PR

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On the surface, Public Relations appears to be simple– you work to build and enhance the client’s profile and reputation and are paid in return – but its scope is much wider, and it is a highly competitive and challenging field.

So what exactly is ‘Public Relations’? The Public Relations Society of America defines Public Relations “as a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics”.

Building/maintaining their public reputation is among the top priority of all organizations. However, creating and successfully maintaining one’s reputation is a complex process, more so in the present age when communication is constantly evolving. It is not easy to win the attention of the target audience without effective PR, and even if one does manage to draw attention, it takes time and effort to sustain it. This is where PR comes into the picture. PR is crucial for the success of any organization, as it helps in reputation management, and in building brand awareness and recognition.

There is an old saying which says “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for”.

Over the years, several surveys and studies have shown that media users find news stories and articles to be more credible and reliable than advertisements. It is PR and only PR that can help organizations achieve the type of publicity that money cannot buy. 

The Changing World of Media and PR

The world around is changing, and at a frightening pace, I may add. Technologies are becoming redundant at a pace faster than the adoption time.

The technological advances in the past few years, and especially in the last five years or so, have brought about a revolution of sorts in not only the way we communicate, but the manner in which we consume, create, and share media. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have changed the way we communicate with the world. The consumers of the media have also become creators of the media. Today, information is available to anyone, anywhere, and at any time.

The media industry, as well as media professionals, have had to evolve to keep pace with the changing scene. Unlike a few years ago, when newspapers and TV were the most dominant forms of media, the action has now shifted to the online space. Declining readership and falling revenues from the print business have forced media houses to strengthen digital presence in a bid to attract more readers and advertisers to their websites and to offset the lower revenues from print segment.

Increasing smartphone adoption and higher internet penetration witnessed in the past few years have also aided in the growth of digital media platforms, helping them become increasingly dominant. Of late, not only are more news and information being consumed on digital platforms, but increasingly, news stories are being broken on digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and news websites.

A few leading media houses still seem to be doing quite well in the traditional print segment, but the focus is slowly but surely moving towards digital space. Many media professionals believe that the day when some of these media houses start embracing a digital-only strategy is not very far. This is already happening at some places in the West, and it is just a matter of time before it becomes a reality in India too. As this change occurs, online publications will become even more influential.

I must also point out here that the online news space has become quite crowded in the past 3-4 years with top media houses such as The Times of India Group, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, and others ramping up their digital presence, and emergence of several news portals such as The Wire, Scroll, Quint, etc. Portals catering to specific sectors or businesses have also mushroomed and are all over the place.

So what are the consequences of these dramatic and unprecedented changes in the media space on Public Relations? How are PR agencies and professionals being affected by them? How has their work and brief changed? What do they need to do to keep up?

What I have learned in the three decades of being in the field of communication and Public Relations is that if you are not prepared to accept the change and be a part of it, you are certain to miss out. PR is essentially the art of telling a story online with the help of quality content, and the first and foremost thing the PR industry needs is to evolve to keep pace with the changing times. Continuously learning, upgrading and acquiring new skills in this hi-tech age is a must for everyone, but all the more so for professionals in the field of communications.

So far, the PR industry in India was about media relations and being on good terms with the press. However, the dominant position of online space, coupled with the growth of social media, has given birth to Digital PR. When both print and broadcast media are making a move towards strengthening online presence, it is a given that PR agencies and professionals too will have to transform and adapt and shift their focus from Traditional PR to Digital or Online PR. In my opinion, this is already happening as most of the PR agencies have moved into the world of Digital PR. Many of them now have dedicated personnel and teams focused on offering Digital PR services to clients.

The Emergence of Digital PR

The Indian PR industry’s focus so far has been on Traditional PR that agencies and professionals have been practicing since PR took off as a separate industry in India in the mid-1990s. Traditional PR has seen some changes over the years, but the work has essentially remained the same. Though Digital PR in India is still in its infancy, it is poised to take off in a big way in the next couple of years.

So what exactly is Digital PR, and how is it different from the Traditional PR? Traditional PR refers to networking done by PR agencies to get their clients featured in newspapers and magazines, and on radio or Television. With print and even electronic media ceding ground to the New Media in terms of reach, visibility and impact, the focus of PR agencies is also shifting towards Digital media platforms.

While the basic purposes of Digital PR remain the same as Traditional PR – both are aimed at reputation management, brand visibility, and awareness, and audience engagement – the big difference is the channels they work on and the approach is taken. Both help in reaching the target audience but in different ways.

Traditional PR focuses on print and other traditional media, which offer offline visibility, while Digital PR is more evolved, and focuses on communication strategies that work for enhancing the client’s presence in the online world by featuring him on websites, social media networks, blogs, podcasts, etc. Digital PR meets the demands of the burgeoning digital market, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it has consumed the traditional methods to a great extent. Digital PR is a challenge as well as an opportunity for the Public Relations industry.

Yet, one must remember that in spite of the many differences in the two types of PR, the primary objective is to enhance the client’s visibility. Digital PR is a continuation of the strategy that has existed for the past several decades – just in a new form. Adjusting our tactics in keeping tune with the changing times is essential.

Digital PR can be achieved through blogs, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media and websites, to promote new products or services, covering events and newsworthy stories. The one major advantage of Digital content is that it can be shared across social media networks, making it a great mode to enhance the SEO of the client’s website. However, one must also keep in mind that in addition to enhancing visibility, Digital PR is also aimed at establishing positive relationships.

Traditional PR involves one-way interactions. Getting a press release related to an event or a new product launch published in a newspaper gets the message out but does not offer any interaction. The biggest strength of New Media is that it is interactive and facilitates two-way communication which enhances engagement and feedback.

At the same time, we must remember that though Digital PR is becoming more dominant, Traditional PR is not completely dead. As long a traditional media sources are there, Traditional PR will continue to survive, and occupy its space. PR professionals are best advised not to ignore it in toto. The ideal approach in today’s age is to have a strategy that integrates methods from both traditional PR and Digital PR and focuses on building both offline and online presence will work the best to maximize the client’s exposure and visibility.

What does Digital PR involve?

The preliminary aim of Digital PR is building awareness, promoting customer engagement, and publishing positive information about the client online. The common types of Digital PR strategy include publishing articles online, working with journalists to gain backlinks, networking with bloggers on product features and reviews, working with influencers for mentions on social media accounts, syndicating press releases to get featured in media, and building exposure through social media presence. However, digital PR involves much more than just publishing information. The communication has to be engaging for the audience, otherwise, the effort could end up going down the drain.

For PR professionals, the major Digital PR tools include content marketing and Search Engine Optimization, which are the result of the combination of digital technologies and public relations. No doubt, the content has to be of high quality, but it is equally true that SEO plays a huge role in optimizing content for high visibility before the target audience. It goes without saying that the PR professional should be well versed with digital marketing tools to ensure that he/she can make the most out of the efforts.

How can one measure the success of Digital PR strategies?

When it comes to Traditional PR, the standard way of measuring the success of a campaign or event is to look at the number of newspaper/media mentions achieved. Traditional PR has limited parameters to work with such as readership numbers and distribution, and it still does not provide any concrete measure of success. On the other hand, Digital PR operates in another world, literally.

As digital technology has evolved in the past few years, the methods to measure the effectiveness of Digital PR have also changed. Digital PR is much-more data-driven as compared with Traditional PR, and one can easily track the data to measure the success or otherwise of a Digital PR project by using various tools such as shares, impressions, etc. One can also track the campaign with tools like Google Analytics, and measure its success more easily and accurately. Increase in traffic, keywords and search engine rankings can also help in ascertaining the campaign’s outcome.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has identified the following five steps to measure the effectiveness of any such PR campaign: 

1 – Engagement – to measure the number of people who engaged with an item, including shares, likes, and comments.
2 – Impressions – to measure the number of readers /viewers who may have viewed an item. 
3 – Items – to measure any content, including blogs or articles that originally appeared as digital media.
4 – Mentions – to measure how many online items mention the brand or the product.
5 – Reach – to measure how far the campaign managed to reach the intended target audience. 

The Social Media Effect

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become significant communication tools in the last few years and ushered in a new era for Digital PR. The integral part of any Digital PR campaign is to facilitate communication between the brand and the target audience, and social media platforms provide a perfect forum for the interaction. They allow brands and organizations to disseminate information directly to the public without relying on mainstream publications.

The ‘like’ and ‘share’ options social media platforms offer can help in growing the audience and expanding the reach of the campaign. However, the biggest benefit, and also the drawback, of social media is its instant nature. These platforms are within everybody’s reach, and any mention of a brand on a social media platform can go viral in no time and get people talking about it. Brands go the extra distance to ensure that the communication concerning them on social media is positive in nature. 

Collaborating with influencers

Word-of-mouth has been the most powerful marketing tool over the ages. Influencer marketing is today’s version of word-of-mouth. Engaging with influencers on Facebook and Twitter can not only earn credibility for the client’s brand but also go a long way in promoting the brand. Do keep in mind that many influencers can influence the purchasing decisions of followers. It is no wonder that many social media influencers are celebrities in their own right and are in much demand. Associations with influencers can become very powerful Public Relations tools, and more so if they are aligned with the influencer’s image and audience.

However, in PR, content is king, and this remains the preliminary requirement in Digital PR, or even while dealing with social media influencers. The key is to generate content that will appeal to influencers, which they will want to share with their followers on their social media accounts.

About the Author:

Shailesh Goyal is the founder at Simulations Public Affairs Management Services. A Science graduate, he holds a PGDM in Enterprises Management from Bangalore, and MBA from BK School of Business Management, Ahmedabad. After a decade-long stint with BCCL (The Times of India Group), Living Media (India Today Group), Torrent Pharma and Vadilal Foods, entrepreneurship got the better of him and he set up Simulations PR in 1997.

Lipi Goyal is Team Mentor, New Media Initiatives at Manomaya.

Cite this Article:

Goyal, S. "The Emergence of Digital PR", IndraStra Global Vol. 005, Issue No: 8 (2019), 0039, | ISSN 2381-3652

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