Is Digital PR getting harder?

October 2nd, 2017

Is digital PR getting harder? In some ways yes, but it’s not all bad news. Stay committed to good storytelling and embrace the winds of change – they bring a broad range of new and exciting opportunities.

For those of us working with brands, the question of whether or not it is getting harder to get coverage is an important one. As digital PR continues to evolve, just keeping up can feel like a challenge. With help from some key PR influencers, we address some of the most common fears about whether or not the industry is getting more difficult to navigate.

 

The first PR campaign on record was the work of Edward Bernays back in 1929. Down in the history books as the ‘father of public relations,’ Bernays was employed by Lucky Strike to convince women to smoke. Bernays wanted to show women that smoking cigarettes was not only respectable, but a step in the right direction in the fight for equality. He paid his secretary Bertha Hunt to smoke on a crowded street during the Easter Parade. While people were initially scandalised, other young women soon followed suit brandishing their ‘torches of freedom’.  A few ads claiming cigs were great for those watching their figures and BOOM –  Lucky Strike sales had doubled by the end of the year.

Today things are a bit harder. Back in the good old days the lunches were long and boozy, KPIs were an afterthought and getting coverage was a piece of cake. Then digital came along and everything got a bit murkier. As print slides ever more out of fashion, today most of us are out chasing those elusive backlinks – and they’re getting harder to catch all the time. Linked closely with content for SEO and link-building strategies, the rules for Digital PR seem to change on a day-by-day basis. People expect more compelling content, the pace of change is accelerating and yesterday’s news was forgotten before yesterday lunchtime.

For those of us working with brands, the question of whether or not it is getting harder to get links and coverage is an important one. As digital PR continues to evolve, just keeping up can feel like a challenge. Since launching as an agency back in 2013, we have often found ourselves discussing changes in the landscape and the state of the industry with our colleagues and clients. Has it really got harder to make an impact, or are we imagining it? What are the new challenges faced by those working in PR  and how can we turn them to our advantage?

Some things never change. Whether you specialise in link-building or traditional media relations, everything comes back to the essential need for strong storytelling. As for the rest of it, it’s simply a matter of navigating modern challenges and turning them into opportunities.

With help from some industry influencers, we guide you through some of the concerns shared by those in the industry and advise on how you can turn them to your advantage.

 

CHALLENGE 1

Things that once seemed new, now seem old

They grow up so fast. The internet is 28 years old now but many of us are old enough to remember when it was new and exciting. Online shopping is 23 years old, the blog is 23 and with ‘Dancing Baby’ being the best thing about 1996, the viral video is 21 – almost a responsible adult! As publishers started to wake up to the power of the internet, the volume of online content grew exponentially. This has its pros and cons.

 41% of people (and 33% of millennials) claim to feel overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of content choice on the internet.

With so much content out there, it’s getting hard to surprise audiences with something new.

Make it work for you Don’t rely on cheap tricks and trends with a fast-approaching expiration date. If you have to spend time on refining that angle or money on sourcing that quality data, do it. To ensure you tell a strong story, stay authentic to your brand and its voice but also think about the sites you are targeting and the issues that really matter to their audiences. Embrace new technologies like AR, VR and chatbots, but to keep those links flying in, focus on getting creative with existing formats. Make sure you have a good story to tell – then tell it in a creative way.

“Has public relations really changed or is it that we just have various new definitions for what is essentially traditional PR? Influencer outreach, content marketing, stakeholder management – these are all classed as more modern PR tactics but they’ve actually been about for years under the umbrella banner of ‘Communications’. Yes, the platforms on which we unleash various campaigns are now wider than ever before, but the arsenal of tools available to the modern day PR professional makes tracking this work far easier than in days gone by. Not dark social though, that’s a whole new barrel of giggles for modern PR folk.”

 

CHALLENGE 2

More background noise

With new agencies sprouting every five minutes and more content uploaded in an hour than anyone could read in a million years, competition is stronger than ever.

400 hours of video are shared online every minute – and that’s just one format. 

Make it work for you For standout content embrace creativity, weirdness and trends for stand-out content. Make the most of your in-house talent. If you make great video content, work tirelessly to stay up-to-date with trends and refine your skills even more and build your reputation in that area. Obvious but effective.

“It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is a huge challenge for communicators now more than ever. Everybody has the ability to access so much material instantly without going through traditional media channels, filtered by ‘professionals’. Equally, this means the opportunity for PR people to get their content directly to audiences without passing it through filters.”

 

CHALLENGE 3

More channels and platforms

As audiences flock to more channels and platforms every day it can be hard to know where to invest your time and energy

Make it work for you There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this one – your strategy should be tailored to the specific needs of the business. Rank social networks according to where the brand’s audience currently is and where they are likely to be in the future. Don’t just look at numbers but at engagement, demographic patterns, organic activity, alignment with the core product and content.

“New forms of media have supplemented and become a channel for old. Modern relations practitioners must be able to work across all forms of media, and paid and earned. Media relations is making way for influencer relations. Journalists in almost every category have been augmented by so-called influencers that have built their own networks on reputation.”

 

CHALLENGE 4

Harder-to-impress journos

Journalists are so bombarded with pitches and requests (see Challenge 2) that it’s hard to get a response – let alone a feature.

25% of email pitches are rejected by journalists for being too impersonal [Cision]

Make it work for you The biggest complaint from journalists is that brands and agencies are sending impersonal emails pitching ideas and content that bear little to no relevance on their site/ publication. Spend time personalising your emails and targeting your content well. Try making the most of new and exciting contacts by asking if there are any specific topics they want covered and shape your campaigns and content around their needs.

“More and more PR pros are chasing fewer and fewer journalists. Journalists are being swamped with ‘spam’ press releases. It’s time the PR industry took their research more seriously and tailored their pitches. 90% of what is distributed needs to be cut out and the other 10% sharpened up.”

 

CHALLENGE 5

Jaded audiences

As content online gets ever more varied, authentic and often bizarre – audiences have more or less seen it all.

Make it work for you Packaging your content in the right way works, promoting it innovatively helps but it will all be for nothing if the angle doesn’t work. Finding a strong, unique angle may take time, more time than any other part of the process, but it is time well spent. Gather your whole team together, even those not usually involved in the content-producing process and try out some new brainstorming techniques. Our current favourite is the ‘hat’ or parallel-thinking method.

“Being able to target particular demographics means we’re still able to ‘shock and awe’. If all you’re trying to do is shock someone, you first need to select an audience that will react to seeing such a thing. By segmenting your audience, you’re able to more accurately predict how people will react.”

CHALLENGE 6

We’re so busy!

Technology has created a fast-paced 24/7 environment where PR pros are under pressure to be flexible and strong in multiple disciplines.

Make it work for you Try partnering up with other people to help bolster each other’s skillsets and relieve some of the pressure. Embrace change and stay flexible and open-minded. PR involves more tasked with the advent of social and digital media – but that’s also why PR is becoming more credible as a discipline – more value. Monitoring and responding in real time to negative sentiment on social and digital channels has become the norm for PR practitioners, consumers might knowingly or unknowingly become the catalyst for a major scandal, look at the American Airlines fiasco.

“At JBH, we think about PR holistically – it’s no longer a separate discipline with different objectives. PR is now so closely aligned with SEO, social and influencer marketing, it makes sense to combine strategy and activity.”

CHALLENGE 7

We’re drowning in data

We know the importance of an analytical approach but it’s hard to know where to find tools that pull the PR value out of all the data.

Make it work for you It already is! Today we hear news in real time and have access to everything we could possibly want to know about audience trends and behaviours.No one has time to analyse it all – pick three metrics (e.g. backlink profiles) that correspond to your goals and check on them religiously.

“PR is becoming more scientific and data-driven – this is a good thing. Content needs to be relevant, with clear benefits and actions. PRs are now starting to track the effect of their output and feed this back into doing things better.”

CHALLENGE 8

Our job roles are changing

We’re all under pressure to learn more skills, our roles are entangled and everyone is stepping on eachother’s toes.

Make it work for you No one can do it all. Work with your strengths and take the time to really listen to new professionals as well as those from other disciplines. Accept help and offer yours to others. Stay receptive to change, no matter how long you’ve been in the industry.

“Time served is the typical measure of competence in public relations. It’s a lousy metric in a business that is moving so quickly. I’ve 20 years in practice but my social media listening skills are a work in progress and I’m lousy at visual community management. The Global Alliance recently published a global competency model. It needs to be developed and adopted as a standard by organisations and industry bodies. Practitioners need to sign up to continuous learning.”

We hope this has helped answer any questions you might have about the changing nature of digital PR. Every industry changes but the rules of good PR remain the same. Keep your finger on the pulse. Deliver the right stories to the right people at the right time. Embrace change and keep good storytelling at the heart of everything you do.

Happy link-building!

See the infographic to go with this article here.

Rob John, Digital PR Specialist JBH – Digital PR

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