Why I Transitioned from Traditional to Digital PR

Blog | 24 Jan, 2019

The chameleon adapts

The evolution of public relations 

There is a curse that reads “may you live in interesting times” and public relations is certainly a profession that has seen its fair share of the fun times.

I learned to type on an old-fashioned typewriter, owned numerous hard copies dictionaries and an actual thesaurus, packed press packs by hand, edited with a red pen, negotiated trade exchanges, stalked journalists and pitched exclusives to stakeholders who could get the story in the news. Basically, I worked hard to ensure the client’s latest campaign, event or product launch received the greatest amount of publicity. 

And then suddenly the Internet took off and my fun times weren’t that relevant or, more importantly, measurable.

The black sheep who doesn’t fit in

So, after chalking up almost two decades worth of experience, I found myself in the awkward position of competing with digital, technical-sprouting 20 year olds who waxed lyrical about analytics and audience personas. When I was in my 20s I couldn’t match my socks and all I was good for was taking minutes and the tea order.

But I digress.

The point is that I’m one of those old-timers who has witnessed, first-hand, the evolution of traditional public relations into the digitised upgrade that it is today. And, once the initial apprehension subsided, I chose (age 40+) to embrace all the positive opportunities that digital PR presents for the ambitious practitioner.

First-things-first: what are the differences between traditional & digital PR?

Don’t get me wrong. Traditional PR isn’t dead and buried. It still is, and will probably always, have its place in the world, but why limit yourself? 

Picture of a Dachshund

Traditional PR is great for credibility, particularly with regards to handling crisis communications, brand messaging and building brand awareness with traditional-based messaging formats using your media contacts. But all of this can be subject to unreliable lead publishing times and, on occasion, questionable coverage quality. 

In the end, it’s proved difficult for traditional PR to accurately quantify bottom line value. The best it can muster is an overall estimation of potential audience exposure and influence. 

Other ways in which digital PR has outshone its traditional PR counterpart are:

  • Speed - delivery of material is immediate as opposed to the traditional media platforms. And, with the audience consuming information at the speed of thunder and lightning, it’s imperative that one is able to produce and deliver relevant content as fast as possible.
  • Content - it used to be be one-way and one-dimensional. You pushed it out onto a platform and that was it. Spray and pray. Today, content encourages interaction and engagement with one’s audience. What’s more is that content is now less salesy and more informative.
  • Reach - the limits of traditional media’s circulation have been surpassed by the borderless, cost-effective, influence of the Internet. Audiences across the globe can now search for, locate and consume the information that they require. 
  • Bespoke engagement - today’s consumer is a tech-savvy, highly engaged and always-on individual. Not only do they demand top-quality information delivered expeditiously, on a variety of digitalised channels of their choice, but they also expect to engage directly with the brand in order to develop a personalised connection and user experience. 

How and why you should upskill  

Apart from the obvious, which is relevancy, one of the biggest pushes towards upskilling oneself is to marry your existing knowledge and experience with the latest industry trends. 

Think of it as being like a super-charged hybrid of the best possible qualities encompassing both disciplines. It may be the closest you ever get to becoming a superhero! 

Picture of a caterpillar

Let’s chat about the media release...

In the golden olden days, the quintessential media release was formulaic and predictable. Heaven forbid you deviated from the standardised template! And, as long as you got that media release (invariably of the CEO handing over the big giant cheque) published in your local community newspaper, everyone was happy and you could pat yourself on the back for a job well done. If the paper’s rates’ card said that it had a circulation figure of 30,000 then it meant 30,000 people read your media release. Right?

(Muted laughter).

Upskill and reinvent - adapt & thrive 

So, where that myth falls down is that PR no longer exists in a silo. Everything is interlinked today - in other words: integrated marketing communications. Content pushed out has key performance indicators that is linked to very specific outcome-based objectives in the marketing funnel; be it building brand awareness, customer retention, advocacy or conversion. 

And, given the nature of digital, your content is now clearly measurable against these KPIs, not to mention targeted to a very specific audience. Consequently, not only can we tell exactly how many people read the content, but we can also tell who read it and what they did with the information. 

Thus, PR no longer dances to the beat of its own drum. It’s now part of of a multi-member electric band and with that comes great responsibility. So, don’t let the band down. Cos, everyone is going to realise who’s singing out of tune. If you get my drift? 

I would recommend getting a good overall feel for the digital arena with a holistically focussed, hands-on, digital marketing course that encompasses all the tools, channels, activities and insights that the successful PR practitioner will encounter on a day-to-day basis. 

Secondly, consider that it’s time to adjust your perception of content. You may be a brilliant wordsmith with an enviable list of media contacts, who is full of drive and personal determination, but that will all be horribly lost if your format and delivery are lacking.

Content Marketing is, by definition, “a strategic marketing approach focussed on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.” And content tends to be digitally driven like company website blogs, social media posts, video, sponsored content on ezines or downloadable applications like eBooks or apps. 

According to a News24 report, there are currently more than 45 million unique browsers in the country and South Africans are spending, on average, eight hours per day online using a PC, laptop or tablet or three hours per day online using a mobile device. Thus, the majority of the content they’re consuming is in a digital format. Consider for example, AutoTrader South Africa, who revealed that, in comparison to the 1,4 million magazines they sold in 2006, in 2016 their website generated more than 50 million visitors. 

A comprehensive content marketing course will complement your existing capabilities and also provide you with the resources needed to produce engaging material using CMS systems, like Wordpress, that meet your client or brand’s particular requirements. 

In addition to which, content marketing insight will expose you to the benefits of valuable resources like analytics and SEO, which will allow you to target an audience and quantify the value of your coverage, as well as provide pointers for working with those who can amplify or syndicate your content like brand advocates, social media influencers, subject matter experts and journalists. 

Upskilling yourself with digital PR know-how is a proactive functionality as the knowledge will better equip you for the environment in which we now exist; especially if you are in the position of providing service excellence  and value for a client or brand. 

Picture of some kind of fish

Remember: fortune favours the brave and the times, they are changing…

Come gather 'round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin' - The Beach Boys

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