Digital PR

Traditional PR vs Digital PR - How Do they Differ & How Can One Help the Other?

3 years ago

I have a traditional PR background, where the key focus for the brand I was working for was press coverage, both print and digital, as well as crisis management, internal media training and responding to bad press. But that was so 2k17. 

Fast forward a few years - and after successfully surviving the transition to digital PR - I wanted to share some thoughts on the similarities and differences found across the two disciplines, and how we can take skills from both to perform better for clients. 

KPIs and measurements 

When I moved into digital PR I was naive about SEO and link building, so the first thing I learnt that differentiated traditional and digital PR, was KPIs and measurements. 

When I worked in traditional PR, my focus was simply coverage,  and whether that was print or digital it didn’t really make a difference. Now I work in digital PR, we’re predominantly looking to build links to our client’s sites, which sounds simple, but any old link won’t do! Gaining consistent, relevant and high quality followed backlinks for each campaign is our goal, but the reality is a mix of followed and no-follow links, as well as brand mentions. 

Whilst a dream campaign for some may result in 1000 followed links, it’s actually a good thing to get this mix to ensure the link profile looks natural. And remember, less is sometimes more too - you don’t need to go viral to shift the needle for clients. A handful of high quality links can really make a difference! 


Whatever format content comes in, it needs to be of a high quality for a journalist to use it and that fact remains the same across both traditional and digital PR.

We live in a time with so much content that in order to get coverage, content needs to be relevant, newsworthy and have a clear hook. (Here are some ideation tips for content that will generate links.)

When I worked in traditional PR, I was predominantly sending out press releases or product samples, or inviting journalists to events. In digital PR, although press releases are still commonplace, we often create additional content to send with the story. Infographics, interactive maps and indexes are just a few examples of what we create to give us the best chance of coverage. 

Ultimately, if a journalist has a valuable asset to use, which offers something interesting to their readers, they’re more likely to link back to it. Win!

It’s not always about creating big shiny content pieces though, as sometimes the most complex data needs to be presented in a simple way. Find out more about how to visualise data for digital PR campaigns here.

Brand guardianship

Crisis management or brand guardianship often sits within the traditional PR bracket and as an agency with multiple brands, often our clients have an internal PR team. However, when offering digital PR services, this should still be at the forefront of our minds. When creating digital PR campaigns we need to be asking ourselves:

  • Does this feel relevant to the brand?
  • Could this be detrimental to them?
  • What’s the potential backlash of the campaign?

By doing this, you’re preventing any need for crisis management later down the line and you’re taking care of the brand on a much larger scale. Creating content that gains 1000 links by being sensationalist or controversial can often do more harm than good, so it’s important to keep a traditional hat on whilst link building.

Reactive outreach and newsjacking

Newsjacking is a technique where you jump on the back of the biggest news stories of the day and offer a journalist data, comments or information from the brand you’re working with. 

This technique can be a really effective, quick and a cost-efficient way of getting coverage, especially for brands with a smaller budget, because other than a comment or some internal data, you don’t need accompanying assets.  In order to make sure you’re aware of the stories that you can jump onto and that you’re hitting the right kind of press with your campaigns, you can set up your own PR newsroom

As a technique, newsjacking requires some thought and the ability to assess whether it could cause any damage to the brand. There are many bad examples of newsjacking, most recently with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to many brands attempting to jump on a story that isn’t relevant to their messaging. Missing the mark with newsjacking can not only come across insensitive, but it can also lead to negative coverage, so be cautious when doing so and ask, does this add anything to the conversation and is the brand an authoritative voice within the space? If not, protect the brand and use other techniques of getting coverage.

Ultimately, the main difference between traditional and digital PR is the element of link building to improve your brands’ rankings - but there are many lessons to be learned from taking a traditional PR approach as opposed to simply link building. Whilst links can move the needle, nothing is more important than the reputation of a brand, so it’s vital to keep that in mind with everything we do. 


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