Traditional PR vs. Digital PR: Measuring Old and New Tactics for Success


“What’s our public relations strategy?”

It’s a question that a lot of executives might brush to the side, especially in the early stages of building their company. And back in the days of traditional PR, a lot of brands would simply fall back on talking about themselves. “Enough about us,” you’d hear, “Let’s talk about you — what do you think of us?”

This type of one-way communication isn’t what your audience is looking for, particularly in today’s world where there are very few aspects of our day-to-day that haven’t been changed profoundly by the rise of social networks and digital connections. For communication teams, it isn’t really a question of whether to embrace this new reality, but one of how to make the most of its incredible power to expand the reach of your brand’s key messages.

Public relations is strategic storytelling, and both traditional and digital PR function in this way. Key differentiators, though, lie in their objectives and the channels in which key relationships are built to reach target audiences along with which one is more measurable.

Traditional PR and Why It’s Hard to Tell Who’s Listening

Traditional publicity has been falling by the wayside for a number of years, in large part because its tactics are a bit dated and success can be difficult to track. Event coordination, crisis communication, and press releases all fall under the umbrella of traditional PR with press releases being one of the most used tactics.

A traditional outreach strategy focuses on distributing press releases to as many media outlets as possible — including newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations. The goal is to reach as many people as possible, albeit through channels that offer one-way communication and limited opportunity for feedback.

And in all fairness, traditional PR can be very successful in terms of increasing brand awareness. However, it can be nearly impossible to track the exact amount of viewers who saw a media segment highlighting your brand, or how many readers caught a print article featuring your company. The closest estimate tends to be through the potential audience, so when you’re asked, “How many people actually read or saw our feature,” it’s very difficult to offer a straight answer.

A mention in print also brings along a lot of baggage, the biggest being a long lead time. You need to research which topics are covered by a publication, which writer is the best fit for what you have to offer, and even which month aligns with your targeted publishing date — and you need to do all this before you even pitch!

Another pain point? Traditional PR analyzes success based on the tonality of an article and how many times your brand is mentioned. Although this is always something you’ll want to consider, a strong ROI comes from measuring tangible KPIs — results digital PR can deliver.

Consumer Engagement That’s Measurable: The Case for Digital PR

I’ll be the first to admit that I knew nothing about digital public relations when I first started in the industry. I kept hearing about content, link building, and domain authority, but I had no idea what any of it meant. What I understand now is that digital public relations do, in fact, borrow from the same playbook as traditional public relations in that it hinges on strategic relationship building and visibility. The key difference is that it focuses on creating content that talks subtly about your brand instead of blatant promotion.

But beyond avoiding shameless self-promotion, digital PR distinguishes itself as the preferred method of communication through the following three areas:

  • Multiple channels: Compared to traditional PR, a digital PR strategy utilizes more avenues to get your brand’s message in front of your target audience. Digital strategists leverage websites, blogs, and social media placements to deliver real-time results across an increasingly sophisticated and connected digital community — and these online channels are within everybody’s reach and make it possible for all parties to participate in the conversation.
  • Audience interaction: As mentioned earlier, traditional PR relies solely on one-way communication; it places key messages in front of an audience without any means of feedback. Digital PR, on the other hand, opens the door for a two-way dialogue between a brand and its core audiences, generating new opportunities for positive consumer interaction and engagement.
  • Measurable objectives and goals: What really sets digital public relations apart from its traditional counterpart is the ability to clearly track and measure success. With tools like Google Analytics, it is now easier than ever to track exactly how many links your content is earning, how many people are sharing your content, and which publishers are driving the most traffic to your site.

In all three areas, success lies in your ability to create quality content that influencers want to share. Remember that it took influencers years to build their audience, and they don’t want to lose followers by promoting something that their audience will not find valuable. Make the most of these relationships and their respective channels; don’t waste them with unappealing content.

Go Beyond Telling a Story and Create a Conversation

No one just wants to read what you post anymore; you need a more dynamic plan. Traditional PR has its place, but your brand needs digital PR to remain competitive in the ever-expanding white noise that is the internet. A major benefit of digital PR is that it transforms what your brands have to say into a conversation that speaks directly to your target audience because it focuses on reaching them where they are most actively engaging: online.

Brands must understand that external communication is more than just a one-way street. Adapting a traditional press release to a much more visually attractive format, for instance, can be the difference between success and failure. Brands that actively engage in digital PR tactics are more likely to connect their most important audiences with their most important messages. , and achieve the kind of business results that create long-term success.


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