Traditional PR vs Digital PR: Why Differentiate?

Joe Cohen / 28th April 2015 / Comment / Content Strategy

newspaper photo Having spent the past six years at a traditional music PR firm, I recently made the leap into the digital realm, joining the team at Wheelhouse Search. From the get-go there was lots of talk of link building, link bait, domain authority, paid content, and all sorts of other weirdness I had never before encountered. Believing that I’d entered some sort of brave new public relations world, I set out to read/watch any and all guides, videos, modules, webinars, Mozinars, and other fill-in-the-blank-inars I could find about digital marketing, SEO, SEM, you name it. Lots of strong claims were made, many of them contradictory. Traditional PR is dead, what you need is links! But links that will stand the test of time! Good links! The kind that you get with editorial coverage! It’s all about domain authority! But remember, domain authority takes a back seat to site relevance! Here are some easy tips to get links, but don’t settle for easy links because Google might not like them! And brand awareness! We like brand awareness! But make sure it’s measurable! But if it’s not, that’s ok, too! Just make us money! But also get links! Makes sense, right? After reading all this I started to formulate a theory of my own about what, exactly, digital PR is. This came partially out of a need to simplify and comprehend what I was reading, partially out of laziness. But I think it’s a good theory. And it’s this: It’s all just PR. Simple. Maybe the goals for a specific campaign are slightly different in the digital realm, maybe the targets aren’t exactly the same, maybe you’re working with different types of assets or tweaking your pitches, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s all just … PR.

Think About Your Campaign’s Real Goals

As traditional PR isn’t especially measurable – I can’t tell you exactly how many records were sold by a Rolling Stone review or a performance on “Letterman” – the specific goals of a traditional PR campaign can be a bit vague. At the end of the day, however, a good press campaign does the following:

  • Raises awareness of its subject
  • Takes of control of and shapes its message
  • Resonates with its target audience

These goals aren’t unique to traditional PR campaigns. Think about a digital campaign for an SEO client. Your primary objective is to get high-quality links that will never diminish in search value. Beyond that, you hope to raise brand awareness. If you reach out to the New York Times and get a story with a link, victory! Google will never penalize you for that link and will love and treasure it forever. If you wind up with a front page story above the fold in the Sunday Times but there’s no embedded link in the story on the website, is your client going to be bummed out over missing a link or thrilled about the spike in sales that corresponds with 1,000 words in the Sunday Times? The ultimate, high-level goal here – your client’s goal – is presumably to make money. If you can do something that helps your client reach that goal, you’re probably in good shape. If helping your client takes you outside of your typical scope of responsibility – say, a print New York Times story – then congrats, you just went above and beyond the call of duty. Treat yourself to something nice.

Traditional Targets vs. Digital Targets: Is There Even a Difference?

Sure, your primary digital targets are going to be a bit different than your traditional targets. That said, what traditional print/broadcast outlet in 2015 doesn’t have a web presence? In fact, some of your strongest, highest value digital outlets are going to come from the digital side of traditional media.,,,,, – these are some of the most valuable outlets you can get links from for your SEO client. You still need to do the legwork to make sure you hit all the little bloggity-blogs along the way, the same as a traditional media campaign in which you’re plugging away at getting a write-up from Detroit’s #3 alt weekly newspaper. However, your basic outreach strategy – high-quality links and brand awareness – still places the most value on evergreen editorial coverage from major outlets.

One Notable Difference: Assets

This is where you actually get to have some fun in the digital realm. Working as a traditional publicist, specifically in the music industry, I might occasionally have an opportunity to suggest a concept for a video or be involved in the process of selecting which tracks to premiere or which press photos to use, but for the most part I’d be handed something by a client and told to go drum up interest. Now, however, the tables have turned a bit. Sure, from time to time a client might have a particularly newsworthy event they’re involved with or a product launch that’s very of-the-moment, but for the most part as a digital publicist I’m responsible for making my own news that can lead to evergreen links. And that’s where assets, or link bait (a term that I hate, since we’ve already established that links come from good PR, not vice-versa), enter the picture. Think about something that you personally or your friends would want to click on/read – slideshows, infographics, videos, widgets, etc. – and get creative and make it happen. When an old client of mine made a crazy music video featuring Gary Numan (yes, that Gary Numan) and some poor stunt man going for a never-ending fall down an escalator, getting pickup was a breeze. Can you imagine having an asset like that for every single press campaign? As a digital publicist, it’s up to you.


Now that you’ve defined the specific goals of your campaign, identified your targets, created your awe-inspiring assets, and pitched them to everyone from to Bob’s Bloggity-blog to the local rec center’s resource web page, it’s time to reap the benefits. They look surprisingly similar to traditional PR successes, right? News stories, reviews, embeds in editorial posts, references on info pages, all of this leading to links and brand awareness. Not only are your links getting tons of love from Google’s analytics both now and forever, but the editorial copy that you’ve secured is reaching people – real people who buy things, not just the robots who decide which page of Google results you land on – and creating genuine, organic interest in your client. And THAT’S public relations.

By Joe Cohen