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Digital PR vs Traditional PR: In-Depth Comparison

Digital PR vs Traditional PR: In-Depth Comparison

Let's kick things off with the basics – what exactly is PR? PR stands for “public relations” and refers to the strategic process of managing the spread of information between a company or organisation and the public. PR aims to shape the organisation's public perception and build and maintain a positive brand image and reputation.

The Two Branches of PR

Market Your Business On A Budget With Public Relations

PR can be broadly split into two main branches – traditional and digital. Both aim to accomplish the same general objectives but take quite different approaches.

Traditional PR

Traditional PR has existed for ages before the internet was even a blip on the radar. This is the old-school, tried and true-approach companies and politicians have relied on for decades to get their messages out there. It involves tactics like:

  • Press releases
  • Media Relations
  • Interviews
  • Event management
  • Sponsorships
  • Crisis management

The Pros of Traditional PR

  • It's a well-established practice that's been around for decades, so there's a lot of expertise and experience to draw from.
  • Traditional media outlets still hold much sway, and securing coverage in respected publications can do wonders for a brand's credibility and reputation.
  • Face-to-face interactions and personal connections are still highly valued in the traditional PR world, allowing for more nuanced communication and relationship-building.

The Cons of Traditional PR

  • It can be costly, with fees for PR agencies, media monitoring services, and other expenses adding up quickly.
  • It's a slower process, with lead times for pitching, vetting, and publishing stories often stretching for weeks or months.
  • There's less control over the narrative, as journalists have the final say on how a story is framed and presented.

Digital PR, on the other hand, is the new(ish) kid on the block. This approach harnesses the power of the internet, social media, and online tools and channels to accomplish PR objectives.

Digital PR

Rather than print publications and broadcast media, digital PR utilises:

  • Search engines
  • Social platforms
  • Online content
  • Mobile apps
  • Influencer marketing
  • Digital advertising

The Pros of Digital PR

  • It's more cost-effective, with many digital channels allowing for targeted reach without breaking the bank.
  • It's faster, with the content being published and shared almost instantly, enabling real-time engagement and response.
  • It offers more control over the narrative, as brands can create and disseminate their content without relying solely on traditional media gatekeepers.
  • It provides better data and analytics, allowing for more precise engagement, reach, and impact measurement.
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The Cons of Digital PR

  • It can be challenging to cut through the noise, as the digital landscape is saturated with content and messages vying for attention.
  • There's less perceived credibility and authority than traditional media outlets, making it harder to build trust and reputation.
  • It requires different skills and expertise, such as content creation, social media management, and influencer outreach.

As you can see, digital PR leans heavily on Internet technologies and modern mediums of communication. But which approach is more effective in 2024 and beyond? Let's compare the key differences.

Critical Differences Between Digital PR and Traditional PR

Traditional Pr Vs Digital Pr

The Audience

One of the core differences comes down to the audience for each target. Traditional PR focuses on reaching large, broad, mainstream audiences through mass media channels like TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. The goal is awareness at scale – getting as many “average” consumers as possible.

Digital PR, on the other hand, can be much more targeted and precise in its audience targeting. It lets you zero in on specific demographics, interests, locations, and segments with laser-focused precision.  It lends itself well to niche audiences and interests rather than a one-size-fits-all mass messaging approach.

Channel and Engagement

The channels and engagement methodology couldn't be more different between the two approaches. Traditional PR relies heavily on third-party channels like media outlets, journalists, and publications. A lot of effort goes into building and maintaining close relationships with these third parties that act as gatekeepers.

Digital PR, by contrast, allows brands to speak directly to their audiences with fewer intermediaries and gatekeepers. It emphasises building communities, engaging directly, and fostering ongoing conversations. PR pros have unprecedented control over content publishing and message shaping.

Metrics and Analytics

Regarding analytics and metrics, digital PR has a massive edge. Measuring campaigns' true impact and reach accurately with traditional PR has always been challenging. You must rely heavily on circulation numbers, estimated viewers, readership data, and surveys.

Digital PR is far more measurable and quantifiable. You can track metrics like website traffic, engagement, leads, social shares, SEO performance, etc., down to a very granular level. The data and analytics allow you to optimise and improve performance constantly.

Speed and Frequency

The differences in speed and message frequency capabilities are stark. Traditional PR operates at a much slower pace. Major stories or narratives may only make weekly or monthly news due to publication schedules and deadlines.

Digital PR, on the other hand, enables near real-time speed. Messages and content can be published instantly through social media, blogs, website updates, etc. It allows brands to engage in ongoing conversations with audiences rather than infrequent one-way communication.

Visual Storytelling

Visuals and storytelling are pretty different across digital and traditional PR. Traditional PR relies heavily on text-based press releases, interviews, bylines, and white papers. Visuals are things like glossy photos and graphics printed alongside stories.

Digital PR is a visually rich medium for dynamic, multimedia storytelling. GIFs, images, custom visuals, videos, infographics, and more can all be easily incorporated. Content on the internet is highly consumable and visual.

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The Hybrid Approach: Marrying the Best of Both Worlds

Savvy PR professionals and brands are realising that the most effective approach is to combine the strengths of both traditional and digital PR. By integrating the credibility and authority of traditional media with the reach, speed, and data-driven insights of digital channels, they can create a powerful, well-rounded strategy.

Critical Elements of a Hybrid Approach

  • Securing coverage in respected traditional media outlets while amplifying that coverage through digital channels like social media and email newsletters.
  • Creating high-quality, engaging content that can be distributed through traditional and digital channels, such as blog posts, video series, podcasts, and more.
  • Building relationships with traditional journalists and digital influencers, leveraging both to reach diverse audiences.
  • We are utilising data and analytics from digital channels to inform and refine traditional media outreach and messaging.

Case Study: A Brand That Got It Right

Brand Identity Strategy Patagonia

Let's look at a real-world example of a brand successfully blending traditional and digital PR.

Patagonia: Outdoor Gear with a Purpose

Patagonia is an outdoor clothing and gear company with a reputation for high-quality products and its commitment to environmental sustainability and social responsibility. Their PR strategy reflects this holistic approach.

Traditional PR Tactics

  • Securing feature stories in respected publications like Outside Magazine, National Geographic, and The New York Times, highlighting their sustainable practices and commitment to environmental causes.
  • They partner with non-profit organisations and environmental advocates to co-host events and initiatives, further amplifying their message and building credibility.

Digital PR Tactics

  • They leveraged their website and blog to share in-depth stories, product updates, and educational content on sustainability and environmental issues.
  • They were building a solid social media presence, particularly on Instagram, to showcase their products in use and connect with their target audience of outdoor enthusiasts.
  • They are partnering with influencers and ambassadors who align with their brand values and mission, leveraging their reach to spread Patagonia's message to new audiences.

By combining these traditional and digital PR tactics, Patagonia has built a powerful brand that resonates with consumers who value quality, sustainability, and social responsibility.

Standard PR Tools and Tactics

Let's look at some standard tools and tactics used in digital and traditional PR to understand the two approaches better.

Digital PR Tools and Tactics

Some of the essential tools and tactics in the digital PR toolkit include:

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • Content marketing
  • Social media engagement
  • Influencer relations
  • Email marketing
  • Link building
  • PR Software (Cision, Muck Rack, etc.)
  • Multimedia content production (video, audio, visual design)
  • Website, landing page, and online newsrooms
  • Webinars and virtual events
  • Online review monitoring and management
  • Paid digital advertising (social, search, display, etc.)
  • Email outreach to bloggers, journalists, influencers
  • Social listening and reputation monitoring

The digital PR department at companies today has to juggle dozens of different digital tools, channels, and tactics across search, social, ads, content, influencers, and more. It requires highly technical and rapidly evolving skillsets.

Traditional PR Tools and Tactics

Some of the most common traditional PR tools and tactics include:

  • Press releases
  • Media Relations
    • Media kits
    • Press conferences
    • Interview coordination
  • Byline articles and op-eds
  • Newswire distribution
  • Crisis communications
  • Event planning and speaker coordination
  • Strategic partnerships and sponsorships
  • Message and positioning consulting
  • Focus groups and market research
  • Monitoring print and broadcast mentions
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These tried and true PR tools still play vital roles at many organisations today but quickly diminish in importance and impact as digital PR takes centre stage.

Breaking Down the Costs

The costs involved in traditional PR vs digital PR look quite different.

Traditional PR costs often include:

  • Retainers or hourly rates for PR agencies or consultants
  • Newswire distribution fees
  • Print media monitoring services
  • Event and conference costs
  • Sponsorship fees
  • Travel and meals for in-person activities

These costs can add up quickly. Hiring a PR agency alone costs $5,000 – $20,000+ per month.

Digital PR costs may include:

  • PR software subscriptions
  • Content creation (in-house or outsourced)
  • Paid advertising costs (social, search, display, etc.)
  • Influencer marketing fees
  • SEO tools (Moz, SEMRush, Ahrefs, etc.)
  • Email marketing platforms
  • Website and hosting costs

Digital PR costs are variable and flexible, with many low-cost tools and services. Content creation and paid advertising are often the most significant line items.

Digital PR Is The Future, But Don't Ditch Traditional PR… Yet

So, which approach wins out between digital PR vs traditional PR? While they both follow different paths, digital PR is emerging as the more modern, effective, measurable, and scalable approach in the 21st century.

However, traditional PR is going to be around for a while. Many audiences still consume conventional media like newspapers, TV, radio, and magazines. And the reach and awareness generated can still be meaningful, even in the digital age. So companies can't ditch traditional PR altogether just yet.

But the momentum and balance of power are shifting heavily towards digital. Within 5-10 years, the “digital” distinction will likely become unnecessary as PR becomes a discipline native to the internet and digital technologies. Traditional PR tactics will become increasingly antiquated and overshadowed by omnichannel digital PR.

The future is digital. PR pros who don't adopt modern digital skills, tools, and tactics will soon become a thing of the past. Today's most brilliant strategy as we navigate this transitionary period is a hybrid approach that leans digital but still incorporates traditional elements.

Conclusion

The PR industry is amidst a digital transformation, redefining how the discipline operates. The tools, channels, metrics, costs, and skills required substantially differ between traditional and digital PR. Like many others, the internet and digital technologies have disrupted this age-old industry.

Brands that rely solely on old-fashioned traditional techniques risk being left behind as internet-native competitors leverage modern digital PR to their advantage. At the same time, companies can't ignore traditional PR audiences and channels either. An informed, balanced approach leveraging the best of both worlds positions organisations for success now and into the future.

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Digital PR vs Traditional PR

Can SEO and traditional PR overlap and reinforce each other?

While SEO is a core component of digital PR, the two disciplines can work in tandem and complement each other effectively. Having media coverage in authoritative publications is still a valuable SEO signal. At the same time, earning quality backlinks from those high-authority sites can boost domain authority and rankings.

Does content marketing overlap with digital PR?

Content marketing and digital PR are distinct but very much aligned disciplines. Content is one of the core tools and tactics employed for digital PR. But digital PR involves many other elements like relationship building, metrics, influencer marketing, etc., that content marketing doesn't focus on. The two approaches work best when closely integrated into a cohesive digital marketing strategy.

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Can traditional PR firms offer digital PR services?

Traditional PR agencies struggle to embrace digital PR and fully build modern digital capabilities in-house. Their expertise remains rooted in analogue skills and offline mediums. Many firms will partner with specialised digital PR agencies or consultants to fill this gap rather than trying to transform their whole model.

Is digital PR just for B2C companies?

No, digital PR is relevant and essential for B2B organisations, too. While consumer audiences are a big focus for digital PR, business decision-makers also extensively use search engines, social media, and online content for research and discovery. An effective digital PR strategy is crucial for B2B lead generation and reputation building.

What skills and roles are involved in a digital PR team?

An effective digital PR team requires diverse modern skills, including SEO, content marketing, social media, digital analytics, graphic design, video production, advertising, influencer relations, relationship building, PR software expertise, and more. Key roles include digital PR leads, SEO specialists, content creators, community managers, and digital strategists.

Photo of author

Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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