2021: Digital PR is Here To Stay

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The great Warren Buffett once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” 

With social media and smartphones being omnipresent, the above quote is truer than ever. The phenomenon such as ‘Cancel Culture’ also doesn’t make it easy to maintain a good reputation – one misstep, one click of a button, and you and your brand can go viral for all the wrong reasons. 

The good news, however, is that the same principle applies in reverse. The right project, advert, or image can propel a business into the realms of Insta-fame at supersonic speed. 

While many factors surrounding social media and modern journalism are out of our control, our reputation remains firmly in our grasp. How, where, and when we represent ourselves to the public is crucial in building trust, credibility, and popularity. 

This is where digital PR comes into play. 

In this post, we’ll explore digital PR from a variety of angles – examining how Covid-19 & current trends are influencing PR today, what we can expect to see in the near future, and how to dig into digital PR yourself.  

Sit back, and enjoy the ride. 

Digital PR: 2020 vs 2021 

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a truly awful year for the majority of businesses. National lockdowns, staff illness, job losses, international travel restrictions – the list of challenges that companies faced to stay afloat is endless.

While consumers were still spending, they were doing so far more cautiously. Not only that, but many brick and mortar establishments shut up shop and moved online, alongside their stay-at-home customers. Commuter numbers also fell as more and more companies made the switch to remote working. This meant that advertising in spaces like train and bus stations, airports, and even highways took a nosedive too. After all, why pay to rent the space if no one’s even looking at it.

With the general economic downturn, it’s no wonder that the average business slashed its PR budget by 13% in 2020. In fact, 56% of businesses questioned confirmed that the budget cut was a direct result of the global pandemic. 

Cutting PR budgets globally - Provoke Media
Source: Provoke Media

Despite this dip in expenditure, the demand for PR didn’t plunge as dramatically as you might think. The same survey showed that 28.5% of businesses spent more than $20 million on PR and marketing – a steep rise from 17% in 2019!

But what exactly were these businesses spending their money on? Well, hiring PR agencies seems like a good place to start with. But, even though outsourcing PR to an established agency is generally seen as a safe bet, 2020 was also a year of change in this regard. 

Companies are becoming increasingly aware that getting media mentions is all about WHO you know. Getting your hands on a list of media contacts and reaching out to them for features is a major part of Public Relations, and it gets much easier with dedicated digital PR tools

To get through tough times, many businesses decide to keep their PR efforts in-house, at least temporarily. This makes it easier to “enforce” more customer-centric communication, and internal collaboration, which we’re likely to see more of in the near future. 

I’m currently working on an expert round-up for PR trends in 2021. Curious as to how the recent pandemic is affecting the industry, as well as what we can expect to see as we adjust to the ‘new normal’ in the coming year, I reached out to established authorities in the digital space.

The majority of contributors listed a common thread in their projections: cross-department collaboration will play a major role in PR campaigns of the future. Many of the experts had examples of this already taking place within their own companies – with content writers, web designers, SEO experts, and video editors all heading up various efforts in sync. And rightly so.

Essentially, PR is about two things: reputation and visibility. And as more and more of us take to the search engines, making sure your brand is ranking high enough to grab attention is more important than ever. Gaining visibility via Search Engine Rankings – and playing by Google’s new rulebook to do so – means utilizing a wider range of tools than standard PR has offered us so far. 

Interestingly enough, building a digital reputation also goes hand in hand with Search Engine Rankings (and Google’s goodwill). With E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) coming in hot on Google’s 2020 guidance, brands will be looking to establish a level of credibility strong enough to outrank the competition.

Google's 2020 guidance - Coschedule
Source: Coschedule

It comes down to this: digital PR is going to be a powerful contender for marketing budgets in 2021. And it’s definitely not a bad thing. 

Digital PR is here to stay. Are you keeping up? 

What makes digital PR unique – aside from the fact that it all takes place online – is that while featuring on a radio show or appearing on TV might get your five minutes of fame, the Internet is forever. Once you’ve featured in a blog post, a podcast, or an interview – as long as that piece of media stays up, YOU stay up as well. Viewers browsing for content will be able to find it, and if you’ve done it right, there’ll be a link back to your website for them to follow.

Not only do digital media features have a longer shelf life than traditional PR coverage – but they also work for you in other ways. For example, a backlink from a website with a high domain ranking means that your own domain ranking also gets a boost. The higher your website ranks, the more visitors you attract – which means your chances of converting those visitors into leads also increase! 

But how exactly does one go about securing digital media mentions if you’re a business owner or a marketer? 

There are two obvious options:

  1. Outsource your PR to an agency.
  2. Do it in-house.

The biggest advantage of outsourcing is that any decent agency will have its own media list to reach out to on your behalf. They’ll also be able to come up with a tailored strategy for your brand and do the brunt of the leg work when it comes to outreach. It does come with substantial costs, though. 

Of course, as mentioned earlier, you can always manage your PR affairs internally. This is arguably the cheaper option, plus it offers you more control over your brand reputation and collaboration partners. You can start by finding media queries through platforms like SourceBottle, HARO, or JournoRequest, and pitch your content to get featured. 

But, it’s also a LOT of legwork. As an example, I pitched over 100 HARO queries (averaging 3-5 a day). Sometimes they were short pitches, and I was able to knock them out in as little as 20 minutes. Other days, I was at it for 45 minutes to an hour. Out of these 100+ pitches, I scored 26 mentions. Don’t get me wrong – they were quality mentions (including a Forbes feature). But it was hard work, and it required a LOT of persistence.

Once you get a hang of it, you can also dig into more “proactive” PR efforts, secure access to a media database, and invest more time in building media relationships.  These are definitely more budget-friendly options, not to mention that internal PR efforts can be more sustainable. Once you’ve figured out how to do it, you can keep the process going (and even build upon it). 

In fact, with PR tools like Prowly, you can not only access a media database but also build and nurture media relationships that often result in media mentions & coverage.

Ready to start? 

When it comes down to it, the only ‘right’ option is the one that best fits your brand, budget, and goals. 

If in doubt, I’d suggest trying a few digital PR tools out like Prowly, as well as reaching out to a number of reputable PR firms and specialists that have performed well in your industry (word of mouth is a great way to find them). Ask them for a slide deck and more information. Most agencies will be happy to provide these things, as well as chat about how and where they’d pitch your brand!

Plus, if you’re intrigued by the idea of combining SEO with PR to boost your brand’s reputation and visibility, why not get in touch with me over at Pearl Lemon

Cover photo by HJ Barazza