How To Integrate Digital PR with In-House PR Successfully

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The evolution of Digital PR has been quite a journey, from the early 00s days of shifty SEO link-building tactics to today’s proud industry that delivers campaigns that help get your brand front of mind and at the top of Google. Whilst an e-commerce or SEO team may fully appreciate the value of good Digital PR activity, those unfamiliar with the nuances and intricate details of its evolution may mistrust or disregard Digital PR completely.  

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 12-year career in Digital PR is the importance of a successful working relationship with your client’s in-house PR team. However, that relationship only works when both sides understand what the other team does and why.

In this post, I will summarise some of the lessons and tips I’ve picked up on how best to communicate with, educate, and learn from your client’s in-house PR teams. 

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Understanding each other’s objectives

Successful integration between a Digital PR agency and a brand’s in-house PR team starts with understanding the in-house PR team’s key objectives and how they differ from the objectives the Digital PR team will be working towards. 

I’ve shared and compared some of the key KPIs of each team in the table below:

Digital PR ObjectivesIn-House PR/Brand Objectives
Improve awareness and authority of a brand onlineAid in brand name reputation and protection both online and offline
Securing coverage, which includes brand mentions and links to their client’s websites on high DR and relevant websites  To reposition a brand or associate a brand with a specific attitude or value
Creating stories that will get as much coverage/links as possible – while remaining true and relevant to the brand’s values and expertiseDrive brand awareness that leads to sales, website traffic, sign-ups, subscribers, and more social following.
Report on search engine organic ranking results for key terms (typically, but not always, e-commerce terms), organic traffic and resulting conversions, brand search-upliftIncrease market share
Identifying and securing coverage on specific publications by analyzing which titles are linking to a brand’s competitors but not the client’s brandDrive conversation and ‘buzz’ around a brand
Building links to the sections and pages of a brand’s website that are most commercially lucrative To educate consumers or change consumer behavior

Digital PR campaigns need to hit three key points: 

  1. Be newsworthy and attract the attention of multiple titles and reporters. 
  2. Have SEO relevance, e.g., the story must clearly relate to the page or company it’s driving links to. 
  3. Deliver the right tone and message for that brand. 

When working with larger, well-established brands, the third point is the one that requires collaboration and buy-in from the in-house PR team the most. They will have put in a lot of time and effort to build a brand reputation they want to protect, or they may be working to reposition the brand with new messages. It’s important to them that any communications that the brand puts out all align with the messages and tone they’ve worked hard to put in place.

For example, once upon a time, I worked with a travel brand specializing in walking expeditions. While working with them, the crazy popular film ‘Cocaine Bear’ started to cause a stir online. We suggested a reactive tips-based piece on how to avoid bear encounters when walking in North America, as we knew that the timely hook could work well in attracting lots of coverage, and relevance-wise, it certainly tied in with the brand’s expertise in walking tours. However – it was a hard no from the brand and PR teams. And understandably! From their point of view, they didn’t want to scare potential customers or associate their brand with danger.

Pitching the idea and hearing the feedback was extremely useful in growing our relationship with the in-house PR team. It helped us make future idea pitches more efficient as we knew their boundaries – and our respect for those boundaries helped the PR team see that we were collaborative and keen to help with their objectives. Our next idea took on their feedback and involved creating an online tool that helped you compare your travels to David Attenborough’s – a campaign that hit all our objectives and theirs and solidified us as an asset to the PR and e-commerce teams.  

When you land stand-out online coverage with a Digital PR story that the PR Team endorses, make a big deal about it! Take the time to include them when you report on results, and include PR-friendly stats such as

  • estimated coverage views
  • number of social interactions
  • number of reader comments
  • any other metric resulting in brand-search uplift – not just the SEO value of the link in the coverage.

By showing the PR value of the work and how you are helping to champion the brand’s message and values, you can share and celebrate the wins together – a wonderful way to establish a great working relationship. 

Key takeaway: To get buy-in and goodwill from an in-house PR team, Digital PR teams must respect brand guidelines and use them at the idea generation stage to make sure any and all ideas that they present show a full understanding and respect for the brand strategy the in-house teams are working on. 

Understanding each other’s tactics and language

There is quite a large overlap involved in the tactics Digital PR and in-house PR teams deploy, even if the wider objectives behind them differ. The tactics a PR team uses will depend on the client’s audience, their budgets, their KPIs, the brand’s heritage, their preference, and the performance of tactics they’ve tried. 

I’ve attempted to classify the most popular tactics that, in my experience at least, seem to be preferred by in-house PR teams, preferred by Digital PR teams, and which both teams love to use: 

  1. Used frequently by both: Industry Reports, Survey Stories, Launching New Products or Services, Expert Comments and Advice, Sharing Own Sales/Internal Data, Photo Stories, Competitions, PR Stunts, Social Influencer Activity, Visual Experiments 
  2. Typical (but not exclusively) In-House PR Tactics: White Papers, Product Send-Outs, Press Trips, Events, Press Conferences, Interview Profiles, Broadcast Days, Press Days, Trade Press Activity 
  3. Typical (but not exclusively) Digital PR Tactics: Data Studies (with or without supporting graphic visualizations), Interactive Tools/Games, Newsjacking, Targeting Specific Titles Based On Backlink Gap Analysis

Before Propellernet, my career started in copywriting and technical SEO on-page optimizations; I never had any experience in ‘traditional’ PR tactics – Digital PR is all I’ve known. Just as ‘traditional’ PR teams are learning about domain authority or no-follow links, I’ve found that throughout my career, I’ve had to retro-learn many established PR tactics and get to grips with the language used by PR teams. In my earlier years, I remember being on a call with a PR team of a major UK supermarket brand and frantically searching for what DPS could mean! By learning the intricacies of traditional PR, you show an in-house PR team you respect and ‘get’ the work they do. 

Key takeaway: To build respect and trust with an in-house PR team, it’s important to understand their preferred PR tactics and the language to describe them.

6 ways to build trust

When establishing a good working relationship with in-house brand and PR teams, one key thing to remember is that you’re on the same team. The work each team is doing ultimately helps the other teams’ objectives (sometimes, the in-house PR team’s stories get links! Sometimes, Digital PR stories land great brand messages in national news sites!). 

To help you feel like you’re on the road to collaboration, I’ve shared six of the most important ways, in my experience, that Digital PR professionals can build trust with their client’s in-house PR team:

1. Being heard by and listening to the In-House PR Team:

Your client may be in the SEO team or e-commerce team within a company, but they should know that the in-house PR team is a key stakeholder in collaborating and approving Digital PR ideas; if that’s not the case, then take responsibility to make efforts to involve the PR team. Relay to the in-house PR team why the e-commerce or SEO team has hired you, what you do and how you do it, and how you would like them to be involved in your work. Ask and listen to their challenges and goals and explain how Digital PR work can be used to help with their objectives. 

2. Sign-offs

Include the in-house PR team in feedback and sign-off for onsite content and press releases to ensure they are happy that the brand messages and tone align with their objectives. Invite them to participate in the ideation briefing, ideas sessions, and share-backs to encourage collaboration. 

3. Respecting relationships with journalists

A very common thing that happens when we start working with in-house PR teams is sharing media lists. Understanding that the in-house PR team will protect the journalist relationships they’ve nurtured is hugely important. You can respect these relationships by being willing to do things such as sharing media lists, removing particular contacts at their request, or allowing the in-house team (or their own PR agency) to pitch your story to certain contacts. 

4. Be patient

When you’ve landed great coverage with these limitations, proven that you know how to speak to journalists and can create stories with a great brand message as well as SEO value, you can ask for more freedom in media lists (or find that you’re not being asked to share media lists anymore!) Keep up good comms and be patient. 

5. Integrating with their other agency(ies)

When your results start coming in and cause a positive internal buzz, you may find yourself introduced to other PR agencies with which the in-house PR team works. Showing willingness, being transparent, and showing that collaboration will work best for the client should make these introductions productive and useful – no one needs to feel threatened by the other as KPIs (and budget points) tend to differ. As well as sharing media lists, you may also find it useful to:

  • Have monthly or fortnightly meetings with the in-house team (and potentially their other agency(ies)) to share upcoming stories
  • Help take part in in-house ideation across all their marketing channels
  • Share Google Sheets or other project management platforms that show the timings of everyone’s campaign and story launches to avoid pitching crossover
  • Share approved ideas and campaign materials with other agencies before launch

6. Reporting back

When you share coverage with the in-house PR team, align the results with their key goals. For example, they might be more excited about one key title you landed coverage in rather than how many links you got. Or they might be more interested in your story landing on local news sites rather than a DR 89 followed category page link on an international website. Bring up what’s important to them in a personalized report

Wrapping up

In brief, by respecting an in-house PR team’s objectives and experience, understanding their preferred tactics, and being open and collaborative with your ideas and media contacts, it’s possible to create super successful working relationships with other internal teams in your client’s company. This collaboration will help make your working life easier – and help to amplify the brand even further!

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About the author: Stephanie Finch is a Digital PR Director at Propellernet, who has worked with in-house PR teams at both challenger brands and major UK brands such as Waitrose, Premier Inn, PureGym, Explore Worldwide, and Auto Trader.