We all need to do a Royally good job at digital PR

By Dan Selinger, head of communications, students and professional services at the University of Oxford,

With Buckingham palace now on the search for a ‘digital guru’, it’s clear digital PR is no longer at the fringes of the communications landscape. As we move into 2020, digital will be ever-more at the front and centre of PR practice. But how many of us can say we’re king of the castle when it comes to digital PR?

At a recent PUBlic Relations Oxford event, our city’s vibrant PR community gained tips on how to get ahead with digital PR from experts Liz McCarthy, head of digital and campaigns at the University of Oxford; Natasha Hill, managing director of Bottle Digital PR; and Andrew Bruce Smith, digital PR consultant and trainer at Escherman.

Here are some of the things we learned:

1. Digital PR is not an optional extra This is the age of ad-blockers, rock-bottom print circulations, syndicated online content, and the awe-inspiring power of Google. That means getting ahead with a digital strategy needs to be front-and-centre of communications teams’ minds.

With Google increasingly rewarding organic content including links from trusted sources; in the words of Andrew Bruce Smith: ‘Should there even be a distinction between ‘digital PR’ and ‘PR’ anymore?’

2. Don’t tell us to ‘make it go viral’ Whereas digital PR was once the domain of quick gimmicks and clickbait, a more strategic approach is now needed.

Natasha Hill said: “More awareness” isn’t good enough as an objective. And nor is “make it go viral”. It’s essentially about making your stories work harder, more durable and more findable.’

Hill advocates the ‘help, hub, hero’ model when curating digital content. ‘Help’ content aids people in finding a crucial hint or tip (think Youtube tutorial videos); ‘Hub’ is a collection of content that people dip in and out of and come back to, such as AXA’s Sleep Centre; while ‘Hero’ is attention-grabbing content with a big story (think Redbull’s leap from the edge of space).

3. Digital needn’t cost the earth – but it isn’t free Digital can be a low-cost solution, particularly for non-profits, and Smith shared some cracking free tools to help PR teams research stories and optimise their web and digital


The Answer the Public visual keyword research tool, SimilarWeb website comparator and Google Natural Language’s text analysis were just some named on the night. But Liz McCarthy urged caution when thinking about digital as low cost: “You don’t need a budget to focus on improving your content quality, researching placements or even doing basic audience research,” she said. “But it isn’t easy or free. It’s about being realistic and strategic with the resources you do have.”

4. Digital rewards a sustainable brand strategy All our experts agreed that digital PR requires long term investment, and for McCarthy,

measurement is everything: “You need to have clear objectives to begin with, and have decided how you’re going to measure,” she said. “Make sure you’re using trackable links, timing different elements so they don’t dilute effects,” she added.

Smith, meanwhile, highlighted the pitfalls focusing too much on short term sales campaigns over and above longer-term brand awareness content. “Just because awareness is difficult to show direct return on investment, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in it,” he said.

Hill agreed: “One piece of digital PR isn’t going to jump the brand up to page 1 from 26 in a few months,” she said. “Digital PR has greater potential than the adage of print news being tomorrow’s chip paper. PR for SEO needs a sustained strategy. Google never sleeps, so don’t let it find you napping.”

I don’t think many of the guests at our event will now disagree with the Queen that Digital PR is where the smart money lies. And thanks to the tips from our experts, I expect our community will be doing a royally good job at getting it right.

Dan Selinger is head of communications, students and professional services at the University of Oxford – and co-founder of Public Relations Oxford, which runs the PUBlic Relations events series. From 2020, PUBlic Relations events will be run in association with the CIPR’s Thames and Chiltern regional group.

Featured image courtesy of flickr user William Warby via CC2.0.


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