Four Reasons Why PR Professionals Need Digital Expertise

Feb 23, 2012

Not infrequently I've found myself in the following situation: I'm at a large PR agency pitching the services of my team of social media specialists to an account director. When we come to the topic of earned media, I tell the account director how we would earn consumer-generated media coverage by identifying influencers, reaching out to them in a spirit of collaboration and persuading them to carry our branded content and messaging. It's at this point that the account director gently interrupts me and says, "Oh, you mean pitching bloggers? We already do that."

"Yes," I reply, "you're placing stories on blogs, but are you syndicating that content across owned and paid executions? Are you distributing it on mobile media? Are you leveraging it to support your search strategy?" Again, most often, the answer to these questions is "no" since digital media expertise is essential to adopt any of these tactics. Over time I've learned to explain this to my colleagues by breaking it down into the following four points.

  • Influence and relevance of media channels is vastly different online. The influence of traditional media outlets is fairly static in the short term. The New York Times, for example, was just as influential last year as it is this year. This is far from the case in the world of consumer-generated media where an influencer is only as relevant as his/her last post. It takes digital expertise to determine and track influence in social media and build an effective earned media plan.
  • PRs should deploy paid and owned channels to extend the reach and impact of earned media. There are a number ways to leverage owned and paid channels to extend the reach and impact of earned content. For example, a marketer can syndicate the content via paid rich media display ads with integrated RSS feeds. In addition marketers can simply post links to their earned content on their brands' blogs, Facebook profiles and Twitter handles. It's important for PRs to have a firm grasp of the digital media landscape in order to get the most mileage from their placements.
  • Successful online pitches should be part of the overall search strategy. Earned online media is a prime opportunity for marketers to buttress their search strategy. However, to seize this opportunity, the individual crafting the pitch needs to understand search strategy basics like keyword targeting and link-building. Every successful earned online media placement that doesn't have the right keywords and links to support the search strategy is a missed opportunity.
  • PRs should leverage mobile media to increase the relevance of earned media. One channel in particular that holds a lot of promise but has yet to be fully exploited for earned online media is mobile. Mobile media provides opportunities for augmenting the impact of earned media through localization. One possible example would be a mobile app that distributes relevant earned media content such as product reviews. This would enable the consumer to consult the relevant reviews while at the retail location for the corresponding product. The possibilities extend even further but exploring them requires digital expertise.

Of course, increasingly more PR professionals understand that successfully executing earned online media strategy requires digital experience and have been building specialized practices at their firms. Moreover, the new generation of PR practitioners is increasingly more digital and social media savvy. However, if you happen to encounter those in the field who still don't get that you need to know digital to execute digital PR, I hope these four points help you make your case.