3 Key Differences That Distinguish Digital PR from Traditional PR


Even if your company has never had occasion to use a public relations firm, you likely understand the gist of PR itself: a strategic approach to communication that is intended to drum up positive publicity for a business, brand, group, or individual. There’s also a good chance that you’re familiar with the concept of a “PR nightmare,” which occurs when someone associated with that brand, whether it’s the company’s CEO or the summer intern who’s handling its social media, makes a misstep.

Whether or not you have a dedicated PR department in your company, someone in your employ is performing the duties of public relations. It might go by another name or be rolled into a different job description, but it’s not a bad idea to focus on your digital PR efforts — if for no other reason than to avoid one of those nightmares!

With that said, join us for a look at how digital PR differs from its traditional counterpart.

3 Key Differences Between Digital PR and Traditional PR

It’s a truism to say that the internet has revolutionized nearly every aspect of our lives, and this is absolutely the case when it comes to public relations, as well. The once-solid ground upon which PR Professional stood has been shifting over the past decade or so, leading to an almost entirely new landscape.

A Much Wider Audience

For starters, the digital revolution has greatly expanded the potential reach of any publicist or marketer. Rather than relying on the readership of a few newspapers or magazines, or the people who view a handful of television shows, digital PR efforts can now spread across the globe.

The potential audience for any message or communique is exponentially greater with digital than with traditional media, thanks to viral content. A comment that might have caused a minor kerfuffle in a niche industry before eventually dying down is now just as likely to be picked up and shared on Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms.

Unique Opportunities for Publicity

Not only is the sheer size of the audience different in the digital world, but so are the methods of dissemination. Traditional PR is limited to traditional media: periodical print outlets like newspapers and magazines, television, radio, and in-person appearances.

Traditional PR was also linear and one-directional. The public relations manager used his or her connections or skills to get a piece of content published or aired, and that was the end of it.

Digital media facilitates a conversation, creating a two-way flow of information. And it isn’t limited to a static message or one-off appearance. Different audiences can be reached through different social media platforms, of course, and there’s a much greater range of opportunities. These include digital-exclusive media and publicity strategies like polls, contests, hashtags, listicles, infographics, quizzes, short-form video, webinars, ebooks, and influencer marketing.

A Decentralized Press

Another integral aspect of digital PR is the decentralized nature of communicating via the internet. Even just a few decades ago, the entity known as “the press” or “the media” comprised a limited number of outlets. Now, in the early 20th century, anyone with access to wifi can publish a blog, upload a video, create a podcast, write a tweet, or share photographs.

Naturally, “decentralized” doesn’t necessarily mean “egalitarian,” and there remains an upper echelon of media outlets that still carry a great deal of cachet and still reach an enormous audience. But just as viral content can spring from virtually any corner of the internet and then snowballs through shares, retweets, and responses, so too is it possible for a relatively unknown blogger or YouTuber to make a huge splash not just in their local small pond, but in the vast sea of online content as well.

The Death of Traditional PR?

Pundits have been predicting the death of print media for just about as long as digital has been around. Does that, in turn, mean that traditional PR is on its deathbed as well?

Not necessarily.

“At its heart, PR is about relationship-building,” says Zach Hoffman, CEO of DigitalPR.com. “Although the opportunities themselves might look vastly different from the media outlets of yesterday, the approach remains the same.”

At least for the time being, companies should choose an integrated strategy that makes the most of digital media’s ever-evolving platforms but that still retains the core principles, and even some of the outlets, of traditional PR. People still do watch television, read magazines, look at billboards. Technology may have changed the way we do that, but traditional media hasn’t breathed its last breath just yet.