Are Traditional PR Tactics Relevant for Digital Marketers?


Recently, a 21 Handshake client asked us, “So, what does 21 Handshake do for PR?”

The client assumed that because our focus here is on digital marketing, we don’t really do PR. In the most traditional sense, the client was correct: we don’t have a team of seasoned PR specialists pitching new stories to reporters round the clock or planning press events to secure earned media coverage. But we do apply many of the “best practices” associated with traditional PR to our digital marketing strategy.

Is Traditional PR Dead?

From social media to smartphones, today’s digital world has transformed PR strategy for digital marketers. So, where does that leave traditional PR tactics, like pitching reporters or holding a press event? Are these tactics still effective, or should B2B companies concentrate their efforts on digital strategies, like social media marketing and thought leadership?

Like many marketing questions, there’s no simple answer.

First, let’s unpack PR a bit. An effective publicity strategy will build brand awareness, generate new sales leads, and distinguish your business from your competition. The tactics may vary, but the goals remain the same.

Traditional PR tactics require the same solid foundation as an inbound marketing strategy to succeed:

  1. Know your product or service
  2. Know your target audience and marketplace
  3. Know your existing customer base, including their values, priorities, problems, and needs
  4. Know your competition, their areas of growth, where they focus their resources, and their vulnerabilities
  5. Know your product’s full marketability scope

That’s because the goal of PR – like inbound marketing – is to build brand awareness, differentiate your business from the competition, and ultimately generate new leads for your sales team to close. The difference is how you go about achieving these goals.

Traditionally, PR has focused on securing earned media coverage, free publicity gained through promotional efforts. Digital PR strategies can also achieve earned media, but the media outlets may be different. Traditional PR efforts, like pitching reporters, would raise your business’s profile through earned media coverage on TV, the radio, or in newspapers and magazine articles.

Where we go for news has changed and PR has changed with it. Whether we’re reading about a major current event or the latest industry trend, we’re reading it online. Compared to print, nearly twice as many adults primarily get news online, either from news websites/apps, from social media (18%) or both, according to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center. We follow thought leaders and influencers on LinkedIn and Twitter. We read industry blogs and online news sites. Most importantly, from social media to white papers, companies now have a powerful platform for communicating directly with customers and clients, in many cases circumventing the need to “pitch” reporters on a news story. So is the art of pitching dead?

Should My Business Pitch Reporters?

Depending on your company’s target audience, message and communication goals, there can still be value in pitching reporters. The difference? You may want to think about “reporters” a bit differently and instead think about pitching “influencers”.

Reporters are certainly one type of influencer, especially reporters who write for reputable industry publications. All businesses should maintain a curated list of press contacts at top industry publications and local news outlets. Thanks to platforms like PRWire, just about anyone can publish a press release online these days. That doesn’t mean anyone will read it, however. (Google no longer allows press releases to boost SEO and sites may be penalized for duplicate content in these releases.)

Rather than firing off an email with a generic press release to a long list of reporters, however, consider other connection strategies. Sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out), and to find out which reporters regularly write about your industry, and then reach out via Twitter to offer your expertise. Set up Google Alerts to monitor local media outlets, reporters and coverage trends– and be prepared to offer your industry expertise and insight to reporters.

“Pitching” isn’t always about reporters, either. We’ve written before about the importance of building partnerships with brand evangelists and influencers in order to expand your earned media opportunities.

Digital PR Strategy: Next Steps

Marketers can still benefit from traditional PR tactics as long as these tactics are adapted to meet the realities of our digital world. Check back in the coming weeks as we share best practices for creating media lists, pitching stories, and securing earned media coverage.

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