As we all know, digital marketing ceased to exist last year. In January 2013, Forrester announced it was to be the year that ‘digital marketing’ became just ‘marketing’.

I’d like to posit that something similar happened to PR. In fact I think it happened earlier, though we have yet to have had the debate.

There’s no doubt that the internet has changed marketing’s function and activities, but its impact on PR has simply been to expand the discipline’s footprint.

In a world where everyone is a communicator, PR’s influence is all-pervasive. It’s for this reason that I find the term ‘online PR’ to be so reductive.

More than links

As PR people have rushed to get their heads around SEO, and SEO people started undertaking activity that might traditionally be called PR, we’ve seen the term ‘online PR’ increasingly bandied about. 

What it tends to mean in this context is content generation and influencer relations, with one goal in mind: building links. And link building, as a goal in itself, is dead, or at least dying. 

And deservedly so. Call me old fashioned, but I like my search results to be a representation of the best content for what I’m looking for, not what an SEO (or PR) professional has managed to get the most links to point at. 

Google happens to agree with this, so link building, and by extension what tends to get called ‘online PR’, is diminishing in effectiveness.

The focus now needs to be more firmly on just creating good content, with the emphasis on forming relationships with those that might link to it taking a back seat. 

PR professionals are very adept at digital communication

The accepted wisdom is that PR people don’t understand digital channels. We’re too busy lunching with newspaper editors and taking TV producers out for drinks to bother tweeting with bloggers, you see. 

However, EML Wildfire’s recent research into the effectiveness of 80 business’ PR functions found that in terms of channels, digital was the strongest. Which isn’t a huge surprise to me. 

Digital is now the bread and butter of a decent PR strategy, in fact I’d go so far as to question if it’s even describable as a ‘channel’, so broad is the term. It’s like a horizontal consideration, spanning the vertical channels of print, social, video, and often to the detriment of broadcast. All media channels are now ‘digital’ in some form. 

There’s every reason that PR people should be adept at digital communications, as PR people are professional communicators. 

More than leads

As PR has matured into the digital era, one area that has lagged behind is that of measurement. 

We’re now starting to see some of the more advanced PR operators adopt the standard digital marketing core measurement; leads generated. 

Which is very valiant, and PR’s effectiveness should absolutely be measured by its impact on the business. The problem is that, as EML Wildfire’s new measurement framework points out, ‘leads’ are not the only business impact that PR can have. 

As I mentioned, the internet has expanded PR’s influence through businesses, and by that I mean beyond marketing and sales. A mature PR strategy can be aligned against audience behavior, brand loyalty, share price (or perceived business value), reputation and actual sales (not just leads).

In fact, these are all objectives against which PR could always be judged against, but as PR has moved into the digital age rather than measure them all more closely, we’ve been keen to emulate digital marketing and focus on leads. 

So there really is no such thing as online PR, not just because what we tend to call online PR is obsolete, but because all PR is online. 

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Ian McKee

Published 6 February, 2014 by Ian McKee

Ian McKee is Social and PR Director at AgencyUK and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn

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Comments (2)

Stephen Croome

Stephen Croome, Founder at

online PR will look at things like the make up of the serps for key search queries like {brand} and {brand reviews} and figure out how to manipulate them to more positively influence buyers at the bottom of the buying cycle

So if you define online pr as pr, then there is no online pr because that's how you have chosen to defined it. I still see plenty of room for online pr - pr that has a digital knowledge and impact

over 4 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

I beg to differ on this: "PR professionals are very adept at digital communication"... I have met far too many PR agencies/professionals jumping on the bandwagon of "Digital" without having a clue on how to use properly online medium including (and not stopping at) analytics / measurements.
Apart from this...the article is pretty much spot on.

over 4 years ago

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