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7 min read

Proactive vs Reactive: A Layered Approach to Digital PR

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Digital PR has gone from being a novel new concept, to an integral part of any digital marketing campaign. In a landscape where features of your brand and links to your website still play a hugely important role in improving your search visibility (i.e. the number of people able to find your business, products and services via Google or Bing), digital PR can be a powerful tool.

Done well, digital PR combines the techniques of more traditional PR approaches – building relationships, identifying stories, creating news – with the digital-first approaches of SEO and wider digital marketing. By focusing on target publications where the content will be credited with a link back to the site, and prioritising online target publications which are of a high authority level themselves, businesses can get a lot more value from their digital PR campaigns.

Measuring the results of digital PR

The requirements of a digital PR campaign are usually founded in SEO strategy (the alternative to this being a campaign which is solely based on the less tangible benefits of ‘visibility’ and ‘brand awareness’). On the whole, that means a digital PR campaign aims to achieve one of two things:

  1. Improve search rankings by building links to a specific page or full site
  2. Create large scale audiences for use in remarketing, through the creation of newsworthy content that attracts attention

In this way, the goals of digital PR are easily measurable in the form of links, ranking improvements, traffic and, ultimately, conversions.

Because of this, savvy marketers will want to invest in digital PR approaches that mitigate the risk of a ‘flop’ as much as possible. It’s not uncommon for a campaign to simply not take off – after all, PR is more rooted in the ‘art’ than the ‘science’ camp as a general rule – but when we focus on the results we’re trying to achieve rather than the individual campaigns themselves, we stand a much better chance of mitigating the risk of failure.

Taking a layered approach to digital PR

While we’d never say a campaign has ‘flopped’ here at Impression, we do recognise that from time to time, external circumstances or simply bad luck mean something doesn’t get picked up in the way we’d hope. Kirsty Hulse gave a great example of this at Search Love, describing a campaign she ran which highlighted the community spirit in London; the piece was solid, but occurrences in the city at that time meant that there were more important stories to tell and her content, in her words, “flopped”.

So we can’t always control how well our PR performs (though we’d argue, we can do a lot in the strategy part of the project to give it the best chance of success), but we can protect ourselves through what we term ‘layering’.

Let’s consider Kirsty’s story as an example. Her and her team had put a lot of work – and therefore time and their client’s money – into developing the content they were then to promote to the press. Had they only done this and nothing else, the client report come the end of the month would look pretty bleak.

Like us, Kirsty therefore advocates a multi-campaign approach to PR, whereby multiple campaigns run concurrently. The benefits of this are fairly obvious; where one ‘fails’, another picks up the slack, meaning the end of month report can still cite those ranking improvements or traffic increases that were the project’s goals. Another benefit is that the team isn’t hung up on one piece; we can get quite fond of a piece we’re working on and it’s difficult to admit defeat when it simply doesn’t work, but with this multi-campaign approach, we always know there’s something else in the pipeline.

Proactive vs reactive PR

While Kirsty’s approach to layering focuses on multiple campaigns running at one time, here at Impression, we advocate a split of proactive and reactive, too.

Reactive PR

Reactive PR, as it sounds, it all about reacting to opportunities and those things happening within a business that can be utilised for PR gain.

You’ve likely heard of the Twitter hashtags “PRrequest” and “journorequest”; this is where journalists seek out comments or content to support their stories. By following these hashtags, businesses can spot new opportunities by responding to the journalists and offering up their own expertise.

Similarly, tools like Response Source, HARO and Source Bottle deliver journalist requests to your inbox. It’s also worth following your target publications on Twitter and the like to spot their requests as they come through, too.

Also on the reactive side, we have the promotion of news stories happening within a business. For example, let’s say your digital marketing agency is doing a pretty good job of their campaigns, they could be nominated for five awards at the UK Search Awards, and that’s something that can be promoted on their site and via their local press. This is why it’s so important for PRs to stay abreast of internal happenings and to be able to craft them into newsworthy content.

Finally on the reactive side, we have reactions to those things which happen within our industry, location or simply that affect us or our audience in some way. Perhaps you run a not-for-profit energy company and then a politician makes an announcement about not-for-profit energy companies; that’s an chance for you to pitch in your own company and to gain new links as a result. It’s important to always be following news in and around your industry to identify these ‘reactive’ opportunities.

Proactive PR

Proactive PR is much more closely linked with those exciting creative content campaigns we love to work on, or the delivery of what we term as ‘news from nothing’, whereby we create newsworthy content without it happening naturally.

This essentially means developing a strong understanding of your target publications and target audience, and creating content to suit their desires and therefore gain widespread, high quality coverage.

For example, here at Impression, we wanted to achieve coverage across high authority publications in our industry; our research showed that those publications often covered interview style content, and we therefore put together an interview, which was filmed, and from which we were able to draw stories and subsequently gain coverage. You can check out our Bing interview here, and you’ll see how the videos are segmented into different topics, which, for my campaign, had their own individual press releases and target publications. The interview was covered in a wide range of publications including Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Brighton SEO and many more.

In another example, we worked with our client Company Check to create the Business Census, a survey of 3,000 business owners designed to provide a snapshot of what doing business in Britain looks like. We crafted the survey in such as way that every question had a PR angle, no matter which was it was answered – so asking ‘did your business grow in terms of turnover in 2016’ becomes “Business growth rates slow as X% of owners cite no growth”, or “Business growth rates soar as X% of owners cite strong growth”, and so on. In this way, we created ‘news from nothing’, which generated coverage in publications including Forbes, International Business Times, Yahoo News and Financial Times.

Proactive PR is all about identifying the story you want to tell, and then finding a way to get to that point. Like reactive PR, it requires an in depth knowledge of the industry in which you work, the publications in which you want to feature and the people you want to speak to.

Combining reactive with proactive for optimal success

Our layering approach is therefore multi-campaign driven where appropriate. But, we believe more powerfully, it comprises both a reactive and a proactive layer, ensuring we are always following industry trends and news, as well as creating it ourselves. It’s an approach which is working really successfully for our clients, and which we use for ourselves, too.

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to know who your target audience is, both in terms of the publications in which you want to feature, and the people you want to read it. You should be proud of every feature, and never do it solely for the purpose of gaining links, but equally, where possible, do try to get links included if you want your PR efforts to support SEO.

Do you have your own techniques for digital PR success? Let us know in the comments below!