Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Keeping up the PR Momentum in a Digital World

Published in May-Jun 2022

Zofeen Ihsan on the evolution of the PR function.

Yes. Public relations agencies have adopted the shift to digital because it’s a matter of “do or die.” Let’s roll back the timeline and look at what PR looked like less than a decade ago.

Traditional PR involved garnering earned media for clients in the shape of press release placements, spokespeople interviews, opinions, letters to the editor and media coverage of events. This coverage was geared towards print (newspapers and magazines). Event coverage (depending on the newsworthiness) while targeted at print, was also aimed at securing coverage on TV and radio. PR agencies worked hard to secure TV and radio interviews for their client’s spokespeople, and all these placements were secured by fostering strong relationships with key members of the press. Then digital entered the frame and overnight the workload of the PR agencies doubled.

Like traditional PR, digital is about the management of a company’s reputation and brand through the media – in this case, digital. And if you are thinking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, and TikTok, think also WhatsApp and Messenger. What this meant was that the world of PR expanded as the opportunities available to secure placements for clients increased.

This has meant forging new relationships as well as learning new skills. Skills such as monitoring digital for client-related news, and identifying the most relevant social platform and the most relevant influencer for a brand. As a result, PR agencies had to expand their teams and hire people skilled in developing, managing and monitoring social media channels.

Initially, the responsibility to pitch the benefits of digital to a client came under the PR agencies. At that point, digital adoption by clients was slow, either because of restricted budgets or because they still put the emphasis of their PR efforts on news coverage in traditional media. However, soon afterwards, clients began looking for one-stop solutions and preferred to have their traditional and digital PR handled by one team under one roof – and those agencies unable to offer this ran the risk of losing out, although there are still instances where clients have one agency to manage their traditional and digital PR (news placements on websites, blogs and social media news channels) and another to monitor and manage their social network channels.

When Covid-19 hit in 2020, digital adoption grew exponentially. In fact, at one point, due to the uncertainty (and fear) about how the virus was spread, some agencies stopped monitoring physical newspapers altogether. Another shift brought on by Covid-19 was the fact that meetings and events were held online and PR agencies had to develop effective ways of holding meetings and events online while avoiding the pitfalls and mishaps that can happen in the online world – for example, advisories were sent to clients to keep their mics on mute until the Q&A portion began.

Coming back to the question of whether PR agencies are keeping up their momentum in line with the influence of digital platforms, the answer is a definitive yes. However, at the end of the day, all PR agencies have to have a sound understanding of all the platforms they need to engage in for their clients. Digital platforms are a part of the new world order and their relevance will continue to increase, especially given the fact that traditional media outlets have taken their news online.

Zofeen Ihsan is Director & COO, Xenith PR.