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  • Naif Shazili

Why PR and Digital Marketing Needs To Work Together

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Why PR and Digital Marketing Needs To Work Together

Public Relations (PR) in the digital age is in dire need of an upgrade. In the good old days, a press release would do the trick and get you all the publicity you need through media coverage. They’re inexpensive and easily distributed. But with all the changes in the marketing world brought about by digital tools, PR can no longer work in isolation.

A good press release is as good as its coverage but to measure its effectiveness has been a perennial issue for PR practitioners. Other digital marketing tools are preferred compared to PR and who can fault the new methods, it's much more targeted, results are measurable and it's cost-effective.

The digital platforms that advertisers are using to reach their target audiences are growing at an unprecedented rate and mobile is accelerating this change. Not long ago, 50 million consumers was considered a significant audience to reach. This is no longer a remarkable number.

However, a good PR practitioner will tell you that earned media is priceless. No matter how innovative and effective digital marketing tools are, they’re unmatched by that third-party endorsement that you get through earned media coverage. Plus, they would tell you that they are two different animals.

We definitely agree and we won't argue with that. What we’re proposing is that all these tools, whether good content marketing, a strong SEO game, and digital ads, are all integrated in a solid communications strategy. And we admit at the outset that we believe PR folks are the best people to handle all these tools because we’re master storytellers.

Why? Let's take social media for example, people focus too much on getting shares and views but did it lead to action? If the audience remembers the story but they didn't remember you as a brand/business, then you haven’t accomplished anything. As PR folks, we think about the action, the lesson, and the key message that we want our audience to to do. Then, we build our story around that. We’re experts at identifying and bringing out the existing stories that underlie any industry.

But while the digital tools available today have changed, storytelling and human psychology has not changed. From our cavemen ancestors, myths, folk tales, narratives, whatever you want to call it, storytelling has helped people make sense of the world and has helped influence their thoughts, behaviours and actions. In the 21st century, this has not changed, powerful narratives and understanding human drives is still as important as ever.

The wave brought about by digital marketing tools is overwhelming and many have had to adapt with these changes or be left behind. Why is why we’re proponents of holistic PR strategies that involve search engine optimization, content marketing, active social media management, website analytics and digital advertising, all the best tools of digital marketing working beautifully together in harmony.

Below are just some case studies that we’ve experienced first hand working with our clients.

Good content influences behaviour

Take an investment bank. The goal is simple: increase downloads of their latest investing app that allows retail investors to invest through their mobile phone.

But the main challenge has always been how do you make investing convenient and hassle free? The questions that bug a lot of people are: “What am I investing in?” “Why are there so many unit trust funds to choose from?” “What’s the difference between stocks and bonds?” “What actually happens when you invest in something?” These questions remain and it stops regular people from taking the next step in parting with their hard earned money.

This is where content marketing comes in. Generating easily digestible content, such as a nifty infographic that explains investing easily is one way to solve this. Even better is when they save that infographic on their phones or anywhere they can retrieve it easily.

The lesson here is taken from Nudge by Richard Thaler, the behavioural economist who won a nobel prize in 2017. He said something that has stuck with us - If you want people to do something, you have to make it easy for them. Easily digestible content gives people that 24-hour guide that people can refer to at any time and address all their concerns.

How website analytics make good PR stories

A property listing website that we’ve worked with is a good case study of how digital marketing tells good PR stories.

Each day, thousands of visitors visit the website to find their dream homes. With website analytics, we’re able to create demand trends for the property market, (something that was severely lacking in Malaysia) based on the unique visitorship and the specific locations of houses that they’re looking at.

The report was prepared by compiling and analysing the data collected from the website’s total user visits. With the report available, the analysis aims to provide an insight for policy makers and property developers on Malaysian residential preferences. There is a lack of demand-driven data in Malaysia, which is needed in policy planning and making evidence based subsidy decisions.

Through the report, all relevant parties benefited from the publication and not just developers, so that it will align industry players with market sentiments to facilitate better decision making. Additionally, these property demand trends are newsworthy pieces of information which calls for an event with the spokesperson ready to explain and elaborate on the report.

What started from compiling and analysing data, turned into a successful PR story. What’s more, the data made available is truly beneficial because it mapped out the property demand trends of Malaysians in terms of the property they’re seeking, which location they’re looking at and at what price point. On the macro level, the report also gave a state by state breakdown of demand property trends. From developers, to property buyers, to policy makers, each stakeholder had something they could take from the demand trends report.

Using Social Media to share your stories with your audience

Social media presence is indispensable in this day and age. This is the platform that you have to be in to engage with your most important stakeholder: your clients.

While the attention rate here is as competitive as ever, overwhelmingly news consumption these days is done via social media. Combined with an effective PR strategy, good PR stories, or good stories in general have the added advantage of boosting your earned coverage with your audiences.

Social media is crucial in developing your unique brand voice and engaging in conversation with your audience. It’s a platform for you to show that as a brand, you care about your audience’s challenges, their fears, their hopes and needs and you're there to address them. The goal in social media is to reach out and create content so useful that they’ll thank you for it. Here’s where the PR practitioner can craft his content to his audience’s needs.

PR is still as relevant as ever

Now having said all that, we're still big proponents of PR and how it's still relevant today. PR is all about finding that ultimate third party endorsement, through an authoritative voice, whether it’s through the media, an influencer or a key opinion leader. One good word, voluntarily, and without any compulsion, about your brand or business or product or service, that value is priceless. If the best neutral tech reviewer in the world or a credible scientist uses a smartphone and sings praises about that smartphone, and words get out or he endorses it sincerely, it can sell millions.

If you’re still sceptical, think about the popularity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in recent years. In the early days of the UFC (and thanks to Royce Gracie) only hardcore fans knew how effective the martial arts was against competitors. Now the sport has undergone a success story like no other. BJJ gyms have seen an increase in membership and around the world, many have at least had an inkling on what it's all about (grappling). Ardent practitioners include Jocko (an ex Navy Seal), Sam Harris (philosopher and popular intellectual) , Demi Lovato, Russell Brand and the late Anthony Bourdain. All of them have sung praises of the sport and have claimed that it was a thinking man’s martial arts. The message was clear, if you’re smart you’ll do BJJ.

We don't think there was a concerted effort to promote BJJ, but the idea behind it’s growth and success - having all the right people speak on the topic that captures attention in a meaningful way, and putting the sport in a mainstream platform (UFC) - is something PR pros know all too well and can be replicated for any brands or business.

What we ultimately believe

Earned coverage will garner visibility and credibility, an aspect which advertising can't deliver. The public has a built-in skepticism for advertising but is more likely to believe what it reads in the paper or hears on TV. In this way, PR is indispensable. However, social media can be used to further amplify earned media coverage. What’s more, those earned coverage, specifically online news will help improve search visibility across the web for your brand especially if there’s backlinks to the brand’s website.

The point here is that all the digital marketing tools work hand in hand with PR and complement each other well. Optimising all the tools in the toolbox requires precision and intricate know-how, but done carefully, success is always guaranteed.

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