Over the past two decades, digital marketing has had an enormous impact on the way companies and organizations reach their customers. This has been especially true with the arrival of social media, which has been able to reach more people in more targeted ways than traditional media. However, while digital marketing may have added new platforms for communicating with potential customers and audiences, foundational PR practices and principles still remain important. When used correctly, digital marketing makes telling your company or organization’s story easier than ever before.

A 2017 survey of PR professionals conducted by the USC Center for Public Relations on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) found that industry professionals seemed to believe the walls separating marketing and PR were breaking down. Once separate disciplines, digital tools such as SEO, SEM and social media are allowing PR professionals to operate like marketers and vice versa. But, even with this greater versatility and enhanced power to obtain and hold an audience’s attention, a closer look finds that traditional PR practices and principles guide digital marketing.

The digital tools of today are just that – tools – no different from what PR professionals used to communicate in the past. In 1906, Ivy Lee created what is considered modern public relations when he advised the railroad company that he was working for to release a statement to the press detailing the facts of an accident involving one of its trains before reporters could ask. While Lee introduced press releases, today’s PR professionals can also utilize Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and a host of others, which allows organizations and individuals to get out information in a format and channel they own themselves. In fact, many of the social media platforms are making a significant effort to streamline their services for business use beyond the paid media opportunities that currently drive their bottom lines.

To be sure, digital marketing tools have several features that distinguish them from more traditional PR techniques. One of the advantages of digital marketing is that it has a reach far beyond what Ivy Lee and his associates could have imagined during the dawn of modern public relations. Even more, this reach is practically instantaneous, with information able to be shared in a matter of seconds. Another advantage is that digital marketing often provides hard data that can be used to justify expenditure, ensure accountability and track campaign progress – as well as to facilitate virtual real-time adjustments to marketing campaigns, both in terms of messaging and channel spend, to optimize the results.

While being able to measure the progress of a digital campaign is important, there are aspects of PR that are not as easy to quantify, but are equally valuable. For example, the PR principles of building and maintaining relationships and reputations, especially through third-party validators, are essential for successful digital marketing. Social media impressions can be counted; goodwill and positive long-term relationships with trusted opinion influencers cannot be so easily measured.

Third-party validation can come from several sources, from traditional media to celebrities to social media influencers. The digital marketing explosion has led to a proliferation of information about products and services. With all this information for consumers to sort through, third-party references provide the reputational heft to a brand, organization or individual who could use affirmation or introduction into a market. Today’s PR practitioners, like their counterparts decades ago, are wise to maintain reputations and ongoing relationships with those who can influence opinion. The players and the tools of public relations and marketing may change, but overall goals remain the same now as from the start.

Understanding how to integrate traditional and digital components into an overarching strategy can be a daunting task. Cooksey Communications has been developing campaigns that integrate both, as part of a holistic strategy, to provide measurable results aimed at building our clients’ businesses. Let us know how we can help you and your company or organization take advantage of everything Cooksey has to offer.

Jason Meyer
Executive Vice President and Partner