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Digital brands treating offline PR as redundant are missing opportunities. Offline and online PR shouldn’t be viewed as mutually exclusive. Strategy’s Digital PR Manager, Becky Martin-Jones, explains why.

The way we consume media has changed, diversifying into myriad platforms – apps, mobile and tablet compatible content from websites, 24 hour streamed news channels and social media. The digital revolution has enabled consumers of news to access it around the clock, in formats most desirable to them.

Gone are the days when the morning rush hour train was bursting with enormous broadsheets; many of today’s commuters are instead scrolling through neatly sized tablets and e-readers or catching up with their daily news on a smartphone app.

Of course there are still those that are buying and reading newspapers, but for the most part, the explosion of online consumption of news – the Daily Mail’s 168 million plus online readers is testament to this – now exceeds offline for major national titles.

Online publications, apps and social media feeds all have an instantaneous nature which has taken the world by storm. Interestingly, though, offline media is still held in high esteem in terms of reliability.

On the day that Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London flat, while Twitter was awash with speculation and hearsay as to whether the body of the young woman found was actually the troubled star, national news titles were busily fact-checking ahead of the publishing the real story.

The most interesting phenomenon about this scenario was that the Twitter dialogue reflected a lack of willingness to believe Amy was dead until it was verified by the ‘real’ news media. This clearly demonstrates the integrity attributed to what is printed. Online and social media may have a huge following – but much content is originated from and checked with offline platforms before publication.

A Game of Two Halves

PR relies heavily on media platforms for its success. Without publications to target with relevant content and news, it would be a totally redundant discipline. For as long as PR has formally existed as a profession (over 100 years now), its dichotomy with news media has provided its very foundation, with PR professionals working to provide quality content that matches both journalists’ requirements and readers’ interests, and journalists seeking relevant PR output to meet their editorial needs.

Of course the age-old love-hate battle between the two professions has also served as a useful quality control factor. Journalists provide a good sounding board for PRs, with feedback on what they determine quality editorial ideas and content taken on board by PRs, who study target audience and content styles of publications carefully in order to provide exactly what’s required.

“Bill Gates famously said “if I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR”

By building effective relationships with journalists based on two way communication, PR professionals have over the years honed and developed the skills to think and write in a journalistic style, while at the same time reinforcing their clients’ key messages and increasing brand awareness.

As the PR discipline has become more entrenched in the world of business marketing and communications – Bill Gates famously said “if I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR” – that world’s methods of communicating has completely changed.

When Two Worlds Collide

PR professionals have quickly learnt the importance of mastering the digital world. This has proven simpler to do in some cases, for example targeting publications which have moved online completely or increased their online presence, but trickier in other areas, such as the art of good PR through social media – with many high profile disasters showcasing how not to do it.

RyanAir boss Michael Ryan’s Twitter ‘grilling’ late last year, rather than being a successful forum for questions and answers, became an excruciating session of flirting, swearing, and self-praise from the controversial new boss. In a nutshell it was a PR disaster and an example of exactly how not to create a loyal and interested following through social media.

There is so much positive brand exposure and synergy with content marketing to be gained from doing social media well it is crucial that companies (or their press offices) understand its inherent workings and likewise pitfalls, to ensure they get it right

Innovative, well received social media marketing and consistent activity can have a hugely positive effect on a brand’s reputation, and in turn its digital content strategy. Most recently, content and link improving algorithm updates from Google, Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird have rendered keyword optimised press releases useless, and the shift from Search Engine Optimisation services and tactics to quality digital content generation, such as what's provided with our content marketing services, has seen the worlds of PR and digital marketing converge.

Curtains for Offline?

So, does offline PR matter in an online industry? It certainly has relevance as part of a holistic strategy which reinforces brand awareness and key messaging. Take advertising as an example; the biggest brands advertise across multiple platforms, from broadcast, online and social media to print media and billboard. Why? To create a subconscious awareness of their products and brand to help ensure they are front of mind when consumers make a purchasing decision.

There has been a clear shift in the focus of advertising. The first three quarters of 2013 saw a 32.4% global surge in spend on internet display advertising compared to the same period in 2012. This presents a major challenge for offline advertising sales, which despite struggles, continue to have a very valid place in the in the advertising industry and remain a viable option for years to come.

“The name of the game is visibility and awareness, from all angles and on all platforms”

The same rules apply to offline PR. The name of the game is visibility and awareness, from all angles and on all platforms. The most successful PR campaigns are recognised as containing a combination of online and offline media, immersing the target audience with engaging material of varying formats from every direction.

In PR Week’s industry predictions for 2014, digital was highlighted as a key focus by Anthony Simon, head of digital communication in the Prime Minister’s Office.  He urged communication professionals to move away from simply digitising analogues practices, with social media simply used as another broadcast channel, and instead place digital and social media at the heart of all activity.

By presenting information in graphical and video formats designed to be easily shared socially – and moving away from solely using press release formats, communicators can engage, listen and respond to their audiences.

It is certainly crucial to embrace the changes in media consumption by developing content appropriately in this way, but this doesn’t spell the death knell for offline communication. In fact, much of the content that appears in offline media provides the inspiration for an intensive online furore.

Take ‘multi-screening’ as an example. Here people are embroiled in one activity on one platform – watching an interview on television, say – while engaging in another activity on another platform, such as getting involved in a Twitter debate about the aforementioned TV interview.

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

For a client who conducts the vast majority of their business online, offline PR – everything from stunts and events to press conferences and thought leadership pieces in newspapers – must encourage people to visit the client’s website.

In an online world so obsessed with building quality links for success, post-2012 strategies are focused on building effective online relationships, generating good content, and utilising social media to proliferate and leverage opportunities.

These objectives can be achieved with aplomb by optimising offline techniques. For example, organising and running engaging events for journalists and bloggers, which most importantly have interactive elements to them, can create a real buzz around a brand or product. Using  photographers to interact with media attendees (perhaps sending them stills or video snippets post-event to use in their write-ups), and creating a further degree of interactivity by starting a hashtag specifically for that event as well as posting Instagram tags to help create a social buzz around it, will all help ensure offline PR creates online noise.

Rather than the hugely exciting digital world superseding offline communication and PR, I am of the firm and very enthusiastic belief that online has opened up a wealth of possibilities for offline PR to be more adventurous, exciting and inventive than ever before.

Together, offline and online PR can complement each other to achieve great things; from awareness of public issues to increasing brand loyalty and driving behavioural change.

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