6 minute read

5 lessons on why digital PR matters

Today, the world is always online. Increasingly, what matters is what happens online. When an event of any notes happens, its ramifications are debated online. Now, public and personal opinion is decided on the internet. Brands and companies have never been more concerned about what happens online. Reputations are bought, busted, and buoyed on the internet. Although the feelings people have toward brands and companies still happen in people’s minds (for now), the content each person works with to form opinion is primarily found on the internet. For these reasons and more, digital PR has never been more important.

We learn a huge amount on the internet, but we apply it to real life. Here are five lessons which we can apply to a world built by chips, cables, and signals.

1. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again

In some ways, digital PR acts like traditional PR. But now, newspapers have migrated online, and pitching is done through email and instant messaging. But we still send pitches, press releases, and information to journalists. Tools may change, but old methods still be effective.

This means that although now desks are largely free of letters and papers, email inboxes are clogged, and you would find it hard to find a more e-clogged inbox than that of a journalist.

Your emails are easily lost in these tangled e-jungles. Failing to get a reply from a journalist often means that that journalist simply has not seen your email. It can also mean that your pitch is just not punchy enough to get through the tough vines of strings upon strings of electronic mail.

But you can learn from a minor failure and know not to stop hacking away at those vines and find ways for your pitch to shine through. Failure provides us the opportunity to try out new methods so that our execution can be better next time round. It is an opportunity for honing and perfecting our pitches, and in practicing resilience and determination, attributes that drastically aid us in any line of work.

Even if a pitch does not get picked up anywhere first time, you can simply try again to make it more engaging and punchy! There are always more journalists to send a pitch to! Hone and re-hone your pitches, to ensure that they have a chance at getting published online. This all helps to develop a more effective writing style or technique, so that in the future pitches catch the busy eyes of journalists.

If you aren’t pleased with how an interview of a stakeholder went with a journalist, then engage in some media training. There are plenty of courses and training videos that can aid an interviewee and help them develop a good manner.


2. Manage stakeholders’ expectations

It can be hard to manage stakeholders’ expectations, due to the long-game nature of PR, even on the fast-paced internet. Despite being electronically aided; digital PR is still a game of trust and long-term benefits. To ensure a productive and long-term working relationship with a key stakeholder, make sure to show off successes and achievements you have delivered to them.

Expecting several hits in top-tier publications such as the Financial Times or Forbes every week is not possible. It is fanciful thinking, and detrimental to effective PR. These are great hits when they come, but many wish solely for top-tier hits, neglecting the power of more directed and targeted digital PR hits, and the power of a piece in a lower-tier publication performing supremely well on an individual or institution’s LinkedIn or X (formerly Twitter). With the expansion of the digital sphere, there have never been more specialised places in which to place a news story.

Sometimes, a hit in a more niche digital publication might actually be more effective than a huge news centre with a general-interest readership. Given the niche publication’s less-well-known reputation, it might mean that this success is not recognised as it should be by a stakeholder. You can address this by pointing out the need and benefit of well-targeted media hits, which influence those you most want to influence. Make sure to educate your stakeholders and provide them with PR and media training as you go on, explaining the benefit of these hits, to ensure that they understand that what they might not see as a great hit is in fact very good for their brand, image, and overall success.

By explaining what is realistic, achievable, and beneficial, you can set goals for yourself and your organisation that are both impressive and fundamentally achievable and supercharge a positive and productive working relationship.

explain message

3. Focus on the message not the platform

Building on the previous point, it is not always and only about getting hits in the juiciest of the top-tier publications. The goal of digital PR is not just about getting pieces into well-known newspapers or outlets, and then sitting back and resting on your laurels. It is about effectively changing minds with information online, and contributing content to positively affect the conversation happening digitally, which then spills over into the real world of hearts and minds. PR work does not stop at a flashy hit, and nice as it is, it is not always the best and most effective method for producing results. Both targeted and widespread approaches can yield outsized results, as long as they are linked to and focused on the message.

The focus should be on the message, as the message itself, more often than not, will dictate the best way in which it should be spread. Having learned to detect where the message should be spread from the message itself is a key attribute of a top PR.

Perhaps there is an important piece of research that would be best placed in a medical magazine, or a new application for a piece of technology which will have a specific effect on a specific group, or there is a ground-breaking scientific discovery that is of particular interest to a nation or even an underground subculture. Understanding what the message of a piece of publicity is, and therefore the audience it would be of greatest and most profound interest to, is key. This also aids in deciding on which publications are most relevant. These publications often have an engaged audience, whether they be big or small. Getting pieces into specified and relevant publications is a better approach to effectively distributing information over mindlessly targeting only top-tier general interest publications. You will find that your stories will get picked up by far more journalists and capture the attention of a highly relevant audience this way. Your work is more likely to contribute to the digital conversation, too.

4. You need to provide value to the media

Understanding what research is interesting to the media in the digital age we live in, what an audience wants to know, and what content really “pops” online can significantly increase the success rate of a piece getting picking up. You need to provide value to the media – why should they pick your research amongst the hundreds of emails they are getting a day, each protesting that their research is the most interesting, the most sensational, the most world-shatteringly important? Provide value.

You must be clued into the news cycle. A good PR knows what is going on in the world and in their field at all times, knows the tone and tenor of pieces published, the top journalists in the field, the most relevant journalists to their work, and the likes and dislikes of these journalists, and is therefore able to ably pinpoint where a story is going to land best.

Making sure that research is fresh and on the pulse of the times increases the relevance of the research to newsmakers, and thus heightens the uptake of your work. Maybe you need to adapt your research to the current climate it is being published in or find a new piece of research that could provide some insight into what is going on in a political or economic news story. Knowing what is of value to the media, and having the flexibility and ability to serve this need can give your research the edge it needs to make it of supreme interest, and get published, and get results for your organisation.

metrics value

5. Going the extra mile makes a difference

Doing things that perhaps haven’t been asked of you or going the extra mile for someone you are working with can really help further a relationship with an important stakeholder like the Dean and increase chances of producing great results. Using your PR wiles, you know what produces maximum results, so scour your organisation’s website and key individuals’ LinkedIn post for interesting angles or opportunities to show them off to the best of their ability. Take an active role over a passive one. Encourage your colleagues to share successes widely across their digital platforms. And be sure to communicate well internally; PR is an industry built on relationships, after all.

Going the extra mile ranges from practising with a professor before an interview to help build their confidence, to reaching deadlines early for journalists in order to ensure they have everything they need by a certain date, to everything in-between! Sometimes doing a little something extra for someone can really help strengthen a relationship and demonstrate that you are someone who has expertise and can be relied upon. Reply to emails with speed!


If you are consistent and diligent, it means that in the future a journalist may reach out to you as their first point of call, or if you need help, someone is at the ready willing to offer quick aid. You will never regret going the extra mile for a key stakeholder.

TomAuthor: Thomas Willis

Tom has a doctorate in English and Classics from University College London, a master’s in Classical Reception from UCL, and spent a year as a graduate researcher at Yale University. Spending so long in universities, Tom has an in-depth understanding of how they operate, and how they best work, he has developed a deep admiration for research, and wants nothing more than to see academic research read by more and affecting the world in powerful ways.

Originally published January 2022, updated May 2024


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