A Guide to Digital PR & Why It Matters

Marilyn Wilkinson

Mar 12, 202411 min read
Contributors: Karla Margeson and Bartłomiej Barcik
What Is Digital PR


Digital public relations (PR) is similar to traditional PR but uses online channels to reach a broader audience.

In this article, we’ll explore exactly what digital PR is, why it’s important, and how you can use it to build a stronger brand. We’ll go over its search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, too.

Let’s dive in.

What Is Digital PR?

Digital PR is a marketing practice intended to raise brand awareness and increase credibility. 

It involves communication techniques designed to improve an organization's public image by leveraging online channels. 

Typical activities include:

  • Media outreach 
  • Press release creation and distribution
  • Event planning and promotion
  • Sponsorship opportunities
  • Crisis communication
  • Publicity stunts (attention-grabbing tactics)
  • Influencer partnerships like the one shown below
An influencer partnership post on Instagram

Doing these things encourages people to talk (hopefully, in a positive way) about your brand. 

How Is Digital PR Different from Traditional PR?

The difference between traditional PR and digital PR is that the latter focuses solely on online channels. 

Imagine you run a tech startup. Your productivity app just reached one million downloads and you want to mark the milestone publicly. 

As part of a traditional PR strategy, you could encourage radio programs, news stations, and journalists to share the news about your app. You could even invite prominent voices to an event or a press conference. 

Digital PR could involve getting bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, and online industry publications to talk about your app and the recent accomplishment. You could even host a celebratory virtual event or release your own marketing podcast episode.

Digital PR leverages many tools to improve brand awareness and reputation. And can result in backlinks (links from authoritative websites to yours), but it’s also aimed at gaining online media coverage, social media chatter, mentions in podcasts, etc. 

Ultimately, digital PR is about shifting perception.

Link building is a tactic within the SEO field that focuses on improving site authority and search rankings by acquiring backlinks from other websites. So, success is measured in the number of links received. 

What Are the Benefits of Digital PR?

Digital PR offers many benefits:

  • Enhanced visibility: Channels are fairly accessible and very broad. Digital PR helps you reach a big (even global) audience quickly.
  • Stronger reputation: Positive media coverage and influencer endorsements can quickly improve your brand's reputation. This social proof is often seen as trustworthy.
  • More traffic: A digital PR strategy encourages reputable sources to talk about your brand. And more people may visit your website as a result.
  • Improved SEO: Because digital PR efforts can lead to high-quality backlinks, it could boost your SEO efforts. Because those backlinks signal to search engines that your website is trustworthy and deserving of high search rankings.

Examples of Digital PR 

Let's explore five popular digital PR tactics to help inspire your own efforts.

1. Data-Driven Research Studies

Producing data-driven research is a great way to get journalists to cover an interesting topic while mentioning your brand. That’s why research studies are among the most common digital PR tactics.

To create a data-driven story that might inspire media coverage, you can either use your own data (if you're lucky enough to have it available). Or use third-party data (think social media analytics, information from the U.S. Census Bureau, etc).

A powerful example is IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report

The tech company surveyed 550 companies that experienced cybersecurity attacks. To collect insights around the cost and impact of such attacks. 

The results were picked up on by major tech news outlets like TechRepublic:

TechRepublic's article on IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report

The report generated backlinks from 9,200 domains (according to Semrush’s Domain Overview tool). 

This likely helped position IBM as a thought leader in the security space. Which is great for a company that sells cybersecurity products.

2. Creative Campaigns

Creative campaigns are another effective way to come up with a story that journalists will want to cover. Think eye-catching imagery or something memorable that will get people talking. 

All you need is a great idea that stands out from the crowd.

The Future Gamer campaign by OnlineCasino.ca is a stand-out example. 

The Future Gamer campaign by OnlineCasino.ca landing page

The company creatively shed light on an important topic—gaming addiction. By sharing 3D visualizations of Michael (the future gamer of 2040) to show how gamers could look in 20 years if they don’t adopt healthy habits.

This raised awareness and showed the brand cares about people’s well-being.

3. Newsjacking

Newsjacking involves monitoring the news and reacting to breaking stories with expert insights, comments, and advice. To enhance your online visibility and reputation.

For example, cereal brand Surreal capitalized on the recent buzz around AI tools to gain attention on social media. 

They posted billboards showing prompts they entered into an AI copywriting tool to help promote the cereal. Then, they shared the results in a viral LinkedIn post:

Surreal's Linkedin post sharing brand's AI billboards

The post got more than 1,400 likes and 75 comments. And the billboards were most likely seen by thousands of people. 

The playful approach drew attention to Surreal’s product features in a humorous way.

4. Expert Insights and Thought Leadership

Sharing your knowledge and insights with journalists can be an effective way to earn media attention.

Services like Connectively are full of journalists looking for an expert view. Just find a topic you’re confident in and supply some information for a chance to be featured in their piece.

You can also proactively email journalists and media outlets to offer help. Or even pitch them a story.

For example, a marketing agency founder shares his advice on how to be a successful entrepreneur in “5 Expert Tips To Transform Business Growth” on Forbes. 

“5 Expert Tips To Transform Business Growth” article on Forbes

The article showcases the agency founder’s expertise, and links to his agency’s site.

In many cases, you can predict what journalists will be talking about at certain times of the year. So you can plan what to focus on and when to send out pitches.

And if you build rapport with journalists, you may be able to consistently earn coverage.

5. Product- or Service-Focused PR

Sharing news related to your products or services by publishing and distributing press releases can also help you earn links and media attention. 

Think about what would make a journalist write about your product. And why someone would want to read about it. 

Have you launched a new product line? Opened a new store? Expanded internationally? Introduced new features?

Apple is a good example. When they launched their Journal app (which they announced via press release), many online media outlets reported on the new app, how it works, and how it provides mental health benefits. 

Like this article from Gizmodo:

Gizmodo's article titled: "Apple's new journal app may be the only thing to keep you sane this holiday"

How to Run a Digital PR Campaign

Ready to get started with digital PR for your brand? Let’s walk through the process, step-by-step. 

1. Set Clear Objectives

It’s essential to define clear, measurable goals for your digital PR campaign. This will help you choose the right tactics. 

Need some inspiration?

Here's a list of common digital PR objectives and their associated tactics and metrics:

A list of common digital PR objectives and their associated tactics and metrics

This strategic approach will help you maximize the impact of your campaign. And achieve meaningful results.

2. Understand Your Audience

You need a deep understanding of your audience to run an effective digital PR campaign. 

And go beyond surface-level demographics. Uncover the motivations, preferences, and pain points that drive their online behavior.

Use One2Target from Semrush to gain insight into your audience. 

To get started, enter at least one competitor’s domain into the text field. Choose a location in the drop-down, and click “Analyze.”

"amazon.com" entered into the One2Target tool

In the resulting report, you’ll find the audience’s demographics. Including age and gender:

Audience's demographics report for "amazon.com" in One2Target tool

Click “Socioeconomics” tab to get more detailed insights, including employment status, income, and education level:

Audience's socioeconomics report for "amazon.com" in One2Target tool

Next, go to the “Behavior” tab to find out where your audience hangs out online and the devices they use. 

Audience's behavior report for "amazon.com" in One2Target tool

This is helpful for prioritizing channels for your digital PR content. 

For instance, if you notice your target audience has a strong preference for YouTube, it probably makes sense to focus efforts on this channel. 

Once you understand your audience’s key characteristics, you can craft detailed buyer personas for each of your ideal customer types. 

A detailed buyer persona created in Semrush Persona tool

Detailed personas help your team envision the people they’re campaigning to. To ensure your PR campaign resonates with your target audience.

3. Analyze the Competition

It’s helpful to figure out what your rivals are doing right and where they may be falling short. To gain a competitive edge.

For example, you can use the Backlink Gap tool to find out which sites are linking to your competitors. 

Type in your domain and the domains of up to four competitors. And click “Find prospects.”

"audi.com" "bmwgroup.com" "vw.com" and "astonmartin.com" entered into the Backlink Gap tool

You’ll then see a list of sites linking to your competitors.

For example, here we can see that Microsoft, BuzzFeed, and People have linked to other car brands but not to Audi. 

A list of sites linking to competitors in Backlink Gap tool

In each row, you’ll see the number of backlinks each brand has from the corresponding domain. 

Click on the arrow to the left of the number to see more details, such as the headline and the specific page it links to:

More details tab opened for "microsoft.com" in Backlink Gap tool

You can use this information to figure out who’s linking to your competitors and what they’re saying.

This is useful because if there are reputable sites linking to one or more of your competitors, there’s a good chance they’ll be open to linking to you as well. Which means they could be great places to pitch stories to.

4. Create Newsworthy Content

The next step is to create content that’s compelling to your intended audience, aligned with your brand voice, and relevant to your PR goals. 

Think about the types of content you’ll create and the topics you’ll cover.

To guide you, consider these questions:

  • What impression do we want to make?
  • What message do we want to send?
  • Who is the message for?

There are many types of content you could create. But you might want to consider data-based storytelling. According to a report from Cision, journalists strongly prefer it.

68% of journalists say they prefer data, such as original research and reports

But what topic should you focus your research on? 

To find trending topics in your industry, use the Topic Research tool. 

Let’s say you have a skincare brand. Open the tool, type “skincare routines,” and click “Get content ideas.” 

You’ll get a complete report on related topics. Make sure to click the toggle next to “Trending subtopics first” to prioritize topics that have been particularly popular over the last 60 days:

"Content Ideas" dashboard for "skincare routines" in Topic Research tool

Click “Show more” to get a list of related questions and top headlines:

A list of related questions and top headlines for "face masks" in Topic Research tool

This might inspire you to conduct a study on the ingredients found in different types of face masks. And even reach out to dermatologists to provide more insights. 

Then, you can create a data-rich report to distribute via multiple channels.

Let’s go over that next.

5. Develop a Distribution Strategy

Once you’ve published your content, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to share it with the world. 

There are three types of channels to consider:

  • Owned channels like your own website, blog, and social media platforms
  • Earned channels like news sites and reviews 
  • Paid channels like ads or influencers on social media
Today's digital PR infographic

Getting the content on your own website and social media platforms should be pretty straightforward. Same for paid media—if you have the budget for it.

But getting news sites to write about you? That’s where PR pitches come in. 

A PR pitch involves contacting journalists and asking them to report on your news. 

For a successful PR pitch, it’s often a good idea to first write a press release. Which you can send out to journalists to attract their attention and encourage them to cover your story.

Here’s what a standard press release template looks like:

A standard press release template by Semrush

A good press release gets to the point fast. And makes it clear why your story is newsworthy and why people should care. 

It should also include your company background, contact information, and links to the content you’ve created.

You can send your press release directly to journalists or publications. Or use a service like Prowly

With Prowly, you can use filters to find the right media contacts to pitch.

Advanced filters and contact recommendations in Prowly

Another option is to work with a PR agency. 

An agency will distribute (and oftentimes even write) the press release for you. And they usually have existing relationships with media partners, which can improve your chances of getting coverage. 

6. Monitor and Measure Results 

Tracking progress will help you evaluate your campaign's effectiveness. So you can make adjustments where needed.

Focus on backlinks and online mentions across various websites, blogs, and social media platforms.

To be notified whenever a site mentions your brand, you can set up a Google Alert.

Just open the tool and type in your brand name or product. And click “Create Alert.”

"Nike" entered into the Google Alert tool

Click the pencil icon to configure your settings.

Settings pencil icon in Google Alert

You can specify how frequently you get alerts, what region the mentions come from, etc.

When you’re done, click “Update alert.”

Update alert in Google Alert

To gain a deeper understanding of how your PR campaign is impacting brand awareness and perception, use the Media Monitoring app. 

To get started, open the tool and select “New project.” 

Type in the name of your brand, select a language, and click “Create Project.”

Create a new project in Media Monitoring app

You’ll see key insights, including:

  • The number of mentions over time
  • A summary of mentions and the names of the media outlets
  • Whether brand mentions were positive or negative 
A summary dashboard for Burger King in Media Monitoring app

Click the “Mentions” tab to get a detailed breakdown of where your brand was mentioned 

You can also filter for sentiment (positive and negative) and importance:

"Mentions" tab for Burger King in Media Monitoring app

Finally, click the “Analysis” tab to see a list of the most influential sites linking to you. And your estimated reach. 

You can also check your Presence Score—a metric out of 100 that indicates how popular your brand is.

Presence Score metric for Burger King in Media Monitoring app

Get Started with Digital PR

Done right, digital PR can lead to greater brand awareness, improved brand perception, and even more sales.

Having the right tools makes it far easier to see whether you’re working toward those results.

Media Monitoring lets you track brand mentions across the web, find backlink opportunities, and see what the competition is up to. Try it for free.

Author Photo
Marilyn Wilkinson is an accomplished SEO and digital marketing expert with ten years of experience. She has created content and run campaigns for some of the world’s largest brands and many fast-growing tech startups.
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