What is the difference between traditional and digital PR?

Kate Ashley-Norman
Kate Ashley-Norman

Kate Ashley-Norman is the recently appointed director of VAST PR, a long-established PR and marketing consultancy specialising in the fenestration industry.

“Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.” Can we really subscribe to this platitude in a digital world, where dipping a toe online leaves a footprint forever more.

Understanding the difference between the traditional and the digital when it comes to PR is crucial to knowing what the benefits of traditional PR are, and why it needs to be woven into a digital PR strategy.

Until about a decade ago, public relations was just that, a specialist marketing discipline which involved media pitching, press conferences, feature writing and the regular distribution of press releases.

Whether you were working in the B2B field, as we do here at VAST PR, or in the more glamorous and lofty echelons of mainstream media titles, such as the BBC and the Daily Mail, measuring PR success was focussed on getting as much airtime and column inches as possible within your target media.

Indeed, traditional PR was always considered a bit of a ‘dark art’ – in an analogous world there was always a sense that PR was an essential service to enhance and elevate brand reputation. Success was evidently measured in sales, but attributing that success to a specific media outlet within an entire campaign was an imprecise skill.

Seasoned PR people had an instinctive knowledge about what would work and where, and would harness their media pitching skills to best effect.

The explosion of digital publications created so many opportunities that everyone, without exception, was left with spinning heads, in an attempt to settle on a workable way forward. Digital PR was born, but in no way is it an either-or scenario – rather the evolution of a three dimensional continuum along which brands can meander according to momentum and motivation.

Consider this….

You make windows. You sell to installers. The more installers know about you, the more windows you can make and sell. So you need to get your brand out there as much as possible.

A good PR company will create both a traditional and digital PR strategy, drawing in threads from both to give you as wide a potential for exposure in the most cost effective way possible. Expert content creation for PR ensures that the message is deployed to as many relevant off and online media as possible, in a way that is unique to them and relevant to their respective audiences (and your potential customers).

The beauty is that the vast majority of paper based publications also have their own online platforms as well, meaning that traditional PR is immediately enmeshed with the digital world. Equally, article links are often shared widely across social media channels, guaranteeing a wider reach.

Digital rules?

Are there any special rules for writing digital press releases? Digital press releases are truly nothing more than traditional press releases distributed in exactly the same way, to a carefully curated list of relevant media or, if relevant, through newswire services. The same copywriting rules apply, ensuring that the headline contains the principal hook, and the key story is outlined in the first paragraph.

Where you need to be more digitally savvy with a digital press release, is the use of keywords within the text. Making sure you weave in search friendly terms related to a publication’s audience, or to trending issues will give your story greater success of being picked up by those publications who automatically triage their press releases using AI based systems.

Bear in mind though, this is no substitute for that personal touch that experienced PR agencies such as VAST PR continues to champion. A personal relationship with the editor of a key publication, built on a mutual understanding of each other’s professional needs, will continue to be invaluable – online and off!


There is a blurring of the edges between SEO and digital PR, as both are essential media for building backlinks – crucial for achieving continually improving search engine rankings. Measuring digital PR success should be a part of overall link building campaigns for SEO – the difference is in the quality of the publications that will reproduce your link.

Many of the larger publications have strict rules around backlinks. Buying backlinks is a major industry, and slightly swathed in gossamer as the search engines are not keen on the backlink trade. In fact, buying backlinks is against Google’s Webmaster guidelines, so make sure you avoid the wholesale ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ approach to backlink building.

Rather, a sustainable, relevant, quality, consistent approach through a considered digital PR strategy that incorporates the experience and knowledge of a considered traditional PR strategy will ensure that your brand covers the full spectrum of that 3D continuum with continued vigour.