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PR and Digital: A Steamy Affair
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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A funny thing happened on the way to the digital agency — public relations joined the team.
PR has, for better or worse, been traditionally siloed in the agency world. Either it was its own department, working independently of the “creatives,” or PR was found in stand-alone communications firms. But slowly, digital agencies and PR practitioners are getting into bed together and making beautiful industry love.
Why the shift?
Solo PR firms have seen better days. In a world of digital communication and social media, it isn’t enough to just know how to present a story, talk to a reporter, or write succinct copy. Without expertise in more technical fields, a PR pros hands are tied. Only so much can be achieved in the absence of digital help.
Similarly, digital shops are realizing that their projects, no matter how fabulous and inventive, don’t have much of a shelf life in the absence of a PR strategy. Digital campaigns need PR to realize their full potential. A website’s copy and overall design can be vastly improved with insight from a PR pro. An ad campaign can be given a whole new set of legs with the right kind of public relations strategy. The missteps of misguided or offensive ad campaigns can be avoided — or the fallout better controlled — with the knowledge or PR.
Of course, it also comes down to cold, hard cash. With digital agencies having their time in the spotlight, clients are rethinking the dusty, old PR firm. Digital agencies, wanting to continue their record growth, don’t want to give up valuable retainers to PR shops. From a client perspective, it makes more financial (and strategic) sense to patronize one forward-thinking agency rather than split budgets and attention between a one-trick pony PR firm and a cutting-edge digital shop. Merging talents can contribute to the economic success of everyone.
Yet this isn’t just a matter of a PR professional taking their duties over to a digital shop. These partnerships are redefining the definition of PR itself. Rather than focus solely on media relations or crisis communications, this new breed of public relations professionals is becoming digital strategists, creative consultants, and community and content managers. They consult on web development, brainstorm ideas for smartphone apps, strategize on digital marketing, hammer out concepts for web videos, and optimize engagement for traditional digital campaigns that extend their shelf life.
Working with a digital agency takes a new kind of PR professional. In addition to possessing the “classic” PR skills — superior writing, vast knowledge of and connections to the media landscape — they also have to think like a techie. These positions require a PR pro to have a deep understanding of the interactive build process, have a firm grasp of social media that goes well beyond the “basic” knowledge of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and have an advanced understanding of SEO and SEM.
The relationship between PR and digital seems less like a one-night stand and more like a long-term relationship. Time will tell if clients appreciate the beautiful babies made as a result.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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