The 2021 beginner’s guide to digital PR

If you’re a small business owner, there’s no denying that you’re navigating uncertain times thanks to the disruption and economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the need to socially distance to protect your team and customers, you may also be grappling with the wholesale shift to a digital economy. The latest figures from GroupM, released in December 2020, predict that global retail ecommerce will account for 17% of all retail sales worldwide. In the UK, ecommerce sales will make up an expected 19.9% of all retail sales, and 16.2% in the USA.

It’s not just retail where this shift has happened. Across the spectrum, from boardroom to home office, we’re now researching, shortlisting and buying online more than ever before with the majority of consumers saying they expect to stick to this new way of procuring goods and services even when physical experiences return. To this backdrop, your online reputation and presence has never been more important – and digital PR is a vital component of that.

With more opportunities to do business online, it’s natural that you’ll now be considering ways to improve your marketing, create a bigger brand profile and make it easier to attract customers. Digital PR (or online PR as it is also called) should absolutely be on your radar.

But, what is digital PR? As a somewhat new discipline, you might not be totally clear on the nuts and bolts of what’s actually involved, so let’s clear that up right away with a simple definition.

Digital or Online PR is the process of securing earned (not paid) media coverage online – that means working with journalists and sharing news with the aim of earning a mention on a newspaper website, a magazine site, online news portals or industry publications.

Does your start-up need digital PR?

Many small businesses are often unsure if they need to invest in digital PR. Many are unsure about what it entails. Whether you sell socks or apps, have developed a brand-new use for blockchain or have an activewear line to promote, it’s natural to wonder if you have anything worth sharing with online journalists and just how much money you’ll need to invest to see a return.

The newsroom and media landscape has changed tremendously over the last four to five years, with many traditional print media cutting the size of their newsrooms and prioritising their online editions – in fact, some publishers have gone completely digital. The best-selling women’s magazine, Glamour is a great example of this, having announced last October that it would cease its monthly print magazine and go ‘digital first, mobile-first and social-first’ for 2018.

If you’re a start-up, you shouldn’t even question whether or not you need online PR. Just as in years gone by, new business owners would recognise the value of getting a newspaper or magazine mention, you should now place that same importance on digital PR achievements.

The name may have changed but the benefits of receiving press coverage in a newspaper, magazine or trade journal remain the same, whether that’s in a printed format or digital.

If you still aren’t convinced, consider this: statistics show that in 2017, 64% of the UK population either downloaded or read news, newspapers and magazines online, up from just 20% in 2007. At the same time, many major newspapers are posting double digit circulation decline for print editions. The bottom line? Your audience is going digital – your start-ups PR plans need to too.

The secrets to writing a great digital press release

One of the foundations of any digital PR campaign is a steady supply of great press releases. But, there is an art to writing a press release that takes either a bit of practise or, the support of a digital PR professional.

Before you dive head first into writing a press release, keep in mind that the most essential thing you can include is a strong news angle. You should therefore spend a little time identifying your news hook before you sit down to craft your first release.

One of the biggest pit falls that most start-ups make when they write a press release is that they forget the most important point – a PR is a vehicle to tell a journalist a piece of news. It isn’t something that you fire off because you want a link to help with your SEO or because you want to announce you’re offering free postage and packaging with all orders. The primary function for any press release is to enable you to update relevant journalist with a piece of news. Your role is to help the reporter file a story that will be of interest to their readers.

From there, you’ll need to focus on building a good PR structure and that means having a clear headline, a concise opening paragraph which fully summarises your news, a quote from someone of note at your firm, add relevant industry statistics and additional background info. Round off with your web address and contact information.

It’s often useful to follow the pyramid structure when writing a PR – starting with the most important point at the top of the press release and then adding more detail to flesh out your news announcement as you progress further through the release.

How can you make your press release more successful?

We have already seen that one of the cornerstones of a great press release is a strong news angle. This is also one of the secrets to making your digital PR more successful overall. If you aren’t putting out an interesting, non-promotional piece of news, no reporter is going to give up valuable digital space to cover you.

The key is to focus on the news angle, not your sales pitch. If you approach a reporter with a press release that simply shouts about how great you are or that you have a sale going on, you aren’t going to get very far.

Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes. Their job is to source news and share that news with their audience. Align your PR with those values and you’ll instantly increase your chances of success.

Another way to ensure your PR is successful is to take care to build a targeted media list. There is little point taking a numbers-driven approach and sending your release to all and sundry. 99% won’t be interested because it won’t be relevant to them. Quality is better than quantity here. Create a media contacts list populated by journalists and media outlets that already cover the topics your PR relates to.

A common mistake is to think that because you foresee a certain profession or user purchasing your product, that journalists in that field will automatically see that link. This often isn’t the case. If your PR doesn’t specifically speak to that audience throughout, save it for a different release.

Building a custom media database does take time but if you can identify journalists that already have an interest in your industry and publish news stories about that same industry regularly, the time and effort you invest in creating a PR is more likely to hit its mark.

Why is it so tough to get media coverage with your press release?

Getting media coverage is no easy task and it can and will take time to build up. Unless you have a hugely unique story, you will find that coverage is more of a slow burn.

Most journalists receive dozens of news submissions each day and they will also be working on other stories. They won’t always read your news right away. Magazines work around three issues in hand, so it can seem like an age has passed before a PR you sent three months ago sees the light of day in print.

While you’re chasing column inches, so are your competitors so you need to be creative, innovative, persistent and consistent with your PR efforts.

What’s more, it does take time to build relationships and make your brand stand out. That’s why it’s so key to continually present reasons to speak to you, to generate multiple PR ideas and opportunities and consistently remind key journalists of your expertise in your field.

You’ll be up against a lot of other stories and a lot of other competitors too – so make your PR as newsworthy as possible, send it to the right people (so your news is relevant and they will read the next piece you issue) and create releases often. Consistency will pay off. If you don’t have access to a media database, our PR distribution service is the perfect solution – we use the world’s leading media relationship management tool, which gives access to journalists and outlets around the globe, to create very precise, targeted media lists and place your news in front of the reporters, editors, bloggers and media publications who matter to you and your brand.

Dakota Digital and Digital PR

Need more help with your online PR? Contact our award winning digital PR team to find out how we can help.

Our PR and news releases for clients have been published by the likes of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, GQ, Glamour, Grazia, Maxim, Elle, Stylist,, Sky News, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, The Mail, Metro, The Daily Express, The Sunday Sun, The Mirror, FT, The Telegraph, Huffington Post, Evening Standard, The Discovery Channel, ITN, ITV This Morning, BBC, BBC Radio Scotland, Channel 4, BBC Good Food, The New York Times, TIME, Fortune, Forbes,The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg, NBC, CNET, Entrepreneur, Hair, Brides, Woman’s Own, Grand Designs, Livingetc, delicious and

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