When PR goes digital

We have all had the experience of being captivated by billboards that are so creative in their approach – either through visual signage or brilliant text or punch lines – that there is no way the product being advertised doesn’t make an immediate imprint on your mind. And of course we have also been witness to the marketing and publicity war that often breaks out between leading brands with amazing billboards, banners or television commercials. As for example, the way Future Group recently retaliated to the entry of IKEA in Hyderabad. This goes to show how crucial it is to engage with today’s consumers and grab their attention. And now, the playground for such marketing and publicity games has just got bigger with the entry of digital public relations (PR) which has in its fold the social media too.  

Defining Digital PR
Have you noticed the ads that pop up on YouTube videos? Or those banner ads on blogs? That’s one aspect of digital PR, which ranges from content creation, content amplification, search engine optimization (SEO), customer engagement, employee management, and stakeholder management to crisis management and fighting fake news about brands. If there is one aspect of digital PR that no brand can ignore, it is building a reputation with stakeholders and SEO that help to build the company’s pipeline with customers. According to PR experts, SEO is undergoing a sea change at the moment with the advent of voice search while riding on the availability of digital assistant apps such as Siri and devices such as Alexa. They feel that brands would need to master how voice search is being used and what keywords are needed as a result.

The Importance
Today, we consumers live in a digital world. According to The Economist (2016), “Every second, three more Indians experience the internet for the first time. By 2030, more than 1 billion of them will be online.” Moreover, a 2017 Google-BCG report predicts that digital spending in India is set to reach USD 100 billion by 2020, tripling from USD 33 billion in 2016-17. That’s a huge opportunity for retail, e-commerce companies and everyone else to tap. As per various reports, digital media offers a great avenue to local businesses as it connects them with the global market.

Opines Sudhir Nayar, Managing Director-Commercial Sales, CISCO, “The mobile ecosystem could reach USD 4.6 trillion or 5% of GDP by 2022. Whether your customer is in the next neighbourhood or half-way around the world, your digital presence can connect you to any of these at no additional cost.” Digital PR uses measurement tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer and Google Analytics to track the power of a digital placement. Google Analytics allows you to track how many users on a website are clicking a link to your client’s site. You can completely track the user’s experience from first clicking the link within a placement through to the brand’s site and how they engage with the site. This information is invaluable and can impact tactics and strategies about how certain initiatives should continue, discontinue or be altered.

The Players
“E-commerce firms have naturally used digital PR right from the start given the nature of their work. The super splash that sites such as Flipkart and Amazon make about their ‘Big Bang’ sales is an example of good use of digital PR. Flipkart launched Flipkart Stories about two years ago, which serves as the brand’s ongoing platform to interact with their consumers directly with news, features and views. Among the non e-commerce players, Pepsi has used digital PR and social media very well with their IPL association and gaming contests on Twitter which offers a winner a box seat during an IPL match. Consumer-facing firms tend to have strong engagement with their audiences via digital PR. One big piece of digital PR is consumer management. Digital PR is very well-placed to handle any emerging consumer issues and if they are properly empowered they can address it right there,” says Paarul Chand, Editor-in-Chief, PR Moment India.

“Digital PR is a very well-structured mechanism in the retail and e-commerce companies. This process is mostly used by companies to share news across thousands of online news portals, publications and blogs. The idea is to share information by the most trusted method, i.e. third party word-of-mouth marketing. Companies share information about product launches, shopping campaign announcements, special promotions, etc. via digital PR and this method acts as a parallel stream to traditional and online advertising and reaches the potential shoppers with the right and timely message,” says Advit Sahdev, CMO, Infibeam.com, India’s first listed e-commerce company. According to him, daily news, portals, blogs, and influencer marketing through the social media are all components of digital PR and the overall effectiveness depends on the target audience, not on the company or industry. “The channel of publicity must be chosen according to where the targeted audience is spending the maximum amount of time,” he says.

Taking this a point further, Sanjay Vakharia, CEO, Spykar Lifestyle, says, “Digital PR is an evolved form of PR. It is about creating sustained brand visibility by sharing relevant content on the digital platform. In the process, you start engaging with your audiences by creating conversations and dialogue with them. The content format varies from an article to a video to the latest innovations the digital world offers. The underlying objective is the same – sharing what the brand is doing with a quicker turnaround time. This helps build strong, ongoing relationships with customers and prospects that lead to increased brand awareness, build a connection and thereby greater customer loyalty.”

However, Vakharia adds that while the social media plays a key role in digital PR, it is but just a piece of a much larger puzzle. “For success, you would need the right mix of digital channels and web-based touch points to connect with key influencers, existing patrons and prospective buyers. These digital PR strategies have a positive impact on the SEO dimension of the brand as well when done appropriately,” he adds. Spykar being a youth brand, the company feels it is imperative to be well-received on digital platforms where the company’s core target group spends most of their time. “There are myriad ways in which we present our content– we use our social media handles, fashion, media and entertainment, business portals and other relevant affiliate digital platforms. Product highlights, campaign coverage, fashion styling tips, trends, influencer styling, business news or any other interesting brand snippets are the talk points for digital PR. It plays a pivotal role in staying in conversation with the audience and getting ingrained in their daily lives gradually,” he elaborates.

Here’s another example: Leather bags and accessory brand Da Milano uses Instagram since it is a popular platform for user-generated content. It has a segment called ‘Customer Love’ where it daily shares a few images of its customers with Da Milano products. “Beyond being present, a brand needs to be able to compete for visibility against other brands clamouring for attention. This requires a focused, integrated public relations and marketing plan to establish and elevate your company above the competition. A brand needs to rank high on search engines on all relevant searches, be active on the right social media platforms and maintain a steady presence through key online media outlets,” opines Shivani Malik, Marketing Director, Da Milano. In addition, she says, the biggest benefit of digital PR is the ability to measure the impact of your campaigns and activities in exact numbers and the ability to target the most relevant audience, which reduces your marketing costs.

The Challenges
However, though digital PR is creating big waves when it comes to marketing, there are some challenges too. According to Infibeam, we should be worried about the credibility of information. Today the amount of fake news present on the internet makes the reader very cautious. Thus the information served through digital PR should be channelled only via authentic sources and beamed through media platforms that are known for their credibility of information dissemination. As per Paarul Chand, brands need to empower their employees to be able to be the ambassadors for their brand. Employees are the best advocates for a brand and it would be good to encourage them to engage online about their firm and brand.

The other flip side of digital PR, as per her, is that the measurement of the impact is much evolved. PR professionals are very aware that ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ are not the best metric. Therefore, there is a need to develop a way to get clear metrics so that the return on investment on digital PR can be quantified. According to Shivani Malik, the disadvantage of online PR is that the attention span of people is very low when they are online since it is flooded with content and there is a tendency to simply skim through it. And hence, a brand always needs to have new, attractive and unique ideas to create content that will have a lasting impression on their audience.

Yet, for all that, Paarul Chand feels that digital PR is a highly effective communication and marketing tool. “It all depends on what the objective is behind using digital PR,” she says. To sum up, it would be safe to observe here that social media engagement has evolved to digital PR and businesses want to see whether consumers are engaging with the content rather than just posting likes and shares. The other challenge is to overcome the restrictions placed by the algorithms of sites such as Facebook that restrict organic use of digital PR for brands, as in order to grow your brand on Facebook you have to opt for the paid route.


Since most of us swear by the paradigm of ‘seeing is believing’, the responsibility of those engaged in marketing and public relations who work to make a brand get its own niche and visibility cannot be taken lightly. And now, it is digital public relations that has come to play an important role