Ready, Set, Reset: A Refresher on PR Basics in the Digital Age

August 2, 2016

[tyler olson/shutterstock]
[tyler olson/shutterstock]

It is always the right time to review PR basics. While tools and technologies change constantly, the basic skills stay the same. Each is foundational. They give you the ability to leap from a press release to a Twitter chat in a single bound.

What are the PR basics in the digital age? We have broken them into six areas: press releases, measurement, media and influencer lists, pitching, community engagement and digital newsrooms:

1. How to write a press release

Press releases are essential in the digital age and they provide a handful of benefits. Focus on the following elements:

  • Start by asking if the story is newsworthy. If there’s doubt, wait until you have a more exciting story.
  • Craft the best possible headlines, since they are what reporters and editors see first. Google usually only crawls the first 70 characters.
  • Start with the lede. Don’t bury it! Focus on answering who, what, when, where, why and how.
  • Add quotes from key spokespeople, but don’t give away everything. The goal of a press release is to incite curiosity.
  • Include an “about” section or boilerplate. Explain what your brand is and what it does.
  • Ensure that your contact information — name, email, telephone number, website address and social media handles — is always up-to-date and easy to find.
  • Use photos and videos to tell your story. Include other content, such as product descriptions and infographics, as needed.

2. How to measure your work

Data is plentiful and ready to be harvested. Here’s how you can reap the greatest benefit from your investment:

  • Decide what you’re trying to prove. Objectives can include increasing brand awareness, driving sales leads and engaging with influencers.
  • Determine what quantifiable data will prove that these objectives are being met.
  • Coordinate with those who have the data. Do this early on so you can gather accurate information throughout the campaign.
  • Augment internal benchmarks with competitive analysis. Keep an eye on your numbers in comparison to both. These will show if your efforts are having an impact.
  • Make a change when something isn’t working. You can do this in the middle of a campaign, but always take some time after it ends to look at the big picture. Change direction as the data dictates.
  • Study the data, come up with hypotheses and refine efforts. Measurement never ends.

3. How to create and maintain media and influencer lists

Content will have the greatest effect when shared with targeted media outlets and influencers. Identify those who can broadcast your message and add them to your media and influencer lists:

  • Use media databases to look for an outlet’s editorial team. Research who they are, what they cover and how and where they are active online.
  • Study who your audience listens to, retweets and engages with by using social listening tools to find the top influencers for your audience.
  • Keep information up-to-date so you can reach out to the right person. Influencers come and go, as do journalists and reporters. Their topics of interest, beats and outlets change, too.

4. How to pitch reporters and influencers

Pitching is an art. What works for one reporter or influencer may not work for another. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Check your media database to find reporters’ pitching preferences: 83 percent still prefer email pitches.
  • Use social media to build rapport. Share their articles and congratulate them when they receive an award. Notify them of relevant news.
  • Focus on how your story benefits their community (not your brand) to win influencers’ affection and attention.
  • Press-release principles apply to your email pitches. Use a clear headline and keep copy to a minimum.
  • Incorporate a multimedia element with pitches, and mention that high-resolution visuals are available on request.
  • Use UTM parameters and custom tracking links to see who is opening and clicking on your pitches.
  • Make note of who accepted the story and who didn’t. Use that information to refine lists and pitches.

5. How to engage your community

If media relations is one arm of public relations, then community management is another. You can have all the publicity in the world, but it won’t travel far without brand advocates. Here’s how to get them to spread the word:

  • Use social media to gauge audience reception and develop a loyal, engaged following. The community will let you know what they want. All you have to do is listen.
  • Figure out where fans spend their time and develop a community around them.
  • People stay in communities because they enjoy the experience and feel they belong. Focus on those two things, and people will stay, engage and evangelize.
  • Make sure that every piece of content coheres with a larger narrative, but the experience should be different on each channel.
  • Get people involved by asking for stories and feedback. Monitor social media to find people who already love and talk about you.
  • Remember, a “thank you” goes a long way. People who feel appreciated will gladly shout your name from the rooftops.
  • Keep an eye on rising networks and be ready to try them if it makes sense for your brand.

6. How to build a digital newsroom

A digital newsroom can involve creating and publishing news, media relations, branded content, social media, advertising, brand journalism and more. The goal is to make content easy to find, access and use. It’s the hub to send reporters and influencers to when pitching them. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Don’t forget: Analysis results in identifying needs, and needs result in content. This is the secret to staying sane.
  • Pair a needs analysis with audience research. Build your newsroom around data and demand, and you will see success i.e., more awareness, interest, engagement and coverage.
  • Ensure your digital newsroom has a prominent spot on your main home page. If you build it so that it is easy to find, they will come. Extend an invitation to media contacts via email and mention it on social.
  • Make your content hub easy to navigate. Set up a RSS so readers can receive new content when it goes live and include social media tags to make content easy to share.
  • Include static content, such as press releases, media coverage and blogs, as well as dynamic content, such as photo galleries and videos.
  • Make contact information readily available. Create a directory of company experts and key figures — people the media will want to interview.
  • Keep information up-to-date. Reporters won’t endlessly pursue a company contact if they hit one too many roadblocks.
  • Include a detailed calendar. It can be the deciding factor in whether a reporter will mention your brand or attend an event in question. 
  • Ask the media for feedback. Are they finding what they want? Use this information to improve the newsroom experience.

The basics of public relations are constant. They may look different as new technologies come and go, but they are always and forever the essentials.

Stay true to them. You will win the attention of target journalists and influencers as well as the affection of your community. Your efforts will also translate to increased awareness, engagement, leads, sales and loyalty.

Stacey Miller
Stacey Miller is the director of communications at Cision. During her 10 years with the company, she has pioneered influencer marketing, employee advocacy and social selling programs through both traditional and social media. An internationally sought keynote speaker, her writing has appeared in Forbes, CIO and VentureBeat.


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