There is a misconception among some people that online and offline PR channels are mutually exclusive. Rather than using an integrated approach they do their best to keep the two categories separate. This is, of course, a fallacy. Traditional PR experts know the advantages that come with a holistic PR strategy that includes publicity across the media spectrum (print, TV, radio). Having online PR in the mix just provides one more avenue to reach potential consumers and clients.
The primary difference between online and offline PR is that offline PR is easier to control, but once content has been released into the digital domain there’s no telling where it will go or how it will be used. It’s this that scares the bejesus out of old-school PR specialists. The idea of being out of control is incomprehensible.
Public relations defined
The definition of public relations lies, unsurprisingly, in its name: it’s an individual’s or organisation’s relationship with the public. It includes a public image or persona, which may or may not be an accurate reflection of the real thing.
Online PR has been around long enough for specialists to discover ways to manipulate it. That’s one of the ways you can tell that’s here for the long haul; if it’s not worth gaming then it’s probably not worth anything.
Conversely, this means it’s been around long enough for web savvy people to see through the manipulation and decide that they won’t stand for it.
This is why you have to be careful about the way in which you approach websites or bloggers about your particular piece of news. For starters you have to approach them with something that is relevant to what they do (the same as offline). You can’t be too obvious or blatantly advertising or smarmy (same as offline). And you can’t think that just because they’ve run one or two press releases in the past they’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
In offline PR, print publications, radio stations and TV channels often have tacit agreements with PR companies to run stories as long as their clients advertise. There’s no such thing online, or at least it’s not yet the norm.
So, if you overstep your blogger’s bounds or send them something that incenses them, they will use their platform to drag you over the coals.
And then there are web users, who are active information consumers. They’re doers (provided they don’t have to move too far from their computer screens to do it). They start causes and join causes and shout down causes at the drop of a hat. So, if you publish something that they don’t like they won’t hesitate to tell everyone they know. You also can’t really stop them from taking selective bits and pieces out of your PR efforts and using them out of context or twisting them, even if it’s inadvertent.
In this way online PR can be a public relations nightmare.
When people turn off their computers they (generally) stop being active consumers of information and revert to their passive default setting. They watch TV, most of which washes over them; they listen to the radio, most of which washes over them; they read newspapers (selectively) and really only take in the information that is relevant to them or is what they want to hear.
If you publish something they don’t like, it’s more than likely that they’ll just ignore it. They won’t spread their dislike as though it was a contagious disease.
And, as mentioned above, publication of news is almost guaranteed thanks to long-term advertising contracts.
New businesses or those that can’t afford to spend a fortune on advertising may have a more difficult time breaking into offline PR. This is when the pitch is important as you need to convince reporters and publications of the value of your news. And, as most publications work to predetermined monthly themes, Mark Thompson says that you also need to ensure that what you want to publish ties in with that particular month’s focus.
Putting the two together
Online and offline PR have their different strengths and weaknesses and in this way they are perfectly suited to support each other.
By using both channels you widen your reach. More people see you and become aware of your message. It’s also likely that people will see you both online and offline, which takes care of repeated exposure.
Considering the audience overlap you can choose to emphasise different aspects of the same public relations story on the different media. For instance, you can keep your online communication short and to the point. You don’t have to dress it up or furnish fluffy details. On TV you can go with the human touch and in print you can give the story behind the story; all three of which ensure that your message is comprehensively covered without being boring.