Using Direct-to-Audience Digital PR

Ned Barnett
Ned Barnett

Too many PR pros are still looking for that silver bullet that will make their traditional skills relevant in a digital age. Enter “Retail Digital PR.” For more than 100 years corporate PR used the media to engage with target audiences. That was “Wholesale PR.” However, for the past decade, savvy corporate PR pros have been moving toward engaging target audiences directly, using social media. That is “Retail PR.” Retail digital PR is not a silver bullet, and it’s also not a repudiation of all that’s come before. Properly executed, retail digital PR also buys into the enduring PR myth of authenticity. In the realm of “Wholesale PR,” when a CEO gives a talk—or is even quoted in a press release or annual report—the audiences assume that the CEO wrote, or at least directed, those comments.

In retail PR, there’s a different kind of authenticity myth, and that’s: “If we put it out there, everybody will want to talk about it, and we’ll be swamped.” For PR executives, retail digital PR means the following:

• Creating a managerial mindset focused on engaging with, instead of talking to, target audiences.

• Creating a detailed retail digital PR plan as a critical subset of a larger strategic plan.

• Integrating retail digital PR with traditional media PR.

• Budgeting to provide sufficient qualified staffing to manage retail digital PR.

• Redefining daily PR operations, including staffing, to engage with consumers on a “retail level.”

One of the biggest challenges seems to be the integration of traditional media PR and emerging digital PR. Too many traditionalists see no way of conducting this integration. However, the following have proven successful.

Many media websites have places where visitors can provide “news tips.” While aimed at site visitors, there is no rule against pitching a news story.


In addition to direct news websites, increasingly popular news aggregators, such as Drudge Report, have tip lines. I’ve used these to place site-appropriate news stories on a half-dozen occasions, generally clients being interviewed on breaking news by print or broadcast media.

Due to the profound changes in journalism wrought by the Web, individual reporters and editors are now blogging about news that won’t fit in their primary news-reporting platform.

They can be pitched right on their blog sites, generally in a less formal fashion than they might be while wearing their corporate media hats.

When news is breaking, the media need experts who can put the news into perspective for their audiences. Well-crafted blogs can demonstrate that perspective and provide leverage for generating press coverage.

Recently, a series of five breaking news blogs generated five on-camera interviews on Fox Business’s flagship, “Cavuto,” five interviews on Imus and 56 other interviews in various mediums.

For “Cavuto,” I published the blogs, and then pitched them to an assistant producer, and within 90 minutes I was on my way to the local studio for an interview. Email pitches with links to the blogs, generated all of these interviews.

For the corporate PR executive, retail digital PR requires the following:

• Identify a strategic corporate goal, along with one or more core target audiences, then develop a strategy and plan.

• Develop your online audience profiles with today’s leading approaches.

• Choose the topics your audience cares about.

• Spread your digital message through search and social media.

• Identify the influencers on your key subjects.

• Use social media to broadcast content and engage with your influencers.


While in some ways it’s still the “Wild West” online, there are a few digital PR rules to help you stay on track.

Digital PR doesn’t replace traditional PR. The most effective corporate PR programs seamlessly integrate traditional media-driven PR and social media-driven PR.

There are no “constants” in digital PR. While it took 20 years for traditional PR to evolve from mailed press releases to digitally delivered releases, it took just five years for digital PR to evolve from a bright, shining promise into a hard and fast reality, even though the social media technology keeps changing.

As Edelman Digital’s Dave Levy explained, you can master a new technology, such as Twitter, only to see it replaced. You must master the skills needed to embrace change as technology evolves, rather than trying to dominate one brand of here-today/gone-tomorrow technology.

There are four changes imposed on traditional PR by digital PR:

Permanence. While the news cycles grow ever-shorter, there are no more one-day stories. Search engines can find any news story, regardless of “when.”

Speed. Traditional crisis response timing is a thing of the past. The blogosphere—and the media—now demand instant responses.

Scale. News is more about scoring placements on Drudge Report than in The New York Times. While the media remains important, getting mentioned in targeted blogs can more effectively influence your audience.

Transparency. Readers online are wary of “official corporate spin.”

Measurement. Counting clips is ancient history. Digital media have a very different, and still fast-evolving, set of tools by which your employer or client will value your work.

One true change—everyone in your corporation, including clients, prospects, shareholders and even critics—is now involved in the PR dialog.

Once only the rare corporate whistleblower became involved with the media without the PR department serving as intermediary, but today every interested party can be part of the discussion.

This gives new meaning to the time-honored j-school warning, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” In today’s social media universe, everyone has a virtual ink-barrel. PRN

‘Retail’ Digital PR In Action

My Hobby Info is a free cloud-based data-management site serving more than 1,600 plastic model kit-builders and collectors. Modeler’s Social Club is an online forum where, in just about two years, more than 1,200 registerd modelers and nearly 6,000 visitors per month have placed more than 214,000 separate posts on a wide range of model-building topics.

At the beginning of 2014, these two allied sites decided to merge, creating My Hobby Info Social Club Forum. The goal: build traffic to a level attractive to paying advertisers. Unsure that a print-media PR campaign would reach their universally “digital” clients, sponsors and allies, they opted for a digital PR campaign.

The plan focused on a three-month build-up of awareness of the “surviving” site, followed by an aggressive social media launch. Digital channels included posts on more than 57 Facebook modeling groups that reach more than 120,000 model-builders, email to registered users and posts on dozens of non-competing online forums.

The campaign’s foundation focused on those 57 heavily trafficked Facebook groups. From late January through early April, all key measures for My Hobby Info spiked, including unique visitors, total visits and page views. Most important, the critical “page view” measurement shot to 207,000 in March, from 75,000 in January. A more practical and operational measure—registered members—rose to 1,600 at the end of March, from 1,200 at the end of January. Aggressive, effective and very retail digital PR drove this traffic spike. —N.B.



Ned Barnett is founder of Barnett Marketing Communications. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the April 28, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.