Why COVID-19 is the catalyst for change towards Digital PR

Charlene White, DigiPR




By Charlene White, DigiPR Founder

The announcement that Bauer is closing its doors came right out of the blue today. It was almost like a bolt of lightning that screamed ‘shit is now getting real’ which I (and I’m sure you) never saw coming.


Many of the titles that are set to disappear have played a huge part in our lives for decades. For some Comms practitioners, their exit from the market will be tough – particularly for those in the beauty and fashion sector.


It will also leave a huge gaping hole in New Zealand culture. At its most basic level, when times are tough, people need escapism which some of those titles have provided for decades.


My heart goes out to all those journalists, photographers, stylists, editors etc who are affected by this. These are indeed tough times and my head is still reeling from the news.

So what does this mean for us as PR and Comms practitioners?

Well, in my view this is yet another sign that we need to continue to evolve as an industry and pivot our thinking more towards Digital PR practices.

There’s no doubt now that COVID-19 is set to have a massive impact on all of our lives. 

Things will never be the same again. 

With everyone now conducting their work and life online from home, we are fast moving towards a new normal that we could have never anticipated. 

Yet we are here now and we need to adapt – and fast.

With over a third of the world’s population currently in lock-down scenarios of varying degrees, our audiences will likely become more reliant on digital to get their information than ever before. We need to adapt and be ready for it.

Change towards Digital PR is not new

Things have actually been changing in the Comms space for quite a while. But many have just been so busy making hay that they haven’t quite seen it coming yet to realise we need to pivot.

I heard yesterday of one PR agency losing 85% of its business in 72 hours because most of it was reliant on media. There will be further impacts if we don’t change the way we do things.

A few years ago when I was working in Corporate Comms, I felt I was missing something. Traditional PR and Comms just wasn’t achieving the same impact it used to. Digital was certainly the new buzz word at the time so I went on my own journey to work out what that meant for me.

I never expected it would change the whole way I see and do Comms forever. Don’t get me wrong, media is still a key part of what we do. But it can no longer sit at the centre of everything.

Relying on media is no longer a sound strategy

For me, keeping media at the centre of campaigns is a ‘hope’ strategy with not great odds for the future.

In effect, you’re hoping someone who is vaguely interested in your story, will be on the right channel, at the right time and will land on your story over every other competing story that day. And that’s only if you can even get your pitch past the editor first.

People’s behaviours have changed over the past five years thanks to digital. Traditional media is just one channel. People are online, savvy and find their tribes and ways to make sense of the world from a range of additional channels these days.

Media are struggling. Musings in the industry is that this may be the first media casualty right now but it may not be the last. I hope that isn’t true – but as Comms people we can’t sit around and wait for that to happen

Going wider with our work with Digital PR

While our core focus has always been to build reputation, it has only ever achieved it in the short-term via traditional PR (media and social) methods. This is what I classify now as ‘Browse’ mode.

Yet there is massive opportunity waiting for us if we go wider and learn how to incorporate what is now viewed as the largest media organisation in the world – Google.

With over 80% of people turning to Google to research everything online from products and services, to people and places online, this is now where our hottest audiences are hanging out. What’s more, 67% of people only click on the top 5 search results.  This is what I call ‘Search’ mode.

They are hungry for quality, authentic content that provides value and has earnt its place on p1 of Search.

People trust that whatever is served up on Google page 1 is the best outcomes for their search. What’s more, Google rewards brands who provide quality, authentic content and editorial influence that people engage with. In fact, their algorithms are all built around that which plays straight in to our hands as Communicators.

Yet PR people have largely left that to other disciplines (i.e. Digital Marketers/SEO pro’s) to handle.

Big mistake.

Incorporating Digital PR skills in your work can provide massive new, measurable opportunities for you as a Comms professional.

As authentic story tellers, using an integrated model means you get more control over telling your brand’s story on our own terms and to be found by what I call, your most qualified audiences… i.e those people that are actually in market for what you have to say or promote.

The key is continuing to do what we are good at and have always done – creating quality, authentic content that people want and ensuring it earns a key spot where people are searching for it.

Relying on media as a key strategy is not a long-term solution to evolving our industry. We must go wider with our work or risk becoming irrelevant as an industry.

I’m not saying abandon media altogether as they still have a key role to play in Digital PR. But it involves leveraging them differently.

Digital PR elevates your work

The beauty of Digital PR is that it takes the guesswork out of our work and puts an end to random acts of content. 

Digital PR helps you leverage data and new digital tools to gain better audience insights, develop better content, ensure you can compete online in key areas where your audience is searching and hanging out as well as providing better measurement metrics.

These are truly tough times right now – but I’m such a believer in finding opportunities in the face of adversity.

This is our time where we get to decide how our story goes. It’s up to us as Comms people to pivot and change how we manage, create and build the reputation of our brand/clients in our upcoming new world in order to safeguard the future of our craft. This involves learning new skills now.

Digital provides us with a massive opportunity – we just have to take it!

If you want to learn more about the DIGITAL PR SKILLS you need to develop now to be able to excel in our ‘post COVID-19’ world, check out this free report.