How to develop a digital PR strategy

A digital PR strategy is the plan of action to help you achieve your communication and business goals.

Strategic digital PR allows you to compete successfully in markets, build brand equity, enhance reputation and ultimately meet your desired objectives.

In essence, it’s about developing an efficient long-term plan to meet often complex business needs.

This article is a digital PR strategy framework and set of guidelines that show you how to put one together.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach in digital PR but there are a set of principles and guidelines you can use in any situation.

The word “strategy” comes from the Greek word “stratçgos” which means ‘army’ and “ago” which means leading/moving.

The meaning of the word may have changed over the last 3,000 years but the premise remains the same: You can’t move forward without a strategy.

Why have a digital PR strategy?

Online reputation and influence are prerequisites for supporting an organisation, brand or individual to achieve their goals.

If the aim is to grow influence and enhance reputation in the long term then they need a digital PR strategy.

In today’s always-on digital world, where social media dictates the news agenda, you need a digital PR strategy in place.

We are lucky that anyone can create a global and trusted brand regardless of size and location. The barriers have been broken down. Equally, there has never been a more precarious time for damaging a good reputation.

A digital PR strategy helps you to cover all the ways to communicate a message in the best possible way. It helps enhance and protect your brand for the long term by building relationships and mitigating external risks.

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu

Operating without a digital PR strategy is like driving in the dark with no headlights. It shows you where you can add the most value to the very people you’re trying to build relationships with.

There is no ‘best digital PR strategy’ because every case is different and requires a tailored approach. But there are several steps you can follow to develop one and it starts with research.

Research informs digital PR strategy

Research is a key part of digital PR planning and is usually done upfront to understand positioning and to inform the objectives.

Digital PR research comes in many forms and includes:

  • Primary research
  • Secondary research
  • Investigative research
  • Internet research
  • Social data research
  • Keyword research
  • Website analytics research

To look at research from a digital PR angle you may do the following:

  • Industry research – Understanding a new client industry
  • SEO research – Keywords, rankings, content analysis, competitor analysis etc
  • Stakeholder research – the different groups of people you want to reach and how to communicate with them
  • Brand research – the perception of the brand among the public and other stakeholders
  • Online presence research – how an organisation positions itself online

Start with the objectives

What are you trying to achieve? What is the goal of your digital PR strategy? Who are you trying to target?

The more clarity you give the objectives the better the strategy will be.

The definition of digital PR is “the discipline of engaging and influencing a variety of audiences and stakeholders using a range of communication tools, technologies and techniques to shape the perception and reputation of an organisation or individual.”

The objectives should also be SMART.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Stakeholder identification

Your research will show you who your key stakeholders are if you didn’t already know.
It’s important to identify and consider the needs of stakeholders if you intend to seek long term relationships with them.

Stakeholders vary and can include;

  • Journalists
  • Bloggers
  • Influencers
  • Employees
  • Politicians
  • Partners
  • Associates
  • Communities (online and off)
  • Member organisations

Once you’re clear on who the stakeholders are, create a persona of them that seeks to answer the following;

How they are informed, what media they consume, what concerns them, the social networks they use, their political leaning, who the influential nodes in the network are etc.

Once you have answered all these questions you’ll have a clear picture of how to tailor your messages to them.

Fine-tune your messaging

Key messaging helps clarify what you’re trying to achieve with inspiration and purpose. They bring clarity to your team and the content you create.

Discovery in the research phase can help you with key messaging. Often there is a large gap between what a company says about itself versus what people say about it. Key messaging can help bridge this gap as long as they are backed up by substantive action.

Your key messages are what you want your stakeholders to know and more importantly for them to say about you.

Digital PR strategies can be complex and multifaceted but their key messages should be clear, concise and memorable. They have to cut through many channels and platforms and work for all of them.

The devil is in the detail and the skill is simplifying them to;

  • Fit with a broad range of stakeholders
  • Encapsulate the essence of your entire digital PR strategy
  • Sound credible and relatable
  • Tailor them to the platform but they must always communicate the same message

Key messages are your vocal position (or positions) on a number of topics. Make sure they bring clarity to your strategy.

The digital PR toolbox

The digital PR toolbox is the selection of tactics you have at your disposal to use for your strategy.

If the strategy outlines how to get to where you want to go, the tactics are the individual steps to get you there.

We listed the wide range of digital PR tactics you can use in an earlier article. Everything from media relations to influencer relations and copywriting to podcast production.

The toolbox is a good metaphor because it’s a reminder that tactics are the tools to use depending on the situation. Strategists have a range of digital PR skills they can use. The real skill is using the most appropriate one for the situation.

It also prevents Man with a Hammer Syndrome. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

Proactive and reactive digital PR

Digital PR strategies are all well and good but what about the types of events you can’t predict?

The ‘black swan events‘ like a global pandemic are things that you can’t factor into any long term strategy. This is why it’s important to have a ‘reactive’ element to your ‘proactive’ digital PR strategy.

Proactive digital PR is everything we’re covering in this article. It’s the research and planning of what you are going to be doing for the next 12 months.

Reactive digital PR helps you capitalise on the news agenda and ride the waves of trending stories that make it to the mainstream.

Adding a reactive element to your digital PR strategy helps you factor in the ‘known unknowns’. Those unintended things you can’t predict but know are coming and want to take advantage of.

Take the pandemic, when most office workers around the world had to work from home. If you are a company that sells home office products you could increase your sales 10X if a reactive process was in place.

Timeline

If you want to keep good time, you need a good watch. Or timeline.

The timeline is the beating heart of the digital PR strategy. It provides a visual overview of everything that needs to be done from start to finish. It ensures everyone is on board with the deliverables, their deadlines and their role in achieving them.

A timeline helps you prioritise and set clear directions on the important parts of the strategy. It includes;

  • Key dates throughout the year
  • The list of deliverables to complete
  • The dates on which the deliverable need to be complete
  • The expected duration of each deliverable
  • Roles and responsibilities for the deliverables
  • Dependencies between deliverables

Timelines come in different forms. Many organisations use specialist project management software to create timelines. Some still use good old Excel.

A Gantt chart is a favourite style as it provides a big picture view of everything going on and allows you to see where deliverables overlap.

Whatever timeline software you use and in whatever style you use it, you must follow it to ensure deadlines are being met.

Crisis plan

There have been countless examples over the years of why an organisation should be prepared for times of crisis. We are simply too connected today that what happens on the other side of the world can impact us.

While digital PR is about communicating a message, a crisis plan focuses on prevention and containment.

A crisis doesn’t have to be a global event and they come in many forms. Financial, organisational, employee, technological and also non-manmade ones like a natural disaster.

A crisis can have a detrimental effect on reputation. How an organisation responds to a crisis can have a similar effect also.

No two situations are the same so crisis plans may look different to one another. All contain at least some key elements;

  • Ongoing monitoring to identify early signs (usually online)
  • List of possible crisis scenarios
  • A ‘crisis command centre’ where the team can work together during a crisis
  • Stakeholder groups to communicate with
  • A dedicated crisis team with key people, contact details and responsibilities
  • Spokespeople – often people in leadership positions
  • A communications cascade to relay information

Consider how many crises were averted that we didn’t hear about. Dealing with a crisis is often a thankless task yet it’s often the most important. A digital PR strategy without a crisis component is incomplete.

Measurement

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” said business guru, Peter Drucker and he was right.

The ability to measure and prove ROI is the key final piece of a digital PR strategy.

What you measure is dependent on your objectives. In other words, did you meet your objectives or did you fall short?

There are a range of variables in digital PR measurement. From the tangible such as engagement, coverage, traffic, sales etc to the intangible like reputation and influence. All should be considered when developing a measurement framework.

Be careful of using so-called ‘vanity metric’s which serve no purpose other than help you look good but do not support meeting the objectives.

Measurement also allows you to evaluate key learnings from your digital PR activity. What worked well and what didn’t, what new insights did you learn, what you didn’t expect and so on.

Having a measurement process in place helps you set the scene moving forward for future digital PR strategies.


A digital PR strategy is nothing without execution but execution is nothing without strategy

Whatever your digital PR strategy is for, it’s important to always keep in mind it is nothing without doing the work.

Equally ‘doing the work’ without a strategy in place is as futile. You can’t overstate the symbiosis between the thinking and the doing in digital PR.

No digital PR strategy is the same so this article stands as a template on how to do your digital PR planning, research and strategy creation.

Written by Thumos Team

We are Thumos. We’re the leading digital influence company. We shape reputation and grow influence through content and storytelling. You can contact us here.

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