11/12/23 // Written by Cheryl Crossley

The Big Digital PR Takeaways from 2023 

The media landscape and the type (and sources) of content we consume is always changing, which means that Digital PR must adapt too. With this in mind, we’ve explored some of our top takeaways from 2023 – what’s changed, and how we’ve adapted. 

If there is one thing that any Digital PR knows to be true, it’s that the news never stands still, and that means that we can’t either. 

What earned you a national hit three years ago is very unlikely to have cut the mustard in 2023; as old formats fall out of favour, and new topics, sources and story styles rise in popularity. 

So, as we reach the end of another busy and highly changeable year, we’ve reflected on what has ‘worked’ well, any tactics that are no longer getting media pick up like they used to, and some of the potential reasons for these shifts. 

1) Media cuts lead to more regional syndication 

There have been several publisher announcements this year about cuts to editorial teams, the most recent of which was at Reach PLC (who produce content for lots of regional sites like Manchester Evening News and Wales Online, as well as nationals like the Mirror, Express and Daily Star). These layoffs are consistently cited as being driven by ‘rising inflation’ and as ultimately described as being ‘cost-cutting’ exercises. 

This isn’t just happening in the UK either, several US publishers have also reduced their headcounts, including VICE Media

It goes without saying that the people who feel this the most are of course those who lose their jobs. The knock-on effect of these changes, especially in editorial teams, is felt very widely too in different ways. 

In the PR world, you’d expect that fewer journalists means that less content is being written. While this is sometimes the case, more often than not however, what is happening is that publishers are expecting the same volume of stories to be written, but with fewer people. 

We’ve been told that some journalists who were writing five stories a day are now being asked to produce 12 – and naturally that comes with its challenges. 

Journalists have always been notoriously ‘time poor’, and with PRs pitching press releases in their thousands each day, you can really start to feel sorry for press whose email inboxes become completely unmanageable. 

How the heck are they supposed to find the most suitable releases when they’re receiving 100+ new suggestions every hour? 

Similarly, when it comes to regional media, how can they create bespoke content for each location they cover? 

The answer is that they simply can’t, and that means that… 

  • They are syndicating more content across multiple sites, so if your release gets covered on one regional then its highly likely it’ll go across many more sites too 
  • Press are looking for ‘easier’ ways to find the best stories, such as using external pitching tools or relying on contacts they know will deliver what they need 

For us, regional syndication is really beneficial as most clients want links and media mentions earned in volume, on high DA websites, and this really delivers it.  

Of course, the content in these articles is all the same, and we do absolutely recognise that unique stories are the ideal scenario, but in 2023 it is sadly unrealistic to expect this all the time. Having a mix of syndicated stories and unique articles is realistic and achievable and should help ensure you see both quality and volume. 

We’ve also been working hard to establish and maintain new and existing media contacts this year. By being a trusted source of quality, relevant stories – written in a format that requires as little editing as possible for them – we’re ensuring that they are more likely to find and read our emails, and that is the first step to success. If journalists aren’t even opening pitch emails, they aren’t using the story. 

Cut-through is hard, so anything we can do to increase the likelihood of press contacts opening our emails is vitally important. This does also mean that we have to be strict gatekeepers though and avoid sending anything over that isn’t as strong or as relevant as it could be. We can’t risk damaging a relationship that could put a journalist off finding and reading our emails in future, as that can have an enormous knock-on effect across multiple clients. Quality control is an absolute must. 

2) Affiliates impact earned links and product-led PR potential 

Affiliate marketing isn’t new, but in the last year we’ve noticed a massive shift in how this channel is directly infiltrating the PR world, both in terms of tactics and results. 

    For example, some sub-networks have been having a much bigger impact on earned media than they used to, and what’s more, the traditional PR tactic of product placement is becoming almost impossible to deliver without affiliate agreements in place between brands and publishers. 

    Over the year we have noticed how an affiliate partnership with SkimLinks can affect earned links on more than 100 UK news sites. Since we first touched on this, we’ve seen more and more PRs come out and discuss this, and other affiliate networks, and how they are affecting our ability to earn links. 

    We’ve also been involved in many conversations with clients about ‘product’ PR. Naturally if you are a brand with a direct-to-consumer product to sell from your website, then you ideally want that product to be featured in (and linked to) from editorial articles along the lines of ‘ten of the best…’ and ‘our recommended…’ 

    However, while it is still possible to get the media to talk about a product, the PR approach has now shifted and this needs to be handled differently. Most of these review or ‘best of’ style articles are now filled to the brim with affiliate-agreement-influenced recommendations – after all, it is in their interest to add these in, as it is a source of income. Brands that don’t have active affiliate agreements in place with these publishers should not expect to be included in these round-up stories, no matter how good their product or PR is. 

    While it may appear that affiliate marketing is a bad thing for PR, we really do believe it is a great thing.  

    What’s important though is that brands are going into affiliate agreements with open eyes; fully aware of the pros and cons of this (in the same way they should be with any channel or tactic), and ultimately understand how things have changed, how to get the most from it, and what knock-on effects certain decisions can have. 

    3) Expert-led content is king, as the media become more SEO savvy 

    Just as PR has evolved to become more SEO mindful, so too has the media. More and more news site authors now have the title of ‘SEO Reporter’, and they’re being brought on to write pieces that ultimately serve search demand – publishers want to rank for popular terms, just like you do!  

    This does of course link to the wider focus are of E-E-A-T Content, which we know is very important to Google, and is something that our teams have been weaving into strategies for several years. 

    While the disadvantage of the press becoming very SEO savvy is that they start to compete with us for rankings, there are also several advantages. 

    As a brand you can not only optimise your own website landing pages to rank highly, but you can also be featured in an article that ranks really well – double whammy.  

    This is only further reinforcing your expertise on a specific topic, driving audience trust, and showing Google that you really do deserve to be at the top of the SERPS. 

    We’ve been delivering a lot of expert-led PR pieces for clients this year, especially in the travel, motoring, fashion, beauty, personal finance and home/interiors sectors. 

    The trick to success here is to… 

    • Keep seasonality and topicality in mind – people must still be searching for info on this thing now (or soon – if it’s a yearly thing) for the SEO reporters to be interested in it 
    • Move quickly – if you’ve identified a new trending topic, then get your expert comment ready that day, or you’ll miss the boat 
    • Ensure comments are fresh and useful to the intended reader  
    • Always have a named expert to credit – just saying the content is from a brand sadly isn’t enough 
    • Offer a video alongside written copy if you can – press LOVE a video as they can use it on other channels and they keep people onsite for longer 

    4) Evergreen, survey-only stories fall out of favour 

    A few years ago, if you ran a survey with 2,000 people and it generated a shocking headline, you could be pretty sure you’d get pick up on a tabloid national and probably a few other sites too (depending on your niche). It didn’t matter if it wasn’t topical or seasonal or you didn’t have a lot more to back it up. 

    In 2023, this just isn’t enough. Perhaps it’s because people have grown a little tired of clickbait, or because the press are a lot more mindful of writing stories linked to search demand/social trends but right now, if you’ve got a 2k respondent survey only story that is evergreen, chances are it is going to be a very hard sell. 

    You’ll almost certainly need to add in at least one of the following… 

    • A ‘why now’ angle – this could be a seasonal link or a connection to a current trending topic, but you need something to show why press should be interested in using your story now 
    • Expert comments such as top tips that are useful to the reader – they may be something like how to style instructions or money-saving tips 
    • A case study that adds a human-interest angle and brings your stats back to reality 
    • Your own data (if you have it) to back up the survey stats and show why you explored this topic 
    • Other third-party stats from credible sources such as Google Trends / Keyword Planner, TikTok or other social platforms (hashtags etc), FOIs, official reports 
    • More respondents – 5k respondents is sadly starting to become more expected 
    • Compelling imagery you can give to press to use. If a journalist can turn your stats into essentially a strong and shareable picture story, you may still get away with having very little meat – but it’s a risk! 

    5) Lines blur between Traditional and Digital tactics 

    Just a year ago, it felt like there was a very clear divide between what a traditional PR person did for a brand, and what a Digital PR person did. This was largely because of KPIs, with Digital PR success mostly being measured based on link volume, while traditional PR centred around broader ‘brand’ impact. 

    In 2023, the lines between these two delivery approaches and services have become more blurred. Why? Well, we believe there are a few reasons for this… 

    • A lot of publishers have stopped their print runs and are now online only 
    • The E-E-A-T content focus is both ‘traditional’ (in the sense it is raising the profile of an expert), and SEO-mindful (in that it evidences what Google wants to see) 
    • Google has come out and said that it values brand mentions 
    • Even if you do get links, most are now no follow links as standard 

    Because the lines are now blurred, that means that many clients don’t want to invest in two separate PR teams. Instead, they want one team to upskill and cover all areas, and they want to see not only SEO-friendly links on relevant sites, but also stories that are brand-building and engage audiences. It’s a tall order. 

    We’ve always delivered Digital PR with a focus on quality and relevancy, and so our day-to-day delivery and storytelling hasn’t needed to change much. 

    One area we have developed though is our reporting; as we now seek to ensure we’re tracking and demonstrating the value of our work in a whole host of different areas.  

    We’re also having to educate clients on what is and isn’t achievable – as having a very ‘brand’ focused story is unlikely to lead to a lot of result volume. Getting that balance right is key. 

    6) TikTok takes over 

    Social media has of course influenced the news agenda for some time, but 2023 was definitely the year that TikTok became a leading source of news, and also a search engine in its own right. 

    Long gone are the days when this platform was only used by under-20s to share dance videos. Oh no, in 2023, TikTok developed into the destination for entertainment, inspiration and information on all things. 

    While social media and the challenge of tackling ‘fake news’ remains, that hasn’t stopped press from repurposing trending TikTok videos, turning these into news stories. You could call these the new clickbait. 

    For clients, this means that being aware of TikTok trends, and being prepared to create video content is becoming increasingly important. Of course, it will depend on your sector/industry to an extent, but the demand and opportunity is there for those who are able and willing to invest the time in this. 

    For Digital PRs, being able to send content to press that tie in with TikTok trends, featured TikTok influencers or leverage TikTok data, can increase the appeal of your pitch significantly. 

    For clients who don’t have ready in-house spokespeople, partnering up with content creators can be a great workaround. 

    Those that don’t get it, get left behind 

    Unfortunately, not all brands can keep up with the pace when it comes to the changing dynamic of Digital PR, and those that can’t get left behind. 

    Quick sign-off, and flexibility on ideas and tactics is essential to success. 

    What’s more, agility and a willingness to try new things is important too. 

    Digital PR is not a service that anyone can easily predict – nobody knows what news story will break tomorrow and what the repercussions of this will be. What we can be confident of though is that brands that are open-minded, responsive and engaged in the making their PR efforts as successful as possible, will reap the rewards. 

    If you’re interested in finding out more about our Digital PR services, please get in touch