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The State of Digital PR (If you are sensitive to the truth, don’t read this)

The Digital PR industry is at a critical stage in its development and so I feel now is the time to share the who, why, what, where and how.

Let me start with a little story.

Around 7ish years ago I started seeing certain agencies such as Branded3 and Verve change how they generated backlinks for clients. Spammy backlinks no longer had the same impact and so a change was needed.

There was also those PR agencies that were already doing this sort of work such as 10 Yetis Digital.

I noticed a shift towards engaging and entertaining content that included interactivity, visuals, data etc which was then sent to journalists in the hope of coverage and backlinks from top tier media publications.

It was great because it worked and it was the best way to generate links whilst also getting huge coverage and brand awareness, what more could brands want, right?

Digital PR was still very much unknown and under the radar at this point and although Verve and others made it more popular, it wasn’t really until June 2019 when this industry got the rocket launch treatment.

Welcome to the stage Rise at Seven | Search-First Creative Agency.

Stephen Kenwright and Carrie Rose launched something that would propel the digital PR industry into dizzy heights that no one saw coming.

They made digital PR famous, exciting interactive campaigns, amazing stunts, they even stuck Christmas dinner in a tin. It’s fair to say these guys paved the way for the future of this industry.

BUT this is where things take a turn….

When an industry that has no boundaries of entry becomes famous the way digital PR did, when people see an agency go from 0 to millions in the space of 18 months, everyone thinks they can replicate it and they all want a piece of the pie.

Enter the WHAT:

What happens in this scenario? You have an influx of low quality digital PR agencies popping up everywhere.

How hard can it be right? just think of some creative ideas, build some kind of visual or interactive page behind it and share it with journos and boom, you will become the next Rise at Seven…..

Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. What we see is hundreds of agencies popping up, doing a very bad job, undercutting each other and giving the industry a bad rep.

Why? Because the likes of Carrie, Stephen, Tim GriceAndy BarrRich LeighJames Brockbank, just to name a few have been around for years and have been perfecting their craft before the term “digital PR” was even a thing.

In my opinion, the industry is currently in a bad place. Only 10% of agencies do great work, while the other 90% are falling by the wayside.

Digital PR used to have a certain affluence to it and everyone wanted to be apart of it, now brands are weary and budgets are squeezed due to fear of failure.

Where:

Where are we going as an industry? Well, many industries go through a similar maturity period. Last week, Rich Leigh, one of the best in the industry, confirmed my thoughts.

Right now we are in a transitional period again, we are in that period where the best will survive and the fly by the seat of your pants agencies will be forced to adapt or die.

I think within the next 6 to 8 months we will see a lot of agencies dropping off and the ones left standing will the those who truly “get” what digital PR is and how to get real results in this space.

It will be at this point when we start to gain our credibility and respect back in the industry and the word “digital PR” will start to feel like a world class service again.

Finally for the How….

How will this transition take place?

Firstly, brands and decision makers are wising up to what good digital PR agencies look like and so what we are going to see is the brands with the budgets will only invest in agencies they know have a great track record and are doing great work.

That will leave the brands with the smaller budgets having to use the “cowboy” agencies but after they get stung once or twice, they will also wisen up and put their budget elsewhere, leaving the “cowboy” agencies no where left to go.

These agencies will end up in one of two places, out of business or selling “SEO content”

What do I mean by that? well they will probably start generating bulk content and press releases using AI and using a more spray and pray approach and hoping something sticks.

This will probably work just enough to keep them in business but ultimately they will naturally fall out of the “digital PR” sphere and more into the modern day “spammy linkbuilding” tactics as mentioned above.

In the meantime folks, we will see budgets squeezed and a tough transitional period but as Rich said to me, hang in there because the good agencies like ours will rise to the top once this transition has taken place.

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