While the growing new-media world has the benefit of providing PR pros with numerous tools to help spread their client's messages, agency digital practices are finding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Through his work with a number of clients, Jerry Johnson, who leads Brodeur's strategic planning group, has found that a client's culture, operational style, and needs must be carefully researched to determine the digital and online techniques that will most effectively support its brand and communications objectives.
"You can have a... well-thought-out podcast, blog, or viral video program, but it doesn't always fit the culture or the structure of the company," Johnson says.
Blogs can be a great tool for a client with a few employees who are passionate about a topic and willing to frequently take time to participate in the conversation, Johnson explains. But for other clients, particularly those that are very structured and like to maintain control of their messaging, tools like podcasts and videocasts may be more practical, even if it seems like everyone is blogging on a particular topic.
"Maybe they shouldn't [blog]," Johnson says. "Even if there's a lot of activity out there, maybe they're not the right person to do that."
Burson-Marsteller's digital practice created a strategy to pick and choose which digital techniques most appropriately fit its clients' needs and would lead to the most success in reaching their audience.
"We always say, 'What is your overarching business strategy? What is the marketing or communications goal here? Who do you want to reach?'" says Erin Byrne, chief digital strategist at Burson.
The firm conducts research regarding the intended audience to make sure the methods it chooses are consistent with the stakeholder's participation in the digital realm. Taking a deep look into the health and reputation of its client's online presence can help determine where the client is, where it wants to go, and how it can get there.
When helping clients create Web sites, Burson uses three major components - informational, transactional (which can include an online forum, for example), and social - and decides which will best reach the target audience. The firm also makes a competitive assessment across its clients' industries, conducts messaging, and does research through search engines.
"The upfront research, when done appropriately, can drive a strategy," Byrne explains. "You don't want to spend a client's money until you know what you're going to do works."
Jeff Beringer, SVP at GolinHarris, notes that this can be the most important element because you can build your plan around a client's online activities. For example, to promote McDonald's Snack Wrap, Golin researched the target demographic and found it spends a lot of time posting videos on YouTube, and then based the campaign on that fact.
"There's no magic formula, it's just a lot of legwork and research," Beringer says.
No one digital technique meets all clients' needs
Thoroughly researching your client's culture and needs is crucial to determining which digital tools to use in PR efforts
It is important to assess the online activities of your target audience, and match the findings with the digital techniques used