Online marketing and PR agents develop the internet presence of commercial companies, government and third-sector organisations. A combination of advertising, word-searching and social networks enables these agencies to facilitate direct contact between these organisations and their online target audience.
A successful PR strategy currently involves both online and offline policies. The internet is increasingly critical to modern business, and almost all companies and organisations have an online presence through which they attempt to appeal to an audience or client-base.
Online press works differently to traditional print and televisual media, and agents and clients are beginning to realise the benefits and even necessity of finding new creative strategies to maximise the potential of this media.
PR and marketing agents who deal with the online market research the ways in which individuals use the internet, and how this corresponds to the placement of adverts and word-searching activity through Google.
With a detailed knowledge of how different user-groups and demographics make use of the internet, agencies work with clients to reach those groups through a variety of different avenues, including use of social networking sites, targeted advertising and ‘advertorial’ placement in online features and blogs.
Everything is searchable nowadays, and the rise of the internet as a commercial force corresponds to a drop in the importance of traditional advertising.
Freed from the financial restrictions this mode of advertising traditionally imposed, PR and marketing agencies have found themselves able to find more flexible, creative avenues through which they can interact directly with customers.
The job involves a combination of research into the technical functioning of these online forums, and traditional PR tasks involving liaison between clients and public, networking, and various different concerns in media and product placement, such as writing and publicising press-releases.
Waged internships in PR and marketing start on salaries of around £10,000 p.a., with junior and mid-level positions ascending from £30,000 rising to £50-60,000 for permanent senior positions within an agency.
These figures are guidelines at best, with salaries dependent on position and agency, and will vary internationally, although larger PR agencies tend to be situated in major international metropolitan locations.
Many PR agents, particularly at a high level, supplement their income with freelance work, taking specialised web development to individual clients where needed; however, this is forbidden within some agency contracts.
- Meeting contacts
- Developing relationships with clients
- Researching blogs and other online media
- Researching online advertising
- Designing offers and writing pitches for clients
- Designing offers and writing pitches for online media
- Socialising to expand a network of clients and contacts
An increase in the number of specialised degree courses in PR and marketing means that many junior situations will require a graduate in this field; however, this is not always the case. Online marketing in particular is an area which requires particular technical skills and an understanding of the internet’s usage which will not necessarily come from a degree.
- Good people skills are the single most important set of prerequisites for this job
- Highly-developed computer literacy and technical skills are also important
Although it may sound obvious, online marketing is very much dependent on the base computer system. Good quality back-up systems and capable software make a huge difference to the working conditions of those attempting to create an expanded online presence.
Other than this, working conditions for online PR and marketing agents tend to be unexceptional: stress, late nights, long hours in front of a computer, and the expectations of travel and socialising can, however, all impact on the lifestyle.
Experience is not essential for starting-position internships – the value of enthusiasm, some knowledge and a desire to learn about this expanding market cannot be overestimated.
All commercial companies which have an online presence are responsible, in one way or another, for the image which that online presence creates. Increasingly, businesses from tiny companies to multinational corporations are turning to online marketing experts who can enable them to reach a greater online audience.
These marketing experts are, in turn, often employed by larger PR companies, but a number remain freelance and work directly for a client.
A career typically starts with interning. Interning at large online companies such as eBay and Google can give aspiring online marketing agents a huge head-start in learning how internet advertisement and sales work. Other graduates with an interest in the online market will work in a different sector, but research and develop their interest in online communications independently.
Some internships come with a salary, and may turn into a junior situation. Senior PR consultants will often do their own freelance work on the side, if not setting up their own agency.
Also known as…
- Online Publicist
- Media specialist
- Online Communications specialist.
What’s it really like?
Charlotte Hall, 25, is a freelance PR consultant
After leaving school I worked for a high-end fashion retailer in my home-town, York, where I gained management experience and also had some preliminary education in the workings of the fashion industry. I stayed with the company for six years in total, but for some of this time I was working remotely and studying at the same time on the International Fashion Marketing course at Manchester Metropolitan University.
As an undergraduate, I initiated contact with as many local fashion companies as I could find. Two labels, Bench and Hooch, offered some unpaid work experience, and I did well during those placements, and continued to work for both companies as an events assistant for the rest of my time at university.
In my third year, I applied for a placement at Oki-ni, an online fashion retailer based in East London. During my year at Oki-ni, I developed an interest in online marketing. We had a very modest marketing budget, so I had to be creative. Traditional PR avenues were not relevant to us. We didn’t have any samples of clothes to send out to magazines, as all our stock was ordered as sold.
However, we had a strong following from a few bloggers who had featured our clothes – this was a few years ago, before the power of the blogging community had really been harnessed in fashion, and before blogging as a marketing force had elevated some of these people to the powerful commercial and creative positions they now occupy.
In consultation with the technical members of staff, I saw that much of the traffic was coming to our site through some of these bloggers, who had featured our clothing. It was easy to contact the bloggers and I started doing some work with them, at first on a small scale, with editorial features and particularly previews of new pieces.
The policy was working really well in terms of sending traffic onto the site, and I spent quite a lot of time over the subsequent months researching online marketing and advertising, and developing our PR strategy.
I learned how to use the internet to maximise our presence and impact, and to cut down on the pay-per-click costs involved in internet advertising by ensuring that relevant keywords made Oki-ni feature high up in Google word-search results for those words.
This kind of technical policy was not the reason I had initially chosen fashion PR, but surprisingly, I found the research interesting and rewarding, both in terms of personal satisfaction, and in our rapidly rising financial return.
To give you an idea of how these systems snowball, within a year, we were advertising in one country (the UK), but shipping to 86, with marketing costs standing at less than 2% of the annual budget.
I had built relationships with a network of over 2,500 sites internationally, and when Oki-ni offered me a permanent position as head of marketing, I decided to take this position rather than returning to university.
Over the next year I worked on designing and implementing a policy for online expansion, developing work on blogs, affiliates, webzines and forums.
At that time, the value of these online forums was not widely recognised in the PR community, and I was able to develop symbiotic partnerships whereby I worked with individual bloggers to help them grow their own sites, in relation to Oki-ni’s content.
Today I think that the term ‘blog’ has lost its meaning – there are so many different ways of developing online marketing that this broad generic characterisation of ‘advertorial’ content is no longer needed.
Since leaving Oki-ni to go freelance, I have been learning more about different online media, with the aim of further developing the medium for particular clients.
In a typical day, I will liaise with these clients, through meetings, emails and phone-calls. I am constantly at work, in contact with clients and potential clients. By talking to people, I can work out what their needs are and the message or image that the client is trying to convey.
I also write press releases and pitches for business that combine a picture of the creative vision with a meticulous financial breakdown of costs and return. Sometimes, this involves research on statistics, or meetings with financial partners.
The other side of my work is the press contact. I have to maintain my own database of personal contacts in the media and in the fashion industry, and my relationship with online writers and editors is particularly important.
When I have a new product or press-release, I will relay these to my press contacts, and I also have to attend parties, launches and other functions to maintain and develop my database and my personal contacts.
My advice to people who are seeking to move into online PR specialism would be to open yourself up to as many people, and as many potential avenues as possible. This means networking in different ways, not just at parties but through research and professional avenues.
It also means being nice to people! You never know when their contacts or technical skill or abilities will come in handy.
My favourite thing about my job is the sociable aspect– not only in terms of parties and travel, but also meeting and making contact with new people whose work or online presence is interesting or exciting.
Because I’m a consultant working online, rather than in-house, I can travel more than I might otherwise, and even over the few years during which I’ve been working in online PR, things have changed fast.
Sometimes, I’d prefer to work for just one brand, which would enable me to have a deeper and potentially more creative correspondence with the client. There are a few fashion houses and institutions in particular that I’d like to develop a relationship with. In the long-term, I will consider setting up my own agency to work independently with a smaller number of clients.