Brighton SEO reflections – ethical PR practices and our responsibility to the industry

Nathan Moorley | 20th October 2023 | Digital PR

In a media landscape where PR campaigns are increasingly scrutinised, it’s never been more important to promote ethical and responsible digital PR practices. The onus lies with agencies to ease journalists’ concerns regarding the integrity of our campaigns, and promote trusting relationships with a people and findings-first approach.

The situation at hand

PRs currently face elevated levels of skepticism across the media sphere. Stat-based headlines citing revelations of a ‘new study’ are often met with dubiousness; methodologies are relegated to fine print, with negligible survey sample sizes and wildly-inflated percentages concealed behind catchy yet unfounded subject lines. This saturation of questionable campaigns is causing significant harm to the integrity of the industry, with a pressing need for greater transparency and accountability in campaigns. 

Additionally, increased accessibility to AI tools has led to a rise in irresponsible and deceptive PR practices, at the expense of authenticity. We’ve seen shocking examples of AI-generated expert comment across services such as HARO and Response Source, offering ‘personal’ insight on sensitive topics including mental health.

AI-generated news websites are also becoming increasingly common, and with the proficiency of AI tools only improving, it’s harder than ever to separate fact from fiction. Newsguard, an organisation dedicated to countering artificial news sources, has identified nearly 50 news and information sites – AKA ‘content farms’ – that are entirely populated with AI-generated content. 

Needless to say, such flagrant abuses of responsibility by the companies behind these strategies directly contravene the principles of E.E.A.T that we as an agency strive for. While the quality of such AI-generated content may be poor, content that manages to leak through into the rankings poses a dangerous source of disinformation.

Accordingly, it’s our responsibility to ensure trust is preserved between agency, journalist and the public through quality and reliable methodologies and sources. Conviction in your data is imperative – if you can’t boast confidence in the quality of your campaign, why should journalists?

During this year’s Brighton SEO, this topic was brilliantly covered in a talk by James Hayward-Browne of Bottled Imagination. It highlighted the rise of disinformation within our industry, but importantly reinforced our belief in the importance of quality and trustworthy PR and the benefits to our clients.

‘Black hat digital PR’ – a minority’s fault, everyone’s problem

James noted three instances in which black hat digital PR manifests:

  1. Disinformation for links

Where misinformation unintentionally misleads the reader through accidental inaccuracies, disinformation is malicious and deliberate spreading of false information for the perpetrator’s gain. This is evident within digital PR by the misuse of AI as previously mentioned, and is particularly problematic where sensitive issues are concerned.

At Distinctly, we work closely with clients to create verified expert comments, which we use to create authentic and authoritative press releases to promote to journalists. Similarly,  we source additional third-party comment from verified sources using journo-request services, further enhancing the authority of our press material. Sources are selected based on expertise and relevancy, ensuring that our press releases achieve maximum ranking impact for our clients.

  1. Irrelevant campaigns

There is an abundance of campaigns that are tenuously linked to the client – if at all. These are commonly observed in ‘hard industries’, from gambling to digital currency. While taking on such clients might be a daunting task, the constraints on campaign breadth are only as strict as your ideation.

At Distinctly, we have observed consistent success across hard industry clients, such as within our work with sports betting site While operating within spaces which provide us the greatest breadth of appeal – and thus greater opportunities for coverage – we maintain relevancy as a necessity without compromise.

Under the umbrella of sports, we have created numerous campaigns on topics ranging from stadium food, to commentary bias, to fan passion. With topics extending beyond the remit of sports journalism, we have achieved coverage across lifestyle and regional US publications, alongside sports publications. This has all been achieved while prioritising relevancy, in turn preserving the trust and respect of journalists and the public.

  1. Spray, pray and hope

As PRs, we have a duty to outreach campaigns responsibly. With over 9000 more PRs than journalists, we are locked in a battle for attention; journalists’ inboxes are full enough with irrelevant press releases, that it’s virtually impossible to cut through the noise. The entire industry has to be accountable, and prioritise selective, personal outreach over bulk-sending of generic media lists.

And we’re doing our bit. Distinctly make it our responsibility to regularly update and vet media lists, ensuring only the most topical and relevant journalists are contacted. As part of our work, we will approach journalists on a personal basis to ask their preferences, allowing us to tailor specific outreach when relevant material arises. This way, we offer high quality, unique press releases that cater to individuals, putting journalists and their requirements first. This is mutually beneficial, in that by establishing relationships with journalists, we are better-placed to land coverage; ultimately, journalists decide what makes the news, not PRs.

Conclusions: Moving forward towards ethical and sustainable growth

The common thread is obvious – never succumb to ‘any link by any means’. While short-term success and quick-win strategy may be tempting, neither are substitutes for hard-earned organic growth.

By diversifying your promotion tactics, personalising your approach, and focusing on rock-solid data, your campaigns will be better received and your brand uplifted. With an increase in irresponsible AI practices in PR, depth of connection has never been more important. Both in campaign strategy and outreach itself, ‘white-hat digital PR’ is the only way to establish credibility and trust with journalists and the public.

Find more information on our digital PR offering here.

Want cutting-edge digital news and tips straight to your inbox? Sign up to our monthly newsletter here

"*" indicates required fields


Looking for a new role?

Join our team