I turn the big 3-0 at the end of March this year which means as well as waving goodbye to my not-so roaring twenties, I will have been in the digital marketing and PR industry for eight whole years! To celebrate (or commiserate) the occasion I am putting together 30 essential tips for those working in digital PR.
The tips will be shared in three parts before my 30th birthday. Enjoy part one below!
1. Triple check everything
Human error is a part of life and when juggling so many tasks and deadlines it’s easy for some things to get missed. Usually typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors get picked up in proofing, but when it comes to outreach emails there may be no processes in place to catch these errors before they get sent out.
As a PR professional, you are either representing your brand or your clients brand when outreaching campaigns, comments and reactive content. It is our responsibility to make sure mistakes are kept to a minimum. It is also likely that if a journalist is copying and pasting the release straight from the email, they may not change the mistake – meaning the coverage you receive is also laden with errors…
Make it part of your process to double-check the email before sending it and then check again by sending it to yourself before mass outreach. Not only will this catch any errors that may have been missed but it also allows you to see how the subject line looks in your inbox and how well-formatted the email is too.
2. Avoid click-bait subject lines
The sole aim of a subject line is to persuade the recipient to open the email which makes it seem like click-bait subject lines would do the trick; however, journalists receive hundreds of emails a day and write headlines all day – click-bait is their bread and butter and they can see straight through it.
When you need to stand out against hundreds of other PR emails in an inbox, it is always better to be straightforward with what you are pitching. So, if you have a data campaign, make the subject line either “[Data] Study finds…” or lead with your biggest statistic to capture their attention. The journalist will lose faith in your following emails if the subject line is spammy or ‘tricks’ them into opening (and therefore wasting time on) something that either isn’t of interest or relevant.
“Clickbait is for readers not journalists, stop using clickbait language in your subject line, the journalist is less likely to open your email if they can’t tell what it is from the outset”
3. Do the bulk of media lists building manually
So many media lists to build, so little time to build them in, am I right? If your campaign has several angles or targets several niches, it means you will be making several media lists to outreach too as well. But, we spend weeks or even months preparing a campaign so why should we take shortcuts when it comes to building the list of the people who we hope will be covering it and giving those much desired links?
Media databases such as Roxhill, Gorkana and ResponseSource are fantastic for list building, but relying on them too much can lead to out-of-date lists and an inbox full of hard bounces. Journalists move around so quickly and frequently that media databases often cannot keep up.
This is why it is best to do the bulk of the work manually. Take a look at the target publications and see who is writing what, look at your ResponseSource requests to see which journalists are sending out requests relevant to your client and get on Twitter; journalists post their moves on the platform a lot quicker than databases pick up on them.
The databases are useful for finding out the email addresses of contacts, but should not be your sole resource for list building.
4. Make time for Reactive PR
In many PR strategies, it seems reactive PR takes a back seat to campaigns. Sometimes this might be yours or your clients preference if the requirement is to have something big and flashy to show off (which is fine as that is also what PR is here for), but reactive PR should be right next to the campaign as a centre stage tactic.
Reactive PR benefits from being newsworthy, meaning there is always more of a chance of it being picked up than a campaign. Campaigns could be described as a high-risk PR tactic and, depending on budget/retainer, they can often take some time to set up, get live and then outreach – plus there is the added fear of another company putting out the same campaign at the same time, or there being something unexpected coming up (like a GLOBAL PANDEMIC) which can delay or stop campaigns, leading you back to square one. Shout out to those that could finally get their James Bond campaigns out!
Reactive and planned reactive are quick pieces that either address a news topic – by providing a comment or content relevant to that news item – or they are planned into an editorial calendar to address events/days/seasons that occur every year, Christmas, Mother’s Day, winter, for example. By creating content with a purpose, you are increasing the chances of publication – and if they don’t take the piece this time, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t spend all of your time on a campaign that has flopped.
5. Journalist requests are GOLD
Every PR should allocate time to looking through journalist requests and the benefits are two-fold.
Firstly, you have a better chance of being featured in high-quality publications. This way as you are fulfilling a need the journalist has for something they are currently working on, not cold emailing with something that may be miles away from their current focus.
But secondly, it is an excellent relationship builder. Journalists are busy people. There is an ‘always on’ approach to the news now that it’s digital, meaning most journalists are often juggling a number of articles in any given day. By helping them out with an expert comment or stats they are searching for, you lighten their load a bit. PRs get a bad reputation due to mass outreach and too many follow-ups, but by going out of your way to help them they may remember how helpful you were and come directly to you for something in the future.
Journalist requests are usually found on Twitter using the #journorequest. If there is budget in your team, you may want to sign up for ResponseSource requests – they aren’t cheap but all the major, high authority publications use the service to find comments or information, so it is a gold mine for coverage and links.
6. Ensure your campaign pages add value
A tip that circulates PR webinars and events every year is that in order to get a journalist to include a link, you must give them something to link to that provides value to the reader. Although as a PR it is easy to get in a huff and think ‘well surely they NEED to credit me/my client for the work’, you have to remember that journalists have their own success measurements, including article views.
Why would they link to your client’s homepage when that means they will be leaving the news site?
The campaign page or landing page linked to within your piece must give the readers something extra, such as:
- A wider guide that provides further tips
- A campaign page with the full data and sources
- A tool that is useful to readers
- A biography page of an expert if giving an expert comment, to prove legitimacy and credibility
If you have nothing like this to link to, that should be your focus. Create something worth linking to before demanding links for the sake of hitting a KPI. Not only are you more likely to achieve a link by doing so, but by creating something on site to link to – as an alternative to the home page – you can optimise this landing page to pass link equity to target pages and help target keywords too.
7. Track and report on more than link numbers
Links are great. It feels great when you receive one and achieve a mention in a huge publication, but how can you tell if what you are doing is contributing to wider business goals? The issue with just tracking link numbers is that when the bottom line doesn’t increase, or similarly when something amazing happens, you can not attribute it to the PR work.
PRs should get in the habit of tracking, measuring and reporting on more than simply the number of links. As digital PR helps build online visibility, tracking this visibility is vital to show the effectiveness of work. There are a few metrics that can be tracked:
- Organic traffic
- SERP impressions
- SERP clicks
You should also be tracking metrics directly related to the PR activity, whether that is placements or a campaign page:
- Landing page visits
- Social shares
- Referral traffic
- Keyword ranking improvements
If goal tracking has been included as part of the PR activity, these should also be tracked and reported on:
- Micro goals – newsletter sign-ups, tool uses, ebook downloads
- Macro goals – purchases and enquiries
8. Teach yourself data
Too many PRs are afraid of data and a spreadsheet and yet so many campaigns involve data of some type. Large agencies often benefit from having analytics teams that can help with data collection and analysis, but smaller PR teams and in-house PR professionals may not have the same luxury.
Instead of shying away from data campaigns, challenge yourself to learn a couple of new formulas – whether that be the basics, or something a bit more advanced.
There are a few key formulas that can really help you level up your data campaigns.
The ones that I recommend nailing first are:
I will be doing a talk about these formulas, where they are applicable and how to use them this year so watch this space!
9. Don’t create graphics for the sake of it
This is something I have been guilty of in the past, making a graphic for the sake of it in order to make a landing page look pretty. Ask yourself: would a graphic add to this campaign? Will it help readers or the journalist visualise any part of it? If the answer is no, step away from the creative brief.
Yes, custom graphics look nice and clients come to expect a bit more bang for their buck, but if that creative time could be better spent writing a piece of planned reactive or used doing extra outreach, I guarantee they would be happier with links than they would be with graphics that will only be used on their own website.
Remember, Google struggles to read images so putting your campaign tables in your content as images will mean you are losing out on any SEO benefit they may have.
10. This is a job, don’t kill yourself over it
This one is a tip that is applicable to everyone in any job. A job is simply that, a job. It is a means to earn money in order to live your life. You can of course love your job and want to excel in your career, but it should never be at the detriment of your happiness or health (physical or mental).
PR is a difficult job because it is high pressure and relies heavily on luck. There is an expectation to ‘always be on’ and there is a lot of competition, which means many in our industry struggle with burnout and anxiety.
However, what we need to understand at all levels is that no one will die if we don’t get that link, no one is in danger if we don’t respond to that email on our day off, nothing in PR (unless in crisis management) is urgent enough to sacrifice your personal life for.
Make sure you separate your work life and personal life. This will not only make you a happier human but will actually make you a better employee because you will be less stressed, less sick and less resentful. A relaxed mind is a clearer, more focused mind; you are less likely to make mistakes, your memory is likely to be better and you will be more engaged.