A public relations strategy is a big part of successful search campaigns. Getting your company's brand and employees exposed through media and social channels is incredibly important and can have a profound impact on links, rankings and traffic.
If you need a refresher or an overview on this topic, check out piece from earlier this year on search marketing integration.
Getting content picked up is a difficult process, but the rewards far exceed the investment. Let's explore the process of outreach along with tips and best practices for getting the media's attention. Following these guidelines will increase the probability of success.
Finding the Author
First and foremost, you need a personality to represent the content being created. I highly recommend finding the author first, and creating the content afterwards.
Sometimes this is very straightforward, but other times, not so much. Particularly, if you work for a large organization, or work for an agency, it may not be very clear who is available and willing.
Look for the really smart people at your company. The experts and thought leaders. Who developed your product? Who does the research? Typically there's someone that has an existing reputation through speaking engagements and previous publicity.
If you can't identify anyone, don't panic. People are naturally driven to share their knowledge and build a personal brand. This is especially true for the Gen Y's. You can approach those with titles like Researcher, Engineer, CTO, Product Manager, Directors and Executives.
Next, set a meeting with your colleague and explain what you're trying to do. You'll want to focus on the value of getting published from the colleague's perspective. Talk about how this will build their personal brand; get exposure for their product and will most likely have zero negative effect on their P&L.
During the meeting, you can identify the topics they specialize in and brainstorm the content subject matter. The content creation process starts right now!
Come with a solid set of questions and take notes. Use the notes as fuel for stories. This process will also ensure you a personality to represent the content and that the content is quality. Both of which will make it much easier when we're trying to get the content picked up.
Once you've secured one, or better yet, multiple authors to represent the content, you'll now be tasked with finding the websites and publications to get the content picked up. This starts by identifying your target customers and what sites they would typically visit.
Questions to ask:
- What sites do my prospects typically visit?
- Which publications have an audience profile that fits my prospects?
- Where do my prospects and customers go to learn/read about my industry?
Once you know the audience, then you can identify the top media outlets that fall within your industry. These media outlets can be news sources like CNN, industry insider sites like Search Engine Watch and even thought leadership outlets like blogs, content aggregators and social channels.
For example, let's assume that your typical customer is the CEO of an SMB. What publications would that person read and visit? Most likely, sites like Entrepreneur Magazine, CEO.com or Forbes.
Now comes the fun part – and the most difficult. Once you've identified the authors and sites, and the content has been created (which I skipped over intentionally), you now need to connect with the publication gatekeepers.
Some of these sites allow you to submit your content through an online form. The sites you really want exposure on, most likely will not. So, you'll have to pull up your sleeves and get to work.
- Identify the appropriate contact. If you're experienced with the process of link building or sales prospecting, this will seem very familiar. We're looking for titles like editor, contributor, writer, columnist and moderator. Editor is the most common. There are multiple ways to find them and some of the popular paid applications to help with this include Vocus and Cision. If you're left with doing so manually, don't fret – it's not that difficult. You can browse the sections of the publications with your subject matter, and after a few minutes you'll typically find the columnist. You can also use tools like LinkedIn and search for "editorial" or "columnist" within the publication's list of employees.
- Reach out with a phone call, an email or a social touch. I recommend a phone call first (tread carefully, some hate this), and an email second with a social touch left for last. Typically, a combination of the two will get the most attention. For example, you can send an email and follow their twitter account shortly afterwards. If the person follows you back, send a DM. If not, send out a direct tweet. In the email: briefly explain who you are, who the author is, and why the content will resonate with their audience. Again, make it brief.
Single or Multiple Pitches?
Some PR experts will recommend pitching the content to multiple sources, at the same time. Others, like public relations expert Cas Purdy, recommend taking a more calculated approach:
The art of pitching isn't about blasting out an email to a database or through a mail merge. Effective media outlet pitching should be more exclusive, targeted to the specific publication or website and reporter. If you don't succeed with your first target outlet (and you likely won't) you can always move to the next one.
I think this depends on the content itself and the targeted outlet. I would recommend targeting one outlet for research and expertise oriented content. Give the outlet a timeframe to respond and move on. For example, you can write:
We prefer to have this picked up on your column. Therefore, you have the first right of refusal. If you could kindly respond within 3 business days to accept or reject before we explore other options.
When Do We Create The Content?
Another commonly asked question relates to the creation of the content itself. Should you complete the content first, and pitch once it's finished? Or, should you write up an overview and complete it once we have an outlet? The answer lies somewhere in the middle and depends on two primary factors: The content itself and the target pickup source.
Here are some guidelines:
Get Found By Columnists
Reaching out to reporters isn't the only approach. Remember, the reporters need the content as much as we want it to be published.
The journalism industry is struggling. Writers have more responsibility and less time, which creates 70+ work weeks. Often, journalists are looking for ideas and sources to save time. You have an opportunity to be a resource when they're looking.
- Help A Reporter Out (HARO): This free service puts reporters in contact with sources. Essentially, the report submits a request for comments and expertise. You can then respond with a request to be included. This is a great way to get your content and experts picked up. But you can't wait too long. Reporters get tons of responses to HARO so you'll likely need to respond quickly. The early bird gets the worm. HARO also posts urgent requests via Twitter.
- Social: Reporters and columnist often request sources through their social channels, specifically via twitter. To do this: First, identify your target audience (e.g., CIO's). Then identify the experts, reporters and thought leaders in this space. You can often find existing Twitter lists that already have this information. Then, using a monitoring service like Netvibes, Twilert, or Hootsuite to notify you when someone is looking for a source. Often, it will be a last minute request (need an expert on SEO by 5 p.m.) because someone else dropped the ball. But, that's an opportunity for you to pick it up run to the end zone.
Columnist Relationships and Best Practices
Reports and columnists can receive upwards of 200-500 pitch emails per day. Can you imagine? Here is some valuable feedback to help your pitch stand out, and stay in the reporter's good graces:
- Brevity: In your email or call, be brief, very, very brief. But…
- Be prepared: If you're pitching a completed story make sure it doesn't need extensive grammatical changes, if any. If you're pitching an idea for a story with the purpose of the writer sourcing your company or client, make sure you've done some homework. Make it easier for the columnist to write the story. Even if you're pitching an idea, you'll be better off if the content is closer to a finished product. Hand them an easy story to pursue and an easy source (you, or your client)
- Include an image: This was highly stressed. The vast majority of publications require an image. For the columnist, finding or creating images is time intensive and no fun. Additionally, they're likely not a subject matter expert to the extent that you are. Therefore, it's not completely illogical to assume the columnist can find an image that properly represents your content, or your idea.
- Make it relevant: Don't pitch stories that have nothing to do with the publication's audience.
The job doesn't stop once the content has been picked up and promoted. Granted, there's reason to celebrate, but there's still work to be done.
- Maintain relationships: Assuming you've connected with the editorial team and/or columnist, keep the dialogue and relationship ongoing. I can't stress this enough. Make them aware that you represent the subject matter experts and those experts are available as a source for custom content creation, insights, quotes etc. Media contacts are always looking for sources to help fuel their columns and the quality of their content and nothing is better than having journalists knock on your door.
Keeping a relationship is best done by old-fashioned, real life communication. Phone calls, handshakes and genuine interaction. However, everyone is limited on time. So, we can also take an approach similar to what we're doing with marketing automation, which involves staying top-of-mind through regularly pitching content and stores. You may only get 1 of 20 pieces picked up, but that's better than starting the outreach process from scratch. Warning: you don't want to overload your contact either. There's a balance. Pitch quality over quantity and only relevancy. If you pitch too often, or with stories that don't appeal to the publications audience, the editors will tune you out.
- Track: The last step is to track the success of your efforts. From an SEO perspective, you'll want to look at referring traffic from the outlet source along with recognized backward links and their respective domain and page authority.
- Agencies: If you're an agency and representing a company, get an email address from the company for outreach. For example, let's assume you work for agency "A" and work on behalf of company "B". When you send emails and outreach on behalf of company "B", the emails address should come from firstname.lastname@example.org – not email@example.com. This will increase the responsiveness and is easy to have setup. If your client won't do this, be sure to say you work for "Agency A, on behalf of Company B" in your email signature. If you have an ongoing relationship with a publication or columnist, then this isn't necessary.
- Existing PR: If the company or client has an existing PR team, work directly with them. You don't want to jeopardize a publication relationship that already exists. More so, you might be able to expedite and increase the odds of pickup, because of the relationship.
- Objectivity: Plain and simple, keep the content objective. No sales pitches. Use a variety of sources and references. Link to them.
- Content calendars: Creating a calendar for content subject matter over a 6-12 month period can be very useful and effective. Why? Many reasons, but my favorite: You're able to forecast content topics and mold day-to-day conversations around them beforehand. For example, we know today that next month's article is on the topic of "cloud computing". Knowing this, we're able to take notes and ask questions on "cloud computing" during our daily casual conversations with colleagues and friends. Additionally, we'll be sensitive to other sources of information on the topic including news and content outlets. This will fuel the creativity, provide source material and make the content creation much easier. Lastly you're not scrambling when the due date approaches.
- Aggregation: Promote and aggregate your content. Purdy says its "important not to let good PR blow in the wind." This includes content that has already been picked up by major outlets. Let me make that clear – just because your content was picked up by a major publication, doesn't mean you should stop promoting it.
Google's Penguin/Panda algorithm changes combined with the sheer volume of content being produced, makes PR a much larger component to effective SEO. Then, we add social and authorship to the mix.
Google wants quality content that is highly vetted. Getting content picked up on reputable publications is a surefire way to accomplish this. Therefore, as search marketers we need to step up our game and get better at PR tactics to support these efforts.