Public Relations (PR) is an age-old profession which is still a 21st century necessity.
PR as a function has ancient origins. In his pioneering work from 1945, Edward Bernays wrote, “The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people, or integrating people with people.”
The great philosophers of yesteryear Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates, trusting their intuition, were known as the early trendsetters. You can point to so many iconic moments throughout history, from the Pyramids of Giza to the Christian Crusaders of the 11th-13th centuries as perfectly executed examples of PR.
21st century PR, in its essence, shouldn’t be all that much different. The Egyptian leaders built the pyramids to create a story to promote their right to lead, and though it was quite an extravagant way of going about things, it won’t be difficult to find similar examples today (without going into the politics of it all).
However, with the emergence of search engine optimization in the mid-90s, it’s fair to say PR has changed more in the last 25 years than it had in the past 2,500. And some of that essence, that intuition, that crucial storytelling quality to PR has been lost.
In this article, I’m going to talk to you about the process we developed at Adzooma that saw The Times London, The Mirror, The Sun, Forbes and more cover our stories. But first I just want to talk about some important details you need to think about before you start.
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Starting off on the right foot
Getting PR right doesn’t begin with the content, it doesn’t begin by developing press relationships, and it doesn’t begin with the outreach. It begins, like any strategy, by taking a look at yourself and assessing what you want to achieve and why.
A lot of people can write a great piece of content and gain some coverage for it, but that misses the point of what PR is all about. You need an overarching reason, that essence of PR that the great minds of human history have used to their advantage.
So before you do anything, search into your business’ soul and work out what it needs. Sure, you want your brand out there, but:
- What publications do you want your brand to be seen in?
- What type of reader are you looking to attract?
- What do you want people to think when they see your brand mentioned?
- Do you want PR that will get people to buy your product or do you want PR that will tantalize investors?
- Do you want to prioritize backlinks above all?
Ask as many questions as you can. I like to time myself, having that watchful eye of the second hand can inspire a sort of breathless anxiety in some of us, and it’s something when used correctly can be of great benefit.
What I do is set my iPhone’s stopwatch at 3 minutes and furiously write as many questions as I can think of, then I’ll put the pen down, come back to read them a few hours later, and spend another 3 minutes writing as many questions as possible. If you can do this with another person, even better. You can then talk over your questions together and flesh them out into more fully-formed ideas. Of course, this may not work for you. We all work differently, but make sure you ask as many questions as possible.
Then once you’re through that stage, answer your questions and segment them into the following three categories:
- What do I want to achieve?
- Why do I want to achieve this?
- How am I going to achieve this?
Then with your initial answers, build on them, and use them to help you answer these three questions in as much depth as you can.
The what and the why only you can answer. As for the how let me show you what we did.
Gaining PR coverage
So first off, of course, we had a look into what we wanted to achieve from our coverage. Adzooma is only a few years old, so from a PR perspective, we were starting right from ground zero.
A lot of Digital PR these days focuses solely on backlinks, and though in essence, this isn’t a bad strategy in itself, it’s a waste of a campaign to just tick one box when you can tick three, four, or five in one fell swoop.
What we wanted from our campaigns in terms of measurables, was yes, backlinks and brand mentions, but we also wanted referral traffic, a spike in brand search, a change in brand perception, and further down the line connections to our platform.
Why? Because naturally, we’re a startup, we need to get our name out there and we need our potential audience to see us and become aware of what we do.
So, thinking about our own business which runs a PPC management platform that simplifies the process of managing online ads, we initially wanted to take a broad approach by not solely focusing on marketing endeavors but on the working life and the impact of that, to tap more into our philosophy and vision rather than just our offering.
We wanted our brand out there, sure, but we wanted to be seen as a business that is thinking about the work-life balance and the stresses of the job, along with being a marketing thought leader.
Why? Because this ties into our vision of making managing PPC ads not just more effective, but more painless for the user.
The ideation session
With this in mind, we started with an ideation session to think of potential data survey articles that cover both bases. We also knew the importance of continuity, to try to follow each PR piece with something similar to build that audience and that authoritativeness on a subject. We didn’t want to deviate too much away from our brand either, so we wanted authoritative, thought leader pieces.
At this stage too, you need to think about whether your idea will have legs:
- Does the piece contain something unique?
- Is it timely, relevant, and reliable?
- Is it interesting, insightful, or exciting?
Only you know the answer to these questions, but you need to find out the answers. If the answer to these questions is no, your release won’t get placed.
Our ideation session itself was fairly simple – a little bit of an intro on our brand’s personality, a bit on the type of campaigns we want to do, a task where each of the team spoke about a recent campaign like they liked by an external company, and then onto Google Jamboard to throw some ideas around with a vote at the end.
Ideation sessions are really dependent on your team. They don’t have to be all singing all dancing, they just need to spark creativity and be effective. You’re best placed to judge your team, so have a think about how they’d respond to certain situations and design your session from there.
Our first idea to go out in January was on Mental Health in the Workplace. January is always a tough month for people’s mental health, so we did an in-depth study speaking to a psychotherapist, along with a number of employees from technology and digital marketing companies such as Facebook, Google, Search Engine Land, PPC Hero, etc. to create our own data and a powerful resource on the subject.
Before we wrote the content, though, we first had to think of the audience, and who might be interested in the article. By speaking to only technology and digital marketing employees, we wanted to make sure we would still pop up in publications related to our company even though our topic was broad. By including a psychotherapist in the piece, we also wanted to add weight to the subject matter to show quality publications that the material was up to the standard they would expect.
We then built an outreach list. This may not apply to everyone, you may already have an extensive black book, but if you haven’t these four resources are goldmines:
- Journalism.co.uk – using the “find a freelancer” function
- Google News and Google Search – searching for keywords and finding authors who have written pieces related to your chosen subject
- Twitter – search for author bios and related keywords
- Buzzstream – using the research tool searching for related keywords
The contacts we found we then stored in the aforementioned Buzzstream. We aimed mostly for reporters, staff writers, and editorial assistants who have written on subjects like ours in the past. You can contact editors too, but they’re often not the best port of call.
This process is never a quick one. When you’re starting out it may seem laborious, but it should do because to be successful, it takes time and effort to find the right people, the people who might be interested in what you have to say.
And I say might, because not everyone will, especially when you’re starting out and they’ve never heard of your brand before. What reason have they to trust you? Journalists receive hundreds of messages like yours a day and only write 11% of their stories based on pitches, so what is going to make them write about yours?
So many things. This bit I feel is like applying for a job. You’re not going to say you can just offer one thing, you want to show yourself to be strong in a number of areas. So in the same way, make sure you’re offering a number of different, strong angles for the journalist.
Those questions you answered in the ideation session will be perfect here, they should formulate your correspondence. My crucial advice would be, depending on your subject matter:
- Don’t be flashy
- Don’t be overfamiliar
- Don’t be long-winded
- Relate it to the person you’re emailing
- Be concise when showcasing your campaign’s strengths
But stay true to yourself. Then follow up. Journalists expect this, and so long as you’re not too pushy or rude, it could be really helpful. So bear that in mind, write it in a helpful manner, and keep it short. If you’re just forwarding on your initial email, they can still see the first email you sent.
Don’t be afraid of failure, because this game is just like baseball, you’re expected to miss more than you hit. Don’t take it personally, just keep plugging away. If you truly believe in your release, you’ll find someone else that does too.
Our first shot wasn’t that successful. We hit a few nice spots, the Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable newsletters, Search Engine Journal, a few business magazines, and some mental health news sites, but nothing major. However, that was a good foot in the door, and once you get that foot in the door it starts to widen a little.
Our next two pieces on consumer behavior during Covid and on working from home during covid, did well, hitting similar sites from before in larger numbers, as well hitting big publications like The Times and The Drum.
Every piece we did, we learned from. In July we did a piece on advertising avenues which was placed in The Mirror, The Sun, Daily Star to name a few. The more interactions we had with journalists, the more we understood how they worked and what they wanted, and by the end of the year, they were coming to us for stories.
Never stop improving
Despite its long and storied history, there is no perfect science for great PR. The great thinkers of history knew themselves above all.
Different approaches will work for different people. But what will remain the same throughout is that PR essence that never differs. Good stories are always good stories, and above all, that’s what journalists want.
Make sure you look deeply into your business, your offering and think about what makes you unique, what makes you an expert in a field and then think of a story only you could write that is compelling for a wide audience. Putting you on the spot is tough, but always keep thinking of this and something will come to mind if it hasn’t immediately.
Getting this right will make all the rest so much easier. Indeed, working in the order I laid out will make the whole process easier. Answering the what and the why next is super important, as it makes the how so much easier to shape.
But it’s all dependent on you. You are the expert for your business, so you know what you want, then keep that consistency throughout the process.
Even during the how remain true to yourself, find out what works best for what you offer.
Follow the essence. Then trust your intuition.
Guest author: Dave Sharpe Co-founder and Director of Adzooma, I have helped the company grow from a start-up to being at the forefront of cross-channel marketing optimisation and automation. Having founded, built and successfully exited multiple online marketing companies over the last 15 years, I understand the challenges of growing a company and enjoy the fast-paced, challenging environment.