Digital PR on Steroids: How to Guarantee Campaign Success

It’s long been my view that pure play public relations (PR) is the end-game for those looking to build any audience of value online. Only when brands and businesses create and share useful content will they build long-term value. Now search engines can finally support that belief.

Unless you’ve been sleeping underground for the past five years, you will have undoubtedly noted the rising tide of support for the digital PR play and its importance for organic search. The challenge is turning out content and the supporting distribution campaign that warrants increasing investment in the area, which is no easy feat.

Setting Expectation

Creating great content costs money. Those putting the marketing dollars behind such plans justifiably want to know when and how that will ultimately pay-off.

For those creating such content, setting expectations is the key to first-base positioning. Though measurable, isolated single campaigns should not be the focus. Rather, it’s how the whole content strategy plays out over time, with each campaign contributing to the wider success.

Making it clear that this is the case will then make it easier if and when individual campaigns do flop, as not every great idea gets the traction it may deserve. It’s simply the way content works. That said, there are a number of ways to maximize the chances of each and every campaign flying, and it all hinges on asking the right questions.

The Brainstorm

Every good PR campaign starts as a seed at the ideas stage. At this stage, it is important to ensure you leave no stone unturned to unearth the right ideas that are tied to your key audience personas.

While this post is not about how to form the right ideas, it is critical to develop a layer of testing questions for each concept suggested to ensure they are going to deliver success in the wild.

Here are some examples of essential testing questions:

1. Why Now?

The first and most important question is, “Why are we doing this now?” We learned the hard way that an idea can be the best idea in the history of content marketing, but if it lacks a quality news hook, you are basically fighting a losing battle.

Of course, such an angle can be manufactured with a little forethought, so this doesn’t mean that only news style content will work. For instance, if we take a look at a piece on a subject such as finance, there is always a way to weave in a new study, political opinion, or law change into the campaign to give it that critical “run it now” message.

Without it, a journalist or blogger – almost all of whom are motivated by news and trends – will have something more important to run before your piece, and it may get lost in the noise.

2. What’s the Angle?

If your idea passes the first stage of questioning, the next phase is to look at how you may break that news angle down into a series of angles or exclusives.

While having one really strong story can be enough, it is much better to be able to present a number of different flavors on the same thing. This way when pitching it, your PR team will be able to approach a greater number of sites with the kind of exclusive they all yearn for.

Below you’ll see an example of how this may work. In this case, we designed a series of exclusive angles for a piece we developed on the subject of debt in football:

simon-penson-exclusive-anglesClearly, there are a number of  different angles here that are supported by supplementary content. This process should shape the way you build the assets themselves, ensuring that you maximize potential reach.

3. Who Is It For?

Once you have established it has legs as a trending opportunity campaign, the next stage is to work hard on understanding who would be interested in it and where you may find them online. We call this process developing distribution personas.

Here is how it works:

  1. With your angles defined, you must now make sure you understand what type of people each story will appeal to. In the case of our football example, we know that the data will be attractive to the more left-brained sports fan, while the fun salary calculator is attractive to the more lightweight fan and general social media butterfly.
  2. You find these distinct groups in different places on the Web and so grouping those people together helps you to then understand which sites they frequent. At this stage, we often upstream and downstream traffic data to inform our decision-making in a more data-driven way. The platform allows you to see where visitors go before and after visiting specific sites, widening your prospecting list.

The result is something that looks a little like this:


3. Where Will We Find Them?

With our distribution audience defined, the next logical step is to build up a list of prospective media to approach with the exclusives.

First, create a site framework for your PR team to work from. This means creating a handful of example sites for each distribution persona, giving clear examples of where we may find them. For example, we may find ‘Social Joe’ on the main social platforms, Reddit, BuzzFeed and so on. From this, you can then build a list of similar sites.

4. Finding the Right Person

The next phase involves find the right contacts at each site. To do this, make use of sites like Gorkana, Vocus and LinkedIn. Also, insulate this search with outreach on Twitter. This is about networking – pick the phone up and build a genuine relationship, as opposed to simply blasting generic emails.

Campaign Planning

All of this strategy work must be captured, especially in situations in which a team or multiple teams are working on it in order to prevent a breakdown in communication.

To do this, you can do something as simple as sharing a Google Doc with team members and stakeholders before the campaign begins. This can show everything: the timeline of when each element should happen, the agreed prospect list, and other distribution activity, such as paid social and native advertising amplification.

Below, you can see a screenshot of the top sheet, which captures the overall timeline of each element. The tabs below it contain all the info on:

  1. The paid social plan: Things like targeting, spend, and target CPC
  2. The PR plan: Exclusive angles, the sell, content being used, and so on
  3. Prospect list: A list of publications to be targeted
  4. Other: A tab to capture any other activity such as above the line activity if appropriate for the campaign



With everything in place, it is then a matter of rolling out the plan and making sure there is an owner or manager in place that is able to keep an eye on how the various elements are delivering against plan.

Working in this way will undoubtedly improve your hit rate and deliver a much better ROI from your content marketing strategy, with long-term productivity and results.

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