Digital PR is one of the most powerful methodologies for modern SEO practitioner - especially when contrasted with technical SEO, digital PR is comparatively glamorous.
After all, who can resist the idea of creative campaigns that earn links and boost SEO, while also amplifying your brand in the media?
These days, it would be surprising to find a digital marketing agency that doesn’t offer digital PR services as part of its SEO toolkit.
However, with the popularity of digital PR, competition for the attention of journalists has increased. They’re bombarded with more pitches, data sets and ideas from link-hungry PR professionals than ever before.
With this in mind, how do the best digital PR specialists grab journalists’ attention?
To discuss this, outline the biggest PR challenges and how to overcome them, as well as the importance of campaign relevance and other elements of digital PR, we spoke to Rosie Macdonald from Love Energy Savings.
Some of the main challenges involved in launching a digital PR campaign in 2022 are sensitivity, relevancy and timing.
Though these are not necessarily unique to 2022, there has certainly been an increase of importance for all three.
With the cost-of-living crisis, soaring inflation, increased energy costs and the war in Ukraine sensitivity, in particular, is a vital consideration in any comment, or campaign.
This has been evidenced by the backlash received by those who get the tone wrong. A certain energy supplier (who shall remain nameless) and their 'cuddle your pets to keep warm' comment springing to mind, or more recently Lorraine's manifesting segment, which ordinarily would likely have been viewed as much more light-hearted, possibly humorous, but now appears tone deaf.
The relevancy issue has been around for some time, but as Google looks to crack down on content usefulness with roll-outs like the helpful content update (HCU), which launched on August 25th, it's evident that quality over quantity will start to turn the tides of focus for digital public relations (DPR), especially when it sits within an SEO department.
It's worth mentioning, though, that the HCU doesn't seem to have made waves in the content world yet.
Whether it becomes a bust or a slow burner remains to be seen.It is, as a rule of thumb, always better to prepare - so cracking down on quality, key-word and topical relevance is a must.
Timing is fairly self-explanatory, but in an overly saturated market cutting through with the right content at the right time becomes even tougher.
To overcome these challenges, a number of things are important including increased resource into reactive PR within highly saturated areas - utilising unique data, facts and previously prepared statements.
We've found a number of topics seem to crop up in a cyclical fashion among top press within Response Source requests, so having general spreadsheets where you can work out the cost/ratio/amount etc. of X compared to Y in seconds and send it over to a journalist in seconds is highly useful.
The non-reactive side of PR is becoming harder and harder to place, with more preparation required for campaign success with often less time to run before the agenda moves on.
To address this, I think the answer is a pretty simple one. Is the campaign one-dimensional or have you prepared multiple angles you can hit with it? What is the shelf life of each angle? If one is less than the other, are you starting with the right one?
These were all questions I asked when launching our free school meals campaign across Greater Manchester. Working with Robinsons, Dewlay, Lancashire Crisps, Bolton Lads & Girls Club and others, we have endeavoured to feed as many children as possible during the summer months and received coverage in Yahoo News, Lancashire Telegraph, Manchester Evening News and others on the campaign - still mid-way through.
Essentially, planning is key, making sure you know the answers to the questions above and most importantly being prepared to pivot.
There is nothing worse than sticking to a stinker and sometimes external factors will interrupt your perfectly made plans. That is not to say this piece of content/asset etc. is then useless. Squirrel it away and repurpose, use for reactive or add to something else as a comparison. If a campaign is created with a good idea and from proper research, there is no such thing as a waste of time, only a wasted opportunity.
The only difference between an SME or a start-up and a bigger brand is resource and recognition.
A good PR campaign needs neither of these, so long as it provides value. This value could come in the form of a new piece of information, or it could provide value to the wider/local community.
For the former, you could concentrate on creating a larger survey that can be broken down and used across a number of campaigns.
This is a fairly cost-effective way to work, and definitely great when starting out. It can be a risky move, however, as asking the wrong questions will get you the wrong answers so meticulous planning and sense checking is required here. Be extra careful to ensure the survey will yield relevant campaigns with good longevity.
A community outreach campaign on the other hand requires the opposite, in that it needs to address an immediate need.
It requires a much more grassroot level, almost guerrilla-style PR tactics to execute. This can be hugely helped through project brand partnerships/collaborations, especially if you manage to onboard a brand whose profile is more developed than your own, as you can ride on the coattails of their success in the area you desire.
To cut down on cost when providing value, daily Twitter and Google News monitoring, and joining relevant Facebook groups coupled with mass outreach campaigns of a tailored contacts list to replace personalised specific pitching can be a way to go.
However, while this does reduce cost, to some degree, the research and social listening element is extremely time consuming and while freelancers can pick up some of the slack, one quality member of staff able to write well and communicate effectively is a better investment than a handful of freelancers.
Plus, there really is no substitute for platforms like Response Source.
PR, or DPR's potential, in particular, is often misunderstood by the rest of the business. A reciprocal flow of information should be constant between every department and that of PR, and opportunities for lead growth, conversion, sales refinement and closer working relationships with suppliers are missed because of this lack of understanding.
Link-building campaigns can take any form, and discuss any area of the business, or they can be completely tangential. For this reason, DPR employees collate an incredible amount of information, which is often bolstered by additional research, statistics or new data from unique surveys or external sources.
Some of this information could be fed back through to relevant departments for internal learning and development. More than this, however, the beauty of a link-building piece is that you can work with others to obtain more than one link, which can appear as natural as you'd like given the content.
This means you could work closely with other brands, your own suppliers or the local community and build relationships that can benefit the rest of the business in additional areas like revenue share.
Random example: Take a retail store like Anthropologie for instance. As the store has so much to offer, they could ask for data from a ceramics supplier on the most common temperature a plate breaks at in their kilns and ask them to provide a comment on how this would translate into a dishwasher or microwave.
This could then provide content for them both, which could be tailored into onside FAQ's, made into a listicle for outreach - Top 5 Most Durable Anthropologie Products, and sent as a segment into a Home and Garden magazine, "Ever wondered how your beautiful glazed ceramics will survive at home? An expert from anthropology explains...." etc.
It's all about translating worth. The example above, for instance, would also help sales reps in-store become more knowledgeable about their products and provide potential new soft sale pitch material.
As Love Energy Savings owns a number of brands, the answer is different depending on the brand size. SEO is certainly the main driver for our smaller funnel brands, however brand impact, trust building and identity are definitely a central focus for our major brands.
I think a pitfall that I've often come across is to focus 100% focus on the SEO potential while ignoring the possible brand impact from, say, repeated coverage in a certain publication.
This is why Digital PR and SEO intersect, rather than DPR sitting beneath SEO. As relationship building is vital within the role, and this can only happen through forging a relationship with a journalist and publication - inevitably leading to a higher proportion of links from one site.
It's tricky, because the long-term benefits are and always have been hard to quantify.
Communication, patience and understanding. In-house is not the same as agency.
There are barriers to working at the fast pace you may wish or be used to working at and sometimes, even if you have all the will in the world, you may have to change course, or scrap a potential piece - especially a reactive one, if you can't get inter-departmental cooperation.
This can be lessened through ensuring that regular catch-ups with all departments are in the diary and taking the time to speak to everyone to ensure they understand what you're trying to achieve.
In an agency, everyone understands your role, and why you need something immediately. This doesn't always track in-house, so put the initial leg-work in to meet everyone. Personability is key.
Topical authority strategy will become more important in DPR as Google MUM and other relevant updates improve and continue to develop.
This will mean that success may improve if you send across two or three pieces to a publication with linking keywords, or addressing different aspects of the same topic. This is unlikely to be relevant for top press, however.
I live in hope that as Google's AI improves understanding of content relevancy over time, moves will be made away from content to be replaced instead by an increased importance placed on quality of backlinks.
If you're doing white hat-relevant backlink building, like we are at Love Energy Savings, this won't mean a dramatic shift, but those who are still playing around in the gutter, should perhaps consider cleaning up their act ahead of impending shifts in this direction.
No matter what people tell you, you are always only speaking to another person.
Whether that's via a telephone, an email, or on social media, just remember that it's only another person and speak to people like people and you'll be ok.
I'd also say that one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received is also one I'd give to someone in their early career stages.
My current CEO, Phil Foster, is a fan of the motto "if you're going to fail, fail fast" and I genuinely believe this is the best advice anyone can follow.
Don't be afraid of making a mistake - in this industry they aren't just likely, they're inevitable. There are so many factors, both internal and external that can change at the drop of a hat, so learning to deal with failure is important.
There's no room for ego in PR. You need to accept when something isn't going well and let it go, move on, shake it off and try something new - otherwise you'll waste time, resource and frankly your own sanity.
Sensitivity, relevance and timing are certainly three elements to consider when launching a digital PR campaign in 2023 and beyond - especially in sensitive times such as these.
This is relevant for companies that are unintentionally involved and impacted by global economic, political and social issues.
Yet, having an agile plan and being prepared for unpredictability can certainly help when creating campaigns that resonate with journalists - often digital PR professionals collect an immense amount of data and information that’s highly valuable for online publications, internal employees and partners.
As Rosie demonstrated with the work she delivers for Love Energy Savings, digital PR can be a powerful tool to drive brand awareness, make a difference within the community and have a positive SEO impact on a business.
That said, as with any relatively new discipline, digital PR is often misunderstood - improving interdepartmental communication and understanding of digital PR can lead to increased brand awareness, conversion and, if the customer experience is done right, loyalty.
However, if digital PR specialists want to achieve success they need to be honest with themselves and if there are signs that a campaign is going to fail, they need to drop it fast and adopt a different approach - as Rosie said in her last answer, “if you are going to fail, fail fast”.