Getting Started with Digital PR: What Public Relations is All About
If you’re just getting into the PR world, you’re probably wondering: what is public relations all about? PR can seem a bit mysterious when you’re first diving in, so it’s important to understand the purposes of PR and how to get up and running not only efficiently, but also thoroughly in order to be set up for success.
To kick things off, what even is PR? The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Taking a look at the definition, the basic premise of PR is to build relationships and disseminate messages to your target audiences.
With the digital revolution and emergence of marketing agencies that couple their marketing channels with PR, the public relations industry has spread to the web with an emphasis on not only brand awareness, but also SEO (search engine optimization) and ROI (return on investment).
The Purpose of PR: Brand Awareness vs. SEO
When considering implementing PR into your marketing strategy or as a standalone service, you should first understand why PR is effective and what its purpose is. There are a few key purposes of public relations and digital PR in particular. One of the main purposes of PR in both a traditional and a digital sense is creating brand awareness.
Brand awareness is what typically comes to mind when people think of public relations and its definition. That’s because media relations has been a tactic to gain press coverage and introduce your brand to people who may be interested in it. Creating brand awareness by securing press placements ultimately drives people to your website with the end goal of making a conversion.
Ideal PR clients needing brand awareness include a new company that people don’t know exists or a company that has a heart and soul or something unique to their business that makes it tick. For example, this could be a great company culture, a unique perspective or unique offering, or a social justice tie-in. Essentially something that is “pitchable,” meaning it will resonate with press and its readers.
Another goal of digital PR that has more recently been established is using PR to drive SEO rankings. One of the most effective ways to drive rankings for a website on Google is to secure quality links on other authoritative sites, which we call backlinks. Think of a link as a vote of trust that your website is receiving from another authoritative domain in the space. Google rewards websites whose domain and content is being linked to by ranking them higher in the SERP (search engine results page.)
Why would you want to rank higher on Google? The higher you rank, the more likely someone is to visit your website and ultimately convert. With the purpose of digital PR to secure online placements, there exists a huge linking opportunity for quality backlinks. Marketers have recently discovered this within the past five or so years and are incorporating PR into their SEO initiatives more often. With businesses more in tune with their bottom line and what the ROI is from PR, SEO PR comes into play.
Ideal PR clients needing SEO digital PR include anyone with a website, as any business can gain value from PR with a digital lens that includes link building and in turn helps drive SEO. In addition, a new brand that has a new website with a low domain authority can benefit from SEO PR because the number of ways to build authority is to secure placements and links on highly-relevant and authoritative third party sites.
PR Fundamentals: The Building Blocks of Outreach
The first step when you’re looking to launch PR efforts is to identify your digital PR strategy. This involves creating an outline and identifying the goal, target audience(s), tiers of press and key media targets, as well as your outreach tactics. This step is important as the preliminary foundation to your PR campaign. After you identify your PR strategy, the next step is to start building out your media lists.
Identifying your Target Press
From top tier press to bloggers, trade publications and social media influencers, one of the first steps when getting started with digital PR is identifying who you’re going to be pitching. Let’s break it down by tier to give you a better understanding of what we mean.
- Top tier press: we identify “top tier” as any online publication that is easily recognizable by the general public and has high traffic volume and high authority metrics. Some examples of top tier publications would include Forbes, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, and LA Times.
- Bloggers: this tier can be defined as less well-known than the top tier outlets listed above and usually have either one or a few contributors. Blogs are very niche-specific, meaning there are food blogs, beauty blogs, tech blogs, and everything in between. Usually when scouting out a target blog, you might have a product to offer or some other resource that would be beneficial to their readers.
- Influencers: when it comes to brand awareness, social media is a key avenue to spread awareness and build your brand reputation. Working with social media influencers on channels like YouTube and Instagram are ideal for getting the word out about your brand, creating buzz, and securing high-quality images that you can leverage in your marketing efforts.
- Trade: trade publications are niche-specific, non-consumer oriented magazines that cater to the people who work within that specific trade. Many trade publications have online websites or online magazines, which makes them a great target for digital PR. There are medical trade pubs, IoT trade pubs, food and beverage, and everything in between.
Evaluating Your Media Opportunities
Once you’ve decided which tier of press you’re interested in pitching, you can build out your media list or lists. Two things you should always keep in mind when looking at different media outlets you are pitching is traffic and authority. When you’re evaluating traffic, you can use a free website called SimilarWeb and paste in the URL of the outlet to find out what its monthly traffic looks like.
To assess the authority of the outlet, you can use MOZ’s Open Site Explorer and paste in the URL to determine what the domain authority is. Not familiar with domain authority? It’s an SEO metric calculated on a scale of 0 to 100 by MOZ. The scale compares very website to one another and ranks them in comparison. Top tier outlets like Forbes have incredibly high domain authorities in the 80 – 100 range, while strong blogs might have a domain authority in the 30 – 60 range. You want to ensure that your target blogs, top tier outlets, trade publications etc. are compatible in terms of metrics with your website and brand.
It would not make sense to target a blog with low traffic volume if you’re looking for brand awareness, just as it would not make sense to target an outlet with a low domain authority if you’re looking to secure a backlink to help boost your own website’s domain authority.
Media lists can be built out using PR tools like Cision or can be done manually using our best friend, Google. We recommend using spread sheets to create your media lists and include the name of the outlet and URL, the first and last name of the editor, their email address, their title (contributor, editor, blogger etc.), their beat (health, beauty, sports, etc.), and some metrics on the website including domain authority and number of unique monthly visitors.
Specifically, with top tier editors, you want to include as much information as possible on the editor including a link to any relevant articles they have recently written that you can reference in your pitch.
If you’re working with social media influencers, we recommend mid-tier influencers for most brands. Many brands think that targeting the celebrity influencer with hundreds of thousands of even millions of followers will make the biggest impact. We specifically work with social influencers within the 15,000 – 50,000 followers or subscribers range.
The reason for this, is that influencers in this range typically have better engagement, are more engaged with their followers (they will comment back), and their followers actually trust their opinion and the brands they represent. The goal of working with influencers is to attract their followers, so if their followers don’t believe it is a genuine post, they will not engage with your brand.
Not to mention higher tier social influencers can be incredibly expensive to secure a branded product placement with, while the mid-tier and micro-influencers will be more inclined to accept product or a small sponsored fee for inclusion.
After your media lists are solidified, you can start building out your pitch. Your pitch should be brief and digestible, only containing the most important information to spark their interest. Many editors and bloggers have inboxes flooded with emails and many emails are missed or unopened. The first aspect to consider when writing your pitch is the subject line. Your subject line should be attention-grabbing.
You’re more likely to have your email opened if your subject line is enticing. The next step in your pitch is to lead in with an intro that shows you did your homework on the editor or blogger and took the time to customize your pitch. The flow of your pitch should include the most pertinent information. Don’t bog down the email with unnecessary information that you can relay in a follow-up email.
Surprisingly, whether you are pitching bloggers, top tier editors, trade publications, or influencers, there are consistencies in a number of things to include in your pitch. Always be sure to incorporate:
- A catchy subject line
- The name of the editor/influencer
- The name of the outlet or social account
- Between one and three of the most important facts they should know
- Your offer – are you offering a quote, free product, sponsored post, unique content?
- Your ask – are you looking for an SEO link, a brand mention, a full feature, an Instagram post?
- Why this person’s readers or followers would benefit from the story/inclusion
- A next step – do you need their address, are you linking them up with the client?
Conducting outreach means reaching out to the editors on your media list with your pitch. As a best practice, we recommend reaching out via email on your first touch and always setting a follow-up date about a week after your first date of outreach. Most editors, especially top tier, prefer not to be called. Often times bloggers are more receptive to follow-up calls once you are already in touch in order to iron out the logistics and details.
When you’re reaching out to top tier press (The New York Times, Huffington Post, Forbes etc.), make sure that your pitch is catered to the editor. You can call out a recent related article they wrote, complement them on a new story, or mention how your pitch relates to the beat they cover. Editors at these publications will be rubbed the wrong way if they can tell you included them on a list of mass emails and even more so if what they write about doesn’t fit with what you are pitching.
Once you secure coverage, how do you know if your coverage is a success?
Public Relations KPIs (key performance indicators) include:
- Traffic – if your campaign goal is brand awareness, you can use Google Analytics to see referral traffic coming from your placement. If you received a high volume of referral traffic, then this is an indication for a successful placement.
- Conversions – Google Analytics also shows conversions that occur from the referral traffic. For an ecommerce website, this could be a sales checkout and includes the revenue from that sale so you can actually see how much money your placement generated. Furthermore,
- Authority of the publication – you can look at metrics like domain authority, trust flow, traffic and even name recognition. Did you score a top tier placement? If so, that carries a lot more clout than a piece of blog coverage.
Preparation before pitching is one of the most important aspects of digital PR. When you’re first diving into public relations, make sure you know what your goal is and what is going to make the biggest impact. Do you have a need for brand awareness? Did you launch a new website that is lacking in authority metrics? Is your target demographic more niche, where a blogger outreach campaign might be your best option?
Identifying your target audience will help you determine which tier of press to go after based on where that audience is getting their information: social media, blogs, top tier outlets, or trade publications. Securing placements does not happen over night and is not an instant gratification, but when you do secure your first online coverage, it’s worth the wait!