A tactical guide to digital PR for startups: Creating content that journalists want to publish

/ April 17, 2019 / No Comments / In Content & SEO / By

The first time my news package made it on air, I was glued to the news bulletin. I was hanging on to final few words of the preceding story coming out of the presenter’s lips.

And when that story ended, I took a deep breath — and held it.

She’s now reading my script.

Live. On air.

With thousands of people watching.

These are my words.

I crafted them.

This was years ago now. While that sense of achievement from seeing one of your stories aired on live television does diminish with time, it never completely goes away.

As a journalist-turned-content marketer, I still experience this familiar feeling. Except the news presenter is now a high-ranking news website and the script is now a press release.

In other words, I’ve crossed a few fences. I’m no longer the journalist who selects what stories to air. I’m now she who tries to get a journalist to publish my article.

The first time that happened, the feeling was just as unforgettable. The rush of having your pitch accepted and seeing your words published on the website of a prominent media still emanated — only now I was experiencing it from a different perspective.

Digital PR strategy: Not beyond the reach of start-ups

Having your article accepted and published does a couple of things to you and your brand: it raises brand awareness, mentions, visibility, traffic, and your dopamine levels.

And that’s completely expected. A journalist receives hundreds of emails per day, of which press releases and pitches form a large bulk of it.

Nevertheless, you achieve it one day and there it is: your company’s name on the homepage of a top-ranking media’s website, your executive’s name, comments, photo, etc. And if you’re lucky enough, the cherry on top of it all: backlinks.

You may now be thinking that since you don’t have the resources to tackle PR, this article is pretty relevant to you. And we’ll forgive you for thinking so.

Contrary to what many think, a successful digital public relations strategy does not only lie within the reach of mega companies who can fork out thousands to pay advertising and PR agencies.

When handled strategically and incorporated into your content strategy, it actually requires just a little more effort than what you are already investing in content marketing — regardless of whether this is being handled internally or outsourced to a content marketing agency.

Don’t let your age and size constrain you. Almost any start-up has the capability to come up with a digital PR strategy and carry through with it. And I say almost because of these two requisites:

  • There must be a professional content writer on your team that can churn out top quality articles, preferably someone with a journalism background.
  • This writer must understand how journalists work and how to create content and pitches that make the lives of journalists easier.
When handled strategically, a successful digital public relations strategy actually requires just a little more effort than what you are already investing in content marketing.Click To Tweet

Digital PR is an overarching category that involves many different (outreach) aspects including content marketing, influencer marketing, social media marketing, etc.

In this article, we will be addressing tactics related to generating ideas and content for press releases and exclusive opinion pieces. More specifically, these are tactics tried and tested by our own team at Dear Content.

Generating interesting ideas for your digital PR strategy

As Picasso once said,

— “I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.”

You may have hundreds of thousands of ideas. But not all will come to bear fruit.

As in all aspects of marketing, it is important to have a clear objective of what you want to achieve and the resources needed to get there.

Typical digital PR objectives tend to revolve around increasing brand awareness and brand authority, or an SEO-related target. But to dive straight into that would be akin to creating content blindly.

You need to first consider the kind of content that the media can be interested in. And this differs significantly from media to media.

So your first step here would be to identify the media outlets that are relevant to your industry. Next, identify the news sections as well as journalists whose beats cover your sector.

To generate ideas for your digital PR strategy, identify relevant media outlets, news sections, and journalists whose beats cover your sector.Click To Tweet

It is important to connect the journalists’ work with what your brand represents. As you spot ideas and opportunities for your digital PR strategy, keep in mind the following three factors that can provide an added kick:

1) The time factor

The media is very sensitive to time cycles, which are what determine the relevance of a certain topic at any given moment.

This is why certain articles are only published on certain days or periods in particular, such as during Christmas, on Valentine’s Day, etc.

2) Newsworthiness

There are loads of topics to write about. But not all are newsworthy.

As a general rule, issues regarding a novelty and/or have a practical impact on the population or a specific sector are the ones that journalists are more interested in.

Controversial topics may also guarantee you coverage, but these are much riskier. When faced with the opportunity to lend a voice to a controversial issue, each company should evaluate the decision by considering the company’s values and what they stand for, the impact of an action on its target audience, as well as risks of possible backlash.

Addressing an issue that’s been discussed multiple times but from an extraordinarily original perspective can also be a valid approach.

3) The connection between your company and the topic at hand

It may be the right season to publish and you have a new and revolutionary perspective to share with the public, but before launching yourself into this, one must also consider whether or not these are in line with the company’s mission, brand personality, and expertise.

With these three factors in mind, we will now dive into two of our favourite tactics to generate relevant and interesting ideas for a digital PR strategy.

Tactics to generate digital PR ideas

Tactic #1: Check your industry’s calendar

There are various dates and moments scattered across the year that offer fantastic PR opportunities. These can range from events and celebrations to anniversaries of a particular event and the peak season(s) of your industry. 

Chances are that journalists in your industry will be working on stories related to these moments and will be on the hunt for sources and comments to include in their articles.

Take advantage of this and craft an article of your own, be it a press release or opinion piece, and offer it to journalists. The time factor plays a crucial role here in making your content relevant and stand out above the other pitches that reach the inbox of journalists.

There are various moments scattered across the year that offer fantastic PR opportunities. These include events, celebrations, anniversaries of a particular event, and the peak season(s) of your industry.Click To Tweet

Here’s a great campaign launched by Mercedes Benz on International Women’s Day. It features an inspirational four-minute YouTube video on Bertha Benz, honouring the wife and business partner of the brand’s founder, Carl Benz.

screenshot of forbes article on mercedes bertha benz campaign on international women's day

This PR tactic ticks all the boxes. It was clearly created and timed with International Women’s Day in mind. Its message supporting women’s rights, an issue that has been increasingly gaining attention and traction, makes it relevant.

And as Marketing Dive points out, by addressing women’s empowerment, it is reaching out to more consumers, who are reporting a preference for brands that break down gender stereotypes, especially the younger generation, to whom car ownership is not as relevant as to the older generation.

Tactic #2: Schedule a brainstorming session with your executive team

In our previous article, we talked about the power of smarketing to convert your blog into a lead-generating machine. Because of their everyday dealings with clients, your sales personnel is often a good resource for editorial calendar ideas.

But when it comes to the knowledge of your company, its product or service, the sector it is in, and industry trends, your executive team is essentially a gold mine for digital PR opportunities.

The ideas generated from collaborating with your executive team usually contain these five newsworthy elements:

  1. Visionary ideas about the sector/service/product
  2. Strategic understanding of the sector/service/product
  3. Knowledge of the current state of the sector
  4. Ability to foresee the direction towards which the sector is heading
  5. Personal and professional opinions about the sector and its trends

An initial joint brainstorming session with the entire executive team followed by individual follow-up sessions to flesh out certain ideas can help produce a series of great PR ideas and opportunities.

It is important for you to lead and guide your executive team. And do not be disheartened if they can’t seem to contribute ideas.

Their knowledge is there. Sometimes they’re just unaware of how valuable their knowledge is. So it is your job to ask the right questions and prompt them for these ideas to bubble to the surface.

liderar-sesion-brainstorming gif

Here are some general questions that can spark ideas:

  • What was the sector like 5 years ago and how has it changed? What factors do you think contributed to this change? What have been the implications or consequences of this change?
  • How does the sector or product/service help to make the world a better place? What more can we do to improve the way our sector works?
  • What trends do you currently see in the sector? How is the company currently contributing to that?

Pro tip: Create a document the marketing and executive teams can easily access to encourage them to share and jot down ideas.

Once you have several ideas about innovative or strategic aspects of the sector, you will realise that there is just no way to execute all of them at once.

That is down to either inadequate resources or because more research is required.

This is when the marketing team comes into play. With the list of ideas in hand, the team must prioritise based on cost, impact, and available information.

Creating attractive digital PR content

One of the biggest differences between digital PR and content marketing is the type of media that is focussed on: owned media vs earned media.

Earned media is media coverage acquired through the likes of sharing, favourites, mentions, reposts, press releases, recommendations, etc. Digital PR falls under this category. Owned media, on the other hand, is content you have control over, such as articles on your website, blog, and social media accounts.

Both tactics are equally important and required to achieve greater content strategy efficiency.

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action

— Content Marketing Institute

Fortunately, you need not have separate strategies for each tactic as both work hand-in-hand. The basis of these two disciplines is to create and establish a relationship. But they do not target the same audience.

Digital PR aims to create a bond with the media through journalists, while content marketing establishes a direct link with readers and potential customers.

The one thing they have in common is in the way these relationships are nurtured: creating and distributing relevant content on a regular basis.

And this is the fundamental basis for content marketing teams being able to produce quality content for digital PR; the work involved isn’t all that different from that of content marketing.

That said, there are certain aspects that are vastly different. Here’s what you must consider when creating content for your digital media strategy:

  • Verify if the type of content you produce fits their editorial line. Eg. Not all media outlets publish opinion pieces or listicles.
  • The angle and lead of the piece are important. If a specific outlet has shown interest in a certain topic, there is an opportunity present. But instead of simply chiming in with the same comments that others have already offered, approach it from a different angle — preferably one that’s fresh and offers a different point of view.
  • Press releases written for the media tend to be more formal and objective than blog posts. An opinion piece can take on a more personal tone, but it must be adapted to the media you are offering it to.
  • Avoid auto-promotional comments as these affect the objectivity of the piece.
When creating content for your digital media strategy, consider whether your content fits your targeted media's editorial line, provides a fresh perspective, has the right tone, and isn't promotional.Click To Tweet

Tactics to create digital PR content

Collaborate with a subject matter expert of your sector to redact a press release

As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers.

The main idea behind this tactic is to combine your company’s voice with that of an external subject matter expert to produce a consensus about an ongoing issue.

This tactic is a win-win for all parties involved: your company, the subject matter expert, as well as the journalist.

Your company: Having an external and reputable subject matter experts adds weight and credibility to your piece. And if the expert is reputable enough, it gives the media extra motivation to run the piece.

The external subject matter expert: He/she can ride on this opportunity to gain more publicity and reputation.

The journalist: Instead of having just one point of view from one single press release, he’s getting a second verified one — and from a reputable expert at that — without having to reach out to the source him or herself, essentially having his work done for him/her.

Pro tip: In your email to the journalists, mention that the comments from the external subject matter expert have been verified. Include his contact details just in case the journalist wishes to get in touch — either for his own verification or to request for more comments.

It is important to make sure that your company is featured in the lead — be it in the form of a comment, data, or otherwise. Even if the subject matter expert is the largest fish in the sector, his or her voice should only play a supporting role in the press release.

Here’s an example. This is a press release by a logistics start-up in collaboration with a well-respected expert that was published by the most reputable media outlets in the industry.


Convert a blog post into a press release

If your blog editorial calendar includes topics related to industry current affairs, news, or trends, these are opportunities for a twofer.

An average blog article can be put together from information found and accessed online and often does not include anything new. But a well-researched blog article has the potential to be converted into a press release. To do so, it should include two fundamental elements:

  1. Information/data from credible and reliable sources (such as studies conducted by international organisations, reputable consultancies, etc.)
  2. A company voice, which is essentially what links your company to the gist of the piece.

One way to obtain that corporate voice is by including comments from an executive or an expert within the company. Extra points if you are able to support that with exclusive internal data.

For example, a press release addressing a growing problem in the sector can be backed by internal statistics such as: percentage of customers that have been affected, how much resources have been directed to attend to this problem, etc.

The easiest way to get these comments would be to craft questions related to the topic and pose them to the executive team member best-positioned to answer them.

Pro tip: Avoid closed (yes/no) questions as their answers are often of not much value to your piece and do not give you anything to work with. Restructure your questions with questions words to prompt more insightful answers.

Once you have the answers, you can begin sorting them out. Not all comments need to be used, nor must the comments used for the blog article be used for the press release, or vice versa.

Ideally, the most impactful comments should be reserved for the press release. Keep in mind that while the topic and information are one and the same, the content for the blog and press release should differ in terms of focus, format, and style.

Journalists, much like Google, appreciate original and insightful content.

Here are three basic aspects that differentiate a blog post from a press release:

  1. Structure: A press release must always begin with the most important message. Do not bury this in the middle. You can lead with a quick line before providing a bit of background but do not wait too long to return to it and elaborate. A blog post, on the other hand, usually begins with an introduction before moving on to the issue at hand.
  2. Context: This is still required in a press release, but not in so much detail as in a blog article.
  3. Third-person reference: Press releases are written in the third person. For example: “According to Huawei, …” . Avoid repeating the company name too many times by using different alternatives such as “The Chinese company/the Shenzhen-based company says…”

Pro tip: If you are prioritising the press release above the blog post, make sure your blog post is published only after the press release has been sent out to ensure media exclusivity. If your blog post takes precedence, publish the post first and include a link to it in your press release as a source of information.

Convert a blog post or press release into an opinion piece

Opinion pieces differ from press releases in that they are usually offered only to one media and written from a more personal point of view — usually that of a subject matter expert.

The most important aspect of an opinion piece is just that — its opinion, which should be articulated in a way that projects voice, originality, and personality.

It is an ideal format to create thought leadership and develop a personal brand. In fact, there’s a virtuous cycle connecting thought leadership, content marketing, and digital PR.

Thought leadership (1)

Once someone has established him or herself as a thought leader, the industry will begin to pay attention to what he/she has to say. The reach of the content produced by this thought leader will also increase, regardless of format: social media, blogs, videos, whitepapers, etc. And that invites more opportunities to be featured by the media.

If you already have a blog post that includes comments from a company subject matter expert — which you may or may not have already turned it into a press release — you are in fact just a few steps away from churning it into an opinion piece.

The process involves finding a new angle and approach to the topic and modifying its style. Here are some tips:

  • Set aside some comments that have not been published in the blog post and press release. If there aren’t any, select the strongest opinion or one that has the most potential to spark a response. Rework this into the lead and develop it as you would a thesis throughout the article.
  • Write with a personal voice and in the first person. A press release tends to be more objective and factual, but an opinion piece reflects the perspective of a subjective individual and should take on a more personal — or perhaps even a touch controversial — tone.
  • Offer unique points of view and powerful comments and opinions where possible. Regurgitating the same opinion most of the sector has already voiced offers the media nothing new.
A blog post can be used as a base for a press release or an exclusive opinion piece. Click To Tweet

Conduct a survey segmented geographically

Journalists love original data and statistics collated from exclusive surveys. Not only do these numbers help to quantify an issue and put it into perspective, they also provide journalists with material they can use in other pieces they may be working on related to the same topic.

By segmenting the survey geographically, you have many more statistics to work with as these can be separated by zone, combined to cover a larger area, etc. And by pitching to different media with data specific and relevant to each media’s scope, speciality, focus, and coverage, you are making the story much more newsworthy.

Pro tip: Create an infographic based on the results of the survey. You could either publish this with your blog and link to this in your pitch or attach it together with your piece. It is ultimately up to the media to decide whether to publish it, but at least you are helping them better visualise your survey results and understand its relevance to its audience.

Bonus tip: Offer various titles

The writer of the piece is best positioned to understand its main message to its readers. And this has been encapsulated in the title — one that he or she has so painstakingly come up with.

Most writers end up surprised when they see the final published version being run under a different title. It is important to note here that each media has its own style and focus, and it is completely up to them to decide how they would like to spin a story.

Titles of opinion pieces are often published as they are. Editors may suggest modifications, but changes will likely be minimal. Here are a few tips to create a title for an opinion piece:

  • It should allow the reader to immediately understand the main sentiment of the piece
  • The issue being discussed must be clear
  • Witty puns and analogies go the extra mile

Press release titles, on the other hand, should not include puns and analogies, unless they form part of the main comment or message being communicated in the piece. Exclusive and eye-opening data and statistics also work well in getting the attention of both journalists and readers.

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