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outREACH Workshop: Outreach Team Q&A’s

This week we hosted our fourth free outREACH Workshop with sessions from our CEO and Founder, Lisa Myers on Creativity and Collaboration, our Outreach Team Lead, Laura D’Amato shared her top tips on Outreach Strategy and James Finlayson talked about measuring link-building success.

It was another fantastic online sharing session, the only disappointment being that we didn’t have quite enough time for Laura to answer all your questions in the Q&A sessions. But happily Laura, with the help her two of our outreach starlets, Maddi and Elisabeth, have taken the time to answer your questions…

How long should I wait before recontacting the people who didn’t open the email or didn’t write anything about it yet?

We would usually follow up between 3 and 7 days after the first email. Some journalists were happy with the follow-up after 3 days, but others thought it was too little time and asked us to wait a week before reaching out again. Usually it’s because they didn’t have time to look at it yet, because they get a lot of pitches.

Unless it’s a very urgent and relevant story, we wouldn’t follow-up within less than 2 days though otherwise it feels very pushy. 

Do you handcraft the subject lines with 20+ variations for every individual email? Or group in similar publications (tabloids vs. national news sites, etc.) with the same subject line?

We would definitely change the subject up for different publications, but more for groups such as tabloids, national news sites or more niche publications. We also adapt it depending on the type of journalists we contact, looking at how they write, if it’s serious or more light-hearted.

If there is a journalist that we find particularly fitted for the story, we might look at their previous headlines and tailor it to them specifically.

How many hours go into that research? looking at 3500 film scripts?

The campaign Profanity on Film took longer than usual, since it was quite a lengthy process, and was quite technical. This one took about 2 weeks of work. We had to:

      • Scrape all the movies scripts from various sites
      • Scrape actor/actress profiles on IMDB
      • Get data from the IMDb API
      • Calculate words per actor, character and movie
      • and then just some final data formatting

Luckily we work with a team of data wizards who handled this challenge like pros.  

Journalists have said that they prefer tailored, personalised emails, how do you manage doing this to scale without it being too time consuming?

We obviously personalise our emails with the journalists name but what we focus on is offering them a good and relevant story, so we avoid the fluff as much as possible. If we have a previous relationship with them or if we contacted them via Twitter, we will have a short personalised message but not much more as it can also feel a bit fake. It is also the feedback that we have received from  journalists through the years – they prefer getting into the story rather than trying to pretend you have a relationship if you don’t.

But sometimes, if we feel like the journalist is a great fit, it is worth taking a bit of time to research the style and headline from previous articles to try and match it to the pitch. 

How many times would you follow up with a journalist?

We usually don’t send more than one follow-up. We only send a second follow-up if we can see through Buzzstream or Hunter’s email opening tracker that the journalist has opened the email several times but still not written up an article yet. This would just be a very short email to say “just wondering if you were interested in this”. Also if we think that a story is very fitting but the journalist hasn’t opened the email at all, we might push a bit more with a second follow-up. More than two will be too much.

How do you ensure that the journalist will trust the data you provide?

Including a methodology section in the pitch email to explain how the research or data was conducted definitely helps. That way the journalist can see whether what you’re presenting is reliable or a good representation. It is also important to quote our sources. As we have said before, if you don’t have the authority, borrow it from someone who does and make sure to tell the journalist about it.

Make sure to familiarise yourself with the data prior to sending out the emails to journalists and check anything that doesn’t look right in case the journalists have any questions.

Do you think it’s easier to get links from journalists compared to other websites? Most of my work is outreaching to sites related to our industry, and I find them very difficult to get links from.

National publications have a different way to approach the news and the content they publish than niche websites: they have to be more accessible and they have to write much more content. It makes it easier for content marketers to approach them. Usually when outreaching to specialised websites, we wouldn’t send the same email as we would to national newspapers’ journalists, but would make it more personal and send it in a “I thought you might be interested in this research” tone. You also need to make sure that you bring something to these websites who are already specialised in a particular topic.

If you have any other questions you’d like answered, don’t hesitate to get in touch [email protected]. Also stay tuned for more updates on our next event, outREACH Conference.

outREACH Online: Q&A’s from our Expert Outreach Panel

Outreach-PanelOur expert outreach panel were a massive highlight of the outREACH Online Conference. The all female panel included Gisele Navarro, Carrie Rose, Ruth Barrett and Laura D’Amato. We were so fortunate to have them share their tips and experiences. So much was covered in the session that we were unable to get through all the questions asked by our audience.

Happily, these wonderful women took the time after the conference to answer your questions, so sit back, relax and take in some serious knowledge…

How do you forecast ROI when pitching campaigns?

Carrie Rose: Usually, we KPI on the following: Links (number of, traffic drive (organic not paid), and social shares) With our campaigns we have a process that delivers more than just links and therefore add KPIs for that. We base it off previous success – we know off the top of our head how many links we should expect based on the story, the angles, the outreach opportunities. We don’t KPI on number of followed/no followed links, revenue or organic traffic. Thats all out our hands (unless we run the whole marketing mix).

Ruth Barrett: We work backwards from an overall strategy and forecast, based on what we believe it will take to generate the results that the client wants, and in turn, the number of links we need to gain across the relevant sectors. The campaigns we deliver all depend on the allocated resource, the size of the campaign, the time being spent on the creation, the websites and publications it would be of interest to, the numbers of news hooks the piece has, and how long we plan to promote it for.

Laura D’Amato: We usually look at similar campaigns that we have done before to try to predict the results. We might not know exactly which journalist is going to cover it but we can replicate the outreach approach. On top of this, we make sure to have different potential headlines and stories so we can reach out to different journalists.
We also adapt our strategy for every client and every campaign depending on the current events happening in the media and in the world. For example, during the pandemic, it was harder to predict the ROI of a campaign due to journalists being asked to cover COVID-19 stories. On the other hand, we sometimes know of some events that will help with outreach. For example, when the Royal Wedding happened, we knew that our campaign about the royal family would get some good coverage.
I think you need a mix of experience and intuition to predict the ROI of a campaign and still, you can never be 100% sure.

Often, our clients feel obliged to get their PR team involved because we’ve used the term ‘PR’ and even more often those PR teams block us from doing link building in this way. How do you navigate digital PR conversations with a client’s PR team? I feel like I spend more time talking about what I do than actually doing it!

Gisele Navarro: We try to get as much information as possible off them beforehand: Can they put together a do-not-contact list for us? Are there any launches/campaigns they are working on that we need to be aware of to avoid overlap? What about anything they’ve got planned where we can support the message with our campaigns? Can we agree on a process for vetoing contacts that doesn’t require us to send target lists for sign-off every time?

We found that the more we can agree beforehand, the better as it reduces the back and forth once the campaigns are running.

Carrie Rose: This was the biggest barrier I faced in my previous role – we changed the use of the word PR to content marketing to show how we are different. We use it in all internal and external comms to prevent clash. The last thing we want is PR to be controlling our campaigns and content. However, more recently we’ve seen a shift in this. Where the power and control is in the digital PR/content marketings hands now.

Ruth Barrett: If a client has an internal PR team or external agency it’s vital that you help build a strong relationship with them. They can provide vital insight into the client, their customers and the business in general. I would ask to see their internal marketing plan to ensure there’s no overlap, and ask for their opinion on the campaigns you plan to create. You never know what great internal data or contacts they could provide to support it.

Laura D’Amato: The key is to build a relationship with the internal PR team of the clients. Early on, we try to arrange meetings with them to understand how they do their PR and what they are expecting from our work but we also remind them that we don’t have exactly the same goal. We are building links and therefore, we have completely different techniques than traditional PR. It is something that we explain from the very beginning, using case studies of similar clients we have worked with. From experience, a lot of people just don’t understand the difference.
Before launching a campaign, we prepare a short outreach strategy that we share with the PR team so they can have an idea of how we are going to approach journalists and the stories we are going out with.
It is important to remember that they have expectations and KPI’s too and it is normal for them to want to go out with a coherent brand message.

We have clients in so many different industries which means I’m often pitching very different journalists who specialise in different areas. I think this makes it a little more difficult to build strong relationships with them as there are not many who I pitch on a regular basis. What are your best tips for creating good relationships with journalists who you may not speak to regularly?

Gisele Navarro: I’ve got two simple tips for this, nothing flashy:

Tip 1: Don’t waste their time
A simple way to ensure you’re not wasting their time is to avoid pitching stories or content that you’re not at least 90% confident they will like to at least check out by themselves. Once they get back to you with questions or additional requests, do your best to be responsive and get all the information they need over to them quickly. Lastly, if you know that something they asked for is a no-go on your end, be open and honest about it – tell them and don’t string them along..

Tip 2: Remember their requests
If a journalist once told you that she needs images to be a certain size or that their site can’t host videos, make a note for yourself to ensure next time you keep those special considerations in mind from the get-go. It’s a simple thing that doesn’t cost you anything and will make a big difference to them.

Carrie Rose: Straight after sending them a story, follow them on twitter. They may recognise your name in their inbox and connect it to twitter. Follow their work, share their articles, like their posts. I have SO many friends online that I’ve never met before and this is the easiest way to create good relationships. But don’t come across spammy. Genuinely help them out and share their posts when they’re looking for stories or case studies, send them things they may need (rather than it being a one way relationship).

Ruth Barrett: I would follow them on Twitter and get a feel for the articles they write, their tone and the posts they share. Create lists on Twitter of the journalists in your target sectors, then using Tweetdeck you’ll have a stream on industry-specific articles and news to ensure you’re more informed before pitching to them.

Laura D’Amato: The only thing I can recommend here is to pitch the journalists good stories rather than to try to build relationships. I don’t think a journalist will take a story that he/she is not interested in just because you get along well. However, if you work on a good story and effective and relevant pitch, you have more chances to get people to cover your story.There are some other little things you can do though and that might help.

  • If you see that a journalist is active on Twitter and posts a lot of #journorequest, try to follow them and reply regularly.
  • Before starting your outreach, read the articles on the topic you are working on, it will only make it easier to write a good pitch.
  • Some journalists write on a lot of different topics, if you manage to become a point of reference for them, it will be easier to go back to them later on. For example, if you know one of your clients can give them relevant quotes or if you know they always need videos in their articles, etc.

How would you advise creating a bigger digital PR campaign with a small team (2-3)?

Carrie Rose: The number of people you have in a team shouldn’t matter, it’s all about how you think. Thinking bigger. Allocate each member a task/KPI something to own and think about what makes a campaign bigger? A social angle? Extra content to be used across other platforms?

Ruth Barrett: Delegate. Split out the tasks at hand and ensure everyone knows their role in the campaign. Communication is key. Make sure you’re not all pitching on mass together.

Laura D’Amato: If you are going to do a big campaign with a small team, you need to anticipate the time it will take you to produce your campaign (potentially analysing the data, designing or developing it) and make sure that you work on a topic that will still be newsworthy even if it takes you a bit longer than usual. There are a lot of evergreen topics that you can explore.
If you want to create a campaign around a topic that is timely, you can produce it in several steps and assets that you can outreach progressively.
Another solution is also to work with third parties like freelance designers or researchers… This obviously requires having a bigger budget.

Press releases – do you include in the first email or check interest before you send? And if so, attachment/ copy paste or link to press pack?

Carrie Rose: Always include the press release within the outreach email as the first email I send. Everything in one go – journalists don’t have time to waste. Make their lives easier (not harder).

Ruth Barrett: Some domains block attachments, plus it will take an absolute eon to send and be received. The end result is an annoyed journalist. Dropbox or WeTransfer are a great solution to this. Your Dropbox can contain everything a journalist needs to write the piece nicely signposted. Even better if you need to update any copy or visuals, it autosaves the latest file.

Laura D’Amato: My email serves as press release and I would never attach an extra document to avoid the email to end in the spam folder of the recipients. When sending the first email, I always make sure that the subject line and first sentences state clearly what the campaign is about and catch the interest of the journalist. Everyone in our team would tell you that we get the best results by getting straight to the point and stating the important information clearly in the body of the email.

What do you do if journalists ask for exclusivity on a piece?

Gisele Navarro: We’re always upfront and explain that we can’t offer exclusivity due to the nature of our campaigns. That being said, depending on where we are with the outreach, we might be able to halt promotion within a geographic region or a publishing vertical so that the journalist gets the exclusive for a set period of time. We also make a note for future reference reminding us to send stories to that journalist a week or two before we launch full promotion.

Carrie Rose: Give them exclusivity for 24 hours if its a good publication. As soon as their article goes live – push wide.

Ruth Barrett: Exclusives don’t really exist in the digital space like they used to. Once the piece is live, it’s no longer exclusive. If a journalist has asked for an exclusive I would find out how long they want it for. Anything over 48 hours I’d question, unless it’s a giant publication.

Laura D’Amato: If I don’t have leads yet, I explain that I have reached out to some journalists already but no one has picked up the story yet so I will hold off on outreach until they publish. I think it is important to give a deadline for them to publish before resuming outreach so they can plan accordingly and you don’t stop outreach for too long.

What’s your experience on sending emails with the attachments (the chain image on the subject line)? How do you fix this issue with people not trusting these types of emails?

Gisele Navarro: We embed images and GIFs into many of our emails in cases where showing the assets is important and never had issues with that. We do make sure images are no larger than 500px wide and we compress GIFs as much as possible to keep the file size low.

However, we don’t attach the press pack with all the assets into our emails as that could affect deliverability if it triggers spam filters or internal rules on email size set by the email administrator. Instead we use Dropbox Transfer so we can share a link for journalists to download all the assets on their end directly.

Carrie Rose: I put files and any attachments into dropbox folders – prevents it going into spam.

Ruth Barrett: As I mentioned before, don’t send attachments.

Laura D’Amato: I don’t recommend using attachments in email AT ALL as your email is likely to end up in the spam folder. There are a lot of platforms online to host your attachment like Dropbox or Google Photos and they are very easy to use both for you and the journalist.

Do you outreach as your agency or as the client?

Gisele Navarro: We’ve always promoted using our agency email addresses. It’s been almost 10 years now and we are confident that sticking to our address has allowed us to build hundreds of relationships with journalists and publications that now look forward to getting an email from our team.

Carrie Rose: As the agency – always.

Ruth Barrett: I’ve sent as the client in the past and it can work, but have gained better results being transparent about who I work for. It feels more natural and avoids any confusion.

Laura D’Amato: A bit of both, I don’t mention the agency except in my signature.
It is just really important to make clear that your client has created the campaign and this is why I always ask for a link and credit to the client’s website so there is no mistake.
In the UK it’s never been a problem as journalists work a lot with PR but I have noticed that for international outreach, you often have to explain the difference.

How many journalists are you addressing with a campaign on average?

Gisele Navarro: Our initial lists start with up to 70 sites and we expand upon it as the campaign develops based on what’s working and what’s not working. A final list could have around 200 contacts.

Carrie Rose: 300 ish (minimum).

Ruth Barrett: The number of journalists I contact would depend on the size of the campaign, the number of news hooks and how the campaign was going. I’ve gained national press from 150 emails before with no follow up emails, sometimes it just takes longer.

Laura D’Amato: As many as I think is relevant. It depends on how broad the campaign is. We can reach out to 300 journalists for a small asset or 1,000 or more for bigger ones with a lot of different angles. Very often, I will reach out to several journalists at one publication.

Do you have any tips for tracking down the right journalist to target?

Gisele Navarro: We always aim at finding journalists who:

  • Have covered the main topic or related stories in the past
  • Have worked with the format of our content (i.e. map)
  • Have written up stories based on content produced by other people
  • Have published content on the site within the last month

You might not be able to always find a journalist that meets the full criteria but the closer you can get to it, the stronger the contact.

We also make a point of finding alternative contacts who will fit one of those four points more than anybody else on the site:

  • A journalist that writes stories about similar topics more often than anybody else,
  • A journalist who has featured the format more often than anybody else
  • A journalist who covers stories based on PR-led campaigns more often than anybody else
  • A journalist who publishes content more regularly than anybody else on the site.

Carrie Rose: Get a list of 5 campaigns similar to yours and pull every media placement they landed. If they cover that, they will more than likely cover yours.

Ruth Barrett: Search for your target job title in Twitter and you’ll soon have a nifty list of journalists that have included it in their bio. If they haven’t included their email I’d recommend sending them a DM, pitching the campaign in one sentence, and asking for their email if they’re interested.

Laura D’Amato: I think it is important to have an analytical filter when you read the press to try to understand how the publications work and what they cover.
I always try to find the editors by using prospecting tools like Gorkana and then I will go on the publications I’m targeting and analyse different sections using keywords from my campaign. After this, I would search for the same keywords on Google to try and find less well-known sites.

Do you look at who has previously covered similar topics? Or by Job title on media databases?

Gisele Navarro: I actually wrote a lengthy article about it and you can read it here.

Carrie Rose: Always similar topics – rarely by job title.

Ruth Barrett: Yes, Google News and Buzzsumo’s Content Explorer is great for looking at who’s recently covered a topic, and the traction it gained.

Laura D’Amato: I always try to start with the most relevant journalists and will go a bit broader if I think something would be interesting for a journalist but he/she doesn’t always write about the topic.

Would be great to know how many people you have working on those campaigns too please!

Gisele Navarro: We work in teams of two where one person is the lead for the campaign and another person supports with link reclamation/attribution requests.

Carrie Rose: Two people per campaign (a strategist and an exec for us) maybe 2 execs if its a big campaign.

Ruth Barrett: The number of people who work on a campaign depends on its size and the speed at which we need to gain results for the client. Ordinarily a single campaign would have a content manager, designer, developer and PR working on it. If it was a larger campaign then we may draft more resource in for any of these areas.

Laura D’Amato: We usually have at least 4 or 5 people working on producing the campaign (for example data analysts/researchers, designers, developers or project managers). We also have a team of creative people for directions on what the campaign should look like. When it comes to outreach we can have between 1 and 3 people working on the same campaign depending on how broad it is and how many angles we can go with at the same time without spamming the same journalists.

Thanks again to our panelists for being so generous with their time during and after the conference.

Don’t forget you can still get tickets for outREACH London, which will now be held in November, but if you can’t wait until then, you can pick up the footage from the online conference here.

outREACH Online: Q&A’s from Shannon McGuirk

In this latest part of series of speaker follow ups, the wonderful Shannon McGuirk, Head of PR and Content at Aira, has kindly answer the questions we were unable to cover after her session at the outREACH Online Conference. If you were unable to make the conference, you’ll be pleased to know we recorded all of the sessions, including talks from Rand Fishkin, Mark Johnstone and Lisa Myers. Take a look at them today!

Shannon’s talk was so honest about her campaign successes and failures, that it’s no surprise that our audience has a bunch of questions for her. We tried to cover as much as we could on the day, but here are the ones we weren’t able to get round to – enjoy!


How would you recommend opening the conversation around digital pr with a client that hasn’t previously done it, while communicating / managing expectations of the likelihood of success?

  • Firstly, make sure it’s definitely the right tactic for them to be investing in as it can sometimes take 1/2 campaigns to really get the ball rolling and results in through the door.
  • Communicate with them throughout the process to ensure they know what you’re working on and when as this will increase trust.
  • Show campaign examples that are in a similar niche or format and manage expectations.
  • Help educate them around what ‘success looks like’ for them and their industry.

How do you respond to a client when a campaign just hasn’t done well?

  • Get there first, be proactive in communicating the challenges you’ve had and often a phone call is the best way to talk through things
  • Get a plan of action in place to bounce back; look at your pitches, data and any additional assets you can create
  • Keep communicating with them and let them know how you’re getting on

How much time do you let pass before pivoting your idea?

  • A couple of weeks is usually about right, but it depends on the idea and feedback you’ve had
  • If you’re on 0 links and coverage within a week or so of launching, then look then but if you’ve got a few bits in through the door, it could be that smaller tweaks get you over the line

Will you tweet about the failures!?

  • Yes! I’ve shared my deck and will be going into more detail for Mozcon
  • You’ll find a few more blog posts going up on the Aira site about this too
  • I’ll also be placing a focus on the ‘steady performers’ and what positive impacts they can have

What’s the best way to figure out the things we should change in fail campaigns? Do you bring in an outside perspective who hasn’t been involved in the campaign?
We’ve got a process for this, you can learn it from a talk I did at BrightonSEO last year, ‘The Content Comeback’.

What would your top 3 tips be for anyone getting into link-building and digital PR?

  1. Be a sponge – read everything, go on case study pages, sign up to Content Hubble, find inspiring content, download The Link Building Book.
  2. Talk to people – one of the best things I’ve experienced in our industry is how open it is so go and find people in the industry to speak about how they got to where they are and what tips they’ve got.
  3. There’s no such thing as a bad idea – one thing we push is talking up in brainstorms and meetings for anyone in any position. There’s really no such thing as a bad idea, just one that needs polishing and tweaking.

Is there a certain stage where you accept it’s a fail and stop pushing outreach?
This happens really rarely, and rather than stopping outreach fully for a campaign, we’re likely to have created a ‘spin-off’ supporting asset which might have a new route and angle we’re taking. So we could stop or pause outreach on the first to allow that one to come through if it’s struggling

How would you try and address a business’ reluctance to creative ideas and the benefits of such ideas?

  • Set up a creative workshop or brainstorming session that gives insight into what you’re aiming to do and get them involved early on.
  • Find out why they’re reluctant and address it in the right why – often understanding the ‘why’ behind a challenge helps you solve it longer term.

How do you price up these campaigns? Monthly fee or one-off cost per campaign?
Aira works on a retained basis and pricing up the campaigns changes with varying niches, industries and the brand’s larger SEO/marketing goals

How much time does launching 1 campaign usually takes?
From ideation to production and through to launch, we’re looking at anything from 2 to 8 weeks as it depends on the complexity of the idea and sign off

How many hours do you spend outreaching each campaign on average?
Again, this depends on the industry, campaign and budget. On average, we’d likely be looking at a few days to launch it, do our follow ups and prospect

How would you come back from a campaign fail, from a client trust perspective?
Proactivity and communication – clients are not robots and neither are you, so focus on calling over emailing, sharing your plan to get things back on track, share learnings and how you’re going to avoid that moving forward and get a few ‘quick wins’ in through newsjacking or traditional PR tactics

Do you see Digital PR changing over the next few years, or staying largely the same?
I think digital PR will become more and more creative as we see the blend of digital, SEO and traditional PR. As we compete to get our brands seen, heard and linked to, we’re going to have to push ourselves to be more original to get cut-through

If you don’t hit targets or KPIs for a client, do you own it and move on to the next or do you keep trying to push the campaign to hit those KPIs?

  • It’s likely we’d create a smaller ‘spin-off’ style campaign, so you could argue that we don’t really stop outreaching it.
  • There is a point of diminishing returns though, when you have 500 contacts not coming back to your outreach, take note and pivot!

When it comes to reporting a failed digital PR campaign – how do you best approach it? Do you report on why journalists have said they wouldn’t cover it for example or do you just say ‘the idea wasn’t strong enough so we had no links?’

  • Yes, we’d include writers feedback where applicable and appropriate as it gives invaluable insight.
  • You could also pay a writer an hour or twos worth of their time to see if they can help you find new stories to push.
  • You need to make sure you’re giving analysis and insights with the learnings, saying it didn’t work doesn’t explain the ‘why’ which stakeholders want to see.
  • Be clear about how you’re going to avoid this again and what you’re looking into to get things back on track.

How do you respond to a client if a campaign has been successful from a PR perspective but not from a rankings perspective?

  • Take a look at why it might not be helping rankings – are there any small SEO wins to help? Is your internal linking on point? Where is the page sitting in relation to the rest of the content on the site? Is there a cannibalization issue going on?
  • You should make sure technical SEO is in a good place before building links as it can mean you don’t see good results quickly
  • Find case studies that show the time/length the client might have to wait to see a positive impact
  • Take a look at the links too – are they relevant and high quality?

Do you promise link acquisition rates for clients? like we get an average of 30% of links per outreach campaign.
We have minimum KPIs set for campaigns, however, do also we like to work on the laws of averages too.

Thanks again to Shannon time during and after the conference. The next in our series of Q&A follow ups will come from the totally awesome Expert outREACH Panel, which includes Carrie Rose, Gisele Navarro, Ruth Walker and Laura D’Amato. Get ready to be bombarded with outreach hints and tips!

And don’t forget you can still get tickets for outREACH London, which will now be held in November, but if you can’t wait until then, you can pick up the footage from the online conference here

outREACH Online Conference: Q&A’s from Mark Johnstone

In the next part of series of speaker follow ups, we asked Mark Johnstone to answer the questions we were unable to cover at the outREACH Online Conference. If you were unable to make the conference, you’ll be pleased to know we recorded all of the sessions, including talks from Rand Fishkin, Shannon McGuirk and Lisa Myers. Take a look at them today!

Since leaving Distilled in 2016, Mark Johnstone has helped a plethora of teams and people create better content through his consultancy work. Now he has set up Content Hubble; a new site focussed entirely on generating and inspiring awesome content idea. Check out the website or twitter feed for more resources and information on training opportunities.

In the meantime, Mark has kindly taken the time to answer your questions…be ready to be inspired to create great content!

What did you learn from your biggest marketing mistake?
I have 2 answers to this. The first is that I’ve created checklists & frameworks to make sure I learn from the mistakes and remember not to make them again. I have checklists of criteria for ideas, QA checklists for production, and more.

The second one is there have been periods where I rested on my laurels. I thought I was good at what I did (which I was) and I stopped learning. In retrospect, this became a period of stagnation, and I’m disappointed that I succumbed to arrogance and wasted time when I could have been growing. One of my favourite lines from Mad Men is when Don says to Peggy “You’re good, get better.”

I hear a lot about brainstorming with, bouncing ideas off your team etc. What if you are a one man band like me?
It’s always valuable to find someone to soundboard ideas off of. Just saying them out loud to someone, you’ll notice which ones you’re not even convinced of yourself. And you’ll see how they respond. Do they look intrigued or do they look confused or indifferent. Don’t listen to what they say. Look at how they respond. I would try to find someone to chat to – your partner, a friend in the pub, a colleague in another team, an industry associate. I’m sure you can manage something. You can do it overtly or covertly, just dropping it into conversation and seeing how they respond.

Could you share some resources that you follow which share creative content campaigns? like Blogs, Twitter accounts etc
Content curated, digital PR examples, The Pudding, the best of the visualisation web by VisualisingData, NYTimes (their annual list is a great place to start, in fact here’s a list of annual lists), the Information is Beautiful Awards, Information is Beautiful itself, Reddit /dataisbeautiful and /internetisbeautiful, and FlowingData. And following agencies and their key people on Twitter, their case studies, conference presentations, etc. And the awards ceremonies e.g. UK Search Awards, European Search Awards, The Drum Search Awards. That should keep you busy! And I’ll be sharing stuff myself via Content hubble in due course, so stay in touch (via the site and/or Twitter).

I’d love to know how people stay on top of news, trends, campaigns etc. e.g. 30 min solo research, team scrums etc. Any recommendations or thoughts?
In the beginning, I set up RSS feeds and Twitter feeds and went through them every day for 30 minutes or so, first thing. It’s good for inspiration. I then save them in a swipe file, e.g. on Pinterest (I prefer a visual swipe file).

As a team, we also used to share anything anyone in the company found on a channel in Slack (not my favourite platform, but if it’s the one everyone’s using, it has the least barrier to entry). I would save anything I liked in there into my own personal swipe file.

As I’ve progressed, I don’t do it every day now, but I do sit down every month or two for half a day, or even more, and go back through the sites I like to see what I’ve missed. If you’re starting out, I’d recommend doing it regularly, i.e. daily. You can maybe switch to less regular once you’ve really absorbed a lot of reference points that spontaneously come to mind while you’re generating ideas.

I’m pretty new in the digital PR space and absolutely amazed with all the brilliant creative campaigns. How much time do you set a side from research and ideas phase to finalising a campaign like this?
There are really 2 parts to this. There’s the project duration (over how many weeks) and the hours you put into it. The campaigns, goals and budgets vary greatly, so it’s very difficult to answer specifically and succinctly.

In terms of duration, I like to set aside a minimum of 2 weeks for ideation, otherwise I find there’s a tendency to rush half-baked ideas through without allowing a cooling period to see if you still like them. For production, it really depends on the complexity of the data and the design, and whether there’s interactivity. It could be anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, so it depends on what you’re creating. You could feasibly produce something simple in a week too.

In terms of hours, I like to encourage people to put more hours into ideation than they might be used to. I find it continually frustrating that people will happily allow days or even weeks worth of time and budget for design and development, but not for ideas. That’s simply because they can’t see the work that went into it. But if you don’t spend time getting a good idea, you could be wasting all that money on design and dev.

At the very, very least, I’d want half a day on ideation, but realistically, I like to take a couple of days just researching and generating ideas, and a couple more developing them. Spread out over a couple of weeks.

For data, it can vary from half a day to 2 weeks (or even more) depending on what you have to do to get the data (does it come in a nice table, or do you have to scrape it and tidy it up, etc).
If you’re starting out, try to allow at least a day for data and 2 days for design. I know plenty of people doing closer to half a day on data, half a day on copy and 1 day on design, but personally, I think 1 day on design is a little tight. Even 2 is short, but you can get something decent for 2 days. If you’re starting out and budgets are tight, avoid interactivity for now.

Loved all of these campaign examples: Working for an office supplies company, sometimes it is hard to come up with outside the box campaign ideas as it is related to a somewhat boring topic. What’s a good way to expand the idea brainstorming for “boring” topics like office supplies?
Here are 3 cool content campaigns off the top of my head for stationery companies –  Emma the office worker, a paper dragon and the Staples speed reading test.

And it’s useful to notice that a lot of the examples that are shared widely in our industry are not for exciting sectors, e.g. there are quite a few for insurance companies and there are a few great recent examples for bingo. Bingo itself is fun, but it’s not a great topic for content creation.

The main thing to do here is shift your thinking away from the product. Now, it doesn’t have to go too far away from the product. But think more about what people do in offices. What challenges and frustrations do they have? What are they trying to achieve? You could tap into productivity, creativity, employee engagement, communication, anything that makes sense for what you do and what your customers care about in that context.

Think about what people use your product to do, what it does for them, as opposed to what it is. That’s what most advertising campaigns focus on. Dove don’t make campaigns about moisturising cream, they make campaigns about feeling beautiful in your own skin. Red Bull don’t make content about caffeine, they make campaigns about pushing life to the limits.

Stationery content doesn’t need to be about index cards. It could be about office life, productivity, business innovation, business communication, business presentations, whatever you decide. A bit of strategy work to set a clear direction could help here.

When you think of a creative campaign but then find yourself constricted by budget – would you scale down design first or do you think that’s the most important aspect?
There are two things we’re usually doing with content campaigns when you boil it right down. We’re either presenting new information or presenting information in new ways, or both, e.g. Profanity on Film presented new information. The Future Gamer presented information (that already existed) in a new way. So I’d figure out what your idea is bringing that’s new.

Then figure out what information is essential to gather and analyse, and how much time that needs.

Then think about the simplest way you can present the information. It could be as simple as a table, and there are plenty of examples of tables getting coverage. Or it could be a very simple chart. Whatever is the easiest way for people to ‘see’ the information and understand the point. Depending on the idea, you could potentially get something done for one day of research/data/analysis/copy and one day of design.

I’d do what you can to increase those budgets over time, or over-invest your own personal time if you believe in the idea and its success will open doors for you in the future. That’s kind of how I started out.

Also, when gathering a swipe file, find examples of content that could be done within your budget. And for more expensive pieces, ask yourself, how could this have been done more simply. There will often be an answer.

How do you manage the budget for such campaigns most efficiently?
Get very specific about the idea before you start. What data will it need? How will you get it? What needs to be done to it? How do you intend to design it? What interactivity will it likely contain? What’s the nearest thing that exists to this online already? Discuss it with your team and find out how long they think they’ll need (in days) for each part.

There is always a tension between project management & creative direction. Project managers want everything on time and budget, creative directors want the idea to be as good as it can be, and will discover challenges and opportunities along the way that they need/want to respond to.

Even if project management and creative direction is controlled by the same person, you’ll probably lean one way or another. I obviously lean towards creative direction. I suspect, by the question, I can guess which way you lean, although I may be wrong. There is value in both approaches, and a middle ground needs to be found.

But if you don’t have much success at creating content at the moment, be prepared to over-deliver on time on at least a few projects in order to start making them successful. That’s how I made my breakthrough, and I know others did similarly. That’s also how you get case studies that retain clients and attract more business.

There’s no point having a very efficiently delivered content project that doesn’t work.

Do you have a morning routine that helps sparking creativity?
Ha! No, I’m not much of a morning person whatsoever! Okay, a more serious answer! if I do have some creative work to do in the morning, I’ll do some research around it the night before, write down the different components of what I’m discovering on post-its, and play around with them. Look at them, brainstorm off of them, and think about the question that I want to answer the next day.

I get my desk (digital & physical) ready to start work straight away in the morning (with all the documents open that I need). I write the question down on my desk. And then, in the morning, I try to get to work as quickly as possible, without any other distraction and without opening anything else, even my phone.

I also like listening to music, and I dance about a little bit as I’m working. I like to have a pen and pad to hand, as somehow, at times, I find the physical act of writing seems to aid creativity more than typing on a computer.

The key is to stay free from distraction, focus for a good length of time, and loosen up. You’re just playing at this point in time. You are not committing to anything you write down, so get it all down, no matter how ridiculous or unlikely. You can filter through it all in a different session later. For now, lighten up….

Psst! did you know work is allowed to be fun?

Thanks again to Mark for his time during and after the conference. The next in our series of Q&A follow ups will come from the absolutely fabulous Shannon McGuirk, with more to come beyond that!

And don’t forget you can still get tickets for outREACH London, which will now be held in November, but if you can’t wait until then, you can pick up the footage from the online conference here

outREACH Online Conference: Q&A’s from Kim Bjørnqvist

Earlier this month we were unable to bring outREACH Conference to London due to Covid-19 restrictions, BUT, we didn’t let the pandemic hold us down! Instead we brought you outREACH Online Conference, which was even better than we could have imagined. We are so grateful to all our speakers who were able to join us for this slightly less conventional format – but it totally worked and judging by the feedback from participants, it is something we would definitely consider again for the future. If you were unable to join us for the day, you’ll be pleased to know we recorded all of the sessions, including talks from Rand Fishkin, Shannon McGuirk and Mark Johnstone. Take a look at them today!

The only problem we had was time! There wasn’t enough of it!! All of our speakers delivered rich and interesting talks, which were followed up with questions from the audience. And boy, did we get A LOT of questions. For that reason, we’ll be posting a series of follow-up blogs where our speakers have kindly taken the time to answer all the questions we were unable to get round to on 12th June, starting off with our first speaker of the day, the delightful, Kim Bjørnqvist.

Kim is the Associate Professor of Creativity and Communication at the School of Communication, Leadership and Marketing at Kristiania University College in Oslo. To say his talk set the bar high is an understatement as you can see from some of the tweets from the morning.

Screenshot 2020-06-15 at 12.32.24Screenshot 2020-06-15 at 12.31.52

When we caught up with Kim after the conference he was keen to express his gratitude to the audience for their time, questions and kind feedback. His talk was distilled from what he would normally cover in the two day workshops he does on creativity, as well as the talks he gives on how to pitch ideas and creative writing/copywriting. It was quite the challenge for him to give a brief overview in such a short time on what is a quite complicated and fascinating subject – but he delivered nonetheless. If you are interested in finding more about this from the man himself he’d love to hear from you.

We asked Kim to answer a bunch of your questions from the conference, and here’s what he had to say…

Are there any books, podcasts, shows etc. on the creative process you would recommend?
Not as many as one would think. Unfortunately, most books about the subject of creativity fall into two categories; pretentious bullshit or self-promoting ‘look at me, how sensationally creative I am! Follow my rules, or go down the road to hell.’

Most of the books in the second category are written by advertising gurus. Good exceptions include; George Lois; Great Advice for Very Clever People and Hegarty on Creativity by John Hegarty. For the more academically inclined, there is always Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

I also like Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, a very hands on, refreshingly brash, typically American approach. There are some other good ones, but unfortunately they are in Norwegian.

For initial phases of pouring ideas in the bucket – do you go on until you are done or do you set a timer for adding a bit of creative pressure?
Definitely until you are done. You need a lot (100? 200?) crappy ideas to get to the really good ones. But remember to take 15 min breaks every 45 minutes. Leave the desk and take a walk, preferably outdoors.

I’m also a big fan of biometrics. Could you share any pioneers or resources on this topic?
You probably know more than me about this! My knowledge is limited to the very basic ideas. Here is an interesting link to a Norwegian company that is heavily into this.

Do you have any tips for running creativity/ideation sessions online as we have to do this a lot at the moment?
Not an easy subject – but, you need a leader/supervisor to run the process. Democracy is great in politics, not in an ideation process. Use breakout rooms as much as possible, 5 to 10 minute breakout sessions, before everyone gather together and present their stuff. The fact that zoom chooses breakout groups at random can be used to your advantage.

What do you do if you are not feeling creative?
Start creating something! Train yourself to start the process and force yourself to keep on, you will find that you quickly get into it. Like I said at the conference, creativity is a bit like sex in that respect!

What’s your favourite creative brainstorming activity?
Well, it’s not brainstorming! (In the sense of a group of people sitting around a table, discussing.) This favours the extroverts, and it is not always the extroverts that come up with the best ideas. My favourite is the post-it method: 5 minutes intense jotting down of ideas in silence, before each in turn are put up on the wall, then grouped and finally go through the realist and critic stage.

What do you do if you know you have a decent idea, but can’t seem to get that spur of creativity to see it through or form it properly?
Polish it in a team. Working with other people often bring you the missing elements.

Who is the person or persons that has inspired you the most?
Frank Zappa, genius musician and weird/crazy person. Beethoven, for never compromising. Picasso, for his limitless creativity.

What’s the perfect number of people for a brainstorm? Is it better for more people or a handful?
My favourite number is five, if you have to be six, divide into to groups. I prefer uneven numbers, because you avoid two equal fronts stalling the process.

After some time, one may start to doubt his own creative ideas. Any advice on how to keep interest in them and not ditch them?
Never throw any ideas away. Keep an archive. Use the creative circle I gave you in my talk. Find out which segments need to be strengthened in order to get rid of the doubt.

Do you think that some people are just inherently more creative? And can you teach creativity?
Some people may have a slight advantage, due to genes, upbringing, schools etc, but creativity is like a muscle, it can definitely be trained. But you need the proper methods. Can you teach creativity? I certainly hope so, since I’ve been doing it for decades!

Do you have any tips on how to handle limitations in the creative process? Like budget, resources, time, special tone of voice etc.
Look at limitations as possibilities. In my opinion, creativity blossoms if you work within limits. Maybe not if you are an artist, but certainly in the creative industries.

Thanks again to Kim for his time during and after the conference. We’ll be bringing you more Q&A follow ups from our amazing all female panel which consisted of Carrie Rose, Gisele Navarro, Ruth Barrett and Verve Search’s very own Laura D’Amato, as well as from Mark Johnstone, Shannon McGuirk and more over the next few days.

And don’t forget you can still get tickets for outREACH London, which will now be held in November, but if you can’t wait until then, you can pick up the footage from the online conference here and find out more about what Kim means when he says creativity is like sex!

outREACH Workshop Video 2 – Outreach Strategy

This is the second video in a three part series from our free outREACH workshop. This was a series of workshops teaching actionable tips and techniques that will enhance your creative content and link-building strategy.

In the second part of the series, Alex Cassidy, Head of Outreach discusses and answers questions on:
  • Prospecting & research – finding the right contacts (tools and techniques)
  • Emailing – formatting and structure, what works and what doesn’t.
  • Angles – adopting your outreach and your campaigns
  • Following up and seeing track – tools and processes for keeping track of it all

If you haven’t already seen the first in the series, feel free to follow this link and check out Lisa Myers, the CEO and Founder of Verve Search, as she goes through the concept and ideation process of creative campaigns.

The third and final video in this series will be released next week.

Join us for our next event. In June, we are hosting outREACH Online Conference which is a fantastic opportunity for you, or members of your team to hear from the best SEO’s, link-developers, content creators and marketers in the industry including marketing wizard Rand FishkinShannon McGuirk (Aira), Carrie Rose (Rise at Seven), our very own Lisa Myers and many many more. We hope that you’ll be able to join us for this event.

If you have any questions about this content or outREACH Online please contact us at [email protected].

Ultimate guide to Digital Marketing Awards

With so many agencies out there, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Winning awards for your great work is one of the best ways to get noticed, either by potential new clients, or to attract new recruits to your team. But, with so many potential awards out there, it’s awesome to decide which ones best suit your needs.

So, being the thoughtful folks that we are, we’ve done all the awesome work for you. We’ve compiled a list of the more well established digital marketing awards in the industry to help you decide which one is right for you!

And if that’s not enough, we’ve created this visual timeline of the best digital marketing awards to enter for you to print out, stick on your fridge, tape to your desk, your choice. Also in PDF.

Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing Awards

The Marketing Awards
Great for! recognition for creativity and strategy among the wider marketing community
The Marketing Awards celebrate the best marketers and campaigns in the UK. Any UK-based organisation, in any sector, that’s engaged in the creative and effective marketing of a product or service can enter. There is almost certainly a category for everyone at these awards.
Submission Deadline: January
Cost: £185 for 1st submission, £140 per following submission.
Ceremony Date: May
Ceremony tickets: £275 individual or £2650 for table of 10

Best Business Awards
Great for! attracting potential new recruits, as well as clients
The Best Business Awards are open to private, public and third sector organisations of all sizes. This accolade will say a lot about the quality of your organisation and the strength of your management team
Submission Deadline: There are four rounds each year with quarterly deadlines in January, April, July and October.
Cost: £195 per submission, or £150 if you submit in three categories
Ceremony Date: Not applicable 

Digital Trading Awards
Great for! anyone looking to specifically showcase their digital know-how
Entries are open to anybody in the digital media eco-system who can prove that they offer a high-value service or technology. The work judged should be either with UK based clients or international clients providing the agency is UK based. Agencies must have had a UK presence for the last 6 months.
Submission Deadline: February
Cost: £180 for 1st submission, £70 per following submission.
Ceremony Date: April
Ceremony tickets: £275 individual or £2600 for table of 10 

Performance Marketing Awards
Great for! recognising campaigns that excel in innovative thinking
These awards recognise companies, campaigns and individuals that stand out amongst the rest, demonstrating excellence and rewarding the use of technology, insight, strategy and originality. Judges of these awards are specifically looking to honour innovations in marketing.
Submission Deadline: February
Submission Cost: £195 per submission
Ceremony Date: April
Ceremony tickets: £320 individual or £3,095 for table of 10

Recommended Agencies Register
Great for! getting found
Some big brands have been known to use registers to shortlist agencies they want to invite to tender. Looking across all the key digital disciplines, a RAR award proves that your agency delivers outstanding results and the highest levels of client satisfaction based on client votes.
Submission Deadline: February
Cost: Free (although there are costs involved in becoming a RAR member)
Report Published: April

The European Search Awards
Great for! organisations that have executed digital campaigns across Europe
This is an international competition that celebrates the very best in SEO, PPC, Digital and Content Marketing across Europe. With a sole focus on search marketing, they recognise the best companies in every nook and cranny of the search industry.
Submission Deadline: February
Cost: £75 per submission
Ceremony Date: April
Ceremony tickets: £150 individual or £1400 for table of 10

MOMA Awards
Great for! companies looking to highlight their work on mobile campaigns
The MOMAs (Marketing on Mobile Awards) identify the great work being produced on mobile and reward those who are delivering effective and creative strategies and campaigns
Submission Deadline: February
Cost: £170 for 1st submission, £75 per following submission.
Ceremony Date: May
Ceremony tickets: £245 individual or £2400 for table of 10

Digital Awards
Great for! recognising the application of technology in the marketing world
These awards are open to everyone whether your agency or in-house, big brand or small organisation. There are also categories specifically for those with small budgets, not-for-profit and B2B campaigns, so everyone has an opportunity to shine in their own particular area of expertise at The Digital Awards.
Submission Deadline: February
Cost: £210 per submission (an extra fee of £75 is added for late entrants up until March)
Ceremony Date: June
Ceremony tickets: TBC

Search Awards
Great for! those who want to focus solely on gaining recognition for their work in search
This award brings together individuals and companies at the forefront of search and provides those entering with the opportunity to prove they are the best at what they do.
Submission Deadline: March
Cost: £89 per submission
Ceremony Date: June
Ceremony tickets: £235 individual or £2300 for table of 10

The Big Chip Awards
Great for! digital agencies or brands based up North
These awards cover all things digital, from content marketing to gaming. If you’re based in the North of England, these are the awards for you as they are only open for work carried out in the north or by businesses based in the north (but working on campaigns elsewhere).
Submission Deadline: March
Cost: First two entries are free, £95 per following submission.
Ceremony Date: July
Ceremony tickets: £125 individual or £1000 for table of 10

DADI Awards
Great for! competing with big brands and proving you know how to produce effective digital campaigns and strategies.
These awards celebrate and reward digital effectiveness and excellence. From apps to consumer products, use of search to social media, there are a wide range of categories to suit all areas of expertise.
Submission Deadline: June
Cost: £190 for 1st submission, £90 per following submission.
Ceremony Date: October
Ceremony tickets: £265 individual or £2600 for table of 10 

The Digital Impact Awards
Great for! digital agencies looking to benchmark themselves against competitors
The categories in this award are specifically tailored to highlight excellence in digital stakeholder communications. Now in its sixth year, the awards provide a benchmark for companies in choosing agencies able to provide creative or strategic advice.
Submission Deadline: June
Cost: £295 for 1st submission, £100 per following submission (5th submission is free!)
Ceremony Date: October
Ceremony tickets: TBC

The Digital Census
Great for! ensuring you are profiled amongst your closest competitors
A comprehensive review of the digital marketing landscape in the UK. The Digital Census comprises three polls, financial, client and peer. Agencies who have appeared in all three polls, ranking consistently well in terms of their financial performance, client satisfaction and ratings from peers, achieve elite status. You must be a RAR recommended agency at the time of publication in order to appear in the client polls.
Submission Deadline: July
Cost: Free
Report Published: September

UK Agency Award
Great for! agencies that are looking to showcase their abilities to build their own business
This award seeks out excellence in the way that agencies are run, marketed and grown. The awards are open to all creative, design, digital, marketing, advertising, media and public relations agencies that are based in the UK.
Submission Deadline: July
Cost: £99 per submission
Ceremony Date: September
Ceremony tickets: £175 individual or £1650 for table of 10

The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100
Great for! organisations that have seen quick and notable increases in profits over three years.
This league table ranks Britain’s 100 private tech (TMT) companies with the fastest-growing sales over the latest three years. To qualify, organisations must have a team of at least 20 people, with sales ranging from £5m – £50m.
Nomination Deadline: July
Cost: Free
Report Published: September

International Content Marketing Awards
Great for! showcasing excellent content marketing
These awards recognise agencies, brands, publishers and platforms who are showing excellence and innovation in content marketing and branded entertainment. Whatever the channel, so long as it is content produced for a brand, you can enter it and it stands an equal chance of winning.
Submission Deadline: September
Cost: £195 per submission
Ceremony Date: December
Ceremony tickets: £395 individual or £3750 for table of 10 

Masters of Marketing Awards
Great for! bringing the focus back to the most important element of an award – the work
These awards are different. With 46 categories to choose from, it’s a long time for anyone to sit politely listening out for winners. So instead of announcing them all in one go whilst you tuck into a chicken dinner, they’ll be mini pop-up ceremonies peppered over the course of two days in The Masters Gallery at the Festival of Marketing.
Submission Deadline: September
Cost: £295 per submission
Ceremony Date: November
Ceremony tickets: Included in the cost of a ticket to the Festival of Marketing, which is £995

The UK Search Awards
Great for! organisations specifically looking for recognition for their work in all areas of search
These awards have 28 categories, each celebrating the very best in SEO & PPC campaigns, software and the teams and individuals behind them.
Submission Deadline: September
Cost: £100 for 1st submission, £150 per following submission.
Ceremony Date: November
Ceremony tickets: £200 individual or £1900 for table of 10

Deloitte Technology Fast 50
Great for! organisations in tech that have seen financial success over the last 4 years
The Fast 50 is a ranking of the UK’s 50 fastest growing technology companies, driven by intellectual property and based on revenue growth over the last four years. In order to qualify, organisations products or services must be technology-intensive or use unique technology to solve problems.
Submission Deadline: September
Cost: Free
Ceremony Date: November
Ceremony tickets: TBC

Growing Business Awards
Great for! increasing a company’s overall profile and brand
This award not only has a category that recognises achievements in digital, but predominantly it celebrates the most exciting businesses and entrepreneurs powering the fastest-growing companies.
Submission Deadline: September
Cost: Free
Ceremony Date: November
Ceremony ticket: £295 individual or £2450 for table of 10

Good luck with your submissions!