8 reasons you should be sending follow-up outreach emails
To follow up or not to follow up? That is the question. But it’s an easy one to answer – yes, absolutely. And here’s why.
I am a firm believer in the efficiency of follow-up emails and will use this blog post to convince you to become a fellow believer – a foleiver if you will. I’ll give you eight reasons why I think sending chaser emails is worth your time. These are entirely empirical and based on my (and some of my teammates’) personal experience.
Why someone might try to convince you not to follow up (and why you should ignore them)
First, let’s tackle arguments against follow-ups that you might stumble across, which could lead you to believe they are a waste of time.
The simplest argument to accept is that follow-ups are annoying and pushy. To a certain extent, they are.
As PRs, we’re constantly reminded of how inundated a journalist’s inbox is with press releases and pitches from nagging PRs and as a former journalist, I can definitely relate. But sending pitches and press releases is literally the job of a PR, and follow-ups are not annoying for the grateful journalist who ends up using the story.
However, there are a select few who don’t like follow-ups, and these journalists will normally not be shy about letting you know. If you do come across someone expressing they don’t want to receive follow-ups, take note of it and do as they ask. Simples. It’s not worth risking your relationship with them.
Other anti-follow-uppers might suggest that follow-ups are pointless, arguing that if your email didn’t pique the journalist’s interest the first time around, it won’t the second time either. That’s not necessarily true, and you can refer to reasons one to eight (yes, that’s all of them) below for clarification.
Another reason could be that if the journalist is interested, they will write it up or get back to you regardless. In some cases, you could be lucky enough to hit a home run straight away if your headline and pitch is strong or you targeted a journalist who would be more likely to cover the topic, but by not following up to all those other journalists, you are massively missing out on untapped potential.
So, as promised, here are all the reasons why you should bother following up on your original pitch.
Why follow-up emails are worth it
Follow-ups lead to more responses
Fact. In my experience, journalists are much more likely to respond to me in my follow-up email than in my initial one. In a sample of 600 emails I sent recently, I received a response for 20 of them when following up. Now, this might not sound like a lot, but it’s 20 responses I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t chase.
Admittedly, a few of them were to tell me they are not interested in the story or asked me to please take them off my email list (always a joy) but at least they responded. This gave me an opportunity to evolve the conversation, ask why they weren’t interested, if a different angle might work better, or if someone else in the team would give me better luck.
But crucially, some of these responses, and ultimately some of these follow-ups, lead to coverage – which brings me onto my next point.
Follow-ups lead to more coverage
You might strike gold with your first email and land linked coverage straight away, but that’s no excuse not to send follow-ups and maximise the potential for more linked articles.
Below are six examples of coverage I secured in the past 12 months that came about as a result of me chasing the journalist.
In the above example, the client’s name and research was mentioned in the weekly New York Times DealBook newsletter and associated article. The journalist claimed to have not seen my first email and thanked me for following up.
This was another classic example of the journalist missing my initial email, but a gentle reminder led to the first open, resulting in an excellent piece of coverage that is highly relevant for the client.
Here we have the example of one of the journalists I chased not being interested in the story, but then forwarding it onto someone else in his team who he thought might find it worth covering. That journalist then got back in touch asking for more information, resulting in this juicy piece of coverage.
Getting links for a travel client in the peak of the pandemic in the UK was a struggle to say the least, so this coverage actually took two follow-ups to get through. Proof that being ‘pushy and annoying’ (or simply being persistent) can pay off.
The final example is to demonstrate how contacting a journalist on the wrong day can have a huge impact on the potential for coverage. I initially reached out to the writer on a Friday – yes, I know this isn’t the ideal day to pitch – and my email slipped through the cracks. But when I followed up the following Tuesday, he was thankful that I had reminded him about it and he ended up covering it.
Largely what the above examples demonstrate is that without following up, a journalist can easily forget about you and your story from the first round of pitching…
Follow-ups remind journalists that you (and the story) exist
Because journalists receive such an overwhelming amount of email pitches on a daily basis, standing out with your subject line just one time isn’t enough. The journalist might not bother reading it, miss it as they skim read hundreds of headlines, forget about it, or – worst of all – delete it.
A gentle nudge will not only put the email to the top of their inbox, but maximise the subject line’s exposure, potentially igniting something in the journalist’s subconscious that can result in coverage.
Follow-ups offer an opportunity to be more casual and friendly
A follow-up email can prove to the journalist that you’re an actual human being with resources. To emphasise this point, follow-ups are a great opportunity to be more friendly and casual than you were in your initial, formal pitch.
There’s no need to overdo it as you can still be approachable and precise at the same time. A simple ‘in case you missed this before the weekend, I’m reminding you of…’ will do the job. Or, if you’re following up with someone who has been out of the office, a simple nod to that such as ‘in case you missed this while catching up with emails after your time off’ will demonstrate that you’re paying attention.
Follow-ups offer an opportunity to learn about what the journalist covers, to receive feedback, or a lead for someone else to contact
In line with my first point of follow-ups leading to more responses, not all responses will be “thanks, I will be covering this”. A lot of the time, it will be “thank you, but I don’t cover this topic”, which at first might seem like a rejection, but is actually a prime opportunity to learn more about what the journalist actually covers. This will be invaluable information to have on hand for future outreach to this journalist.
While rejecting your pitch, the journalist might offer up a better person within their team to contact instead. This is an example of the journalist doing the prospecting for you, handing you an alternative contact on a silver plate – and it would be silly not to take it.
Some journalists also offer feedback on the topic or on your pitching style, both positive and negative. This can be insightful and help you hone your pitching skills and ability to reach your target audience.
Follow-ups offer an opportunity to give the journalist more information
Crucially, a follow-up email offers the opportunity to provide the journalist with additional information, which might sway whether they decide to cover it or not.
All those extra bits of information you chose to leave out in your initial pitch in order to keep it neat and succinct? Now’s the time to pull those out of the bag. This will make your follow-up email different to the original pitch, offering something new to the journalist.
Follow-ups can bypass spam folders
We’re now moving onto more of the ‘tips and tricks’ section of this post. In the Outreach team at Verve, we use an email scheduling programme called BuzzStream, which we find highly efficient and effective. Among many other functions, it allows us to send out a high volume of emails separated into the different publications we’re trying to contact. Crucially, it allows us to track the number of opens the emails we send out gets.
Recently, we’ve recognised a pattern when it comes to opens of automated emails with bigger publications; they’re all opened at the same time. This has led us to believe that the mail operators of the bigger newspapers have spam filters, meaning our emails never end up in the journalist’s inbox, or at the very least ends up in a dedicated spam or junk folder.
Doing manual follow-ups directly from your own mail operator can bypass this. I have examples of journalists from the likes of The Guardian, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, who claim to never have seen my initial email, and I believe them. Tracking the amount of opens the emails have in BuzzStream shows how there is a significant increase in opens after my first follow-up.
Note that it is the manual follow-up that takes the credit here – automated and bulk follow-ups might have the same results in terms of your email being considered spam.
Follow-ups can make journalists believe you’re already having a conversation
Another benefit of doing manual follow-ups directly from your email service is that it ‘tricks’ the journalist into thinking you’re having an ongoing conversation. When journalists see that there is an email trail, they might absentmindedly think you’re replying to an email they sent.
It’s borderline sneaky, and if they’re not interested in covering the topic, it might not lead to anything more. It will, however, likely lead to more exposure for your headline and pitch, which might lead to more coverage.
Hopefully my reasons for following up your pitches have convinced you that it’s worth your while. If you’ve taken the leap, below is a quick guide on how to send a good follow-up email.
Tips on how to follow up
Here are four tips on how to sharpen up your follow-ups.
Follow up manually and don’t bulk send
I’ve already touched on this in point seven and eight above, but I’m reiterating it here as I firmly believe doing follow-ups manually is hugely beneficial. Admittedly, it will take you longer, but I personally feel it is worth it.
Although I use BuzzStream to schedule emails for my initial pitches, I usually never do bulk sends. This is a personal preference as manually sending emails allows me to tweak the headline and intro to fit the journalist and publication better and to ensure I absolutely have the journalist’s name right.
The same principle applies to my approach to manually sending follow-ups; it allows me to be more personal, ensures I’m not following up while someone is out of the office (see more on this in tip four), and ultimately makes me feel more in control of what I’m sending out.
Avoid the word ‘just’
The word ‘just’ is frequently used in conversation, so it’s quick to think that adding it to your follow-up will instantly make it feel more casual. But using ‘just’ actually has the opposite effect as it lessens the importance of your request and undermines your importance as a spokesperson.
It’s as simple as leaving it out at the start of your message. So write “I’m following up to see if this was of interest or if you had any more questions” instead of “I’m just following up to see…”. Although it’s easier said than done as it requires some discipline and getting used to.
But to sum up, just don’t use it. See what I did there?
Stick to a maximum of two follow-ups
As I mentioned right at the beginning, follow-ups can be seen as pushy and annoying and that is just a fact that we as PRs need to come to terms with. But there are ways of minimising this annoyance and one is to limit the amount of follow-ups you send.
As a rule of thumb I usually stick to only one follow-up, but in cases where I strongly believe in the strength of a story, I might feel inclined to do a second one. This was the case when I was outreaching a coronavirus myth-busting asset for our client Babylon Health.
I knew stories about coronavirus were oversaturated during the first wave of the pandemic back in April 2020, so standing out was harder than normal. But I also knew our story of a doctor debunking a range of far-fetched statements about covid would appeal to journalists, so I powered through. My second round of follow-ups led to a linked article in The Mirror.
I also tend to do a second follow-up to journalists who have expressed an interest in the story either by responding to my initial email or who I can see have opened my email a substantial number of times.
To avoid being viewed as exceedingly pushy and annoying, specify in your final follow-up how this is your final one, so they know they won’t be ‘harassed’ any longer.
Keep abreast of OOOs
If you think follow-ups are annoying, imagine how annoying it must be to get a follow-up while you’re still out of the office. Keep track of when journalists you contact are out of the office so you can wait until a couple of days after they get back to follow up with them. Their inbox will be fuller than normal upon their return (making it even harder for your headline to stand out), so allow them to get to grips with all their messages before you bump yours to the top of their inbox.
As mentioned before, referencing how you’ve noticed they’ve been out of the office can be that personal element that convinces them that you’re paying attention. Just be careful not to assume that they’ve been off for strictly positive reasons such as a relaxing holiday, so keep it neutral with something along the lines of “In case this got lost in all your emails when you returned to the office, I’m resending this…”
To sum up, incorporating routine follow-ups into your outreach strategy has plenty of potentially positive outcomes. They lead to more responses, which can also ignite friendly and informative conversations about your topic, and they act as a reminder for the journalist. All of this can ultimately lead to more coverage, begging the question of why you wouldn’t do it. So tell me: are you a foleiver now?
Interested in our content marketing and digital PR services? Get in touch.
6 questions that turn numbers into newsworthy stories
Digital PR campaigns regularly build stories out of statistics, and the questions that we ask of numbers to arrive at those stories are quite consistent.
For this post, I will explore examples of news headlines, coverage for our campaigns and content from elsewhere that can be constructed from asking the following types of questions:
1. What are the highest and lowest values? 2. What’s the grand total? 3. How much or how little has something changed? 4. What’s the proportion? 5. What are the averages? 6. How many are there?
Data is as good as the questions you ask of it
Ideas for data-driven stories often start with asking: ‘what data can I find to answer my question or to create my intended headline?’.
But even once you or your team have sourced and cleaned the data you think you’ll need, you’re unlikely to find a dataset that is ready to outreach to a journalist without also examining all of the potential stories that lurk within it.
In a similar way to how a journalist asks different questions of their sources to gain different sides to a story, why wouldn’t you ‘interview’ the data that you’re working with to consider all of the ways in which you can tell your story?
Whatever your job title (asking questions of data isn’t reserved for data analysts), remembering to explore one dataset from different dimensions can be incredibly useful throughout the process of producing content and earning linked coverage — here are some of the ways in which it applies:
Ideation: the difference between producing a new idea for a campaign from one that already exists can sometimes involve calculating a similar dataset in a different way. The idea that you already have in mind may become even stronger by considering what further steps you need to take to apply a calculation that hasn’t been applied to it before.
Production: before committing to kicking off a campaign’s production, you should have some idea of the type of story that your research is going to produce. However, properly interrogating the data that you work with ensures that no important contextual layers of a story are being missed, and it may even reveal a stronger angle than what you originally set out to find.
Execution: uncovering new trends worth visualising helps to tell a more comprehensive data-driven story. Even if certain trends don’t go on to be your headline statistic, they can supplement your narrative for users of your content and for journalists who are going to write about your findings.
Outreach: applying different calculations to a dataset can diversify the number of angles you have to outreach — more angles generally means more potential for linking opportunities. At the very least, it will provide a journalist with more context around the story that you are telling them.
Not every team follows the exact same creative and outreach process, but the following examples will provide a useful framework for anyone stuck on what to do next in their quest to find stories within numbers.
1. What are the highest and lowest values?
It’s no secret that superlatives make great news stories. The maximum and minimum values in a dataset often translate as being the outliers, or the unusual, or the best and worst of something.
In 2020, two in every five headlines that had been published about Verve Search client campaigns contained one of the words: ‘most’, ‘best, ‘top’, or ‘highest’ — the majority of them referring to the highest rankings in one of our data-driven campaigns.
For example, when we analysed the details behind more than 6 million new business creations on Companies House, we were able to rank and reveal which UK cities and towns were enjoying the biggest boom in new start-ups in 2020.
Ranking the highest and lowest values may often be the final step in a method of producing a story after asking other important questions of data. In the above case, we created a ranking-driven headline after our analysis also counted the number of new businesses registered on Companies House, and measured the year-on-year change in those figures.
These calculations also produced another headline figure by revealing the grand total of how many new businesses were created across every town and city in what was estimated to be a record-breaking year for UK startups forming. Summing together the key sections of data in your sample is another way to make a great headline…
How many times does a headline catch your eye with the size of the number it uses? One reason that the below headline from The Financial Times works is that behind the figure of 4,000 is a story about 4,000 humans who have lost their jobs from a single company during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The human element behind a totalvalue can help to sell it in as a headline figure, but an important consideration is whether its scale can be understood as a standalone number by the average person without needing further context. Although, sometimes, a large, eye-catching figure does do the job of providing a shocking headline before anymore context is given.
A campaign we produced called Influencer Investors analysed the scale of finance misinformation that was circulating among TikTok’s #stocktips from influencers with massive followings.
After mining through videos to calculate how frequently misleading content was appearing on the profiles of popular finance influencers, we also revealed the scale of the issue by summing together the total number of followers (28.4 million) and likes (3.6 million) that the misleading influencers and content had received.
If you can uncover grandtotals to answer questions such as ‘how much something costs’ or ‘how many people were affected’, then you could be revealing a dataset’s most newsworthy statistic.
Even if this kind of figure doesn’t become your headline, it’s important to cite overall sample sizes as part of a transparent methodology. Add up all of the values and show off the scale of your analysis for whichever parts of your data make sense to. Journalists will usually mention this in their story along the lines of:
[Client name] analysed [sample size + metric] to discover [statistic]
Total values can become even more newsworthy when they represent a significant change…
Follow the links for how to calculate sums in spreadsheets through Google Sheets or Excel.
3. How much or how little has something changed?
Change is an essential part of storytelling. When important things change dramatically, or don’t change as expected, they often make the news. In the below investigation by the BBC, revealing howmany students sought mental health support was essential to the overall story, however, the headline focuses on that fact that more students were using mental health services than in previous years.
A campaign we produced called Priced-out Property revealed which locations in the UK and around the world have seen the greatest change in property affordability, based on the growing gap between earnings and property prices over recent years. Using change as our key measure meant we could consider every location with comparable historic data to produce a ranking of both positive and negative changes in affordability.
Another common way of converting change into a story is when a decreasing number is highlighted to indicate a ‘risk of extinction’ headline. This type of story often emerges from the Office For National Statistics’ Most Popular Baby Names dataset.
You may be working with data that isn’t longitudinal (i.e. doesn’t consider different time periods), such as cross-sectional survey results. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t suggest a change is taking place in the broader state of things.
A survey-led campaign we produced called Between The Sheets asked Brits numerous questions related to their sexual activity, including what sexuality they identify as. Our insight revealed 24% of 18-24 year olds identified as either homosexual or bisexual.
Although our data only accounted for one point in time, coverage by publications such as Bustle and The Mirror reported on this as an increase in young people identifying as gay or bisexual. They referenced a similar survey that was included in our outreach email from four years prior, which showed the figure was lower at 21%.
As well as calculating change, those headlines also incorporated proportion into their story…
Alongside other calculations, almost every campaign that I have referenced so far has included a proportional angle. Proportions tell you how large or small a number is in its relationship to a whole.
As neatly explained in an excerpt from Content hubble’s Ebook (2020), proportions provided a different perspective to the data in our Movie Mortalitycampaign, which revealed the actors who had been killed the most in their film roles:
“Without considering things proportionally, to some degree, the actor who dies the most will be a factor of who’s been in the most films. In another context, cities like London or New York will always over index for everything due to their financial power and population numbers.”
James Barnes, ‘Content hubble: 31 content campaigns that earned 11,882 links’
A campaign we created called Remake My Day analysed what the best and worst movie remakes were in history. This ranking of remakes according to critic and audience scores revealed little change in appetite for movie reboots, because they were consistently reviewed as worse than their original versions.
Based on the consistently negative reviews of remakes, we asked a broader question: what proportion of all remakes do audiences and critics actually prefer? Just 13% among critics and 9% among audiences was the answer. This angle – also indicated by the cluster of purple dots in our graph above – became the leading statistic that was covered in top tier publications, such as VICE and The Washington Post.
Our methodology for Remake My Day also relied on the movies in our dataset being pre-measured on a weighted average score, according to critic and audience reviews….
Follow the links for how to calculate percentages in spreadsheets through Google Sheets or Excel.
5. What are the averages?
Average occurrences don’t always stop the press, but the average can be used as a benchmark to calculate who or what performs above or below it, or whether the average itself is wayward of what you would expect over a certain period of time. For example, when the average house price in the UK changes significantly, it hits the headlines.
Averages can also be useful for ranking large samples of different data points. A campaign of ours called Pioneering Women considered a sample of more than 6,900 female founders to rank universities on metrics such as how many female start-up founders had attended them and the average amount of funding raised by founders for the companies that they went on to launch.
Average earnings are a particularly useful benchmark for comparing to society’s richest and (often) most talked about people. One of our most successful angles for a campaign called Pay Checkrevealed how much more world leaders earned compared to the citizens who paid their wages.
Remember to also read between averages, especially by looking at the mean and median values.
This analysis by CNN picked apart the assumption that the average American is one of the world’s wealthiest. In terms of mean net worth, which can be heavily skewed by a country’s super wealthy citizens, Americans were the fourth richest in the OECD (2014), but when you line up every individual’s net worth, the US median was actually one of the lowest.
And such a vast gap between the mean and median values of a dataset may lead you to ask howmany super wealthy people in the US there actually are.
Follow the links for how to calculate averages in spreadsheets through Google Sheets or Excel.
6. How many are there?
The same year that CNN published their analysis of the net worth of Americans, the LA Times took a different angle by counting how many households with a net worth of $1 million or more existed in the US, which turned out to be 9.6 million – a record number at the time. This is also a headline that highlights a significant change for the most recent time period.
Counting how often a text or numerical value appears in a spreadsheet is often used to deliver a ‘best seller’, or, in the case of our campaign below, a ‘most borrowed’ type of angle. For a campaign called Well Read, we analysed three decades of lending data from UK libraries and counted which authors, novels and genres were borrowed the most.
Unlike the data source we used above, you may be collecting information from multiple organisations, with the aim of comparing their data against each other. This means there could be missing data or inconsistent collection methods that can have implications, either as part of the story you’re trying to tell or in terms of whether the different datasets can be fairly compared at all.
By counting the data that was missing rather than what was present, VICE’s Broadly channel analysed and reported on 86 percent of universities failing to make any mention of stalking or abuse in their policy documents (2019).
One example of overcoming the nonuniform data collection methods that are typical of UK universities when responding to freedom of information requests came from an FOI-led survey by Uswitch. They counted UK University responses to uniform ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions about their commitments to renewable energy to score them on a straightforward index.
Coming full-circle to the highest and lowest values again, many data-driven stories can be constructed by an index that considers multiple indicators to rank a group of data points.
Ranking locations within indexes is a common method for outreach campaigns, as it provides local journalists with stories that are targeted to their area, and because comparable towns, cities and countries tend to record all sorts of interesting data that can be spun into a story.
This is a creative approach to creating a headline out of many statistics where one statistic in isolation wouldn’t do the same. For example, there is no single metric that can determine what it means to be a hipster, but thisindex created by MoveHub compiled metrics such as the number of record shops, vintage boutiques, and vegan restaurants proportionally to the size of the local population to determine it was Brighton, UK.
Indexes may be considered more comprehensive than trying to make the jump from one individual statistic to a headline, and indexes can sound impressive when a brand produces one about a topic within which they are considered an authority to name ‘the best’ or ‘worst’ or ‘capital’ of something.
However, indexes can also mask certain stories that exist behind individual metrics, which could have quite easily produced a headline on their own. We have previously analysed a similar metric to the one used in the above ‘Hipster Index’ to name the world’s most vegan-friendly capitals, based purely on the percentage of restaurants in a location that serve vegan food options. With a surprising result revealing Dublin, this is another example of the strength of one statistic built out of one question creating a strong headline.
So be sure to consider how each data point or statistic that you’ve worked hard sourcing and analysing can produce its own outreach angle, even if it was originally intended to support an index’s methodology.
Keep an eye out for how often news stories are constructed by:
As part of your creative process, consider whether each of these methods can reveal more interesting angles about the next dataset you work with, or whether they can even form the crux of your next idea’s methodology.
There’s no guarantee that a dataset will contain a headline-worthy angle, and you may find that there is more data to source before you can build a story.
But when you do find yourself interrogating a particularly fruitful set of numbers from all of the dimensions we’ve discussed, then you could uncover numerous stories to tell as part of your content and outreach strategy, or at least be confident that you’ve found the most newsworthy statistic.
A broader look at the process of turning data into a content marketing campaign: 
As well as your calculations, there are other ways to diversify your angles and ideas during the production and outreach stages of a campaign. This post discusses that process through considerations about topics and journalist sectors: 
3 useful resources for finding data and hunting for stories:   
Interested in our content marketing and digital PR services? Get in touch.
Why your content needs expert collaborators (and where to find them)
Producing newsworthy content for our clients means communicating a level of authority between industries that we (quite often) have no first-hand experience of working in and journalists who have years of experience covering sectors that our clients sit within.
Often, we can rely on client spokespeople to provide comments for the press and which analyse the work we produce. But content that is built to earn links can also cover topics and conversations that stretch beyond a client’s product while still remaining relevant for them to talk about, which means we often look further afield to find people who can offer valuable perspectives on our stories, or help us construct our content from the very beginning.
In my time at Verve Search, I’ve been lucky enough to work with world-renowned scientists and academics, artists, authors, photographers, gamers, and experts on more subjects than you can shake a stick at. All of these individuals and organisations have taken our stories from being a collection of interesting statistics or attractive pieces of content to something more newsworthy, which is brought to life by the authority behind their words.
How we work with collaborators depends largely on which gaps of authority exist within the production and PR strategy of each piece of content. Here are just some examples of how we’ve worked with expert collaborators in the past:
We’ve tapped into the unique resources of subject specialists to create in-depth campaigns with data that is normally unavailable to the public. We worked with Ian Shirley (editor of Record Collector magazine’s ‘Rare Record Price Guide‘) to put together reams of imagery and information not found elsewhere about hugely valuable vinyl records
We’ve received valuable commentary from industry experts on our survey results and independent research. For Influencer Investors, our Paxful campaign about stock market guidance on TikTok, we asked financial planner and psychologist Dr. Brad Klontz for his expert analysis of our findings and created a valuable Q&A asset
The Outreach case for finding collaborators
One key indicator to any campaign’s success is how many high-quality and authoritative links it generates, and it should almost go without saying that journalists will appreciate a story being sent their way that is supported by reliable and authoritative experts within a relevant field. I spoke to Tonje, one of Verve Search’s super-talented Outreach Specialists, to ask about why the team finds it useful to lean on the expertise of external sources…
Q&A with Tonje Odegard, Outreach Specialist
Why is outreaching more successful when there’s an externally-sourced expert attached to the story?
First of all, in addition to a credible data source, journalists always need quotes in order to complete a classic news story or feature. If we can provide these from a relevant and credible expert or collaborator, it will save the journalist having to source these from elsewhere, increasing our chances of them using our content (and ultimately linking). Alongside having graphs and illustrations from the campaign, we’re essentially providing a one-stop shop for the journalist.
Secondly, having expert commentary or quotes adds substance, credibility and gravity to the pitch, which again increases the chances of it being covered. For instance, when working with Babylon Health, we used expert commentary from the doctors there on several occasions in our campaigns and outreach. Overall, we secured links in high-punching publications such as The Telegraph, City AM, Time Out, Metro, New York Post, Houston Chronicle, Forbes, and Cosmopolitan as a result.
What kind of things do you think journalists are interested in when it comes to experts and collaborators?
The clue is in the name; the purpose of experts and collaborators for journalists is exactly that – to provide their expertise on the subject the journalist is covering. They are an essential part of any news story or feature as it helps break up the article into a more digestible format for the reader as well as offer credibility. In essence, experts help explain the topic covered in a story.
Are expert Q&As useful to have on hand?
Q&As are a formidable way to convey information in a conversational tone that is easy for the journalist to turn into quotes – if they’re feeling really lazy, they can even copy and paste it entirely. But having the expert ready at hand to answer any additional follow-up questions is also key as many journalists want something unique or more specific to use in their article.
Do you think journalists find campaigns more reliable when they are backed up with an externalexpert’s data and imagery rather than completely in-houseassets?
Yes, I definitely believe so. Having an expert involved who is willing to endorse the campaign’s message demonstrates to the journalist that this is a legitimate and reliable source of information. If the expert comes from the client we are representing, there is a danger that the pitch can appear too commercial, but this will usually not be the case if the expert is relevant and credible – so always make sure they are. Using an external expert can often add more credibility.
How important is it to journalists that a field expert provides commentary and context on independent research findings?
As mentioned above, it helps cement the credibility of the data and message of the campaign. Any good journalist would seek to back up claims made in their article and as such, they would try to hunt down a relevant person to comment on the findings. If we can present this person at the same time as pitching them the research, both us and the journalist have killed two birds in one stone.
So, where should you begin?
Identify your needs
There are different ways you can incorporate an outside expert in your campaign. At what point they enter the production process depends on how best you think they’ll be able to contribute to the project. In my time at Verve, our collaborator partnerships have usually fallen into one of the following categories:
They comment on our in-house study. This means we’ve sourced our own data and broken it down into key findings. We may have run a study and come to some interesting conclusions, or collected a huge variety of new information via freedom of information requests. Either way, we’re looking for an authority on whatever the subject may be to give us some all-important context to what we’ve found out. We want them to answer some burning questions that have arisen because of surprising or even predictable discoveries we’ve made – answers that journalists love to feature and readers instantly trust. Ask yourself whether you need someone to answer your burning questions.
They advise us on a methodology and provide commentary where necessary. Sometimes we need collaborators to help shape the building blocks of our campaign. It means we have the story in our mind, but we need specialist guidance on how to execute something that needs an expert eye. We ran a campaign called Understanding Dementia and knew that the subject needed an official figure on dementia to ensure our campaign handled the subject with the sensitivity and authority it deserved. We worked with a leading dementia expert to give us her vision for how our planned games and puzzles could successfully emulate the confusion and frustration associated with the condition. We’ve also worked in this capacity with world-renowned academics and specialists who’ve advised on our campaigns at early junctions, like planning survey questions, helping shape extra angles to our research. Ask yourself whether you need expert guidance to build your project.
They lend us resources that are otherwise not openly accessible. Some campaigns rely on the knowledge and resources of industry professionals. We’ve worked with all sorts of individuals and companies over the years that have given us their time and expertise to help create a more valuable piece of content for the news landscape. For example, Wheeler Dealer for GoCompare saw us partner up with an expert on vintage toy cars who gave us lots of specialist data and imagery…
…and we tasked the talented 3D-modelling artists at 3DLines with creating fantastic photorealistic mock-ups of familiar TV and movie rooms remade for the modern-day. Ask yourself whether your campaign needs the unique resources of an interesting individual or company.
But where can you find the right expert?
Where to find an expert
Use free find-an-expert search engines
Some of the best universities in the world have find-an-expert indices that list the academics and experts open to helping out the media. Here are some key ones:
You can usually search by field of study to help you track down the best person for your needs. If you’re going down the academic route, you should also try googling scientific studies and research institutions relevant to your subject to discover their authors. Why not try reaching out to them? We went to Professor Daniel Russell, a leading loneliness expert who developed the globally recognised UCLA Loneliness Scale, for guidance on our loneliness project with former client Echo.
Use social media
One of the best resources for widening your network is Twitter. Search out highly followed and influential people on the subject you’re working on. We contacted Matt Huxley, an esports lecturer at Staffordshire University, through Twitter, and he agreed to help us out with our project Esports Elites for Casumo. Matt had a large social media following and was used to being featured in the media, so we knew he was a fantastic authority to comment on our findings.
Find a book
Don’t worry, you won’t need a library card for this one! We’ve found expert collaborators by searching for books around our subject of interest. If you can track down and contact the authors or researchers (perhaps through their personal websites, social media, or publishers), you might just find that they’ll be really enthusiastic about your project.
In the past, Amazon has proved to be a useful resource for finding the right books. We used this method to find an expert to help us answer some questions for our project Crep Check for Farfetch. Crep Check is a database of the most valuable trainers in the world, and we included rankings for the shoes that have appreciated the most in value from their original retail price. We knew that finding a top sneaker expert and having them answer some questions would give journalists an extra angle to feature, so we searched online for experts and found one in the form of Mathieu le Maux, author of ‘1000 Sneakers: A Guide to the World’s Greatest Kicks, from Sport to Street’.
We sent Mathieu a message over Twitter and it didn’t take long for him to get back to us. The result? GQ magazine and the Daily Mail featured some of his comments prominently:
We used this method again to search for a reputable source of data, high-quality imagery, and expert commentary for Record Value, our project with Australian life insurance company NobleOak. Our answer came in the form of Ian Shirley, editor of ‘The Rare Record Price Guide’. Ian was the perfect fit for our campaign and gave us plenty of resources to work with as well as giving us valuable information about each of the 75 records in the final campaign.
Find a charity
We’ve partnered with lots of charities over the years and the benefits of attaching the campaign to the name of a reputable and established charity are numerous.
With Understanding Dementia, our Babylon Health campaign that attempted to reflect the effects of dementia with a series of frustrating games and puzzles, we partnered with Professor June Andrews, a renowned dementia expert to help us out.
June provided guidance on what effects we could attempt to reflect with our games, plus commentary on our games to help the user understand what aspects of dementia they were experiencing.
We partnered with two mental health charities for another project with Babylon Health called Student Stress. Both charities appealed in person and on their Twitter and social media accounts for students to tell us what stress felt like in their own words. We received lots of evocative descriptions of mental health from students all around the world, and our talented designers went to work illustrating them.
Keep up with the news
We’ve secured collaborators in the past by reaching out to them as a result of seeing their work in the news. It’s a surefire way to find names that are trusted by journalists as an authority on a subject.
When should you budget for expert collaborators?
It’s always worth keeping a budget in mind if you expect to ask a collaborator to do a large amount of work for you.
Before you reach out to someone, ask yourself:
How much of their time are we asking them to take up?
Are they just doing their day job, but for us? If so, they’ll expect to be paid.
Is this specific expert absolutely vital to the story earning coverage? If they require a fee, it’s worth thinking about putting aside some of your budget to cover it.
Sometimes, budgets will be tight. In many cases, you’ll be able to get a collaborator on board for free just by outlining the (credited) coverage they themselves will receive by taking part in your project. For a lot of people, this is sometimes compensation enough for being involved, especially if we know we’re presenting them with fascinating new insights around their specialist topic.
Keep your communication respectful of your collaborator’s energy and time and you’ll be able to build a creative partnership that will always be useful to have on hand.
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Interested in our content marketing and digital PR services? Get in touch.
SEO in journalism: how can we use it in outreach?
After five years working as a journalist and more than a year working in digital PR and outreach, I have seen SEO in operation from both sides – here’s how they can be used in combination to secure coverage.
When I first started doing my degree in Journalism at Kingston University in 2012, SEO was a mere afterthought in my Multimedia News Writing course. Yes, we were told to hyperlink or to include keywords in our copy, but we were never fully educated on its purpose or importance, nor did it ever dictate what we were writing about.
Eight years later, I was working for a publication where the content we produced was almost entirely driven by SEO strategies. It was prioritised on the same level as editorial integrity and quality, which I found surprising and intriguing. As much as I love writing, I felt myself being drawn to this ‘behind the scenes’ world of SEO more and more, to the point where I decided to pursue a career in it.
I started working at Verve Search nearly 18 months ago, where I was introduced to a whole new and more technical side of SEO. This, in combination with my journalistic experience and my knowledge of how SEO is applied in journalism, has really strengthened my ability in outreach. I want to share this knowledge so you can too.
So, how can we learn from the way journalists and publications use and are motivated by SEO as part of their day-to-day runnings and editorial planning and apply it to outreach and ideation?
What motivates journalists in terms of SEO?
Traditionally, the way journalists and newspapers measured their success was purely down to how many newspapers they sold or how many quantifiable readers they had. For some publications, these metrics still come into play, but it’s not farfetched to say that today, SEO metrics have replaced the way we measure a publication’s success.
But what are SEO metrics? Metrics such as ranking, search traffic and engagement are what motivate publications the most in terms of SEO. What these metrics have in common is that they focus heavily on keywords.
Ultimately, publications want to rank as high as possible on search engines for the topics (AKA keywords) they cover, whether niche or broad. If you type “news uk” in your Google search bar, the BBC ranks in first and second place in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). This is where every publication would love to be. Additionally, publications want to rank for specific keywords relevant to the topics they cover. For instance, the BBC would also want to rank high for keywords such as “TV”, “weather” and “sport”.
How do journalists use SEO?
So now you know what motivates publications in terms of SEO, it’s time to see how journalists and writers apply this in their day-to-day roles, and crucially, how this can benefit us in outreach.
“It’s about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking, the words they’re using, and the type of content they wish to consume. Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to connect to the people who are searching online for the solutions you offer.”
For a publication and for a journalist, it’s all about understanding what content your readers want, how they would like to consume that content, and what kind of readers you want to attract. And this is exactly what journalists do to plan their content and the style of that content. This brings me back to keywords.
What are keywords and why are they important?
Keywords are the words and phrases in a website’s content that make it possible for people to find the site via search engines. So, as you can imagine, keywords are a huge part of a digital journalist’s day to day.
The days of cramming keywords into copy (also known as keyword density) might be over, but if a journalist wants their article to rank well in search engines, keywords need to be incorporated into their article’s structure (headlines, meta descriptions and URLs). Out of these, it is particularly important to include keywords in the headline.
Revisiting the earlier quote, it says that it’s about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking and the words they’re using. In other words, journalists are keen to discover the target keywords that are driving their readers to their site – or indeed, the target keywords that are taking their desired readers to competing publications instead.
How do journalists choose the keywords to focus on?
Publications are focused on ranking for keywords that are relevant to the topics that their publication covers. For niche publications, such as Boat International, the keywords will be narrower and more specific, whereas for bigger news outlets such as The Guardian, it will be much wider and far-reaching.
For instance, TimeOut London aims to rank for keywords such as ‘best restaurants in London’, ‘things to do in London’ and ‘best West End shows’.
These are all evergreen keywords or evergreen content. As the name suggests, evergreen content is content that readers will be interested in and might be searching for all year round – they were interested in searching for it last year and they will be next year too. This is the bread and butter for any news website as it is the biggest source of consistent traffic.
But TimeOut also wants to rank for ‘most romantic restaurants’ around Valentine’s Day or ‘best rooftop bars in London’ before a hot summer bank holiday. These are seasonal keywords and refer to keywords that generate most of their search traffic during a specific time of the year.
Then there are trending keywords, which, as you can imagine, is all about ranking for keywords that are trending at a particular time. At the time of writing, everyone is covering the story about how a bunch of Reddit users made the GameStop share price skyrocket, leaving established Wall Street traders with pie on their faces. Newspapers would want to get in on these trends and rank for it.
So journalists use all these keyword categories to determine what to write about. But how do they decide on which keywords to focus on?
They use these tools to determine the popularity and search volume of keywords in order to figure out which new topic areas to explore, which articles to update and optimise to improve their ranking, as well as to guide them on which keywords to include in their headlines.
How to apply journalistic SEO in outreach and ideation
Now that you know what motivates journalists and how they use it in their day to day, it’s time to investigate how we can apply the same methods and strategies in the various stages of outreach.
The most obvious place to start is to look at the target publications of the client you’re working for.
What publications does the client wish to secure coverage in and what do these publications cover? Use the SEO tools mentioned above to explore the evergreen, seasonal and trending keywords these publications will be aiming to rank for to anticipate what its journalists will cover.
Incorporate evergreen keywords into your ideation
‘Evergreen’ for a journalist means a story that is not time-sensitive and which has relevance throughout the year. ‘Evergreen’ in content marketing can differ in its definition, so I will adopt the journalist’s version here for our ideation and outreach strategy.
We always prefer to create and outreach a story that doesn’t rely on a smaller window of time to achieve coverage, while potentially including additional seasonal news angles where possible.
One way in which you can ensure the topic and subjects of your story will produce keywords that stand out to journalists at any time of year and which appeal to the correct journalists, is to carefully consider what sample of subjects you consider in your method.
When creating a data-driven story, as we often do, you may find that your sample of subjects varies in size or popularity. This presents two potential problems – one is that you may not be comparing like-for-like subjects, and the second being that you might lose the most popular subjects from your story because a smaller, lesser-known subject has taken its place.
Assuming that the data you are working with is trivial and unlikely to mislead people or cause harm by not including larger samples, you should aim to work with a sample of data that will appeal to your target journalists, and, if necessary, set an appropriate threshold.
In our campaign called Cuisine Hotspots, where we analysed which cities ranked highest for specialising in certain cuisine styles, we were keen to make our story appeal internationally where our client Hayes and Jarvis would wish to see their name mentioned.
To help achieve this, we chose to analyse a large sample of cities that were specifically known for being ‘the most traveled to destinations in the world’. This resulted in cities such as Dublin being widely reported at home and abroad for ranking as one of the world’s vegan food capitals.
Analysing larger and smaller-sized sample subjects as part of the same method can provide surprising (and newsworthy) insights. For example, it might be much more interesting for a smaller UK city to beat London on a particular economic measure. Other times it’s best to analyse like-for-like subjects as part of your method for your story to have wider appeal – London and New York have much wider outreach potential than a small local authority or town in the US.
When we designed a methodology for Lucrative Leaders – discovering which tech CEOs oversaw the greatest increase in their company’s market value – we chose to only consider tech leaders at companies worth $100 billion or more. This ensured that our story considered the Jeff Bezos’s and Steve Jobs of the tech world who are much more headline-worthy than the lesser-known Joe Blogs.
Incorporate evergreen keywords into your outreach
Verve’s very successful Profanity on Film campaign revealed which actors have sworn the most across their filmographies. It demonstrates, in an evergreen sense, the value of including a big name in a story that appeals to journalists regardless of other events that take place in the real world.
We first started outreaching this campaign in March 2020 with no timely news hook and only aiming to demonstrate how Jonah Hill had overtaken Samuel L. Jackson as Hollywood’s most profane actor.
In the end, the campaign achieved more than 800 pieces of coverage in the likes of The Guardian, The Independent, NME and The Wrap – entertainment publications that will report on A-list celebrity actions and events wherever possible. However, a decent proportion of that coverage came from the outreach team reacting to events that involved Jonah Hill, other famous actors who are known for swearing, and the announcement of a Netflix documentary.
Due to an Instagram post by Jonah Hill himself, the campaign gave us a chance to react and achieve more coverage in May. Later, in September, when Samuel L. Jackson decided to launch swearing lessons as an incentive to get people to vote in the 2020 US election, we saw another opportunity to jump on the trend and achieved an additional 20 pieces of linked coverage. By January 2021, Netflix had released a documentary called the History of Swearing, its original announcement led to our third wave of coverage, including a second link for the campaign in The Guardian.
The keywords for Profanity On Film were the actors’ names. There was no threshold set or carefully chosen sample of data here. We analysed more than 5,000 publicly available scripts from movies that had a cinematic release, and the data provided us with an excellent selection of names who are popular for entertainment and showbiz journalists to write about at any time of year.
Evergreen keywords work well for campaigns that you intend to outreach for several months, and they help to eliminate the risk of irrelevance for your target journalists. With that said, implementing more seasonal or trending keywords definitely has its place as part of a wider outreach strategy.
Using seasonal keywords in your outreach strategy
If you have a specific time frame for the outreach of your campaign, seasonal keywords provide an excellent asset both as a starting point for a campaign idea and for your angles.
A great example of this is when we knew we had a campaign lined up for a client around the time of Halloween. The Scariest Horror campaign discovered what the scariest film of all time was by asking volunteers to wear heart monitors while they watched 10 films known for having the biggest jump scares.
While horror movies have wide enough appeal at any time of year for entertainment journalists to discuss, the campaign naturally appealed even more to publications such as the LadBible as the 31st October approached.
It may hamper your outreach efforts if a campaign relied purely on a seasonal event to achieve coverage, but it is worth exploring seasonal keywords related to your client and your client’s target publications to incorporate these keywords into your pitch to journalists.
Again, I would recommend incorporating seasonal angles as part of a wider ideation and outreach strategy that is more evergreen to journalists. For every Halloween-related story you conjure up, make sure there are plenty more stories available that appeal throughout the year.
How to incorporate trending keywords into your outreach strategy
I also find trending keywords too fleeting to base campaign ideas on, but they are perfect to use as a news hook for your pitch or as a tool to breathe fresh air into an old campaign.
An example of this is when we capitalised on the PS5 release hype before Christmas with our campaign Global Cost of Gaming, where we looked at and compared the different costs of the new PS5 in different countries. Including the keyword ‘PS5’ in the headline was instrumental to the high volume of coverage this campaign received.
Again, make sure you maximise the keyword by including it in your headline.
How to incorporate long-tail keywords in your outreach strategy
Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific keyword phrases, which don’t necessarily have a very high search volume.
It’s worth noting that there is bigger competition between publications to rank for high search volume keywords. Therefore, going more granular and finding keywords that are more specific and which have a smaller search volume, might make it easier to rank and appeal more to journalists.
Additionally, if you have a client that is interested in coverage in certain regions or countries, exploring the various keywords in these markets will be time well spent. This is all about understanding the target audience and the language they use when searching for content.
For instance, if you’re planning on outreaching to both the UK and the US for your client, even though the language used will be the same, taking the differences between British and American English (Brits go on ‘holiday’ whereas Americans go on ‘vacation’) into consideration in your keyword search can be a game changer. Localising keywords is a worthwhile strategy.
How do we use this for outreach? Going for headlines that aid a high-volume keyword such as ‘the best brunch in London’ might actually be counterproductive if journalists want to cover something more targeted. High-volume keywords may also see more articles being published around that specific keyword already, so the subject line in your email may not stand out so much in a journalist’s inbox.
However, if you opted for a keyword that considered something even more long-tail and granular, such as ‘the best vegan brunch places in Peckham’, the competition may be lower and the originality of the story may be greater.
So to sum up, spending time familiarising yourself with the client and its target publications, and the various keywords they would want to rank for will be beneficial for you from ideation right through to outreach. This involves all keywords, from evergreen and trending, to long-tail and localised. By using the same SEO tools and strategies as journalists do to find your keywords and incorporating them into your approach, you will find your outreach efforts piquing the interest of journalists much more frequently.
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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@example.com. Also stay tuned for more updates on our next event, outREACH Conference.
outREACH Online: Q&A’s from our Expert Outreach Panel
Our 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 @neomam.com 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?
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.
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?
Be a sponge – read everything, go on case study pages, sign up to Content Hubble, find inspiring content, download The Link Building Book.
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.
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!