10 newsworthy content examples built with artificial intelligence
Producing content with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) can open up plenty of new avenues for newsworthy storytelling.
AI can assist content creators with a number of methodologies, including facial recognition, image generation, voice recognition and even sarcastic chat bots.
We will be looking at examples of all of these to see how AI can help to create marketing campaigns that go on to earn linked coverage from news publishers in various sectors.
AI is being used to produce content for many purposes in 2022.
To clarify, this post won’t be talking about purely automated AI content — the type which Google says is against its guidelines.
This is content that is assisted by AI, in order to return interesting data that needs to be contextualised by a human at different points in its production process before it becomes a newsworthy story.
This project is more about posing as artificial intelligence to roast a topic that many people care enough about to share: personal music taste.
Spotify’s marketing success from their ‘Wrapped’ feature has become an annual event on social media — earning over 1.2 million tweets in a single month, and leading to huge increases in downloads of the app.
The Pudding’s subversion of what makes Spotify Wrapped so popular was a genius way to appeal to the cynical side of music fandom.
Their “faux AI” tool gives the impression that a sophisticated AI bot is judging your prized personal music taste in real time, before returning sharable results that are partially tailored to the user.
Since launching in late 2020, it has been picked up by more than 1,300 linking root domains.
More than 1 in 5 of the headlines mention AI or artificial intelligence, suggesting that the AI’s participation in the experience is a key selling point in the story, as well as helping to make the project possible in the first place.
This research comes from a company that specialises in biometric authentication software with what is likely to be an attempt at downplaying some public fears over their technology.
While the statistics back up what they would hope to find — that AI isn’t fooled by spoof photos compared to the 30% of humans who do struggle to identify fakes — this story highlights an appetite that journalists have for exploring where humans and AI clash or collaborate in their capabilities around performing certain tasks.
Sentiment analysis tools can help us to draw insights around attitudes and emotions from large volumes of (usually) text-based data.
At Verve Search, one of our favourite use cases is to analyse the emotions behind different topics that are being talked about within various corners of social media.
In this example, we separated thousands of comments on US sports team’s official Facebook fan pages after wins and after losses to see which fan bases are more likely to remain supportive when the good times go bad and vice versa — also known as fair-weather fandom.
Initially, we would have loved to measure this on metrics such as fluctuating ticket sales or stadium attendances over a longer period of seasons.
But with that type of data mostly inaccessible and stadium attendance figures often debated for their accuracy, we found online fandom to be a good proxy with the help of SentiStrength, which could measure individual comments on a scale of positivity to negativity.
This is a great example of using machine learning to continue building on a subject of research from previous years.
An analysis of 3,000 English-language books by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering used NLP’s (Natural Language Processing) ability to detect the prevalence of pronouns, and thus how often men and women are represented in literature.
With this type of AI able to process vast quantities of text-based data and return such results, there is clear potential here for building on this method in other forms of media and entertainment where gender representation remains an issue.
Public speaking is usually a prerequisite of being one the most powerful people in business or politics.
So for this campaign we applied AI voice recognition software built on deep learning techniques to judge the emotional profile of famous leaders’ speaking styles.
Pulling together a large seed list of audio files from the public speeches of politicians and famous entrepreneurs, we could look at how certain emotions are more prevalent in certain individuals, political parties and genders of speaker.
Understanding what emotions are being portrayed within a person’s voice would normally have to be studied individually.
With AI-driven voice recognition, you can analyse large amounts of voiced audio files and retrieve results that are compared against the average emotional levels that the software is trained on. Or you can compare the relative emotional levels from your own dataset (in this case, the average leader) to see which voices rank highest and lowest vs those average scores.
AI image generation tools, such as DALL-E and Midjourney can capture our imagination in just a few words and visualise a detailed version of our thoughts much quicker than we would be capable of creating in the same format.
In this content example, the AI also had to capture the imagination of the journalist to whom the content was outreached to.
In our experience, motoring journalists who report on visual content are often an exception. They are used to dealing in data, reviews, previews, and shiny photography of even shinier vehicles.
Thanks to the creative angle used here by SEO Agency Screaming Frog, the supercars from a dystopian future is a fictional story that still managed to cut through to a sector that would normally be more concerned with stories related to cars that you can actually drive.
According to OpenAI, DALL-E is generating over 2 million images a day.
While the volume of AI-generated imagery already seems to be saturating the internet, the strategy of defining these image outputs to link them together under one newsworthy theme could still be in its infancy.
These examples of AI-generated imagery, also from the team at Screaming Frog, were fed by the names of countries and their travel slogans to see what Midjourney returned.
The posters are visually beautiful. However, when covering the story, the journalist seems particularly intrigued by what the AI — with no physical travel experience to rely on — chooses to prioritise in its interpretation of an entire country:
“Until you’ve seen a place for yourself, it’s a bit of an abstract idea, so why not ask Artificial Intelligence to generate your travel poster?… Like most travel posters, Midjourney has evoked a fairly sketchy sense of place, sometimes punctuated by notable landmarks or natural features.”
Many horror movies can be recognised by their iconic movie posters or from the faces of their terrifying villains.
The speed of AI image generation allows for trialling out different ideas for visual content. And any examples which appear to make the grade with some design touch-ups can also be targeted to a specific, short-term event in the calendar, such as Halloween.
This example by Digital PR Agency Evoluted took some of the most famous horror films of all time to see what even more terrifying versions of their posters could be reimagined by the AI app Wonder.
Check out this Twitter thread for a breakdown of the posters and more information on how they were created:
For more AI-generated movie poster goodness (and weirdness), take a look at this series of posters created by artist Vincenzi in his project ROBOMOJI.
Using a similar method as the Evoluted example, Apartment Therapy tells us that the artist inputted “a series of prompts and descriptions about a film’s visuals, titles, and premise into the AI software.”
As noted, the artist didn’t set out to earn linked coverage with his project. They are using it to ask important questions around what role AI will play in the art world going forward.
Is AI here to be creative or newsworthy for you?
While artists and people from other industries are rightly questioning what the adoption of these new technologies means for the future of creatives, some, like Manas Bhatia, are already acknowledging the part AI can play in quickly helping to visualise early concepts before an artist refines them with their expertise.
Just this week, we saw a campaign from Samsung earn widespread coverage after they enlisted the help of a digital designer to reinterpret famous artworks, according to the issues Gen-Z are most concerned about in 2022.
Relying on insights from a survey to inform the creative direction that an artist took provided a much more human and, therefore, newsworthy angle to this ‘reimagined’ content than what the artificial mind of a tool such as DALL-E would provide.
L.S. Lowry’s ‘Coming Home from the Mill’ (1928) reinterpreted by artist Quentin Devine (2022). Source: samsung.com/ The Art of the Problem (2022)
The extent to which you use AI and its different domains as part of your creative process will vary from one campaign to another.
Some ideas will see AI take the role of prototype designer, others will do much of the data processing to then allow your team to find the stories that matter within the data.
On the whole, it would be a mistake to think that the inclusion of AI alone will sell in a story to the press as newsworthy.
Without a defined creative concept to work with, these examples of AI are tools waiting to process whatever we feed them.
As part of our role in creating newsworthy content out of AI, we should at the very least be setting the AI’s constraints, ensuring the inputs and outputs make sense, and closely monitoring what the overall direction is of the story that we’re trying to tell.
Deep Dive: AI Image Generator DALL-E Is Now Open To All — Why Should PRs and Marketers Care? by Rich Leigh 
The future of content creation with AI is closer than you might think by David Cohn 
The lawsuit that could rewrite the rules of AI copyright by James Vincent 
Messing around with AI and content concepts by Alex Cassidy 
Digital PR terminology demystified for new starters
Like most industries, Digital PR has its own terminology to get to grips with.
If you’re new to the field, you might find some of the industry’s jargon and acronyms overwhelming — especially when everyone around you seems to know them already.
We’ve all been junior to the industry (and its terminology) at some point, so we understand how confusing these words can be, which is why we created this glossary of terms for you to refer to as needed.
In this guide, you will find definitions for the following:
Follow links and nofollow links
Let’s get started…
Backlinks are links from one website to a page on another website. They are a key measurement within SEO.
These backlinks work as ‘votes’ to signal whether content is valuable, credible or useful to help search engines such as Google to decide on how a page should rank.
As a Digital PR, this is likely to be a key measurement of success in your role when working with many brands.
Backlinks also come in different forms — not all of them offer equal value.
When a well-established, authoritative and/or relevant website links to your page, search engines are likely to consider that as a much more valuable ‘vote’ than a smaller and/or less topically relevant website’s backlink.
At Verve Search, we measure the quality and relevance of a backlink using our in-house Linkscore tool. This tool allows us to consider various metrics when measuring how valuable a particular backlink is that we earn for one of our clients.
The backlinks that Digital PRs will be most concerned with are editorial backlinks.
Editorial backlinks are organic (i.e. not paid for), and are usually earned from building high-quality, relevant content or providing quotes from a representative of a website that publishers are willing to link back to.
The founders of Google are both from academic backgrounds and incorporate backlinks to work In much the same way as academic citations. Citations help researchers understand what research fellow academics think is important. Backlinks help search engines to understand what pages other web users think are important.
2. Follow links and nofollow Links
Follow links can help to increase the visibility of a website in Google and other search engines.
For example, an editorial ‘follow’ backlink from a top-tier home and garden magazine to a home renovation company’s website will be seen by search engines as a credible vote of quality, relevance and trustworthiness.
Nofollow links were introduced in 2005 for bloggers that were struggling to manage spam from people who were trying to build links in the comment sections of websites.
The nofollow attribute (rel=”nofollow”) tells search engines not to follow that specific link to another page or website, in other words: the source of the link does not endorse the website it is linking to.
Whether search engines do entirely ignore or attach no value whatsoever to nofollow links is a debate within the SEO industry. However, what we do know is that nofollow links can offer potential value through other means, such as diversifying a website’s link profile and driving user traffic from the source of the link.
When you type anything into a search engine and hit enter, the search engine results page (SERP) is the list of web pages that appear in response to your search.
Typically, the higher you rank in the SERPs for a given term, the more likely a user is to click through to your site.
The latest figures from Backlinko (2022) show that 54.4% of clicks are generated by the top three search results in the SERPs, and that less than 1% of clicks (0.63%) go to results on the second page and beyond.
In SEO, ranking refers to where a website is positioned in the search results.
There are a wide variety of factors that influence how high a page ranks in Google’s SERPs, including backlinks, relevancy to the search term, mobile friendliness and site speed.
There is plenty of misinformation as to what factors Google does consider to be ranking factors, and the extent to which each factor plays a part is not known.
Digital PRs play a key role in building backlinks, relevancy and authority for a client on particular topics that can be recognised by search engines as factors in order to increase a client’s rankings.
CMS stands for content management system, which is a software application that allows users to create, edit and publish digital content, such as web pages and blog posts.
The most popular CMS is WordPress, which currently powers an estimated 43% of all websites on the internet.
B2B or business-to-business describes the exchange of services or products from one business to another.
When brands like Nike sell its goods to retailers and wholesalers, that is an example of B2B eCommerce.
A big brand who sells to businesses as well as consumers is Apple. They supply businesses with cloud storage and computer hardware through their products.
In Digital PR, you will likely find yourself working with many B2B brands who are looking to increase their online visibility.
B2C or business-to-consumer is the business of selling products directly to customers, bypassing any third parties.
Amazon is one of the best-known examples of a B2C business, with its famously low prices being made possible by the very nature of B2C commerce: cutting out the middleman.
Digital PR is one of the most effective methods for placing a B2C brand’s name in front of new online audiences via editorial backlinks and brand mentions.
8. Domain Authority
Domain Authority (DA) is a score for a website that describes its relevance for a subject area or industry.
Ranging from a grade of one to 100, the DA scoring system was developed by Moz to try to predict how often a website is expected to rank in Google’s SERPs, with higher scores indicating a greater likelihood.
This scoring system is not used by Google as a factor in deciding how to rank a website, but it provides a good indication of how your website is performing compared to its competitors.
The DA scoring algorithm takes numerous factors into account, including the total number of backlinks and the quality of backlinks.
This probably isn’t the first time you’ve seen the acronym KPI, but it might be the first time you’ve seen it explained.
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator.
Simply put, a KPI is an indicator or measurement of performance and refers to a specific objective or series of objectives that you agree to measure over time.
In digital PR, KPIs that help to evaluate the success of your work will typically include the number of backlinks or pieces of coverage achieved for a client, the percentage of backlinks that are follow vs nofollow, or the number of social shares that a campaign receives.
In Digital PR, outreaching is the process of reaching out to journalists and other high-authority publishers to earn backlinks and brand mentions by telling them about content or other updates on behalf of a client.
In many cases, outreach is aimed at establishing authority and credibility for search terms by gaining backlinks to a website. Websites which gain authority online for specific, relevant keywords are likely to appear higher up in the SERPs.
Outreach typically sits within a wider pool of digital PR services, that are also concerned with building and managing a brand’s reputation, and incorporating other KPIs such as brand mentions, social shares and engagement, and referral traffic.
11. Press release
Press releases, as we know them, have been used to inform journalists about events, products and services since the early 1900s.
Digital PRs will often use a press release format when contacting journalists and publishers.
A comprehensive press release is a useful medium to use when reaching out to a wider pool of similar journalists who do not need so many details of the content or story targeted to them individually.
For example, a press release containing key quotes and a topline summary from an exclusive interview with a FTSE 100 CEO in response to a recent change in the financial market would be useful for earning the attention of journalists who are covering the live business blogs of national newspapers.
General Data Protection Regulation, known as GDPR, is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy in the EU.
The UK’s Data Protection Act (2018) is an implementation of the EU’s GDPR laws. It states that everyone responsible for using personal data has to follow strict rules called ‘data protection principles’ — details of which can be found here.
PR involves sending press releases to media lists, which can include journalists, bloggers, reporters, editors, influencers, and many more.
According to GDPR legislation, these lists should be kept securely, and the recipient’s information should not be disclosed to anyone.
In some instances, press releases have been sent to purchased email lists. This violates GDPR since the recipients were unaware that they were gathered and sold.
GDPR also applies to processing data in the construction of a campaign. If digital PRs find themselves mishandling proprietary data from a client or personally identifiable information from a third-party website, this can risk violating GDPR laws.
Copywriters research, plan, and create written content that advertises a client’s products and services through various channels.
Ads, blogs, emails, sales letters, technical documents, and website copy are all examples of this type of content.
Copywriting is an essential part of the digital PR process.
Whether it’s writing press-worthy quotes on behalf of clients, or highlighting the most newsworthy statistics in a creative campaign, the end result of digital PR relies on clear and accessible copy from start to finish.
A keyword is a word or phrase that best represents the content on your page or website.
If used as a search term, you’d want users to find your page first. So, optimising a web page with specific keywords that are likely to be searched for in relation to your content is an important part of SEO.
Keywords are commonly used in online news headlines too. Most major digital publications even hire their own SEO editorial team to ensure that articles and headlines are optimised for web search queries to discover more easily.
In digital PR, using specific keywords in an email and its subject header, which are also used by a target publisher in their articles or headlines can help to sell in the relevancy of the content you are outreaching to them.
15. Meta description
If you search for something online, your search engine returns the search results it deems most relevant to your query.
A meta description is a snippet of text – no longer than 160 characters – that appears under each URL and title tag in the SERPs. Imagine it as a kind of elevator pitch to explain to users why they should choose your page over anyone else’s.
For a digital PR campaign, the meta description can be boosted by including relevant keywords and a call-to-action that encourages users or publishers to click on it or link to it as a source of information.
16. Landing Page
A landing page is a web page that a visitor arrives at from an email, advertisement, or other digital channel.
If your landing page has succeeded in converting visitors into customers, the user will take the specific action that the page wants them to take. This action may include joining a mailing list or purchasing its products.
Landing pages are designed to guide visitors toward a single action, unlike homepages and websites, which encourage exploration.
PPC means pay-per-click and it’s a crucial part of digital marketing and online advertising.
PPC is used to drive traffic to websites, where advertisers pay a publisher when the ad is clicked on.
Outreach and digital PR relies on organic, earned media and backlinks. However, for many clients, PPC is an essential element of their broader online marketing strategy.
In digital PR, a request-for-proposal (RFP) will be submitted by a business to invite agencies to make a bid with their services to meet certain business needs.
An RFP can describe both the document and the process of meeting an RFP’s requirements.
The RFP document is organised into a formal questionnaire that allows the business invited those pitching to compare the responses and services of respondents in a like-for-like format.
This format is also useful for the bidders who are responding to the RFP as they can examine the precise needs of the business they are pitching to and assess how they can best meet them.
The RFP process broadly consists of these stages:
The RFP request invite to a pool of agencies
A Q&A session with select agencies
RFP evaluation: ensuring pool of agencies have a chance of being selected
Live pitch meetings
Agency feedback session
You will encounter plenty more technical terminology and jargon than what’s in this list
Hopefully this list of definitions will go some way to helping you understand some of the regular terminology used in the digital PR industry.
However, over the course of your career, this list will barely scratch the surface of new terms that you’ll encounter.
Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for definitions of words, phrases and acronyms that you are unfamiliar with. There’s no such thing as a stupid question in this fast-paced, ever-changing world of digital PR.
If you choose to google a definition instead, then ensure the source you use is reliable. You can often gauge how reliable an online source is from its backlinks, domain authority and ranking in the SERPs 🙂
Interested in our content marketing and digital PR services? Get in touch.
How FOI requests produce newsworthy content
A Freedom of Information request that is constructed out of uniform questions with measurable answers can build content that earns press coverage on a large scale, both geographically and across the various news topics it can cover.
The Freedom of Information Act enables any member of the public to uncover information that otherwise may not have been released to the public.
The law applies to more than 100,000 public bodies in the United Kingdom, meaning there are lots of stories out there to be told by using the law to access data.
In this post I’ll talk through various aspects of using the UK’s Freedom of Information Act as part of a content and outreach strategy that is built for earning links via press coverage, including:
What the FOI Act is
Where to find inspiration for stories
Tips on requesting the right information
Some pitfalls to avoid
1. What is the Freedom of Information Act?
Introduced in the UK in 2000, it is the right to know information about publicly owned organisations. The Act places two main responsibilities on those public authorities: a) to confirm whether they hold information, and b) to disclose that information to the person who asked for it.
Some bodies that you might expect to be covered by the Act are exempt. These include housing associations for the most part, security bodies such as MI5, and the royal family – so you won’t be able to find out how much of the taxpayer’s money the queen spends on her breakfast anytime soon.
Despite their public status, it’s also tricky to obtain anything especially useful from the BBC, as most of their interesting data seems to be protected internally “for the purposes of journalism, art or literature”.
The FOI Act also committed public authorities to regular publication schemes, meaning organisations now publish information much more proactively than they did before. This may not seem as valuable as asking for exclusive information yourself, but it’s surprising how much useful data these publications can already provide, without having to send a request. Take a look at the UK Police Force’s open data portal, for example, and you’ll already find crime data regularly published at a constabulary level.
2. Where to find inspiration for stories
If you send a quick general enquiry email to the first public organisation that you can think of, you might be disappointed to find that your request was rejected after waiting 20 working days for a response. Take a look at some of the below recommendations, which will provide inspiration for potential stories, and possibly be able to tell you if the information you seek is available at all.
Some organisations, such as the Office for National Statistics, will publish FOI requests that were made to them and responded to directly on their website. For those that don’t, WhatDoTheyKnow is the most useful way of accessing previous requests made to UK organisations.
Study examples that did and didn’t work by filtering your search by ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’ requests. Doing so will potentially save you a lot of time with having to clarify your FOI request further down the line.
Another useful feature that was recently rolled out on this platform allows users to add any examples of their request being used in a news story as a citation. Look out for these citations, as they can help to inform your outreach strategy to a greater extent by seeing how certain FOI requests convert into news headlines.
WhatDoTheyKnow also allows you to make requests through their platform and includes a guide for beginners on how to request information. Requests can also be made through your own company email address or private email address.
Google News search: “Freedom of information”
When seeking inspiration for stories, sometimes a simple Google search can be just as useful as pouring through the specifics of WhatDoTheyKnow. Type in “freedom of information” and browse through the many ways in which UK and international journalists are utilising the law to produce public interest news stories.
Taking the time to read these articles from top to bottom will also show how many metrics journalists may report on for a particular type of story, as well as showing the kinds of spokespeople you can seek out within that sector to comment on your findings later on.
Doing this also presents the potential to scale up an interesting local story into something national that can be compared across different parts of the country. Did the Manchester Evening News publish their own FOI-led story about car parking fines? There’s a good chance that if it makes headlines in Manchester, a similar piece will make headlines elsewhere too.
The organisation’s website
If you have an organisation in mind, but you’re not sure whether they hold the information you want, take the time to browse through its website; specifically their services, publications and type of user data they retrieve. By the time you’ve read through these sections you will have a much better idea of what data you could ask for, and how this could convert into an idea for a story.
For example, OFCOM are one organisation covered by the Freedom of Information Act, and if you didn’t know what they do already, it doesn’t take long to see from their website that you can access data about public complaints related to TV, radio and other UK broadcasting services.
The BBC Shared Data Unit
The BBC Shared Data Unit is a nationwide partnership between the BBC and News Media Association that previously won ‘Editorial Innovation of the Year’ at The Drum Online Media Awards. It is dedicated to sharpening the data skills of journalists in local newsrooms around the UK and producing stories that work at scale for various regional and local titles.
Much of their data work is sourced from FOI requests, and, similar to how Digital PR campaigns aim to include angles that appeal to as many newspapers as possible, the Shared Data Unit is an excellent example of how to produce a story that resonates throughout the UK by picking out the angles from a larger dataset to make them work for local readerships. Here is one of my favourite examples of theirs:
A story that found British football matches were being heavily over-policed at a significant financial cost to the taxpayer.
The journalists behind this story compared information that they requested of police constabularies around the country with match attendance data from Opta, allowing them to rank ‘number of fans per officer’. It went on to generate 18 unique pieces of coverage in different newspapers within six days — not bad, considering Digital PR isn’t their game!
Like all good data storytelling, the Shared Data Unit is transparent with its methodologies and data. I would recommend reading through these if you’re just starting out on a larger FOI project for the first time, to see how they go about their process, from research and data interpretation, right through to execution and coverage.
3. Tips on requesting information
Think like a: marketer investigative journalist curious citizen
Understanding what kind of information you can obtain doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert in coming up with ideas for data-led stories. Neither does it mean that you have to be wearing a Pulitzer Prize-winning cap in the hope of exposing the next great national scandal.
Some of the most effective FOI-led stories ask straightforward questions that the average citizen would be concerned with knowing and reading about, and which the person managing your request can easily interpret to collect data from their organisation.
Simplicity with this in mind is important. While it’s noble to try to expose a brand new category of information from a public organisation that hasn’t been released before, the time constraints of your campaign’s production may risk leading you to spend more time contesting complicated and unsuccessful requests with the Information Commissioner’s Officer (ICO) instead of gathering straightforward, consistent data.
If you’ve already committed to the sign-off and kick-off of your idea without sending any test requests, then general enquiries or ‘fishing’ for information that you’re unsure is held shouldn’t be making up the crux of your FOI request at this point.
Including a speculative question alongside a set of questions that you know will be answered would at least guarantee that the majority of your request will be fruitful.
Whereas tentatively fishing for unknown types of information and expecting completely useable answers can easily end in wasted time and resources on your side and on the organisation’s side. More on this further down in the ‘potential pitfalls’.
Scale it geographically
Typically, FOI-led stories about UK organisations are less likely to appeal to non-UK journalists or publications.
You must consider how many organisations need to be contacted in order to produce a comprehensive story, and whether the work you put in will even deliver a large enough pool of outreach prospects.
Taking your FOI requests global (i.e. contacting organisations outside of the UK) will add a new layer of complexity to your research, which I won’t cover in this post. For more information on how you can work with FOI laws in other countries, click here.
A campaign we produced for Admiral in 2019 and 2021 looked at the scale of the empty homes crisis in Britain, and provided us with perhaps the most granular list of UK-based outreach prospects that we could hope for.
The housing crisis, of which empty homes are a symptom, is engulfing the whole country. Therefore it was necessary to ask every British council for the same information in order to be able to compare the luxury districts of London and holiday home hotspots of Cornwall to other parts of Britain.
You don’t necessarily need to contact every council for every idea that considers information from them. This campaign produced by CompareMyMove looked at where in the UK registered the most noise complaints, and decided to focus on the most populated towns and cities. For an idea that ranked noise, focussing on places where a lot of people live made sense and didn’t necessarily require more rural (and typically quieter) districts to be considered.
You will find some organisations only have one central contact that stores all of its localised data, which means you would only need to ask for the same data once and specify that it should be broken down locally.
Some of the coverage from our Testing Times campaign for GoCompare leaned on an FOI response to our question on ‘multiple testers’ (i.e. those who need 5 or more attempts to pass), as well as open data from the Dept. for Transport and a survey that revealed demographic and geographic breakdowns of claims and convictions.
To reveal the hardest test centres for passing a driving test, the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) held this information centrally, meaning we obtained all of the local data we needed from a single FOI request.
Scale it with data points
A common method in campaigns built for link building and digital PR is to rank different metrics related to locations that are covered by news publishers. This presents the opportunity to outreach to those publishers and acknowledge that their locality ranks particularly high or low on certain measures.
While an FOI-led analysis that compares different locations on certain measures will still reveal the highest and lowest ranks in the same way, you can also build out a comprehensive story that works for all of the locations that you are including in your dataset by considering ‘the state of play’ in those areas.
For example, the TV Tribulations campaign that we created for Buzz Bingo analysed complaints made to OFCOM and revealed which parts of the UK complain about television shows the most.
Even newspapers based in locations that didn’t rank highly on a national level were able to cover the campaign as we were able to provide data on their 10 most complained-about TV shows, plus how many complaints were made by that area over a given time period. It didn’t matter whether or not they were the highest ranking in the UK.
And in terms of outreach prospects, the data points were able to be split in a way that appealed to different sectors as well as different regions. Digging into the raw data of our TV complaints allowed us to reveal ‘the most complained-about radio show’ as well as ‘the most complained-about sports teams’.
Once you’re confident that your data is available, you can ask a number of related questions that will make for a more comprehensive dataset, and which may include outliers that wouldn’t have been discovered by only asking one broad question.
For example, depending on how sensitive the information is, you may be able to ask for more specific street-level figures rather than just a figure for an entire local authority, as we did in this GoCompare campaign called Speed Offences. This told us which roads record the most speeding offences per year (locally and nationally). Again, doing this creates an interesting story to be told for every locality, not just the outliers.
Other angles we built into this campaign included: the highest speeding offences recorded and the worst months for speeding, simply by asking for specific breakdowns.
4. Potential pitfalls
Check for ambiguity
Accurate language is essential when crafting an FOI request.
If your request isn’t clear, it can be the difference between receiving the information you need in 40 working days rather than 20 days (after you’ve had to provide a clarification), or never.
If your request is misinterpreted and you receive the wrong kind of data, it may well be unusable and require a second request anyway.
Word the request exactly how you want the information to be delivered to you.
Describe how it should be measured, what period of time you would like it to be for, and how that time period should be split (daily, monthly, yearly?).
Oh, and specify the format. The last thing you need when compiling your responses are more than 400 councils replying with PDFs and Word Docs of data.
Consider the cost and limitations
This might seem slightly contradictory to what I mentioned about scaling up the number of angles you want to include, but you should consider the limitations of the FOI Act.
The cost limit of a request is £600 (equivalent to 24 hours of work) from a central government department, and £450 from local authorities (equivalent to 18 hours of work).
If your request is estimated by the organisation to exceed what is known as the “appropriate limit”, certain sections of the request will be refused. If your request consists of one or two questions that demand substantial work, the request may be refused outright.
If you know the data you are asking for is recorded by them, or better yet, you have done your research and seen evidence of it being published already, then the work involved in retrieving the data should fall within the cost limit.
There are more exemptions that apply to the Act, which you can read about here.
Plan ahead by sending a tester email
An FOI-led campaign can be quite a time commitment. Planning further ahead by sending an email to an organisation that asks if they have the information available is a useful step for if you want to uncover a more unique story that hasn’t been published before, but which you suspect is available from them.
Taking a longer term approach to this method of research will also give you an idea of how reliable certain organisations are in responding on time. Regardless of how much you do test in advance, a 100% response rate is unlikely to arrive within the 20-working day period that it’s supposed to.
The example below from the ICO shows that between October 2018 and September 2020, Northamptonshire Police only managed to answer a maximum of 66% of their requests on time in a single calendar month. Response success rates vary among all organisations, and you can expect them to vary from month to month within each organisation.
Sending tester emails further ahead would also help for you to gauge whether the information you seek is consistently measured by similar organisations. An email to a handful of universities, for example, should tell you if they record certain data on their students in the same way, before you embark on a full investigation.
Be proactive in monitoring your responses
You’re probably blessed with more research time than the average online journalist, who is busy producing upwards of eight or more articles per day. This means that your FOI-led story could be something they wouldn’t have had the capacity to produce themselves.
Equally, you’re almost certainly not blessed with as much time and autonomy as an investigative journalist, who can press the ICO for months until they receive their satisfactory response, and it’s important to remember this during the process.
Say you’ve embarked on a round-robin FOI request, and contacted all 130 UK Universities in the UK. There’s a reasonably high chance that at least a handful of them will misinterpret your request, seek clarification, or respond beyond the 20-working day timeframe — in this case, you’d be relying on at least 130 different people to get back to you with the same information in the same format.
In the interests of deadlines, sometimes you have to cut your losses on the information that didn’t arrive. At the same time, you need to closely monitor the story that is accumulating in front of you, and decide whether there is a story there at all.
Generally speaking, a two-thirds rule of responses with consistent data would be adequate for producing an analysis of UK Universities, with clarification of how many didn’t respond, but it really does depend on what you’re comparing and what the sample size of organisations is. The data that is missing could well be more valuable in constructing a story than the data that you did receive.
Seek comments and anticipate a PR response
By its very definition, the data that you’re dealing with is authoritative and within the public interest, so don’t be surprised when organisations and public figures acknowledge it and often respond to it when it concerns them. Below is one notable example…
But responses are often concerned with more serious topics of public interest, such as when our empty homes valuation was quoted by a local property agent when commenting on Aberdeen’s local housing issues.
Since releasing FOI-led stories and following the news coverage they receive, we’ve dealt with phone calls from a number of press offices, including NHS Trusts, councils and cultural institutions, all of whom have wanted to find out more about the data they originally sent to us.
If the main headlines that emerge from your data can be attributed to an individual or a small number of organisations, then it’s worth reaching out to them to comment. Even though a journalist will typically contact the public organisations to comment before publishing their story, doing this yourself adds valuable context and commentary to your research.
Why is your brand doing this?
This is a question that should be asked of any potential idea that is going to be published and outreached for your clients.
In the case of FOI requests, as soon as you produce content that is built on information from public bodies and take those stories to the press, the brand you’re outreaching for is influencing the reputation of other people and organisations.
Some topics may seem relevant enough to approach from a storytelling perspective in order to earn coverage for a client, but public data is sensitive and often gets politicised.
The client that you work with should be made aware of potential backlashes to an FOI-led story before an idea is deemed appropriate for them.
At the ideation stage, think like a journalist would and try to figure out how you could reach a headline or story that would evoke certain emotions such as shock, anger, sadness, happiness, or outrage.
Your subject line really is absolutely key as it is the only factor that will decide whether a journalist would open your email or not.
Don’t do a click-bait headline. Journalists see through it and will delete it ASAP.
Be specific. ‘Manchester is the most popular city for shopping’ rather than ‘The 10 best cities for shopping in the UK’. Journalists want to know immediately what the story is.
Front-load keywords in your subject line – the most important keywords at the front.
When prospecting and refining your pitch, check recent articles by the journalist and see when they were published to gauge when to send your pitch. Journalists work shifts, so 8am Monday-Friday might not be the only pitching-time option.
Speakers: Laura D’Amato, Surena Chande, Jon Buchan, Chris Czermak, Sarah Fleming, Jasmine Granton, Louise Parker, Laura Wilson.
When going out with a reactive piece of content, always get a second pair of eyes (preferably the client) beforehand.
Having a diverse set of skills and experiences on your team is great for coming up with ideas, for checking campaigns, and for ensuring that what you put out is ethical.
Be honest and believe in your abilities with brands. It will make them trust you a lot more.
The speakers had different opinions about whether you need to put out a campaign or not. At the end of the day, it depends on your or your client’s expectations. As long as this is clearly communicated and that you agree with what you want the results to be, you can choose how to get there.
Verve’s take on it is that big campaigns allow us to reach out to a large panel of journalists with in-depth research and therefore get the attention of top-tier publications. However, we always like to mix this with a more reactive approach to target relevant publications for the client.
As long as your content is relevant and resonates with your target audience, the format is not the most important.
Your content needs to be suitable for social media too as it’s a big part of journalists’ KPIs.
Diversity and Inclusion in Marketing, One Year On – Why Has Nothing Changed?
Speaker: Azeem Ahmad, Digital Marketing Lead at Azeem Digital
Companies should ensure every leadership bonus is tied to D&I initiatives – if POC/women aren’t being paid fairly, neither should the leadership.
Start to measure and publicly release detailed yearly diversity data.
Introduce wage equity schemes to ensure women and POC are being paid on par with white counterparts.
Looking back at 2020:
8% average POC speaking representative at selected conferences. All were men.
6 in 10 believed their identity or ethnic background has affected their career opportunities.
58% said they were either unsure or disagreed that their workplace actively tried to address the diversity gap between POC/white staff, and 43% believed their organisation doesn’t have an inclusive culture.
2021: Why has nothing changed?
One in six fear they would lose their job if they got terms around race and ethnicity wrong, while 30% felt it would lead to disciplinaries.
Workers are more confident talking about death (38%) than race and ethnicity (29%) in the workplace.
Make sure it has different angles to go out with, to different journalists, different publications, and fits different niches. Don’t limit what you can achieve with your campaign.
Have on hand a rich variety of different assets: data, visuals, case studies, expert comments, and (if it’s relevant for them to provide them) client comments.
Writing a press release…
Personalise your pitch to the journalist. Use their name. Is it really relevant to them? Have they written about this subject before? What do they normally feature in the way of assets or case studies?
Cater what you include in your email according to what the publication typically covers. National newspapers tend to like gender breakdowns in data. Niche industry publications will want to talk about data relevant to the industry.
Use a subject line relevant to that publication and make sure it is effective. There are lots of tools out there that can analyse and score your subject line on its effectiveness. Try things out and experiment to see what works best.
Write according to the language and tone you see in the target publication: for example, do they write in a sensationalist tone or more factual?
Brief press releases are better for bigger publications. They are busier and the brief needs to be more to the point. Include all the key information that they need. Detailed press releases are better for niche publications. Detailed releases will be really relevant to them so they can have lots of detail.
Big national newspapers like case studies as it provides a first-hand experience of the subject in your release. Consider focusing your pitch around this case study if it’s strong enough. Otherwise, you can just mention that you have one on hand.
Including expert commentary – whether external or client – makes a journalist’s job easier. They won’t have to search it out themselves if they need it.
The more you provide, the less a journalist has to do. It’s easier for them to take all your assets and get a story live if they don’t have to keep referring back to you.
Great accessibility is also great UX. Great UX has long-term SEO benefits for your brand and builds brand loyalty. If your website is accessible to everyone, it makes sense that more people will come back to use it and recommend it.
There are various kinds of disabilities you need to be aware of when building your website. These include not only sensory, cognitive, or motor, but situational, temporary, and socioeconomic. A temporary disability might be that you’re in a space where you can’t listen to a video out loud and need subtitles. Temporary includes carpal tunnel syndrome or a concussion. Socio-economic disabilities might include poor wifi, which impacts load speed and limits what a user can access.
There are different things you need to consider to make your website more accessible. The main ones highlighted in this talk are: improving your site’s colour contrast; making images accessible (e.g. with alt text); ensuring accessible navigation (e.g. making your website conveniently accessible with just a keyboard); and using the right tone of voice (e.g. using plain English).
There are free tools available online to assess your website’s current accessibility and help you to improve it. One example is WebAIM’s contrast checker.
In the UK alone, £17.1 billion is lost every year due to inaccessible websites. You are also legally obliged to make your website accessible.
How to devise a content strategy following a content audit
Speaker: Jess Peace, Senior Content Producer at NeoMam Studios
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to content marketing, particularly where your target audience is concerned. Your business goals should highlight areas of focus, which will help to set your content strategy’s priorities.
Before trying to define what content you want to create, first define the audience that it is for. This will help to make the content more relevant and valuable for them, and increase the likelihood of greater engagement and more conversions. To do this, ask questions like: Who do you want to reach? Are you looking to expand your audience or target a new one? What does your audience care about?
Try applying the ‘snog-marry-avoid’ framework when combing through existing pages during a content audit. It can be defined like this:
Snog: content that works well in meeting KPIs but could be working harder Marry: content that works really well in meeting your KPIs and is a prime example of the kind of content that you should be creating more of Avoid: content that doesn’t really hold any benefit, for example, it drives no traffic, has low engagement and/or is outdated
The importance of consumption for creativity: we work in an inspiring industry full of creative case studies, but also pay attention to what’s outside of the industry, and outside of your realms of interest in the form of blogs, podcasts, artwork, newsletters, TikTok, inspiring people, Reddit, etc.
When your only goal is earning links, it can be easy to forget about core PR values, like looking after your client’s brand.
At the ideation stage…
Make sure you have a tight methodology and strong data:
In an age where consumer trust in the media is low, we owe it to the public to provide the correct information.
Weak and untrustworthy data will negatively impact your relationship with journalists.
It upholds certain digital PR standards. It’s not ethical or good for the industry as a whole to provide false data.
Consider the ethical implications and ask yourself:
Could the campaign be harmful, e.g. add to harmful stereotypes or upset a group of people?
Are there opportunities for a journalist to take your story and turn it into something harmful? Is it harming a conversation taking place in culture and could it take the media’s attention away from more important conversations in that space?
Is it inclusive? Are the designs thoughtful and inclusive as well? Not only does inclusive design reflect well on the brand and include more people in its audience, but gives us some power in the media to enact real change in representation.
Think about brand guardianship, too:
Be honest with your client. They need to be aware of their limitations when it comes to the type of content they can put out. A campaign can’t be hypocritical. Where are they an authority and where are they not?
You’ve been trusted with their brand. Think about how you communicate with journalists on their behalf and prevent any backlash or negative attention.
Interested in our content marketing and digital PR services? Get in touch.
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.
How to enhance your Digital PR outreach with expert quotes 
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Interested in our content marketing and digital PR services? Get in touch.