With Google increasing its scrutiny on what it believes to be unnatural or spam links, and old school black-hat link-building techniques being rendered useless thanks to this year’s Penguin update, marketing managers are realising that mentions and links from the press are becoming vitally important for their marketing strategy.

This poses a challenge. How do you get the press to notice your brand in 2017, when jobs at news desks have been slashed and those that remain are flooded with pitches from rivals?

It’s a problem PR professionals face every day, but luckily for you dear reader, we here at Zazzle Media have got a few tricks up our sleeves to help you navigate the choppy waters of PR.

So let’s start from the beginning.

Your goals

Digital PR can be useful for many reasons, but to get the best out of a campaign you need to be sure about exactly what you want to get out this activity. The devil is in the details, and approaching a campaign with the ideology of “I want it to do a bit of everything” will get you nowhere in terms of being able to accurately judge the overall effectiveness of a campaign.

So what objectives can we achieve with digital PR and how can we measure ROI? Here are a couple of examples…

1. Brand awareness

This is the most commonly associated objective with PR.

  • “Get us out there”
  • “Let people know we exist”
  • “Get people talking about us!”

Phrases I’m sure many of you will be familiar with. For this objective to be achieved, it’s all about getting column inches in big time/relevant media outlets. The wider the coverage, the better you’ve done.

Alongside the sheer amount of articles shared by different outlets, what other ways can we measure the success of this campaign? Here at Zazzle, we use Experian’s Hitwise data to accurately measure the estimated traffic of websites.

Example KPIs

  • Two national pieces of coverage (Daily Mail, Huff Post etc)
  • Eight regional pieces of coverage (Sheffield Star, Sunderland Echo etc)
  • Five trade/industry pieces of coverage
  • Minimum Hitwise total – 20 million

2. Link building

One of the fastest ways of generating high quality, relevant links for your website is through a well constructed digital PR campaign.

The trick to this approach is to not get hung up about the lack of mainstream coverage that may not be achieved through a link capturing orientated campaign. This is because the vast majority of national newspapers now ‘nofollow’ their external links. A few may creep through from time to time, but they will be discovered sooner rather than later.

The real worth from this method comes from targeting trade/industry media who still have enviable link metrics and a relevant audience, whilst also being nice enough as to allow follow links in their copy.

Not only are you much more likely to be able to achieve placements in these publications, but those sweet follow links will have your SEO team purring.

Measuring the ROI for this campaign is relatively straightforward; we want a number of placements with high quality link metrics. Our personal favourite link vetting tools are Majestic’s TF/CF system coupled with SEMrush’s search visibility tool.

Example KPIs

  • 15x placements
  • TF/CF 25/25
  • SEM UK Vis – 500+

The idea

Now that we’ve worked out exactly what we want from our campaign, it’s time to come up with an idea that will play to these strengths.

For my money, this is the most important part of any campaign. The difference between a good idea and a bad idea is vast, and spending extra time ensuring that your idea stands up to scrutiny can be the difference in achieving a dossier full of placements and none at all.

Unfortunately, great ideas don’t just fall into your lap, but the good news is, anybody can come up with one.

Whilst the volume and methodology of marketing messages has altered over the years due to the evolution of tastes and technology, the fundamental laws of marketing have remained.

You need a strong core concept with a clear message and a unique hook. While other internal variables such as spend, resource and time may factor into decision-making, without the fundamentals your idea is doomed to fall into mediocrity.

Here are a few things to think about that might help jump-start those creative juices.


Who doesn’t love a brainstorm? A meeting of minds, a thought shower… whatever you want to call them, these sessions form the basis for the majority of the ideas we have in house. We think about the following six factors when coming up with an idea.

If an idea lends itself to one or two of these things, and is popular in the room, it’s a good signal that we could be onto something.

The share-ability factor

If something gets shared a lot organically, marketers will often regard that as good content. So what do we need to create that will get people sharing?

Research from the New York Times’s consumer insight group concluded that there were five key reasons for why we share content amongst our friends.

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others.
  • To define ourselves to others.
  • To grow and nourish our relationships.
  • Self-fulfilment (to feel more involved in the world).
  • To get the word out about causes or brands.

Working backwards and thinking about what content you would share for each of these reasons is a great alternative way of coming up with ideas.

Capitalise on a trend

I’ve written at length about the opportunities of creating a campaign around a trending topic or date. Getting your brand associated with a popular recurring trend can be a gold mine, and one that returns annually! However, associate yourself with the wrong trend, and you might find out that nobody cares after a week, you miss the boat completely, or worse it negatively affects your brand’s image.

Here are a few top-line questions to ask in order to help you work out whether a trend is a flash in the pan or here to stay.

1. Is this trend worthwhile?

Is the trend coming to the end of its shelf life? Is it already saturated? Is it something your brand can easily associate itself with?

2. What is the sentiment?

Are people talking about this trend in a positive or negative light? Just because something is popular, doesn’t mean we want to be associated with it. Analytics company Brandwatch has extensive monitoring tools in this area and can accurately interpret whether interactions are positive or negative towards a trend.

3. Is there demand for content surrounding this trend?

Is there room for a new piece of content to add something to the story? Or has the market become saturated about the trend? Using Content Explorer, we can find the best performing pieces of content for this trend, as well as the sheer amount of content concerning the topic.

If there is opportunity to build on content for this trend, it’s time to see how we can create something better than everything else out there.


Nobody knows the tastes of the news media better than journalists. Getting in touch with your contacts and putting potential content on their radar can give you invaluable insight into how well this will be received.

If a journo’s eyes light up and they ask when they can see the finished piece, you know you’re onto something good. Alternatively, if you get a negative reaction you now have a chance to ask if there is anything you could change to make it more desirable.

Previous Examples

There’s no better inspiration than looking at other ideas that have gone down a storm. One thing to keep in mind is that because the media landscape moves so quickly, ideas that worked last year may not have had the same success in the next. That’s why I like to keep my research to ideas from the last 12 months.

Here are three of my favourites.

Nike: The Sub 2-hour Marathon

What is it?

Nike announced that it was launching a new campaign aiming to get three of the world’s most elite runners to complete a marathon in less than two hours. This was potentially a historic event in the world of athletics and had fans of the sport captivated for its entirety.

What was Nike promoting?

I actually think the primary motive of this project was to do exactly what Nike said it was. However, Nike also got a lot of time to showcase how great its running shoes are, especially the custom-made “Zoom VaporFly Elite” trainers that the runners wore on the day.

The results

According to media monitoring tool Meltwater, between May 6-8 the campaign generated 84,459 mentions on social media. And since the #Breaking2 attempt was first announced on December 1, 2016, it has been mentioned 140,029 times across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Unfortunately, the runners fell just short of their goal by an agonising 25 seconds, but that didn’t stop the project getting an enormous amount of publicity. This wasn’t your standard marketing fare, this was a must-watch history making event. They managed to launch a new shoe to a captivated and targeted audience.

Victoria Transport Accident Commission: Meet Graham

What is it?

The Transport Accident Commission of Victoria created a sculpture showcasing what a human body would need to look like in order to withstand high-speed collisions. The result was Graham.

“As much as we like to think we’re invincible, we’re not. But what if we were to change? What if our bodies were built to survive a low impact crash? What might we look like? The result of these questions is Graham, a reminder of just how vulnerable our bodies really are.”

What was it promoting?

The message was simple, speed kills and we are not built to withstand high-impact collisions, so slow down!

The results

The striking image of Graham was plastered across news outlets worldwide, and the campaign page – meetgraham.com.au – received over a 1,000 links from unique domains. In this case Graham managed to achieve the digital PR double, in generating mass amounts of awareness whilst also delivering a shed load of links.

Meet Graham is regarded by many as one of the finest PR/marketing campaigns of the year and it will no doubt be featuring in many end-of-year lists, generating yet more coverage and links!

Heineken: Worlds Apart

What is it?

“Worlds Apart” was a social experiment which placed two people with opposing political and cultural views in the same room, and tasked them with a number of team building exercises.

Once they finished, their political viewpoints were revealed to one another and they had the choice of whether to walk away or have a drink and talk it out.

What was it promoting?

The stunt was set up by Heineken and the sentiment of the piece was that when we sit down together and talk out our differences, we usually find a lot more common ground than we expect.

The results

By latching onto the sense of political divide felt in many different counties recently, Heineken managed to craft an advert which cut right through the “us vs them” political rhetoric of today, and left many feeling positive and inspired.

It also generated a lot of views, with over 14 million people watching the video on YouTube to date!

We’ve seen how great ideas can go supernova in the press, however a great idea is nothing if nobody knows it exists. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for the distribution of your idea and how to maximise your chances of success.

The distribution plan

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true in terms of Digital PR.

Pushing out content on a large scale can get confusing and overwhelming. Ensuring that you cover every opportunity and don’t overlap or make mistakes in the process is vital for the credibility and overall success of a campaign, and the best way to ensure everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet is via a distribution plan.

First, what channels are we going to target. Yes, there is the press, but what else can we capitalise on? The internet is a massive place, so exploring other avenues can open up a whole world of other possibilities.

Audience niches

Now that we have our channels, it’s time to identify the three core niches we think the content might be relevant to. This allows us to maximise the amount of sites we can go out to, whilst keeping the target audience relevant to the content.


Editors are always looking for exclusives to give themselves an edge over their publishing competitors. Whether it’s exclusive statistics, a one-to-one interview with a decision maker or even some supporting content that none of their competitors have access to, it’s worth making this a focal point of your approach.

Make sure you have a number of added bonuses in your back pocket ready for when a journalist gets back to you and asks if there’s anything else you can send across to make the story extra special.

Other distribution methods

Whilst PR, or earned media, is what we will be focusing on for this blog, it’s important to consider what other distribution methods should come in to play when pushing out content.

Ideally we’re after a mixed approach of earned, owned and paid media. This will give us the maximum reach for our campaign.

Julia Ogden has put together a presentation entitled “The 10-step checklist to creating a show stopping distribution plan” which goes into more detail on how to ensure you dot every I and cross every T. You can take a look at the presentation below!

Now that we have our good idea, we’ve created a plan of attack and worked on some unique angles to work with, it’s time to launch our PR offensive.

The PR Approach

First things first…

Finding outlets

The first thing to work out about any PR campaign is where, in an idea world, we would like our content featured. It’s a good idea to get a list of around 20 publications/websites/blogs you would be happy for your content to appear on.

To find these websites, we use several tools that are at our disposal.

1. Gorkana: This is our primary tool for researching contacts. It’s a database of fully vetted contacts who have all agreed to be included so won’t be annoyed at receiving your email. Simply search for the niche you’re targeting and a list of sites will pop up along with relevant contacts. It also includes article topics publications are interesting in hosting, so we can tailor some content specifically for them.

2. Followerwonk: A great tool for finding contacts who are active on Twitter. Followerwonk allows you to search for keywords that are included in a person’s Twitter bio. This can also be useful for finding out more about an individual’s likes and dislikes.

3. Majestic SEO: Enter a competitor’s web address into the search bar, click on backlinks and have a look and see who has linked to them previously. We can then take this data, and with the knowledge that they are not averse to linking to these type of sites, pitch them our content.

4. Freshweb Explorer: A handy tool from the team over at Moz. Search for the client’s name or web address and it will bring up any mentions of them on the web over the last 7-28 days. If there is an unlinked mention, we can approach these sites and ask for a link. Once we have established a contact who is helpful, we can then pitch them some more of our content!

5. #JournoRequest: The easiest way of getting content placed. This hashtag lists requests from journalists that require the help of the public or PR. Sending a useful email in response to a request will grant you an immediate relationship with that journalist as a provider of helpful information!

Journalist identification

We have our publications, now we need to identify the specific individual we want to get in touch with. This requires some research, which can be time consuming, but it pays dividends.

Job Title

Let’s start off easy. If you’re promoting a startup working in the finance market, you don’t want to be talking to a fashion journalist. Unfortunately this happens all the time (checkout @smugjourno for proof). The moral of the story? Make sure you’re speaking to a journalist working in the right department.

Previous articles/likes & dislikes

Once we have a few journalists working in the correct department, it’s time to have a quick look through their previous output. Personally, I like to go back and look through at least a couple months’ worth of articles.

Depending on the outlet size this can mean anywhere from 30–100 articles. This gives us a substantial amount of data to work with and can paint an accurate picture of what they will and will not accept from a PR perspective.

Common sense factors

Once you have a shortlist put together, have one last look at them and ask a series of common sense questions.

  • Is this content in keeping with their previous output?
  • Will this be offensive to them?
  • Will it be boring to them?

If they pass the test, it’s time to get in touch!

The initial email

First impressions are always important. It’s well documented that cold calling immediately is more likely to damage relationships, so we tend to email a contact first. This not only gives us something to discuss on the call, but also gives them the chance to actually look at what we are pitching them.


One of the most important parts of any pitch is the headline. It needs to be clear, concise and interesting. Posing questions is one technique, and using the title of your content as the title of an email is another. Short and sweet is the rule to follow, but more importantly it needs to catch the reader’s attention.

Here’s a few we’ve used in the past…

  • “More than one in ten UK holidaymakers stopped at airports because of misplaced tech”
  • “Ladies First: Almost a third of UK drivers are more courteous to female motorists”
  • “New research reveals most UK consumers don’t understand their credit card”

The pitch

Editors are extremely busy so the first email needs to get their attention. The initial pitch email should include as much detail on the content as possible, while still being fairly succinct.

Pitches feature a run-down of the main points involved in the piece, a few choice statistics and if possible a personalised edge to ensure the journalist knows this isn’t a run of the mill round robin email. Here is an example of a pitch that led to a placement on The Express:


Hi (Name),

I hope you’re well,

I’m writing to you with new research that I hope you’ll be interested in featuring in the travel section?

I noticed you ran a story documenting the large security queues at many UK airport airports this summer, and I wanted to share with you some new data which could have added to this chaos!

A new survey from online retailer, AO.com has revealed that more than one in ten (11.4%) UK holidaymakers have been stopped at airport security because of a misplaced piece of tech.

The survey asked UK holidaymakers about their habits when it came to taking tech abroad, and revealed wait times at airports are being extended further because of careless packing!

The survey also found,

  • More than a quarter (28.7%) of UK holidaymakers think it’s ok to take a TASER in their hand luggage onto a plane.
  • 27.8% have forgotten to put a device on airplane mode during a flight
  • 21.7% of 16-24 year olds have damaged an electronic device whilst abroad

The information has been released in support of a new interactive guide for holidaymakers entitled Sun. Sea. Tech. Easy! which you can take a look at here – http://ao.com/life/sun-sea-tech/

I’ve included more information about the results below and exclusive stats are available on request.

Kind regards


The call

Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as sending an email and getting a placement. Phoning journalists is a great method of getting their attention, but if used incorrectly is a way to fast track yourself on to a blacklist.

Here are a few key things to remember…

1. Deadlines: It is always worth asking if a journalist is on deadline. If they are, arrange a call back for a time which is more convenient.

2. Script: We all get tongue tied sometimes, so jot down a short script before a call to ensure if the worst does happen, you’re not left up the creek without a paddle.

3. Follow up with an email: It’s always worth sending across a summary email to a journalist thanking them for their time and recapping what has been talked about.

Getting the most out of your initial PR push

The fun doesn’t stop once the initial round of PR has finished. There are several other things we can do to help amplify existing coverage and ensure it gets in front of as many people as possible. I’ve written about this in depth for Hubspot, but here are a few brief points to get you on your way.

Add extra SEO value to organic coverage: Send a quick email to any writers who have written about the campaign organically and ask if they could include a citation link back to the source. If you don’t ask you don’t get!

Ask the media outlet for a social share: Media outlets can sometimes have millions of followers, so a quick nudge to journalists about a possible social share might increase the visibility of your campaign 100 times!

Share a PR success story through your company blog: This is a key example of owned exposure and lets your existing user base know that your content is worthy enough to be placed in the national media.

Experiment with Facebook Ads: An example of paid exposure. Facebook Ads are a sure fire way of getting eyeballs on your content and are relatively inexpensive to carry out.

Explore Reddit and other related forums: This is featured on our distribution plan as an alternative channel to consider, but should also be revisited towards the end of a campaign. Sharing news of your content featured on a third party site rather than the direct URL can still get eyes on your content, but in a purely editorial nature.

And that’s it…

Follow this guide to the letter, and I have no doubt you will curate a successful digital PR campaign which will generate placements and/or links as far as the eye can see.

Have I missed anything? Comment below with your top tips and share your knowledge with the world.

For more on this topic download Econsultancy’s Online PR template files or book a place on our upcoming Social Media & Online PR training course.

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