PR professionals today focus on so much more than relationships with media outlets; brand awareness, increased credibility, positive perception and search engine optimization (SEO) are also critical to PR work. Part of a sound PR strategy is building links for your clients in high-authority places to boost SEO.
This step by step guide will provide you with a detailed road map for this link building process, from meeting with your client to conducting effective media outreach and eventually promoting your published content.
Step 1: Meet with the client
Meet with your client to forge a real bond and get to know the brand. Ask your client questions to refine your understanding of the brand and their goals. What does this client do day to day? What are their short-term and long-term goals? Nail down the basics and then get more detail by asking these questions:
Where is the business heading—next week, next year, and further in the future?
Running a profitable business sustainably isn’t easy, so find out how your client is doing that. What are their “reach” goals over the long haul, and how do they compare to their “safety” goals for the near future? If you see conflicts in your client’s goals, point them out in a constructive way and make actionable suggestions for improving the company goals. Make sure anything you pitch is in line with these goals.
Why are you in this business and what is your mission?
To help consumers connect emotionally with your client and their products, you have to connect with the client, too. They probably had lots of choices on the path to running their business, so why did this concept win over all of the alternatives? Discover your client’s passion so you can better communicate it to consumers via a compelling story.
Who is the target audience for this company or product, and what is your customer profile?
Every piece of work you produce for your client needs to support the brand strategy and target the right potential customers. You also need to choose strategies wisely, and you can’t do this without a careful assessment of target demographics. This is also how you’ll choose the best editors and writers to pitch.
Your audience research should ideally provide you with enough detail to build several target audience personas. You need the likes, dislikes and interests of the people who make up your target audience, and you need to understand how different audience members may look for different things. Hannah Housewife and Martin Manager might both be target audience members for your organizational software client, but they probably won’t be interested in all of the same things.
How specifically does this product benefit users?
Know the benefit that your client’s product offers. Understand its strengths and weaknesses inside out. This kind of deeper, contextual information allows you to connect your client’s product with industry and consumer trends.
What are your customers’ pain points?
Ask your client why customers want their product—what need does it serve? What are their most frequently heard complaints? This is another great way to frame a topic and pitch it successfully; you’re responding to complaints or addressing popular pain points which keeps your story relevant.
What reviews, testimonials and other customer feedback can we use?
If your client doesn’t have a source of client feedback, encourage them to establish one such as with Google reviews or Yelp. Great feedback from customers is a fantastic source of content and provides your client with a chance to prove how great their customer service is.
Who are your primary industry competitors and how do you challenge them?
You need to understand the relationships between your client and their competitors at an intimate level to differentiate the brand and properly understand metrics for your campaign. You can also study the content produced by competitors to suss out the best topics that further the industry-specific discussions that surround the product. You can best highlight your client’s unique selling proposition if you understand the company’s competitive advantage.
What kind of content do you want to see?
Ask your clients what specific kinds of content they want associated with their brand so you can choose the best topics to pitch. Make sure you understand their voice and their content-related goals.
Your client is your best source of product information. By conducting this kind of detailed client interview you can amass unique, appealing story ideas to develop and pitch.
Step 2: Find out what’s interesting about the business
The things that make a business interesting are what differentiates and sells it, pure and simple. As you search for the interesting aspects of your client’s business, remember these useful approaches:
What is the origin story of the business?
The unique tale of how a business was conceived of and founded can be a point of interest for anchoring a story. If the founder of the business infused his or her philosophies and values into the organizational culture, use these philosophies and values to sell the business. The North Face and Chanel are examples of brands which are heavily influenced by the ideals of their founders, and these brands retain the ideals which lent them so much consumer credibility even after the original founder is gone.
What is different about this brand?
Compare your client’s mission, products, look and feel with those of competitors. What do they do differently within the industry? Whether it’s the styling of the product, customer service or a different manufacturing process, your client’s business should present you with a natural story angle based on the way the brand works.
Does your client’s business present a popular trope consumers like?
Is your client the underdog in the industry? Is the business devoted to a local, American workforce? Both the underdog and the “all-American” are popular figures in the American consumer culture, so if one of those shoes fits, use it.
How do your client’s business goals intersect with points of interest for consumers?
If your client plans to expand the business into a totally new region or develop and market products in a new niche, highlight these differences with competitors.
Step 3: Develop three to five stories
For really great media placements you need the right stories. Spin or fluff isn’t enough to get you published on high-authority sites. Journalists and editors are focused on telling stories that are meaningful to their readers and culturally relevant overall—if your story isn’t on that list, it won’t get told.
There are several basic criteria that make a story newsworthy, so try and use them as you develop topics:
Trending topics and current events are timely and consumers like learning about the latest updates that concern their products and lifestyle. Ask yourself: “Why now?” If there’s no good answer for your story it’s probably not timely. Just as important, the story should be relevant. An IT security event may be relevant to readers of an industry magazine, but it’s probably not to the readers of Cosmopolitan Magazine.
For pitching and publishing stories for your clients, watch trending news that’s relevant to their product or service. A great way to do this is to set up a dashboard to “follow” important keyword phrases in their field using a social media management tool like Hootsuite.
New product launch coming up? Tie the launch into a gift-centric holiday like Mother’s Day or Christmas. Or to create timeliness, conduct a survey that touches your client’s business and write about the results.
Finally, plan your publications around keyword cycles. If you see a lot of posts on a specific keyword, try using different keyword sets and topics so your client’s content isn’t lost in the crowd.
How many people are impacted by this story? The more, the better. Ask yourself: “Does this story matter? So what?” If it doesn’t, refine or reject the topic. As you choose topics and editors, base part of your decision on the significance factor. Refine topics to appeal to more readers and whenever you can, cherry-pick the publication.
Stories about inept politicians and hypocritical celebrities gain lots of attention. The reason that occurs is because so much attention is based on the way it exposes hypocrisy.
Does your client’s problem solve an important issue for people? That’s a great point to make in terms of impact. Does your client provide a service or goods that “right” a wrong or hypocrisy? For example, does your client’s product provide technical support and resources for kids who are falling between the cracks at school? If so, the hypocrisy of children who need help but can’t get services in a “family values” jurisdiction might be a good starting point for your story.
David vs. Goliath/underdog
If your client is the little guy in the industry, use that. The media often like to champion the causes of the underdog, so pitch with that in mind.
Famous people get much more attention as you already know. Does a celebrity use your client’s product (or something like it)? If you have a review, partnership or endorsement from a high roller, create a story that touches upon the connection.
Keep your stories “close to home” for your target readers. Sometimes this means keeping the focus of the story geographically close to your target audience, but not always. Proximity also means that the story is close to the hearts of the readers.
Everyone loves weird news, top tens and worst of the worst lists, including journalists. That’s why “Dog Bites Man” isn’t a story you’ll see, but “Man Bites Dog” is. If you can provide a bizarre, funny, or superlative basis for your story, do it.
Conflict/loss of life/property destruction
Humans are naturally drawn to conflicts. You’ve heard it before: if it bleeds, it leads. Millions of people are victimized by identity theft, for example, so highlight recent cases as you discuss your client’s anti-phishing software.
Human interest stories are exceptions to most of the other criteria. They are designed to appeal to emotion, entertain, and build connections between people. Can you provide a personal story for your client such as the reasons they started their business or a case study that explores the problem your product solves? These have human interest potential.
Organize your topics
Finally, remember that a detailed content calendar is central to creating and promoting stories for your clients. You need to be sure new stories work well with pieces that have already been published, and building buzz about topics with existing materials makes the most of your budget.
Step 4: Come up with a list of all the editors who would be interested in the story
One editor’s dream story is another editor’s “so what?” story, so knowing who you should be pitching to is a critical skill. Part of the skill is knowing which publications handle the general trends that touch your client’s business, and knowing how to pitch the specific selling points of each story.
It’s also a great idea to make finding great editors for your client’s stories part of your ongoing work. As you accumulate useful media contacts you’ll be better able to place almost any story. Here are the best ways to do all of these things:
As I mentioned in Step 3, watch trending news that’s relevant to your client’s product or service by setting up a dashboard to “follow” important keyword phrases in their field using a social media management tool like Hootsuite. As you watch the trends you’ll start to see the same publications, editors and journalists in your feed. Add them to your list of contacts for that client, and engage with them on social media by commenting on relevant stories. This way when you reach out to them to pitch you’ll already have a relationship.
Subscribe to trade journals and consumer publications, and don’t leave them wrapped up on your desk or unopened in your inbox—read them. Monitor and engage on discussion boards and in forums and subreddits that are on-topic for clients. Subscribe to relevant blogs and read them, and make sure you don’t forget to check podcasts. Set up a news alert for relevant press releases and articles on your topics. Finally, be sure to monitor what competitors of your clients are doing.
Follow editorial opportunities
There are many sites for print and web publications all over the Internet that list their upcoming editorial opportunities. These kinds of editorial opportunity listings usually include the topic area of the article, the deadline and information about the author. This lets you go right to the source and pitch your story (or propose that your client contribute to theirs).
To locate lists of editorial opportunities, look at target sites you already know about, and then search using phrases like “editorial opportunities,” “editorial calendar,” “guest posting opportunities,” “guest opinion articles,” and “upcoming issues.” Create a list with all of the publications you find so that you can set up alerts and other tools to help you monitor them.
Media connection tools
You can also reverse engineer these kinds of contacts by responding to media inquiries with client quotes and setting up journalist interviews with your client. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is the most popular free publicity service connecting bloggers and journalists with expert sources like your clients. ProfNet is a similar option, but in addition to journalists and bloggers, government officials and academic researchers also pitch here; it’s also a pay service.
SourceBottle is much like HARO and ProfNet, but SourceBottle also lets you focus on specific topic areas. Cision is another great tool that lets you send out press releases and profile your clients; it also has an editorial calendar tool, “EdCals,” that lets you search editorial calendars all around the world by topic, publication name and submission deadline. Finally, Pitchbox, a pay platform, can help you make media contacts, pitch ideas and respond to queries on behalf of your clients.
All of these platforms are useful for making media contacts. They can also help you see who is publishing what in the industries you care about. Finally, in many cases it might be a good idea to create an “expert” profile for clients on these platforms so they can be quoted in stories. This in turn gives you a better in when you’re looking for someone to publish your client’s own story.
Create segmented reporter lists
According to research by Oriella PR, by 2012 55% of journalist respondents used social networks to find stories from known sources, and 26% said they found stories from unknown sources this way too. This means you should target journalists that are relevant to your client businesses on social media. You can set up a social media management dashboard for each client to be sure you’re in touch with the right media contacts; if your client is a software company you might want to include “high tech reporters,” “tech reporters,” “tech news,” and similar phrases in their list.
Make client recommendations based on your monitoring
If you’re looking for links for your client, make sure they’re helping it happen. As you monitor using your dashboard, Google Alerts or some other tool, you can find industry news, articles about the client and their competitors, and other relevant topics. Send the best of what you find to your client, but don’t stop there; create action items for them. For example, let them know when they should consider sharing items, commenting on them on social media or writing about them on behalf of the company.
Each great engagement presents both an immediate opportunity for a link and a contact for future stories.
Step 5: Look for synergy between your clients
If you can find points of synergy between clients, you can sometimes get multiple clients included in one story. If you set up your monitoring tools in the same way for each client you can easily see where their businesses intersect. And remember, your curated lists of media contacts is something you should know inside and out; if you’re not very familiar with the ongoing work of each media contact you can miss synergistic opportunities too easily.
Step 6: Reach out to the editors
Once you’ve identified the target editors for your story, make sure you reach out to them in the right ways. Know the critical elements of a great pitch:
Pitch with specifics
In your pitch, don’t waste time; get right to the reasons why the story is newsworthy, and include the specific reasons it is (as I discussed above). Explain exactly how your content will appeal to their readers and meet their needs. And reference the writer or editor’s previous content that is similar so they’ll see why you think your story is a good fit for them.
Remember, you have a matter of just a few seconds to get someone’s attention with a pitch. (Obviously you may get more attention when you already know the contact—that’s why you forge and maintain these connections!) Make sure your subject line communicates why the pitch is worth reading and get to the point.
Send only complete pitches that answer all basic questions. Be ready and available to answer questions. Include everything an editor needs to publish your story right away including a press release, quote, a great photo, and any links they need. Sending a ready-made story is often the difference between getting published and getting deleted. Your pitch should be as entertaining as the final product will be.
Pitch the story
Remember, you are pitching a story, not your client, their business or their product. No reporter or editor wants to write a commercial to your specifications.
Do not pitch with mass emails or a generic message. Every pitch should be indisputably intended for the editor who gets it. Anything else feels like spam to editors.
If it’s crystal clear that all you want is for an editor to give you links, you’re not going to get a warm response. Give them something valuable, like references and sources who can flesh out a story. Show that you’re willing to go the extra mile, and give them all of the relevant information, not just cherry-picked information about your client.
Look for competitors
If you find editors and writers who report on your client’s competitors, take that opportunity. Read why they like that business or product, and contact them to show you how your client’s product is even better.
Connect first when you can
One of the reasons you make and nurture media connections is to make pitching easier. If you need to reach out to a new editor, consider introducing yourself first via social media. They get lots of emails every day, but they may not get as many thoughtful comments on posts.
Use a call to action
You want this editor to do something, right? Tell them. Ask them to publish this story. A lukewarm closing like, “If this interests you, let me know” doesn’t compel an answer.
Be straight about the link
You want a link in the story; this is the purpose of the whole exercise. Make sure your editor or journalist knows that they should link back to the source, and give them the exact link that correctly attributes the information. For example, you can say, “If you decide you use this resource, please credit it with this link: ___.” Always try to link to a relevant, specific page over the home page.
Step 7: Get the story secured
Don’t assume that the editor or writer will get back to you. Follow up with them and offer help. Once they have indicated that they want to publish, find out the specifics. When will this happen? Where will it appear? Let them know you’re standing by to share and promote the piece.
Step 8: Wait for it to be published
Now you’re ready to go! While you’re waiting, make sure you’re ready to promote the piece as soon as it is published. If there’s some delay, follow up.
Step 9: Promote the story
Success: your story was published and you have a link back to your client’s website. Now what?
In many ways, this step is more like Step 0, since you should always be planning your promotion from Day One. These are our best tips for promoting your story, and many of them you’ll start working on before the piece is ever published:
Research who is sharing stories like yours
Which influencers are posting about topics that relate to this story? You should know before the story goes live, so check with tools like BuzzSumo to find out. When it does, reach out to the right influencers and tag them as appropriate.
Remember your editorial calendar! If you were adept with the calendar your story should be going live at the right time, taking advantage of relevant holidays, seasons, and other promotional factors.
Create topic clusters
If you planned your content well you should have other pieces that can support this new story. The large ebook, white paper or guide can be at the center of your topic cluster, and infographics, blog posts and shorter articles can radiate outward from the center. This allows for robust internal linking and more promotion over time.
Don’t waste material
This story can ideally provide you with more material for other placements. Create an infographic from the story to post on social media, or use the story as part of a longer ebook later. This way you have more material that doesn’t seem identical, and each piece can tie back to the others for cross-promotional reasons.
Get with the best
Search your client’s industry to find any “best posts of the week/month/year” collections so you can pitch your story to the curator.
Social media sharing that works
Don’t just put the same post with the story on every social media channel as soon as it goes live. Choose the channels that make the most sense for your client’s niche, and then plan your social media promotion for the piece. Do hit the biggies like Twitter and Facebook right away, and consider posting a preview with a great image on Instagram or Pinterest if it makes sense topically. Re-Tweet a day or two after publication. Regardless of which channels you’re using, it is a smart move to coordinate the whole thing using a dashboard like Hootsuite.
Post your story in subreddits, LinkedIn groups and other social media locations that will be the most fruitful for the client and topic. And remember, every single post should make use of social sharing buttons.
Check your press contacts and media tools again
Once your story goes live, check on HARO and your related media connection sites for related queries and pitches. Respond to editors or reporters with a link to the new story and let them know it’s a great source for them and that you’d be available to follow up based on their current query. Even if they don’t want you to, they may share your article and you’ve made another contact in an organic way.
It’s easy to feel like you’re done once you’ve strategically shared the story on various social media platforms, but in reality the sharing is just the first step. Respond to comments, start conversations. Thank influencers who share the post.
Your PR work in creating and pitching stories for clients is anything but simple. But if you work closely with clients and media contacts over time, your ability to get great links for SEO can increase exponentially. What are your insights into the pitching, publishing and link building process? Let me know in the comments.