How to Plan a Content-led Digital PR Campaign
Planning a digital PR campaign involves a lot of moving parts and there are a few things to consider if you want to get the most out of your efforts. So where should you start? If you’re looking to boost your online presence, increase organic traffic and improve the authority of your website but don’t know where to begin, fear not. We’ve got you covered. Here, we’ll talk you through the various stages of planning and offer some expert tips on how to improve your chances of success.
Stages of planning
There are a few different types of digital PR campaigns but here at Aira, we find that content-led campaigns give you the best chance of gaining earned coverage. This type of coverage adds value to your website both in terms of ranking potential and exposure, so this is the type of campaign we’ll focus on here.
The main stages of planning are idea generation and validation, distribution and launch planning and outreach. So let’s dive deeper into each stage.
When it comes to generating content ideas there’s a lot to be said for collaboration and who doesn’t love a good group brainstorm, right? If you can get your team together to bounce a few ideas around you’re not only likely to end up with more ideas but your team can also serve as a much-needed sense check at this initial stage. But where do you begin?
Everyone approaches brainstorming in their own way and the best advice I can give is to try a few different things and find your own groove. But if you’re totally new to digital PR and you want a little more direction here are a few things you can try to get you started:
First, think about what types of content your niche and resources lend themselves to. At Aira, our content tends to fall in one of three categories:
- Content with a seasonal angle or that hooks onto a trending news story
- Data visualisation that brings new and unique data to life
- Human interest stories with a data-led angle
There are a few other types of content that might be well suited to your niche, like user-focused resources and tools, but here we’ll focus on the big three above.
Once you’ve got an idea of what type of content you could potentially create, it’s time for you and your team to start exploring! Look for new and interesting data sets on topics related to your niche and look out for upcoming awareness days that you could brainstorm around. Take note of anything that sparks your interest and has you asking questions. By the end of this, you should have a collection of themes, ideas and data sets to take into your team brainstorming session for validation.
Idea validation is arguably one of the most important stages of content creation. It’s where you get feedback on your ideas, sense check them with your team and validate their linkability and shareability. It can be the difference between a launch that’s as dry as eating a digestive biscuit with a hangover and one that’s going to quench your thirst for links and coverage.
At this stage, you should be scrutinising your ideas and asking questions like:
- Can this idea be summed up one sentence? The best digital PR campaigns are ones that have a clear, strong point that can be summed up easily. If you can’t sum your idea up in one sentence, you’re going to struggle to pitch it. Try to refine your idea and clarify its core point.
- Why will anyone care about this idea? Put yourself in the shoes of your audience; what is it about your idea that they will be interested in and why will they want to share it? If you’re struggling to answer this question it’s likely that it needs a lot more work...or scrapping altogether. Never be afraid to write an idea off. It’s much better to veto a weak idea at this stage than to press on and have it flop on launch.
- Who will want to cover this? Think about who you would approach with the content once it’s made. Research who is publishing similar content and pull some examples of contacts who write around the topic of your idea. This will help you ensure that there is a market for your content.
- Is it the kind of content people will want to share? The average Joe shares content based on few factors and if you can bear these in mind at the ideation and validation stage, you stand a good chance of creating content that will grow legs and gain organic traction. The key reasons people share a piece of content with their friends are:
- The content offers value or entertainment
- It aligns with an aspect of our self-image and expresses a characteristic or interest we want others to associate with us
- It nourishes our relationships with others in some way
- It makes us feel involved and connected to the world, for example sharing content to get the word out about a cause, brand or event we’re connected to
If you can answer all of these questions for each of your ideas, you can be pretty confident you’re on to something promising.
Once you reach the stage where you’ve come up with a top idea, validated it to high heaven and it’s in the process of being brought to life, it’s time to start pulling your distribution plan together.
Where you plan to distribute your content will vary depending on your goals but it’s likely that, whatever your aims, it will involve a heavy amount of email outreach. So the best place to start is to begin thinking about who you’re going to approach with your content, you did a little bit of this at the validation stage, right? So now is the time to go deeper...much deeper.
Make a list
Start by listing your target niches, i.e. the markets and audiences you see your content appealing to. This might be as broad as ‘national and regional press’, as targeted as ‘travel or trade press’, or as niche as ‘blogs on playing the ukulele’. Start with the big obvious ones, then branch off and include niches on the periphery of your content topic.
Make another list
Next, pull together a list of the top and mid-level publications and outlets in each of your niches. Make sure to include mainstream media, blogs, resources, influencers and trade press if appropriate.
These are the places you’re going to reach out to with your content so, on your travels, start collecting contact info for individual journalists who are likely to want to cover your content. This is the crucial bit...finding journalists who want to cover your content.
There’s no point including contacts who don’t cover stories related to your piece. Your pitch will get ignored and worse, you could end up trashing any chance of building a relationship with a contact, simply because you didn’t do your homework. So research what they write about, and yes, that means reading their work. Have they written on your topic recently? Then add them to your media list.
Approaching journalists with content that fits their remit and adds value to their portfolio is the best way to ensure take up.
When it comes to the logistics of finding contact info you can use a manual approach by simply checking out their author pages and social media, or you can use tools like Gorkana, Vuelio, and Buzzstream Discovery. Hashtags like #journorequest can be really valuable too.
At Aira, we take a mixed approach to prospecting and tend to use a little of all of the above.
Planning the launch
Now you’ve got a well-researched media list of contacts likely to be interested, it’s time to plan the launch. Again, the things you’ll need to consider here will vary depending on your content and your target niches and publications, but a few things to keep in mind are:
- Awareness days: Does your content tie into a topic that has an upcoming awareness day? If it does, plan to launch a few days to a week ahead of the big day to allow yourself time to do the leg work. You’ll need to work with your contacts to get everything sent over and approved in time.
- Trending news to hook onto: Are there any big news stories breaking or likely to break in the next few days? If so don’t miss the boat! Get organised and schedule your outreach to take advantage of the swell.
- Media saturation: It can often feel like you need to launch asap once you’ve spent weeks bringing a content idea to fruition, but sometimes it pays to wait. If a huge, unrelated story is breaking or a big seasonal event is coming up, your contacts are likely to be busy focusing on these and your pitches are going to be relegated to the bottom of the inbox and ignored. Always check for media saturation ahead of a launch and if necessary, put it on pause until the noise quietens and you stand more chance of being heard.
Outreach is where the magic happens, but whether that’s the kind of magic that makes your team want to crack the bubbles and throw a Wolf of Wall Street-style party or the kind that has you reaching for a counterspell in the form of damage control, depends largely on your pitch approach.
At Aira, we take outreach seriously. Bulk send doesn’t enter our vocabulary.
The best pitches are ones that are personalised to your contact, get the tone right and offer the most value in the least amount of words. I won’t go into how to write the perfect pitch email here as our resident, pitch-perfect expert has already covered the top tips. But if you want to read more on how to pitch journalists take a look at her blog post.
Once you’ve written your top notch pitch email, it’s a good idea to schedule your emails to reach contacts’ inboxes at the right time of day and week. This varies from niche to niche but as a general rule of thumb, journalists will tend to meet with their team and editors to discuss the following day’s stories between 9 and 10 am. If you want your content to feature in that meeting it’s a good idea to pitch your contacts beforehand.
Bear in mind that the hour or two before the morning meeting is likely to be hectic so aim to have your pitch land in the journalist’s inbox while they’re on their commute, thinking about the day ahead, checking emails and social (genius, right?).
Afternoons tend to be a little quieter in the average newsroom but there is a fine line between winding down for the day and switching off early, so tread carefully with afternoon pitches.
Blogs tend to work a bit differently. If you’re pitching one-man-show blogs there isn’t a universal time that’s best as these guys have their own schedules. That being said, it’s a good idea to avoid pitching on Mondays and Fridays as there’s likely to be a tonne of other things for bloggers to deal with on these days before they can think about new pitches.
One last thing to bear in mind when planning pitch times; your contacts might not be in the same timezone as you so schedule your emails for when you want your contact to receive them where they are, not when you want them to leave your drafts.
Finally, follow-ups. I know, it’s a minefield. Some journalists are happy for follow-ups to come in the same day while others abhor follow-ups all together. There is no golden rule but a safe starting point is to follow up within 1-2 days; long enough to give your contacts time to mull your offer over but not long enough for them to forget all about you.
If you’ve read our post on writing a great pitch email you’ll know it’s a good idea to hold something back, a little bonus or two you can offer at the follow-up stage to sweeten the deal and give contacts something to reply to.
With follow-ups, the key is to be polite and avoid any language that could be seen as pushy or presumptuous (you know, of the ‘I noticed you haven’t replied to my previous email’ variety). Instead, think of follow-ups as a tentative testing of the waters to see if there was any interest and to offer something of extra value in case that interest is only lukewarm.
- Idea generation: Involve your whole team and keep your eyes peeled for anything that sparks your interest and has you asking questions
- Validate your ideas: Can you sum it up in 1 sentence? Who will care and why? Does your idea include shareability factors?
- Distribution plan: Research your contacts and only include people who will find your content relevant to them personally
- Launch plan: Check for stories, days and events to hook your content onto
- Outreach: Personalise your pitches, hold bonuses back to sweeten the deal and don’t be afraid to follow up