Content Strategy

SearchLove 2018: The Digital PR and Content Highlights

6 years ago

Last week, a few of us at Aira went to SearchLove London for two days to listen to some of the best speakers in digital marketing share their tips, insights, and results of their own research to take our understanding of the industry to the next level. It didn’t disappoint.

Two of our SearchLove attendees this year are part of the digital PR team at Aira so, aside from eating like queens over the two days (thanks Distilled - you’ve introduced us both to incredible sundried-tomato-bread-thingys and now there’s no going back), we thought we’d put together our highlights from some of the digital PR and creative content-led talks over the two days.

Here are Livi’s highlights…

Hannah Smith, Verve Search - Creativity, Crystal Balls and Eating Ground Glass

The focus of Hannah’s talk was to share her experience of how accurately she was able to predict how well a content campaign was going to perform. TL;DR - and she won’t mind me saying this I’m sure - she wasn’t as accurate as she’d expected to be.

I found this rang true completely; the amount of times we’ve left a brainstorm ready to roll with an idea thinking ‘yes, we will totally smash link targets with this piece, all the nationals will LOVE it’ only to find, at launch, that pick-up isn’t as easy as we thought it would be.

Hannah was super scientific with her prediction scale (not just going ‘yeah this campaign will be great, or ‘yeaaaaahhh this isn’t going to be the best campaign we’ve ever done….’) and used Verve’s own LinkScore tool to base the success of a campaign on.

The most interesting take-homes for this talk, for me, were:

1. When Hannah was more objective about an idea, she was able to make more accurate predictions

When we think about ideas objectively, rather than getting lost in ideas that we love, we can be more rational about how successful a campaign is likely to be - if we’re bias about a campaign, and that’s why we run with it, it can impact the outcome.

2. Getting things right is more important than being right

We may not think a campaign is going to do *amazingly* but a) we could be wrong, or basing this prediction on the success of a previous campaign (something else Hannah recommended not to do) and b) giving people the chance to try something else is important. If it doesn’t work, you and your team have learned something, but if it does work...then great!

Kirsty Hulse, Outrageously Creative - Unicorns vs Dinosaurs: How to Be Creative When Nobody Wants You To

One of the struggles content strategists, digital PRs and all round creative types will often face is encouraging clients to take creative risks. While their viewpoints are totally understandable - they’re a corporate organisation, sign-off is tough and, as Kirsty puts it, “people are paid to not f**k up’.

But Kirsty explains that the problem we as digital PRs face, is this:

“The market is getting more saturated, and it’s harder to get coverage - so we need to be braver.”

Kirsty shared one of 2018’s most controversial campaigns that completely paid off - Poundland’s slightly more x-rated Elf on the Shelf on Twitter. Poundland were brave, they let their team run with a campaign that could have insane levels of backlash - at the time, I genuinely thought they’d been hacked for a while, but if that doesn’t get people talking, what will?

I had lots of favourite take-homes from Kirsty’s talk, so here are just a couple:

1. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to being either technical or creative

In our industry, we’re generally split between either being on the technical side of SEO, or the creative side. But that’s a box Kirsty encourages us to not put ourselves in; we may not have been born with the ‘creative gene’ but who’s to say we can’t learn to be creative, just as we can learn anything else?

2. When trying to come up with creative inspiration for a campaign, use random word generators

I love this tip, and I’m looking forward to trying it out. For a recent campaign Kirsty was trying to ideate for, she used a random word generator to pluck out two random words - and then brainstormed around the results in line with the focus of her client/the campaign topic. I guess this won’t work 100% of the time, but I can see how it will improve lateral and creative thinking.

3. Change the way you pitch creative ideas to clients

Remembering that a client is human is the first step. Seems obvious, but sometimes we can forget this. When someone is trying to convince you to run with an idea, or persuading you that something is worth a risk, what is the best way to win you round? Think like this for clients - simply sending a campaign idea over in a document may not give them the assurance and confidence that a creative risk is worth taking.

Here are Aoife’s highlights from the two days..

Ryan Charles — ‘Newsjacking: How To Add to the Story and Earn Big Links in Real Time’

Ryan kick-started the second day with an insightful talk on newsjacking and how to get more links in real time.

From the outset Ryan clarified that in order to newsjack you need to be adding something to the story, you aren’t just hijacking it but adding more value to it.  Ryan gave some tips on how we can keep an eye out for stories we can get our brand or client to jump on board with, and whilst keeping an eye on the news and Google trends might seem obvious, Ryan pointed out some key questions you need to be asking yourself when you are doing so, such as:

  • Why now?
  • Why are they talking about this?
  • Is this an evergreen story that keeps coming back to life?

When you have established the above you can then see if you, or your client, can find a connection with this.

Ryan pointed out that whilst brands may be wary to speak out on something in the news, perhaps for fear of backlash, research showed that 66% of consumers prefer brands who get behind a story or make a stand.

In order to find your connection there are also several other factors you need to consider:

  • Do you have a connection?
  • Do you have an original angle?
  • Can you ship in 24 hours? The news agenda is ever changing so you need to act fast
  • Can you offer some value? What is it you are adding to the story?
  • Are you willing to take the risk to your brand reputation?

These are the topline questions you need to ask yourself when considering newsjacking for a brand or client.

However, each individual question can be broken down further to ensure your story will really take off..

1. Do you have a connection?

There are varying degrees depending on how serious or big the story is. If it feels like a stretch, it probably is. However these are the things you should consider when thinking about the connection you have to the story:

  • Is it geographic?
  • Personal
  • Interest
  • Fandom
  • Relevant to what you do

2. Do you have an original angle?

  • Its need to be unexpected
  • Spark curiosity
  • Imagine your idea as a headline

3. Ship in 24 hours

  • Newsjacking is a race
  • You have to act fast and catch the wave

4. Can you offer some value?

  • Monetary value
  • Comedic
  • Emotional
  • Societal - is it an act of charity or social good

5. Are you willing to risk your brand rep?

  • Small brands can take bigger risks than bigger brands
  • Big brands are often mentioned directly in the headline, smaller brands are usually referenced generically in the headline such as, ‘furniture brand’ or ‘charity’
  • There are ways ways to mitigate the risk of backlash: get feedback first, intimately understand the nuances of the story, evaluate public opinion and stay neutral

A very good example of newsjacking gone wrong would be the Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert, this went VERY wrong for the brand. The advert was focussed around The Black Lives Matter Movement, and not only did Kendall Jenner and Pepsi add no value to the campaign whatsoever, they also hugely trivialised it, causing huge backlash, a public apology from Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, alongside the advert being banned. A very good example of how NOT to newsjack.

So how do you ensure you are newsjacking in a way that is going to help your brand or client, and add value? Ryan gave some suggestions below:

How to create a newsjack

  • Free offer of a product
  • Boycott/protest
  • Refusal of service - his example was of his own newsjacking of the news of the San Diego Chargers NFL franchise relocating to L.A. Learn, as his brand Hire A Helper set up a petition for all moving companies not to help
  • Event
  • Witty tweet
  • Comedic Commentary,
  • Survey data/expert opinion or charitable service

For all of the above you need a strong visual to make it more tangible and it needs to be relevant content to the connected story, make sure you understand the story and try and be lighthearted.

At the end of this process, it’s important to remember that journalists do know what you are doing, so be aware of this when you’re pitching, get to the point and let them form their own opinion of what you’re telling them.

Rebecca Brown — ‘How to use SEO Data to Increase the Performance of PR Campaigns’

Rebecca’s talk was an extremely interesting one, discussing how SEO and PR work together, and more importantly, how we SHOULD be working together to achieve great results. Rebecca’s talk was broken down into three areas:

  1. The issue - how we currently work with PR
  2. The future - how we should be working together
  3. The solution - how to bring about organisational change

The issue throughout the industry appears to be a lack of interest, the value of PRs and SEOs working together is apparent, yet SEOs shy away from it and SEOs typically treat PR with a lack of awareness.

This leaves PRs feeling like the SEOs don’t fully understand their strategies and struggling to see the bigger picture beyond securing links.

So how can we work on this so that SEO and PR are working more closely together?

The Future:

1. Content gap analysis

-SEOs use content gap analysis and if you use this as a PR strategy, you can identify content gaps in publications and use this as a way to pitch your own content ideas.

This works because journalists care about the performance of their content, and of course editors also have targets to hit.

This process can be broken down into a few stages:

Research - what publication do you want coverage in?

Analysis - provide a top level content gap analysis of the highest quality sites on your list

Alignment - ensure the relevant gaps are aligned with your PR strategy

Pitching - pitch the right journalist stating how they have a gap to get more traffic and how we can help them

2. Using SERP analysis to deliver insights PR teams care about

- SERP analysis doesn’t just tell you where you can rank but also where you can’t. Collaborating with those already dominating the SERPS may create opportunities, if these SERPS are publications, this provides an ideal opportunity to collaborate. You can look at publish dates to see when they have been updated, PRs can then reach out with updated information for the journalists. Similarly with answer boxes, if the publication is ranking then their answer boxes will come up in the search, you could then ask the journalist to put the brand higher up the published article so it is included within the answer box.

3. Scraping Google news

- Looking at trends on what is being written about and when can prove invaluable for PRs as this can help inform launch dates and build campaigns.

The Solution

When it came to the solution Rebecca had a few ideas on how to fix these issues:

  • We need to be able to impact change. We need to be clear and concise about attributing the value of our activity.
  • Build a model which allows you to accurately forecast how your link building activity will impact revenue - Rebecca was very vocal on the fact that we can’t talk openly about revenue, we won’t be taken seriously
  • You need to understand the short, medium and long term opportunities available (which parts of your site hold the most opp for growth), quantify the level and type of effort required (will links impact the performance of these parts of the site? What type of links do you need?) and define the optimal revenue focused strategy for organic growth

In Summary:

Avoid expensive content marketing campaigns with an unclear outcome. Only invest time building as many links as you actually need to.

So there we have it, a summary of our top take-aways from two fantastic days of talks at SearchLove London.

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