PR in the Digital Age: Best Practices for Outreach

digital outreach best practices

We’ve all heard the phrase “If you build it, they will come.”

But when it comes to marketing, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

A huge part of a successful marketing strategy, particularly when it comes to content marketing, is deciding how you’ll promote, share, and spread the word about your content once it’s been published.

Of course, this concept isn’t new; in years past, public relations professionals were tasked to writing (and blasting out) press releases, calling and answering questions from journalists, and gaining exposure through newspapers and magazines. And now? As Inc. Magazine puts it: “The game has changed, and so have the players.”

Your biggest brand advocate these days might be a 22-year-old running an influential fashion blog — whose followers may be an invaluable source of traffic and revenue. And earning pickups isn’t just about spreading the word — it’s about getting high-quality backlinks that can ramp up your search rankings across your entire site.

Where do you even start? Let’s take a look at some of the best practices and awesome tools for outreach, promotions, and digital PR.

Take a Step Back

If you’re tasked with producing content, it’s easy to fall into the trap of go-go-go. Many brands and companies rush to push out content, either publishing and just hoping people will see it (yikes!), or throwing it out into the public realm without a real strategy. The reality? Promotion — just like content ideation and production — needs a thoughtful strategy behind it to be successful.

So, before you start sending out emails (or even building your lists of potential influencers), it’s smart to take a step back. Look at the content piece with fresh eyes — and switch your mindset to promotion, not creation.

  • First, is this piece even a good candidate for email outreach? If you’re having trouble picturing what kinds of blogs or sites might pick it up, it might be best to lean on other digital promotion techniques (for example, native advertising or boosted posts on social media).
  • Second, take the content piece out of the equation and spend some time thinking about your ideal audience. These days, consumers can customize their news dashboards, their RSS feeds, and even their Facebook feeds. How will you reach them? What blogs, websites, or publications do they follow? Where do they hang out? Start a list. If this is a brand awareness or link building play, you have even more freedom. What related industries and their corresponding websites, publications, blogs, or individual influencers might be interested in this piece? For example, if you’re a promoting an infographic that breaks down a pastry featured at a Las Vegas hotel, that could be interesting to both Las Vegas outlets and cooking/baking blogs.

Do Your Research

As you’re listing out these sites, make sure to filter further as you go. Consider your content type: is it appropriate for this particular blog or publication? Let’s say you’re promoting a GIF-filled quiz about planning for your financial future, geared toward millennials. Is that going to be a good fit for Forbes, just because they post about financial topics? Probably not. Furthermore, does your target site allow for third-party content in the first place? Spend some time combing through the website so you really understand what they publish and how they approach certain topics.

Also, make sure you have the right contact information. Am I contacting the right person for this? Let’s say a publication like Business Insider is on your list. Will emailing their general “contact us” address, with a general “Dear Editor” salutation work? Maybe. But your chances of getting picked up increase if you can get your content into the exact right hands.

outreach tool cision

Outreach Tool We Love:

Cision — for finding specific reporters, journalists, and editors at top-tier media outlets, both digital and print. Use the search filter to view details by contact name, outlet name, or a particular industry or subject.

Dig Deeper

As you’re looking for additional outreach opportunities, this is where having access to the right tools is really key. Sure, you can always do a basic Google search to find “finance/cooking/enter-your-topic-here blogs” as your starting point. You’ll get some great ideas, but you also run the risk of falling down the Internet rabbit hole…all of a sudden you’re on page 12 of the search results and your eyes start glazing over. Instead, access to the right tools here is key. (Limited by your budget? This is where working with a digital agency makes a world of difference.)

buzzsumo and ahrefs outreach

Outreach Tools We Love:

BuzzSumo — for researching topics or categories and discovering the most popular content pieces, whether shared or linked. From there, explore the top sites, or go even further and plug the domain into the search bar to see who’s reciprocating the shares. (Learn more about using BuzzSumo for content promotion.)

Ahrefs — for researching competitors. Plug a domain into the Site Explorer, then click on “Pages / Top Content”. Click into a content piece and use the “Details” dropdown to see who has linked to it — this will give you another great start point for list building.

outreach tools

Google Search Commands – for finding weekly or monthly round-ups in a particular industry, guest post opportunities, and more.

GroupHigh – for discovering niche bloggers, filtered down by parameters like domain authority, number of followers, and even location. Just be aware that some bloggers may be looking for payment in exchange for links or content placement – so consider whether you have the budget for this. (Check out our guide to influencer marketing for more tips.)

Finally, Start Your Outreach

Overwhelmed yet? Outreach is certainly no easy (or quick) task — and your job only gets trickier when you’re ready to start sending out emails to your contacts.

While it’s tempting to send out an email blast and get it done in one fell swoop, you’re setting yourself up to annoy reporters and damage your relationships. After all, most journalists receive between 50 and 500 pitches per week – phew! How do you stand out from the crowd? Keep these pointers in mind:

    • Master the art of the subject line. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here, so play around with using the contact’s name in the subject line, mentioning the benefit or purpose of your content, or referencing a recent article of theirs. For reporters at top-tier publications, using the straight-shooter approach — something that calls out exactly what the content piece is — can often work.
    • Personalize, personalize, personalize. Explore the site or the journalist’s recent work, and take note of specific articles or personalized details you can call out in your email. You’re emailing a person, after all, so make it conversational (without getting too lengthy).
    • Keep it short. At the same time, you don’t want to go too far. We live in the age of short attention spans, so make sure your email is skimmable and your ask is direct, whether you’re looking for a link, a share, or an ongoing partnership.
    • Make it easy for them. Do you see a gap in the journalist’s coverage that your piece fills? Or a page or section of a site where you’d like to be added? Can you write up a custom introduction or a mini guest post to accompany the content? Let them know. Make their decision a no-brainer.
    • Double check everything. Ever received an email with your name or company spelled wrong? It’s no fun, and usually makes the sender come across as careless. Do a once-over before hitting “send.”


Outreach Tool We Love:

BuzzStream – for managing your “digital rolodex.” Keep track of who you’ve contacted, and see all past correspondence without digging through your email archives.

Digital PR in the Digital Age

You’ve sent your emails and received some positive responses — congrats! But your efforts don’t end there. PR at its core is about creating and maintaining relationships, and that extends to your content promotion as well. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever in today’s digital world. Taking the time to follow your new contacts on Twitter (or Facebook, or wherever they spend their time) and retweeting them every now and then is a great way to maintain the relationship and stay on their radar. The next time you reach out, give it some extra personalization by referencing your last correspondence.

Lastly, don’t forget the importance of staying agile. The digital marketing industry is ever-changing, and keeping up with the latest trends, tools, and strategies is incredibly important. Creating and finding these earned promotion opportunities isn’t easy — but when done right, you can extend the reach of your content tenfold.

Want more insights? Check out our Top SEO Keyword Tools for 2017.

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