Buckle up and keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle as we embark on the wildest, most exhilarating ride of the decade known as digital PR. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s been a roller coaster time for the digital PR industry. The industry has seen shifts and changes happening at lightning speed, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down!
One major change is the field itself. Digital PR went from having a few major key players to an explosion of gurus and experts from one continent to the next in what felt like mere seconds. As this field gets more crowded, the industry is seeing it get tougher to get quality placements on campaigns that used to get links by the dozens!
So, how do you create a successful digital PR strategy to make sure your campaigns stand out in this saturated field? Below are five simple steps to making sure your campaign is a level up from the competition.
Remember when your parents asked how your school day was and you would respond “good?” Then they’d ask “what did you learn today?” Many of us often probably responded by saying “nothing.” Digital PR campaigns covering general topics can come across the same way. It’s easy for content creators to get swept away by an idea, and think you’re doing something groundbreaking, only for it to be…boring.
Say, for example, you’re doing a survey about grocery store shopping. You can ask people to share how often they shop, what store they normally shop at, and what food they buy. But once the survey is complete, you’d realize that you only have surface-level information that really doesn’t stand out from anything else. The stat that X% of people buy bananas at the grocery store or shoppers go to the grocery store X times a week just isn’t that interesting.
Now rewind. Go back to that initial idea of grocery store shopping. It’s not a bad idea, but think about these questions:
There are so many different avenues you can go down. You can focus on behavior in grocery store shops and ask people about bad behavior and habits they’ve witnessed. No one is a fan of that shopper who leaves their grocery cart in the middle of the parking lot, even more so after the wind pushes it right into your parked car and dents it. Or how about the person with the overflowing cart that cuts in front of you in the 10 items or less lane? Beyond frustrating!
Now let’s swap gears. You can also take a personal finance angle by asking people about couponing and saving money. The campaign could research how inflation is impacting grocery store shopping plans and even ask people what groceries they’re not buying because of increasing costs (eggs anyone?). Behold! You’ve now got an idea (actually TWO ideas) with a stronger, more interesting hook.
I’ll admit, the title above seems a bit contradictory. But give me a chance to explain what I mean. One of the other major shifts within the digital PR industry recently is the movement toward more relevant content. The industry is shying away from shock and awe pieces that have little to no connection to the creator. Instead, this content relevance is focusing on the knowledge and expertise companies have to offer. While these relevant pieces are often less newsworthy to the general public than tangential campaigns and will probably get fewer overall links, they are incredibly beneficial in other ways.
So, create content that makes your client the go-to expert on what they know best. There’s no greater advantage than talking about something you know about through and through. It’s also a lot easier to stand out in a crowded field because you know what you’re talking about!
Every business, to be successful, already has a niche and a form of brand positioning: the same principle follows in digital PR. Think about it this way: if someone yells out in a crowded theatre that they need a doctor, you can help straight away if you’re a doctor. But say someone yells for a doctor and all you can say is that you have a friend who is a doctor, but they’re not there at the moment, you’re out of luck, and that doesn’t help at all.
That leads to the second part: know when you’re not an expert. I want to say this part with a caveat: just because your client isn’t an expert in a specific subject doesn’t mean that you should never do a campaign around it. That is, in essence, many tangential campaigns. All that being said, don’t claim to be an expert in something the client isn’t and definitely be aware when there are other, more qualified experts. I’ve discovered this is especially important in an industry such as sports, where many journalists are themselves experts in statistics and player attributes.
In fact, let’s put a microscope on the sports industry, one of the industries that have become especially saturated in the digital PR world. Say your client works in the sports betting realm. They definitely can have that tangential connection to the sports world and are well-versed in sports betting odds. But one campaign you may want to avoid would be solely breaking down sports statistics. Wait, what? That may seem strange to hear since they have that sports connection.
Here’s the deal: statistics are to sports journalists as links are to us digital PR folks. Sports journalists live and breathe stats, some news outlets even have data analysts on staff whose job is to break the numbers down and understand everything the numbers have to offer. Those are true experts and while your sports betting client has some expertise in the field… it definitely doesn’t top that. There are plenty of other sports topics that you can cover and data you can gather that these journalists don’t have access to like fan preferences or behaviors. So, this is your chance to be an expert in that realm. Hence, be the expert, but know when you’re not!
Have you ever found yourself trapped in a conversation with someone while they talk about something you really don’t care about? It’s happened to me before. I asked this person about their hobbies outside of work and it happened to be Rubik’s cubes. Rather than just talking about it a bit we ended up going down a conversation tunnel when he started reviewing step-by-step what you need to do to solve a Rubik’s cube. I was impressed because Rubik’s cubes are not my thing, but we had gotten so deep into the weeds about a topic I would have just loved to get the cliff notes version.
In the digital PR world, we can unknowingly end up becoming our own version of the Rubik’s cube guy. There’s nothing wrong with it; obviously, it’s a great talent, but you have to find a way to share what you’re doing in a way that makes everyone care. It’s our job to make the complex simple and to get people to pay attention to topics that they may not otherwise care that much about.
So, I encourage you to think of your digital PR campaigns that way! First, if you did something incredibly technical, don’t feel like you have to explain everything above the fold! In fact, I’d encourage you to put all the in-depth research notes and descriptions in the methodology. Let the rest of the piece speak for itself without getting bogged down by intricate explanations of how the piece came together. Your hard work is incredible, but people want to get straight to the point of the piece. It’s especially important when considering journalists who are working on tight deadlines. You want to serve up the story on a silver platter because if it takes too long to get to the meat of the piece they could abandon covering it. Many TV clips can devote just 90 seconds to a given story: why use up 60 of those seconds explaining exactly how you arrived at those results?
As a former journalist, I have done many an interview with experts that were incredibly smart but couldn’t explain what they did to anyone outside of their field of expertise. Often, during interviews, we’d ask them to pretend they’re speaking to someone who knows absolutely nothing about this topic and try to explain it that way. Normally, that did the trick. Suddenly, they’d begin to describe their answers in layman’s terms.
If you’re doing something that’s extra relevant and specialized to the client this is also something incredibly important to keep in mind. There may be a lot of technical terms and descriptions, but at the end of the day, it’s your job to make this interesting. It may take you hours to solve a Rubik’s cube, but make sure your readers know how to solve it in minutes or even seconds.
When you get stuck while creating campaigns give it a kiss! Okay, not a real kiss. But think of the word kiss: keep it simple stupid. If you haven’t heard of this phrase before: look it up. I strongly believe that simplifying content campaigns can make a difference in how it performs.
It can be really easy to get caught up in the work that you’re doing and all of a sudden a campaign idea can grow and grow and grow. It can spiral out of control to the point that one campaign could have and probably should have been split up into two or even three campaigns! That makes it difficult when it comes to outreach. If you can’t tell what a campaign is right off the bat that can lead to confusion and muddy the point you’re trying to make! If you have too many points, it’s really hard to get one story across. Too much data makes more work than most journalists are willing to do to find the story.
So, how do you keep it simple? First, keep in mind that initial idea and how you’re going to bring it to life. Take time before you dive into the creative process to organize what you’re doing. I can’t reiterate this part enough! I know digital PRs have timelines and budgets and projects to manage. Especially during busy periods, it’s easy to let that organization part slide. Whatever you do, don’t do it! Give yourself the time to put your campaign together.
Think of it like writing a book without an outline. It can be done, and some authors I’ve had the opportunity to hear speak actually do write without one! (But I should and will note that even those authors who are not outliners still have to tell their editors what they’re planning to do in advance which is in essence… an outline.) Organizing your campaign ahead of time helps you create a self-made roadmap. You don’t need to be extra stringent and follow your initial plans to a tee, but it gets you started down the right path.
As you get further in the process and start to think about how you’re going to present your digital PR work, don’t overcomplicate it, especially when it comes to graphics! This isn’t just my opinion, we have the stats to prove it! I analyzed 57 of our sports campaigns looking at the overall performance of each campaign. One of the most interesting correlations I found was between performance and graphics.
The highest-performing campaigns had the lowest number of graphics, just two per campaign! Let me say that again our top-performing sports campaigns only have an average of two graphics per campaign! As for the lowest-performing campaigns, those progressively had the highest number of graphics with the worst having an average of four graphics per campaign. The analysis is just another reminder to not overthink it and don’t try to overproduce your work. Seal it with a kiss and let it fly!
Have you ever tried to bake chocolate chip cookies? If you have, then you’ll know everyone has this elusive perfect time when they think you should take them out of the oven. My mom swears you need to take cookies out at exactly seven minutes. That’s the key to getting the gooiest, tastiest chocolate chip cookies. So, I do it. I take the cookies out at seven minutes, no earlier and no later, whenever I bake them. Spoiler alert: they’re good. But if you use a different oven or cook at a different altitude that timetable could land your cookies right in the garbage.
If it was easy, I’d make chocolate chip cookies the exact way every single time no matter if I was on the top of the Colorado Rockies or all the way at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Similarly, if it was easy, I’d do my digital PR campaigns the same way every single time. If I could guarantee my campaign would get top-tier links again and again, it would be incredibly tempting to do those campaigns repetitively step-by-step. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our work, nor should there be. That would get so monotonous!
As the industry becomes more and more saturated, it’s easy to see a lot of cookie-cutter digital PR campaigns. So many of them start to blend together, and sometimes two very similar campaigns, end up competing against each other for placements in the exact same news cycle! So, break the mold, throw your regular campaign recipe in the trash, and try something different! It can be scary to do, I completely understand. But if we keep doing the same types of campaigns over and over and over again, it will become like that half-burnt cookie pan that won’t see the light of day much longer.