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How To Make a Newsworthy Digital PR Campaign For Any Industry

By Victoria Schmid

The key to a digital PR campaign that will earn coverage is newsworthiness. But sometimes it can be hard to make your client’s website topic something that journalists will be interested in. So how can you take a topic that’s highly niche, or maybe a bit dull, and make it newsworthy in 2022?

First, we need to break down what newsworthiness actually means. It’s a mix of timeliness, emotion, proximity, conflict, relevance, and other elements that make a story interesting.

Understanding Newsworthiness in 2022

Newsworthiness is defined by a mix of five fundamental elements. Not every campaign has to hit all five, but should include a mix of at least two to catch a journalist’s eye.

Timeliness

Timeliness means that the campaign is relevant right now. It’s 2022, so talking about lockdowns or quarantine isn’t newsworthy today. In fact, making a campaign about anything to do with anything before March 2020 certainly isn’t newsworthy at the moment – unless you’re making a comparison to current times and how things have changed.

Keep it relevant to today. For example, a campaign like ‘What TV Show Every State was Streaming Most During Lockdown’ wouldn’t be picked up by journalists right now. However, comparing which shows that were popular during lockdown and are still popular two years later would add a timely angle. Remember, the word ‘new’ makes the word ‘news’.

Proximity

Proximity refers to your geographic location. This doesn’t mean your campaign should be relevant to where you are – but it should be relevant to the journalists that you are pitching. When we watch local news in the mornings and evenings, it’s always hyper-local to where we live because we care more about that than what is happening in a city across the country. Digital PR campaigns are the same.

You wouldn’t send a pitch of ‘California’s Favorite TV Show is Stranger Things’ to a reporter in New York, Illinois, or Florida. They wouldn’t find this relevant for their audience. A campaign can cover a large region (like the entire United States) or can focus on one city (like Chicago) but remember to consider the geographical region you’re wanting to pitch from the very beginning.

Conflict, Controversy, and Emotion

You’ve probably noticed the news tends to focus on negative stories. The war in Ukraine, the impending recession, the spread of Monkeypox – just to name a few. Topics that are controversial or focus on conflict tend to attract more attention because they evoke an emotional reaction in an audience.

This doesn’t mean your campaigns need to focus on doom and gloom. But your campaign should evoke some kind of emotion for both journalists and in turn, their audience.

Think about what you’d do if you were scrolling through Facebook and saw a news station covering your campaign. Would you stop scrolling and read it? Did it make you particularly happy? Or surprised? Would you ‘like’ it on Facebook? Would you share it on Twitter?

Try to focus on campaigns that you’d react to ‘in the wild’. This is a great test to figure out if your campaign evokes emotion.

Human Interest

People care about other people. My favorite way to define human interest comes from PBS: “People are interested in other people… We like unusual stories of people who accomplish amazing feats or handle a life crisis…” 

When ideating a campaign, ask yourself: Who cares? It sounds harsh, but it’s important to ask yourself if someone actually cares about the campaign you’re pitching. Ask yourself again and again when ideating campaigns.

Relevance

Relevance is a healthy mix of timeliness and proximity. If you’re a member of Generation X living in Chicago, you probably don’t want to read the news about TikTok dance trends that are popular in Los Angeles.

When we talk about relevance and digital PR campaigns, we mostly think about pitching journalists who will care about our campaign. Be sure to consider this early in ideation so your idea isn’t too niche and only a small group of journalists might care about it.

iPad on a newspaper with a news story on the screen

Newsworthiness in 2022 and Digital PR

So now that we understand the fundamentals of what makes something newsworthy – how do we use that knowledge during the ideation and brainstorming phase of creating a campaign? And how do we take a challenging topic and make it newsworthy for link building?

Here’s how:

  1. Watch the news
  2. Research the industry
  3. Draw connections
  4. Research competitors
  5. Choose a format

Watch the News

Psst – this is my top tip for anyone working in digital PR: watch the news. It sounds simple, but many don’t. Especially in today’s climate of seemingly never-ending bad news, it can be hard for our mental health. If you’re pitching media outlets though, you need to be consuming news and knowing what’s going on in the world.

I personally watch morning national news that highlights the main stories around the U.S. and includes a mix of lifestyle and international news. I also consume news throughout the day via social media and have signed up to several news roundup emails that are sent straight to my inbox every morning.

Make sure you are staying on top of what’s happening locally, nationally, and internationally. Write down the themes you notice again and again. If you were to sit down pretty much any day this past summer and write down some themes, you’d probably note: saving money, an impending recession, an extreme heat wave across the U.S., and travel delays.

Research the Industry

Now it’s time to become an expert in the area that your client’s site covers. While you want to keep campaign ideas relevant, start off by brainstorming all the potential topics that you could ideate around. For example, if a client’s site sells insurance, I could brainstorm around the topics:

  • Travel insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Pet insurance
  • Business insurance

Next, go to sites like Google News, Muck Rack, or Buzzsumo and start plugging in the different topics. Create a Google doc and collect news stories that focus on the same topic your client’s site covers, and filter it for the past three to six months. This will help familiarize you with the kinds of stories that journalists are writing about the industry you are focused on.

No matter how niche the topic, or how dull or dry it is, there’s bound to be something out there that journalists are talking about. Become an expert in the topics you’re researching and learn about how it’s being talked about in the news.

Draw Connections

So, now you have a list of what’s trending on the news, and you have a list of topics you can ideate around. It’s time to draw connections to come up with a newsworthy campaign idea.

For example, you could draw a line between Monkeypox and health insurance, or between the summer heat wave and pet insurance. Start to brainstorm and think about how you can tie the client’s site content to any of the topics happening right now. Find the link from the client’s site topic to what’s happening in the news, and start to ideate campaigns from there.

Research Competitors

It’s likely that your client’s competitors are also producing content for digital PR purposes. Spend some time looking at their blog, or using Ahrefs to find which of their pages have the highest number of backlinks. 

Look at how they are connecting their site’s topics to the news, and how journalists are covering it. What stats are journalists focusing on? What headlines are they using? Has one kind of campaign earned drastically more links than others? Looking at this can help spark ideas for how you can effectively make your topic newsworthy in 2022.

Choose a Format

There are many different formats that are popular across the digital PR industry. From a state-by-state map, to a dream job, to a survey – sometimes ideation starts with the campaign format.

Let’s say your client’s site covers a seriously dull topic like data entry. First of all you may be thinking, how can I make data entry interesting and newsworthy? Let’s look at how we can brainstorm different campaign ideas based on the format.

For example, a dream job marketing campaign. You’ve probably seen them all over social media: ‘We’ll pay you to watch TV!’, ‘We’ll pay you to eat ice cream!’ etc. So how can we create a fun, buzzy campaign like this about data entry?

Maybe you could pay someone to enter fun data, like how many times Joey dates a different woman on Friends? Or how many times Janice says her catchphrase “Oh. My. God!” Now you have a fun dream job campaign: We’ll pay you to watch the entire Friends series (and collect data on the characters.)

Person using an iPad to scroll online

From Boring to Breaking (News)

Now you’re familiar with what journalists want, what’s being said about your client’s industry, and how to connect real time trending news topics to your client’s site, it’s time to ideate your next campaign.

No matter how dull, how niche, or even how complicated a client’s site topic is, the above tactics will help you find a way to come up with campaigns that are relevant to a client’s site and newsworthy in 2022. This is a blueprint for ideating a campaign for any industry – and the key to earning media coverage for your client.

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