Digital PR: tips and advice for getting links in difficult times

By Fran Griffin
October 16, 2020
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I’ll be honest, it’s been the hardest time in my eight year career to get coverage and links right now, and I know I’m not alone, because I’ve been speaking with other digital PRs who are finding the word “pivot” the digital marketing buzzword of 2020.

As much as I hate to hear coronavirus as another reason or justification for something not happening as it should this year, it is honestly tough out there to break through with campaigns and meet link targets with lockdown and quarantine dominating all social conversations and the news. 

There is no roadmap, end date, or timeline for this pandemic, so we may find our media landscape disrupted and altered for a while yet. But it’s still our job as digital PRs, SEOs and marketers to get clients noticed, so I spoke to some of the best in the industry to share their tips and advice alongside my own on what is working right now with campaigns:

Fran Griffin from Evergreen 

“Some of my best tips and hacks I’ve sneakily stolen in recent months come from my traditional PR days. I think it’s often forgotten that PR has been around for decades, even if the digital and SEO-adopted version is new and exciting. PRs have been pivoting in crises for decades so there is a lot that can be taken from this side of the fence…

Firstly, build strong relationships and the panic eases; this is something I’ve kept doing since moving into digital PR. If you have journalists coming to you asking for stories, angles, and data, this is much better than guessing. There’s guessing what might work… then there’s guessing during a pandemic! Why risk it?! Invest some time building relationships with journalists at those key titles in your clients’ sectors and you’ll hit gold.

Secondly, I’d recommend understanding your clients’ or brand’s relevant topics; ask yourself: “what can I add to the media conversation right now that is helpful to readers and relevant to come from us?”. Of late, digital PR seems to be very data-focused with time intensive campaigns that have a long lead time. Sure, media relationships and relevant link-building can take longer, but if you add up the hours usually spent trawling spreadsheets, datasets and getting the client to buy into a creative idea; it actually works out pretty even to have a more 1-2-1 approach with select publications.”

Alex Hickson from Rise At Seven

I think this year has been tough for everyone in our industry, what we thought we knew about the media and the news cycle has completely changed. I think the best tip I can give is to make sure you’re completely immersed in your client’s industry at the moment. If you’re looking to get links in the travel sector, then pour over exactly what travel journalists are writing about now. It can be easy to pitch something you know has worked before, but just won’t land in this current climate; we’ve effectively had to start on a clean slate. 

I’d advise PRs to be open and honest with journalists, if you don’t have great connections already, drop them a DM on Twitter or be open in your email to them – ask what they are looking to cover and tell them who you’re representing and what you could offer, it’s a symbiotic relationship so if you can get info on what a journalist wants, it cuts out the guessing game for you!”

Katheryn Watson from Jellyfish Global

“In order to cut through the noise and ensure as much success as possible for your clients, you need to create a well-rounded story that can’t be imitated (easily!). Journalists are savvy and they’re clued up on our tactics. They’ve been doing this just as long as we’ve been pitching to them with “REVEALED: X”, “MAPPED: X” and “MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE”. 

While we think we’re onto the next best thing by creating a ‘most Googled’ piece, journalists are more than capable of doing this themselves. It’s true that simple campaigns work best – but I do like to think there’s more to our jobs than creating quick turnaround pieces for the sake of 5 links.

Whilst running quick-win campaigns, I do think it’s always super important to have more in-depth, data-led stories being produced in the background. You can really own this data and the topic. These campaigns can be keyword-led, super on brand and a great way to win clients around with something that is very relevant to them and their product/services. 

Also continuously conduct a landscape analysis to help with your strategies. What is landing, what is getting links and who is linking! Create campaign topics around this sweet spot of publications that seem to be picking up a lot of PR campaigns and providing followed links.”

Chisomo Phiri from Seeker Digital

“My top tip for digital PRs in this climate is to be as reactive as possible. This pandemic has brought a constant change in government updates, trends and consumer behaviour, therefore, now more than ever, we have to be ahead of the game and keep our finger on the pulse. 

Reading the news daily and checking Twitter for upcoming opportunities is vital. Investing in listening tools will speed up the media monitoring process by doing a large chunk of the heavy lifting for you. Wave goodbye to administrative tasks so you can focus on the more meaningful work your skillset lends itself to.”

Louise Parker from Propellernet

“Currently, I’m really trying to ensure that all our stories have an international angle. Recently I’ve found that UK-only ideas can be quite hit and miss, and then once you’ve outreached to everyone suitable in the UK you’re kind of stuck.

So I pick subjects and topics that are applicable in multiple countries around the world and then go global with the outreach.

If you don’t have the capabilities to pitch in different language, then there’s still a wealth of great publications that love PR stories in the Middle East, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, the US.”

Natalie Richardson, freelance digital PR consultant

“Agility is key – the media landscape is constantly changing (now more than ever), so it has become increasingly difficult to plan ahead. Because of this, you have to learn to adapt your ways of working and move quickly with changes in order to get results, and this can mean changing processes around campaign planning. 

Compared to the beginning of this year, I’m definitely working on more campaigns built around my clients’ expertise and insight – rather than data-led studies or bigger creative campaigns – as campaigns of this type can typically be pulled together much faster, so there is less risk of A) the information no longer being relevant or outdated, or B) being beaten to it by a competitor. My main tip would be to simplify your ideas, including the methodology you plan to use. If you can’t explain them without adding tonnes of caveats, then it’s probably been overcomplicated somewhere.”

Olivia Smith from Digitaloft

“1. Keep it simple – now more than ever, journalists want quick, simple campaigns to cover. Don’t over complicate your data and asset. Simple with a killer story is key.
2. Utilise your client’s knowledge and data – we’ve seen a real shift in journalists looking for simple yet valuable advice and tips that actually help their audience. To ensure you get the link, pop the tips and a few extra points on a blog post so it gives the journalist a reason to link through.
3. Monitor requests – with fewer resources, journalists are turning to #journorequest, HARO and ResponseSource more than ever, keep your eye on these and be ready to jump on any which are relevant to your client. Having a quote bank on general topics can really help you act quickly on these.”

Jasmine Granton from Aira

“I think more now than ever, it’s important to work in unison with your clients (if you’re agency side) to create a bank of themes and topics that they feel comfortable with being an expert on – the more niche, the better on many occasions. Reactive outreach is one of the ways we’ve continued hitting targets, even when specific campaigns haven’t worked for several reasons, some due to Covid-19. Having a solid relationship with your client means that when you see an opportunity come up, whether it be in the form of a journalist tweet, a news story that day, or sites looking for expert comments, you can confidently write up a quote with the brand’s tone in mind, and get sign off – fast! 

On top of this, ensuring your campaign has everything before launch to give it the best chance of success is so essential. A case study? Niche data across regions or sectors? Images? Videos? – there’s a huge amount of competition so you can’t always rely on a press release to get the job done, even if it’s paired with a fancy infographic. If there’s ever a time to make a journalist’s job easier, it’s a global pandemic when they’re 10x busier than they were before, due to redundancies and the vast number of stories to cover.”

Puja Kotecha from Contrast

“In terms of consumer behaviour, now is the perfect time to pivot your focus around eCommerce and really shout about your client’s available services during these difficult times. Everyone has moved online!

Angle your story that relates to the pandemic in a positive way. We have a lovely client who launched her gardening blog during lockdown to distract her from her busy day life (she is an ICU nurse). We did some outreach to journalists about how gardening can help people cope during lockdown and received great coverage in regional publications and nationals such as Metro, Daily Express and BBC News. 

Go back to basics and build up your client’s domain authority using those good old strategies you may have forgotten about such as broken link building, link reclamation and guest blogging!”

Laura Solloway from Reboot

“1. Be proactive and reactive – I make sure to check news and what’s trending as often as I can for inspiration on the kinds of things journalists are publishing. Sometimes this can inspire a quicker piece that ends up getting more links than a full campaign!

2. Maintain relationships – one of the things we have been streamlining over the past few months is our relationships with journalists. By identifying previous publishers/positive journalist responses we can contact them with future pieces/ideas we think they might like.

3. Look for a new angle – whether it’s rehashing an older campaign with a new focus and data, or using data to inspire a secondary idea and form part of a bigger study, re-angling a piece to fit a new niche or audience often helps to gain well-needed interest!”

 

Thank you to everyone who took the time to contribute to this piece and share their advice. If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us digital PRs, it’s that this SEO industry is one of the most helpful and supportive around, with everyone willing to share advice and client successes to help and inspire peers.

Hopefully these tips and advice will carry our digital PR campaigns through the rest of the pandemic and beyond, in further difficult link-building times!

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