By William Furney and Nick Sadler, Reachology
You might be scouring the web looking for tips on how to devise a digital PR strategy but you’re not sure what’s right and what’s not. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and lots of conflicting advice.
You don’t have time to get it wrong and have to start all over again, while your rivals race ahead.
That’s why we’ve put this digital PR strategy guide together – clear and simple steps to help you get the kind of online traction you’re after.
Our starter pack will let you get far greater visibility on the internet, rapidly boosting your brands, drawing in new customers and, overall, enhancing your company’s reputation and value.
The experts here at digital PR agency Reachology have used this formula to take the smallest of companies to the greatest of heights of media exposure, landing them new business opportunities and helping to grow their brands. You can too.
What is digital PR?
If like most companies you’re putting a heavy emphasis on the online world, through your website and social media, you’ll know it’s because that’s where most of the media, and people, have shifted to.
So alongside printed newspapers and magazines, we have websites and blogs, with the two former in decline as the digital versions rise. And social media, podcasts and streaming services are increasingly being used over old media such as TV and radio.
It’s no surprise then that PR has moved from the traditional form concerned with legacy media to digital, focusing on news sites, online magazines, blogs, social media and more. The benefits are:
- Highly targeted reach
Instead of using traditional mass media, where you don’t really know what the audience is, you know precisely who is using what kind of online media with digital PR – plus, you’re reaching local and global audiences at the same time.
- Big SEO benefit
If you want to rank higher online – and who doesn’t? – you need links. The type digital PR gets for you is SEO gold: earned links that come from top-tier digital media, including industry and niche sites that Google loves. This leads to more traffic and, potentially, more customers and sales.
- Control over message
Traditional PR hands the client message over to journalists, and they hope it comes out as they want – there is no control over how it’s portrayed to the public. With digital PR, you have total control, because you can shape what you want to say, your way, by simply publishing on your website, blog or social media – whether it’s a press release, article, infographic or anything else.
- Long-lasting impact
Printed media soon ends up in the bin, and electronic media’s messages are gone in an instant. But digital content lasts forever, including all those juicy links to your website.
- Much lower cost
Running digital PR campaigns typically requires a much smaller budget than those aimed at print and electronic media, which are expensive to operate and therefore have extremely high fees, such as for advertising.
- Clear ROI
With traditional PR, you essentially throw large amounts of money at campaigns and hope you’ll get some kind of return, because their success is almost impossible to work out. With digital PR, you know exactly what your return on investment is, thanks to measurable results that come from analytics and metrics tools that tell you how your campaigns are performing.
How can a digital PR campaign help your company?
The best digital PR campaigns can transform the smallest and most obscure companies into overnight internet sensations.In an overcrowded marketplace with all kinds of firms competing for people’s attention and money, no company can afford to be silent.
When campaigns are devised and run properly, whether in-house or through a digital PR agency, they lead to:
- Higher website traffic, through online mentions.
- Better SEO, meaning your site ranks higher for your targeted keywords.
- Increased company and brand awareness.
- More customers and more sales.
- Improved trust in your brands.
Some of the best digital pr campaigns
Digital PR campaigns are often highly creative and even unusual – anything new and appealing to snare journalists’ interest. These are some digital PR examples of the best campaigns in recent years:
This fun piece, by a crossword site or their digital PR agency, appealed directly to internet users and resulted in 248 links from media outlets to their website.
Tapping into the rise of the digital nomad and also The Great Resignation, a jobs site conducted a survey to find out if freelancers do have a better work-life balance. Result: A dozen links – may not seem like a lot, but bear in mind that these are links from top media sites that you literally cannot buy.
Uber’s annual Lost & Found Index last year was a digital PR campaign knockout — getting a whopping 363 links and driving home their brand success.
Steps to creating your own digital PR strategy
These 10 steps will take you from the initial outline of your digital PR strategy to published pieces.
Step 1: Decide on your objectives
It might sound simple and obvious, but identifying exactly what you’re trying to achieve from your campaigns is going to be crucial. Not only will it allow you to define who, what, where, when and how you structure your campaigns, but you will be able to refer back once each campaign is completed to assess success.
Objectives focussed around your website traffic, goals in your analytics or links can be great starting points, especially if you’re planning your activity over months or the year.
Step 2: Break down your strategy into campaigns, targets and goals
Once you’ve set your objectives, you can then start to carve out how this might look over a set period or periods. Break those bigger objectives into smaller targets to sit under your campaigns. As any PR effort quite often needs to be front-loaded with information/data collation, think in three-month periods; or if you’re following an annual calendar, quarters of the year.
Once you’ve defined your periods, you can then decide what you want to achieve with each digital PR campaign and your themes and plot these out on a calendar. This is especially important when working alongside a social media team or digital PR agency as they live day to day by calendars. Collaborating and sharing calendars allows for a symbiotic campaign.
Step 3: Brainstorm
This is the ideas phase. You need to come up with something that’s original and will capture the attention of journalists and their readers.
Depending on the space you play in, there are going to be varying levels of difficulty for snaring the right attention. One of your biggest assets is the people you work with. Gathering an eclectic mix of people will help as a solid starting point for your brainstorm. Journalists, readers, consumers and digital PR professionals co-exist paradoxically, so a broad spectrum of thoughts is helpful.
Once you’ve got some good themes, it’s time to dig a bit deeper into their feasibility and the appetite for the subject matter. To make sure you’re hitting the jackpot with your brainstorming, we recommend using tools/apps to justify your efforts:
– Ahrefs content and keyword explorer
– Google News (to help avoid duplication)
Step 4: Consider various techniques
As with anything, seasonality and sentiment shift constantly, so it’s always a good idea to consider flexing your techniques. Anything from commissioning surveys to using photography, video, infographics, white papers and more can boost the ideas you have for your digital PR strategy.
When communicating your story or data, think about the most linkable way to do it. They’ve been around for a long time, but infographics are still a great way of visualising datasets without just a list of words and figures. If it’s data over a period time, utilising tables and charts to show trends will ensure you have the best possible chance of earning links from your coverage. The important thing is to choose the right medium for your targets and your information. Here’s an infographic we created displaying a range of information in a way that’s appealing and easily digestible:
Technique doesn’t just refer to the medium you’re using for your campaigns; it’s just as important to think about the tone of the campaign. Depending on your product/service, you have the ability to flex your tone. Something with hard-hitting data based on research can land a big punch and cut through the noise in the media. That being said, there are a great deal of difficult news topics at the moment, creating an appetite for something more playful and uplifting – so don’t be afraid to try something different or fun.
A good example of a brand that knows how to flex its tone for their campaigns is fast-food giant Burger King: having a playful jab at their arch-rival McDonald’s, by suggesting people should work for a king, not a clown, in job posters.
Burger King used seasonality to capture the public’s attention with their McWhopper campaign in 2015 for International Day of Peace, suggesting working together on a joint venture to promote peace – hitting the tone of the time well, getting attention from the media and consumers, all with an attractive microsite to view their vision on:
Step 5: Research the media
Find the right media and journalists to pitch to, and don’t be blinded by the top national papers, because niche and industry publications can be just as valuable.
Use Google to find media sites you don’t already know, and check out their metrics to make sure they’re solid enough – spammy sites with low or no traffic will do you harm, not good. Use tools like Similiarweb, Semrush, Ahrefs and others to discover:
- The number of visitors, and traffic trends
- Domain authority (aim for a minimum of around 40/100)
- Page authority
- Spam score
- Average time on page
- Bounce rate
Metrics, including traffic, for UK tabloid Metro.
Use these tools to do competitor research too, and see what kind of sites rival firms are publishing on.
Create a spreadsheet listing the sites you’ve selected and their metrics, and reporters’ contact details. This way, you can keep track of everything, in one place, including the dates you pitched and followed up.
Some news sites list their journalists; others don’t, so you’ll need to do some digging. Tools like Hunter may give you reporters emails, and it’s worth checking their Twitter accounts as well, as many journalists have their email in their bio, like this Guardian reporter:
These days, with heightened newsroom pressures brought about by redundancies and budget cuts, journalists are typically covering far more subjects than they used to. They could be writing about multiple areas – crime, environment, local politics, for instance – which means they’re strained like never before.
The good news for digital PRs is that if you have the right story for them, you could be a lifesaver – getting your piece published by a grateful reporter whose job you essentially did for them.
Step 6: Create your content
Time now to get cracking with putting your ideas into tangible form. There’s lots you can choose from, including:
- An article
- A blog post
- A press release
- A video
- An infographic
- Graphics for social media
- A landing page
- A microsite
- A game
- A calculator
- A podcast
- A meme
This is often the trickiest part, if you’re doing it yourself but lack the writing, design, web development or video-editing skills. But it’s crucial to get it right, because you’re going to be pitching it to people who write for a living and deal with visuals, so anything substandard you produce likely wouldn’t get a second look.
You might want to use a digital PR service to create your content for you, or you can use any number of online tools that could help. Avoid using AI programmes like ChatGPT and others, though, because Google might penalise you, if you host the content on your site, and journalists would probably see right through it — no matter how natural-sounding the algorithm-generated language is.
Step 7: Pitch your story
Tell the journalists you’ve researched and selected about your story. This is how to pitch:
- Use email, the preferred method of communication for journalists, over phone or instant messaging.
- Write an eye-catching and honest subject line, not one that dupes the recipient into opening it, with a sensational line like “You Must Read This!!!” – instant lack of credibility and destined for the bin. Instead, opt for “Story: Survey Reveals Most Cats Prefer Three Meals a Day” or similar.
- Address the journalist by name, making it personal.
- Describe your story in two or three brief paragraphs – journalists are busy, with overflowing inboxes, and don’t have time to reach much more.
- If you or your digital PR agency has written a press release and/or created an infographic or video, place them in the body of your email, not as an attachment, which may be seen as a virus threat and not opened.
- Make sure your website is linked in the content you’ve created; or if you’ve written up survey results or anything else as a blog post on your website, include the link in your email.
- Hit send.
- If you haven’t heard anything back after a couple of days, follow up and ask if the journalist received your email and if they’re interested in the story. If still nothing after another day or two, leave it and don’t hound them – they’re most likely not interested this time.
Step 8: Monitor your coverage
A free way is to use search engines, and not only Google, as others, like Bing, often pick up coverage that Google doesn’t. Use Google Alerts too, and you’ll be instantly notified, via your email, when something is published that matches your keywords – it’s also a good way to keep track of what your competitors are publishing.
Some journalists may be so thankful for your story that they send you the link. If not, you can always ask them if they’ve published.
Step 9: Check your links
Publications may have run your piece and with a link to your website, where perhaps survey results are compiled. If there’s no link, don’t panic – here’s what to do:
Different journalists/publishers will have a different understanding of SEO, so if your story hasn’t gained a link, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for one. The key is the way you ask, Avoid: “Can I have a link to my client?” Instead, focus on the benefit to their readers of being able to see the full data/information where it’s not going to clog up the story.
Top tip: Don’t share all your data when pitching your story. Hold some back, exclusively for the area of the website you’re looking to drive links to.
A follow link is the holy grail, but you’ll need to request these gently. But no-follow links are still extremely important when building up and earning a natural backlink profile.
To check whether your links are do-follow or no-follow, you can use a variety of tools, and you can do it for free using page source:
Right-click on the page to find view page source:
This will bring up the back-end code of the webpage. You then need to press Ctrl + F to search in the source code – either re=”follow” or rel=”nofollow” – until you find your link:
Step 10: Build ongoing journalist relationships
Thank the journalists who published your story, and tell them you’ll be in touch next time you have something that may be of interest to them. This will help to develop the initial contact you had with them and maintain the relationship – an important part of the digital PR campaign process.
Now it’s over to you
You can see there are lots of elements to creating a digital PR strategy that works and gets you coverage. If you follow the steps in this guide, you’re bound to end up in the digital publications you’d love to be in, and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
But if you don’t have the time, or skills, you can always reach out to us here at Reachology for a chat. We’re a leading digital PR agency in the UK and we’d be happy to outline a digital PR strategy for your business and brands.