Researching content ideas & getting in the Media
So you’ve decided to try your hand at content marketing and identified your target audience. Now what? Coming up with the ideas for your digital PR strategy and getting them in front of the right eyes is what it’s all about — but it’s not easy. Fortunately, we’re here to prevent the panic you might be experiencing right now and guide you through the process of coming up with ideas, creating content, and getting it in the media.
In this blog:
- Tips for Finding Ideas for Your Content
- Hosting Your Own Content vs Guest Posting Elsewhere
- What’s Wrong with Duplicate Content?
- Compiling a List of Target Publications
- How to Tell a Good Website from a Spammy One
- Getting into Niche, Industry-Specific and Up-and-Coming Publications
- Getting into the National Newspapers
- How to Pitch to Editors: Finding Contact Details & Creating a Press List
- Writing the Perfect Pitch
- Networking & Follow Up Articles
Tips for Finding Ideas for Your Content
Few things in life are more terrifying than a blank page, but this is a hurdle that you can’t afford to stumble at now. Remember that content creation isn’t easy and that other businesses struggle at least as much as you do. Take heart in the fact that many more people will give up at the blank page stage, making your success even more valuable for being the exception rather than the rule.
Why Written Content?
There are too many different possible content formats for us to cover in a meaningful way in this book, so we’re going to focus on written content for this rest of the post. Not only is written content the most accessible type of content for small business owners to create, but it is also the case that long-form written content is more likely to be shared than shorter content, and that people tend to engage more with written content than they do with other kinds of content. The process for coming up with the content ideas which we will discuss works with other formats too, though there will be some minor adjustments.
Setting Goals and Parameters
Just as you should have a goal for your overall digital PR strategy, you should also have a goal for each individual piece of content that you create. This can be a simple goal, such as explaining a particular concept really well or achieving a certain number of page views or shares. It could also be a more ambitious goal, such as securing a particular client or getting your article shared by a particular influencer that you have identified.
Along with goals also come parameters. You need to decide what you want to get out of your content, and then assign parameters accordingly. Time is money, so if you are short on time then you need to set a reasonable limit on how long you will dedicate to each piece. Likewise, you could set budgetary limits according to how much cash you have to play with. Also, bear in mind other limits such as access to skills and technology.
Finding Inspiration in a Swipe File — Write What You Like
Now is the time to go looking for inspiration, and what better place to start than with the things that inspire you? Start by browsing the websites that you like and give you an emotional reaction. Analyse how they achieve these effects and whether they could be applicable to your business and to your format of content creation.
Save ideas that you like into a swipe file that you can browse when coming up with new ideas. You can bookmark web pages that you think do something really well, or you can save them using software like Evernote or websites such as Trello Board and Pinterest.
Write for Your Audience
Alternatively, if you are not very similar to the target audience that you have identified, you are going to have to start thinking out of the box. Instead of visiting websites that you like, start visiting websites that they like and note down common themes and concerns. What is getting a response and what is falling flat? For each piece of content, you create, you should be able to explain who the target audience is and why they are going to engage with it.
Stay on Trend
Trends are an incredibly important phenomenon that content creators must be aware of. By catching trends early you can gain massive exposure for your business, by jumping on a trend too late you can be seen as an imitator, outdated, or worst of all, boring. To understand what’s trending you’ll need to use a tool like Google Trends which shows the search volume for keywords. This allows you to compare different trends and identify the words that people are using to discuss current events.
Case Study: a local personal trainer gets on national television
Being on trend can multiply the effects of your digital PR campaign enormously. We were able to use Google Trends to identify a key fitness trend for one of our clients, a local personal trainer. We then helped him to create written content covering the trend (which was waist training) and had that published as a guest blog on a reasonably popular website. From there, the article was picked up by a number of newspapers and our personal trainer was even asked onto the BBC to discuss the trend, live on air!
Pay Attention to the News
Related to being on trend is being topical. Responding to news stories and current events is an excellent way to add something of value to the conversation before anyone else gets there. Is a new law being proposed? Talk loudly about how that law will affect your business — people may not have considered your side of the story yet and it could well inform the debate. You can use the Google News tab to search for recently published news stories.
If you really have an opinion on a news piece that you’ve seen online, especially on a big news site like the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and so on, then write a letter to the editor with your opinion about it. Remember to tell them who you are and why your opinion is valuable in this debate.
Competitor Analysis — if it worked for them it could work for you
All’s fair in love and business. The industry leaders of your field have no doubt spent an enormous amount of time and effort determining what kind of ideas work well for content creation in your field and there’s absolutely nothing from stopping you from looking at what they are doing and doing it better than them.
Tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer and Backlink Watch allow you to see what websites your competitor is getting backlinks from. Articles that are very successful tend to have more backlinks, so you should take note of articles that are getting a lot of links and try to determine how you could use similar techniques yourself. Using a tool like Followerwonk lets you do a similar thing with Twitter, enabling you to see what techniques the market leaders are using to get engagement.
Competitor analysis is never about mindless imitation though. Just doing the same thing as other people will always leave you one step behind the crowd. Don’t just try to do what has worked for someone else, try and work out why something worked for something else then use that knowledge in your own content creation.
Follow Journalists Closely
If you are following key journalists in your field on Twitter (and you should be) pay close attention to their conversations. If they start showing interest in a particular subject, asking questions or obviously doing research for an article, now might be a very good time to send them a Tweet or even to write an article of your own on the subject!
Journalists are very in-tune with what’s hot or not, so pay attention to their signals and perhaps even beat them to the prize! A tool like Response Source allows journalists to do research by putting them in touch with PR people. The Twitter hashtag #JournoRequest is used for a similar purpose though is less strictly monitored. If you see a journalist for a high profile publication asking questions about a topic, it’s likely that an article on the subject is imminent.
Picking the Best Idea
Once you have these ideas from various sources assembled in your swipe file and down on the obligatory brainstorm, how do you choose the best ones? First things first, return to your goals and parameters and cross out anything that isn’t helping you achieve your aims or falls outside of the limits that you set yourself. Next, cross off anything that is even remotely boring. Once you are left with only the creme de la creme, get feedback from the people around you on what works and what doesn’t. Once you have a consensus, you know that you have a winner, and the task of content creation can begin…
Tools for Researching Topics and Trends
We’ve mentioned a lot of different tools in this chapter, so we’ve made a list of our favourite tools and how you can use them for researching content ideas.
- Buzzsumo: a website that reveals what articles were written and how often they were read and shared. The free version gives you a very limited experience, but may be suitable for businesses that are just getting started with content creation.
- Google Trends: allows you to see how often a set of keywords are Googled, enabling you to see what is trending and how that trend has changed over time. It also predicts how the trend may change in the future, and you can compare different keyword sets to one another. This resource is excellent and free.
- Google News: selecting ‘news’ on Google will filter your results to just show you what the newspapers are talking about. You can use this in conjunction with a Google alert to find out when your industry is being talked about and what people are saying.
- Twitter: the social media site that is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to up-to-the-minute news stories. Not only can you see what is trending, but you can also use Twitter to keep tabs on key influencers and journalists for your industry and even network with them.
- Evernote: keep all of your content ideas in one easy place with this piece of software.
- Trello Board: an interesting option for arranging content ideas onto a board and sharing that board with your colleagues.
- Pinterest: social media site that lets you pin images. Use this website to pin images that inspire you and could be used as a springboard for your own content ideas at a later date.
- Response Source: a paid-for enquiry service for journalists and PR people. Used by all the major national newspapers in the UK. Use it to get your ideas out there and to find new ideas that are being talked about by other people. Worth the money only for companies that are seriously dedicated to PR.
- Open Site Explorer: another tool from Moz that allows you to learn more about a given website, particularly the number of backlinks that they have and where they are from. As mentioned above, you can analyse your competitor’s links to see what topics are being shared.
- Backlink Watch: similar to Moz, but always free and useful because it gives slightly different results. Behind the spammy-looking exterior is a useful piece of kit!
Getting your Business Covered by the Media
Let’s say that you run a company that outsources HR services to other small and medium-sized businesses. The benefit is that you can provide HR services at a lower cost than if a company set up their own in-house HR department, and your staff are already qualified and up to date with all the legal bits of HR.
You only set your HR outsourcing services business up a couple of months ago. You’ve got a decent website which is easy to get around and contact you through. But your website is new, so you’re not ranking very well on search engines for your keywords, and you’re not getting much traffic to your website and hardly anyone is enquiring about your services (yet). You want to get more traffic to your website, get some leads, and start getting conversions.
That’s where digital PR work comes in.
A great way to get people to your website is to write articles about your business on other websites. You can reach more people by writing on a website that already has good traffic and people reading, show that you’re an expert in all things HR so people will trust your services, and include a link to your website so that people can click through and read more about your services.
This is what we call “guest blogging”. Guest blogging isn’t the same as advertising or writing press releases about your company — instead, you’re writing editorial content about your industry that editors see as interesting and valuable without directly promoting your business. At the end, you can usually include a short author bio about you and a link to your company’s website or social media.
But just where do you find publications to pitch your articles to?
Hosting your own Content Versus Guest Posting Elsewhere
So you’ve got a mind blowing content idea wrapped up and spanked on the bottom. Next task is deciding how you will take that content, your message, and deliver it to your target audience. Broadly speaking, you can either a) upload the content to your own website or b) see if another more popular website is interested in running your content for you.
Each option has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages of keeping your content on your own website are that it has the potential to drive traffic to your site and can increase the perceived authority of your website. But hosting your own content is a bit of a long game, and unless you have a decent rate of traffic already then there is a real risk that your excellent content will be seen by next to nobody.
Getting your excellent idea onto a different website, perhaps even a national news site, is a surefire way to get a ton of people reading your content and consuming your message. This in itself is excellent for your business. If you can start a discussion online then more people will be talking about your business and more people will be visiting your business. But unlike hosting your own content, it doesn’t directly do anything for your own website.
However, if your goal is both to get people talking about your business and also to improve the visibility of your website, there’s a way of doing both at the same time. The technique is to get your excellent content onto a high profile website, but ensure that your content contains a backlink to your own website along with an author bio that explains who you are and why your business is worth keeping an eye on. This technique enables you to benefit from the high traffic of the website that you posted on, while also diverting a fraction of that traffic to your own website. Some of that traffic will convert; some could even end up becoming repeat customers.
Whether you decide to post on your own website or on someone else’s will depend on the goals that you have set for your digital PR campaign, but usually the correct approach is a mix of both. You’ll need to do some guest posting to direct some initial traffic to your website, then have some excellent content up there that you can link back to and so that new users have a reason to stay when they arrive!
What’s Wrong with Duplicate Content?
Now some of you might be wondering why can’t I just upload one copy of the content to my website and another copy of the content to someone else’s website? Good question. When you have one article on one site and a complete copy of that article on another, Google flags that up as duplicate content.
There’s no direct penalty for duplicate content (as far as we know, Google is very secretive about its algorithms). Instead, Google simply chooses to show internet users one copy of the article and hide the other copy. Since Google has no way of knowing for sure which of the two (or more) articles is the original, it simply shows internet users the most popular copy and hides the other ones. What this means in practice is that if multiple websites upload a copy of the same article then only one of the websites, the most popular one, gets the SEO benefits.
The other reason that you might want to think about not using duplicate content is exclusivity. By and large, editors from other websites won’t be interested in featuring your content unless you give them exclusivity and agree not to upload the same content elsewhere.
Compiling a List of Target Publications
If you do decide to upload your content elsewhere, the next step is deciding where exactly. There are already well over a billion websites out there, narrowing down this vast number into a list of targets that are well suited to your business and your content is the next task. Lots of our clients come to us and ask if we can get them into Forbes or The Guardian simply because those are their favourite and the most well-known publications.
But the goal isn’t getting into your favourite or even the world’s biggest publication — it’s getting into your target audience’s favourite publication. You may read Forbes but are your customers reading it? Look back at the avatar that we developed in chapter two. Ask yourself: where do they get their information? Which publications do they read? If you can answer those two questions, then you have the first names down in your target publication list.
Now we’re going to use some tools to check that we have the right demographic.
- Quantcast, a tool that we’ve mentioned already, provides audience analysis for any website, enabling you to see which demographics are using a particular site.
- Google Analytics also gives you extensive demographic data for your website and Google is kind enough to give this valuable information away for free. Through the audience/demographic tab on Google Analytics, you can discover the following information about your website’s visitors:
- Browser used
- Mobile device used
- Bounce rate
- Average visit duration
- Facebook Insights gives you valuable information about what kind of people are visiting your company’s Facebook Fan Page. This gives you the following information about the people who like your Facebook page (sex, age, country, city, language). If there’s a discrepancy between the people who like your Facebook Page and the people who visit your website, then it’s worth thinking about why this might be.
- Alexa is an alternative paid for tool for researching a website’s demographics. By sending a little bit of money Alexa’s way, you get access to a range of SEO tools, including demographic information about your website’s visitors. These stats go right down to their level of education and whether or not they have any children.
Once you have demographic information about your customers, the next step is finding out where your customers hang out online. If you are targeting early twenty-somethings from the United States, you’ll have a totally different audience (and therefore will be targeting your PR efforts at totally different locations) than if you are targeting people who are starting a family in the United Kingdom.
Adding to your List of Target Publications
Aside from looking at your target audience, there are a number of other ways to identify target publications.
Looking at Key magazines and Websites for the Industry
If your business is located in a specific niche, then look at the key magazines and websites for your industry. For example, while the mainstream press is (understandably) hesitant to write about a topic like HR in any way shape or form, there are dozens if not hundreds of websites that are completely dedicated to HR and HR alone. If your product or service is especially useful to HR professionals, then getting into one or more of these publications would be a real win for your business.
Looking for Local Magazines and Websites
If you are a business with a physical location, then don’t underestimate the importance of local websites and publications. They are much more likely to be used by people who have genuine potential to become customers, and as an additional advantage, local publications are often looking for ways to fill their pages before deadline day. Look for the following:
- Newspapers — local and regional.
- News Websites — often newspapers will have online versions and there may be some online-only news websites or notice boards.
- Local Business Websites — any websites who run articles about or interview local business owners?
- Magazines — any relevant local magazines we could get into?
- Blogs — how about bloggers related to your niche based in Glasgow?
If you’re a local business, then a locally based publication with a lower authority will be much more important to your business than a high authority .com website with an international audience. Even though high authority is still better (of course), local is the focus (in this instance).
Googling Keywords, Using “ ”
Is there a problem that can’t be solved by Google? If there is, I don’t want to know about it. Simply Google keywords that are relevant to your content and take note of promising looking publications that are ranking well. If you are especially looking for a publication that is open to taking guest posts then you can structure your search something like this: “keywords” + “guest post”. You can substitute your keywords and the phrase guest post for similar phrases such as “submit content” or “contribute article” to broaden your search even further.
Identifying Influencers and Where They are Writing
Keep tabs on key influencers for your industry and see where they are writing. The most well-respected websites attract the biggest influencers and vice versa. Simply Google their name to get a comprehensive list of websites where they are mentioned, and scan through them to see the websites where they themselves are authors.
Checking Out a Competitor’s Backlink Profile
We’ve mentioned this tactic before, but using Open Site Explorer or Backlink Watch to get a list of publications where your competitors have been mentioned is an excellent way of identifying target publications that are likely to be open to hosting your content. Remember that if you only use competitor analysis you will always be behind, but using it as one tool within a larger strategy can help you catch up on competitors that are outranking you.
5. How to Tell a Good Website from a Spammy One
Not all publications are made equal. As Neil Patel, an industry influencer in digital marketing and founder of Quicksprout, warns: “You can Google ‘places to guest-blog’ and find some spammy sites that will compromise your site, ruin your reputation, and cannibalize your content marketing.”
It’s vitally important that you don’t end up sabotaging your content marketing efforts by uploading your well-crafted content to spammy or disreputable websites. Here are a few ways that you can check if a website is legit:
- Does it look spammy? Popups, poor formatting, spelling mistakes are all signs of a low-quality website.
- What is the DA? Use your Moz toolbar to check the DA of the website that you are looking at. Anything below 15 is a bit of a red flag unless it’s an obviously new and just launched website.
- What is the spam score? Use Open Site Explorer and enter the URL to see a number of metrics, including a spam score, for your target website. You’ll get a rating out of 17 that will tell you the likelihood that the website has been penalised by Google
Getting into Niche, Industry-Specific and Up-and-Coming Publications
It’s almost time for your first pitch! But before we get there, it’s important to understand a little more about what the media landscape looks like in 2016.
It’s a tough time to be running a small publication or website. Print publications are worried because ad money is moving online. Small online websites are worried because the online world is increasingly competitive, as vast quantities of content are being created everyday. It’s getting harder to compete with the larger websites and it’s a constant struggle simply to maintain your position in world where everyone is racing forward at top speed. Journalists are being paid less to do more, and lots of writing is being done by unpaid interns or “guest bloggers”.
In order to get your content into a small publication, you have to think “what’s in it for them?” No one is going to feature your content simply so that you can get free publicity! The most simple thing that you can give an editor is payment. Almost all publications, no matter how prestigious, will feature your article in exchange for a fee. For small publications that fee can be quite reasonable, but of course, there are people out there who will ruthlessly overcharge. We’ll cover this subject in more detail in our blog on sponsored content.
The other thing that you have to offer is the content itself. To make it more valuable, it should be exclusive and it should be an exceptionally good idea. Smaller publications may well decide to take your content because they like the idea and they don’t have the staff or the time to produce the content themselves. Think about it: if you are doing their job for them (and it’s a job they don’t quite have time to do), then they will be happy that someone else has stepped in and offered to do it for them!
Getting into the National Newspapers
Getting into the national newspapers, or industry leading publications is more difficult. As before, newspapers will run almost anything that you ask them to for a fee, but that fee is usually beyond what small businesses can afford to pay.
And unlike smaller publications, newspapers still tend to have large teams of skillful journalists (paid or otherwise), so they don’t need help creating content. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get a mention though. While the national newspapers won’t simply run a story that you’ve written, they could well pick up a story that you have created.
The other route into a national newspaper is through journalists. The key thing to remember about journalists is that they are exceptionally busy. They might have three or four articles that they are writing at any one time and doing the research for all that work is time-consuming. To reduce their workload, journalists often take to channels like Twitter or Response Source asking for help. They may say something like: “Writing an article on business management, any small business owners have any useful tips?”
Now is your time to strike like a ninja! Be quick, be helpful, and politely remind the journalist to mention your business in the article in exchange for the information. In this way, even the smallest of businesses can be mentioned in the biggest of newspapers. Of course, you have to be hanging out where the journalists are hanging out and have your eye on the ball, but the payoff is truly enormous.
Case Study: getting featured in a national newspaper
One of our clients owned a health-related business and he wanted to get the word out about his service. We followed a number of relevant journalists with a history of health writing on Twitter and kept our eyes open on Response Source. Sure enough, a few weeks later a request came through: “anyone have any tips for healthy heart week?” We responded right away with an interesting but little-known piece of information, and ended up getting our client, his service, and a link on one of the UK’s biggest news websites!
Pitching to Editors, Finding Contact Details and Creating a Press List
Getting your story from your head into your target publication is your mission, and there’s only one person that stands between you and your objective: the editor.
Editors are gatekeepers; they decide which stories their publication runs and which ones are left out in the cold. They are the person that you are going to have to convince/persuade/bribe if your digital PR campaign is going to be a success. And to make matters more difficult, they receive a metric tonne of story ideas every day, and have a to-do list that stretches off into the horizon. Learning how to communicate with editors is an essential skill that takes some practice to master.
First of all, you’re going to have to find the editor of your target publication. The easiest way to do this is through the website. Most websites have a “contact us” page which lists the staff as well as their contact information. Simply create a press list in Excel or Google sheets and note down the name of the editor, their position, the publication that they work for and any contact details that they might have listed (including social media profiles). Job done.
To find the “contact us” tab quickly on a web page, use the search function (ctrl+F on Windows) and search for the phrase “contact” — that should take you straight there. If you still can’t find the contact us page, then put the URL in quotation marks in Google then the + symbol then “contact us” also in quotation marks. So finding the contact us page for the UK’s #1 small business digital marketing agency would mean typing (including the quotation marks) “www.exposureninja.com“+”contact+us” into Google. If that still doesn’t work try variations such as “get in touch” or even “meet the team.”
Some websites purposefully don’t list their staff’s email addresses at all. If this is the case, then it could be taken as a good sign — most people probably give up at this point and go somewhere else. But not you. You’re going to go the extra mile and send the editor a message on social media. Sending an editor a direct message on Twitter is more likely to get you a response, and because it’s under 140 characters it won’t take them long to read it. If the staff names aren’t listed on the website, simply read through the articles online and check the author byline to see who’s working there, then look to connect with these people on social media.
Action Point: Create a press list in Excel or Google sheets. Get the email addresses and social media information of ten editors whose publications you would like to be featured in.
Writing the Perfect Pitch
Don’t send that email just yet!
An editor can easily receive hundreds of emails in a day, so what are you going to do to make yours stand out from the crowd? You’re going to have to craft a pitch, and it’s going to have to be pitch perfect (sorry).
Crafting a perfect pitch is truly an art form, so take your time while getting started and don’t be frustrated if it takes longer than you might imagine to get it right. Before you sit down to write that email or make that phone call, take a moment to consider the situation from the editor’s perspective. They’re thinking 1) I’m so busy that I don’t have time to breathe right now and 2) what’s in it for me?
Any pitch that you write has to communicate a clear benefit to the editor, and it has to be concise and clear enough to be read, understood, and digested in under two minutes.
Are pitches likely to be more successful if they are made by email or by phone? Increasingly, I’m seeing editors say, “contact me by email only please!” and it’s easy to see why. Emails can be dealt with as and when the reader has time to do so and have an additional advantage in that they can contain relevant word or text documents. On the other hand, emails can be ignored more easily and I still talk to the occasional editor if they prefer talking to a person rather than writing to them. I’d say that your default position should be email, but if you consider yourself a better talker than writer, or if there is any indication that the editor prefers a phone call, don’t be afraid to give that a go.
Time to get writing. Crafting a strong pitch follows many of the same rules that we discussed in crafting a press release. Your headline needs to be strong enough to elicit curiosity in the very people that spend all day writing headlines. In other words, it needs to be first class. Your subject line should be equally compelling. Remember to tread that fine line between leaving out enough information so that they are curious enough to open the email but including enough information so that they don’t dismiss it for being unclear. A brief tag such as (story idea) or (editorial submission) after the subject line is fine for letting the editor know exactly what they are looking at.
Next comes the top line of the email, which should act as a secondary headline to build interest even further. Lastly, comes the body itself. Keep it concise (under five hundred words, less is better than more) while also being clear. Communicate key benefits to the editor, such as exclusivity, payment or how you will help promote the story. A last point that you have to hit in a pitch to an editor is “why you?” Editors have teams of writers and journalists at their disposal, so if your idea is a good one then what’s to stop them researching it themselves and cutting you out of the story? Ways around this are to make your business an integral part of the story so that you cannot be written out of it. Or alternatively, stress your qualifications as a source for their story. Perhaps you are the biggest business within a particular niche or area, or perhaps there is some emotional reason why you are linked to the story?
Lastly, get your email checked by someone who knows their grammar. If there’s anyone that’s going to judge you on your ability to put together a sentence, it’s an editor. They were looking for an excuse to delete your email anyway, a spelling mistake is more than reason enough for them never to get back to you.
Remember too that editors are people, so treat them like people. Anything that has a whiff of “copy+paste” about it will be universally disregarded, but pieces with more personal touches have more pulling power. Mention the editor and publication by name and explain why your story is a good fit for their particular publication in such a way that shows that you are familiar with their work and understand what they are trying to achieve. Flattery can be a useful tactic.
Editors are all different and what works for one may simply infuriate another. There is no magic pitch, only tools that increase your chances of success and reduce your chances of failure. That being said, it is likely that you will at some point in your digital PR campaign come up with a killer idea that is roundly ignored by everyone you send it to. This can be a little heartbreaking, but don’t take it personally. So long as you have read and understood the advice in this chapter, it probably doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your style or your idea — it just wasn’t right for these editors at this moment. Put it back in the swipe file, dust yourself off, and start again.
It’s hard (but far from impossible) to get a story to stick with an editor. Send out tens if not hundreds of pitches via emails or phone calls. Be realistic and expect to get a “no” or to get ignored by the majority of them. And then, if this happens, don’t panic. Send a polite follow-up email to editors that you haven’t heard back from. Something along the lines of: “did you get a chance to read my email?” will suffice. You’ll be amazed at how many editors genuinely meant to get back to you but simply forgot due to other pressing concerns.
Here’s an example of a pitch from a small business owner who got his ‘leggings for men’ business into The Daily Express with no connections or budget to speak of:
“The Daily Express,
You may have seen the recent news articles published by The Telegraph and the Daily Mail (shared 4000 times and received 200 comments) covering the emergence of “Meggings into the Mainstream”.
An interesting concept I’m sure you would agree, and definitely a hot topic at the moment. Both of these stories feature a Meggings company from Chicago. We propose that we collaborate on a story featuring an organisation a little closer to home:
A company founded in 2012 by three London graduates.
On the 28th of October 2012 two young city workers wore ill-fitting female leggings to a fancy dress party in north London. These two individuals alongside a mutual friend have now tasked themselves with designing, manufacturing and selling male leggings to the fashion-conscious Londoner.
Let me know if this is of interest to you and we can make the necessary arrangements (we are more than happy to create content if required).
Thank you for your time,
This example, featured on HubSpot’s blog, did almost everything right and as a result got major coverage for their brand. Let’s look at why it succeeded and what we can learn from their success.
A) It piggybacked off a trending topic
Not only did the writer exploit an already trending topic, but they also demonstrated the trend by drawing attention to the 4000 shares and 200 comments.
B) It made life easy for the reporter
The line “more than happy to create content if required” is a killer here. It says to the rushed reporter “I’m happy to do the heavy lifting if you like the story.”
C) It appeals to a common bond
The word “London” is mentioned twice in the above article, and with the line “a little closer to home” it becomes clear why: the writer is asking the reporter to help a London-based startup get an edge over a foreign competitor. By suggesting that there are two teams (“us” and “them”) and by subtly suggesting that both you and the reporter are part of the “us” camp, you can make it feel like they are doing the team a favour rather than just doing you a favour.
Action Point: Using the advice and example outlined above, write a pitch for one of your story ideas to an editor of your target publication. Get a trustworthy person to read through it, take a deep breath, then press send. Rinse and repeat.
Networking & Follow-up Articles
Success will come at some point, if not in the first month then in the second. Savour it, enjoy it, and do your best to continue to be involved in the story — adding content, replying to comments, or being available for interviews if necessary. We’re about to get into the actual meat and potatoes of content creation next, but first we’re going to briefly emphasise the importance of networking.
Getting your first story is like landing your very first job out of school — it’s normal to get a lot of doors in your face before you get your foot in the door. But once you’re on the inside things start to get much easier because you have contacts. Once you have contacts in the press, the amount of effort needed to get a story promoted drops dramatically. If you become friends with an editor, they might start coming to you every time they need information on your industry, and you should happily oblige. If you land an article in an industry-specific magazine, don’t stop there. If it is successful, ask about writing a follow-up article, or even becoming a regular contributor to their website. While the SEO benefits on guest posting do have diminishing returns, the brand awareness benefits can easily accrue over time with a regular slot.
Even editors that turn you down are worth staying in touch with. I had an ongoing dialogue with an editor who shot down five or six of my story ideas, but always took the time to explain why. He was almost as excited as I was when I eventually came up with something that was suitable for his website. Pitching is a hard slog, but persistence does pay. Be tough, be smart, and be hardworking. The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.
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