SEOs really have to understand online PR to be truly effective at link building. But PR is a whole different discipline and people new to it are sure to suffer uncertainty in what they’re doing.
The good news is that gaining experience will overcome most of these uncertainties, but this takes time. So here’s a quick cheat sheet on what the major uncertainties are and how a newbie can overcome them.
1) You don’t know what the story is
What is newsworthy is not always immediately obvious either to you or your client.
To find potential stories you’ve got to spend time researching and trawling through a lot of material. Interview your client, find out as much about their business as you can and build up a collection of potential stories to that you could develop into something to pitch.
You’ll often find something nondescript that you can turn into a story. A perfect example of how the very ordinary can be turned into a great story is in Accrington Stanley and the soccer game that never was.
The plain facts were bland, the prospect of an exciting and lucrative game with Manchester United had disappeared. This sounds like a classic non-story, something was not going to happen and many people would have left it at that.
But Accrington Stanley managed to turn this misfortune into a story that attracted worldwide media coverage including the BBC, NBC and The Guardian.
In a small fundraising initiative, the club asked supporters to buy tickets anyway and issued a press release on why they should buy tickets for a match that would never happen.
It was this flash of creativity that presented the story in an unusual and newsworthy way, and got a huge amount of coverage.
2) Journalists don’t know what the story is
The popular image of a journalist digging deep into stories to discover something interesting is a myth. They just don’t have the time to do so.
This means you’ve got to do the journalist’s job for them and prepare every aspect of the story for them. Do that well and you can get the journalist to repeat your story almost verbatim.
3) You don’t know if the journalist ever gets your pitch
Journalists can get hundreds of pitches a day so it’s not unusual for stories to be missed. You can’t be sure they actually got your pitch.
The only way to deal with this is to follow up and ask politely if they got your pitch.
This can irritate a journalist and therefore no-one likes doing it, but it is essential, because you might find a journalist who did miss your pitch and who are interested in your story.
If you don’t follow up, you’ll miss definite opportunities.
4) Just because a journalist calls you back, it doesn’t mean they’ll cover your story
Getting a call from a journalist is something to get excited about, but it doesn’t mean for sure that they’ll cover your story. You still have work to do and how you respond to that call can determine whether they will write about you or not.
The call may well be to suss you out, check facts or see if they can get a little something extra.
So be sure to make a good impression, you need to have the facts at your fingertips and make their call worthwhile. If you fail to deliver on the promise your pitch suggested, then they’ll drop you and move on.
5) You can’t guarantee an editorial link
This is one of the most painful aspects of PR if you’re doing it for SEO purposes. It’s difficult to secure an editorial link as well as get media coverage. So be sure to manage your own and your client’s expectations.
You can never guarantee a link but you can maximize your chances of getting one by creating something that is linkworthy as well as newsworthy.
It’s important to ask the journalist if a link is possible, but never turn down coverage because they can’t promise one.
And even if you don’t get a link you can still use the coverage to help your link building efforts in other ways.
6) You don’t know what competing stories might push you out
Your story may be good and the journalist may be interested, but then more significant breaking news takes their attention away.
At the launch of a non-profit organization’s annual report in Belfast many years ago, I did a terrific job of getting TV, radio and press journalists to attend the press conference.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself and was about to start the opening speeches. But then the phones started ringing throughout the hall and every one of the journalists ran for the exit.
A huge incident had happened in Belfast city centre and they had to rush to cover it.
There’s no way to recover from such an event, my coverage was gone. I just had to accept it as a fact of life.
The only consolation I had was that one journalist who was out of town got my press release and published the story as if he had attended the event, even quoting from the Chairman’s speech that I’d included in my press release (see point two above).
7) You don’t know whether you should offer an exclusive
Offer one media outlet an exclusive and you risk alienating the others. But giving an exclusive can get tremendous coverage albeit from a single outlet.
There’s no easy answer to this, you’ve just got to go with your judgement of the situation. If the exclusive is from a major outlet, then I’d likely go with it and take the flak from journalists who do complain. But then try to make it up to them in some other way.
PR is a very uncertain business and that’s something you have to live with. You can’t guarantee that any specific story will take off. But you can guarantee that over a period of time, some of the stories you release will lead to decent coverage, you just have to be persistent.
Don’t be put off by these uncertainties, it’s something we all have to overcome. Many people in PR are self-taught, just as many SEOs are. And the best way to learn is through experience.