rollercoaster against a sunset

Resilience, persistence, and… Ronan Keating

There’s no doubt the digital PR world has changed over the last 10 years. We’ve gone from finding any website under the sun to cover our stories regardless of quality; paying for links (or ‘donations towards running costs’ as it was once known); as well as ashamedly at one point contributing to the fake news agenda by flooding journalists with fake product after fake product (no wonder DT was so angry).

Thankfully the industry has moved on, and now the focus (mainly) is on ethical, digital PR campaigns targeting relevant industry and national titles.

It’s also no surprise that it’s become increasingly hard to get attention when there’s competition from thousands of other PRs trying to get journalists to “pick me” from their 300-400 daily emails. I get countless ‘spam’ emails to my personal inbox, so I understand why your inbox blowing up can be annoying.

There are varying levels of ‘expert’ advice about cutting through the noise, habitually conflicting and contradictory. Frequently these suggestions work on the assumption that all journalists are identikit clones of each other. Naturally, this isn’t true (unless you’re the tinfoil hat type), but there are some constants in this often-unsolicited advice that do come in useful. Especially when you’re trying to zig against the zag.

Your email subject line is opportunity number one.

One of my pet peeves is when a campaign has been well planned, expertly researched and a hefty investment has gone into it to make it work, only for it to fall at the final hurdle due to a poor subject line.

The day of outreach comes, and you think, ‘right, what am I going to use as a subject line?’

It’s often the last thing people think about on their campaign, but it’s the first thing a journalist sees. If a journo isn’t engaged or interested in the subject line, then that email, however well-crafted, is already, akin to my music career, dead in the water. Nail it though and you’re already through the first gate; level one complete.

Any PR worth their salt has sent a campaign from which they’ve received a positive email back, as well as an ‘unsubscribe’ or worse from the same type of outreach. You need a thick skin in this game. A self-appointed dynamic personality may get you so far, but you also need resilience in your skillset.

Learn why it did or didn’t work, and don’t make the same mistake twice. As we’ve got plastered in one of our meeting rooms, ‘you’re not failing if you’re learning’.

Back to where I was originally going with this. Every journalist is different, they all want different things. You wouldn’t put a message in your group chat and expect the exact retort from each one of your friends, would you? With the caveat of the usual “heartfelt” balloons and ‘congrats xxx’ message that accompanies your mates’ ‘life news’, which you feel unduly obliged to respond to. Bonus points for when it’s, “so happy you’ve finally told everyone”, sent in a sly power move to show that you’re the closest of companions in the group. I digress…

I’ve never been a fan of the spray and pray approach with outreach. If it works for you then great, but it does expose you to more risk of that dreaded six-word reply, ‘Please do not contact me again’.

Instead, invest that initial time in creating a media list that’s right – don’t target 300 sites for the sake of it or because your boss tells you so; find 100 perfect targets that you know are interested in what you’ve got to give them. The right journos, at the right publication, that’s right for your client, right?

If you don’t get a reply from a contact, send a follow up (but don’t annoy them), and if you still don’t get a reply, either reangle your campaign or find a different journo at the same publication.

Bonus tip: if you use a media database, it’s still worth doing a manual check. I once had a team member receive a response from an email saying that sadly their contact had passed away, creating an awkward conversation at a difficult time.

Recently I worked on a campaign that I wholeheartedly believed in, but my first wave of outreach didn’t seem to be getting the results I wanted, and I couldn’t figure out why. Give up? In all honesty, I was close, but I wasn’t convinced that the campaign needed changing, so I stuck with it and continued to outreach to the people I knew would have an interest. In fact, the last email I sent (on a Friday at 4pm of all times…) landed me the first response I’d been looking for, and I had the traction. I used a similar approach to try date girls in my teenage years, but I’ve been told I must keep this professional for the website. The same campaign a week later had helped fill in a CoverageBook report with the metrics you can be truly proud of on a campaign, and led to one of those client calls you’re genuinely excited for.

So, what’s my point? If I hadn’t been persistent, if I hadn’t sent that last email, then I may not have got that first bit of internal belief – that, ‘you know what; this campaign is as good as I believed it was.’

Like the great Ronan Keating once said, “Life is a rollercoaster”.

About the author: Matt is our Head of Outreach with 10 years experience in the industry. He’s actively delivered coverage and links for brands including Irwin Mitchell, Ann Summers, Thomas Mansfield, DPG, Viking Direct, BT Business, Rajapack, Moonpig, Go Car Credit, House of Fraser, Nochex, Neil Hudgell, and Unite students as well as many others. With an active interest in white-hat digital PR, his specialties are creating relevant high-quality backlinks for clients alongside creative idea generation to secure coverage in well-known industry publications.