Lexi Mills was previously a managing director of Manyminds. She has 8 years' experience in online marketing and communications, working on PR, SEO, content and social campaigns. She is focused on data-driven strategies and integrating channels to maximise their influence on human behaviour in both B2B and B2C environments
Hi, thanks very much for having me. So, I work for Manyminds, and these are some of the places that I get targeted with getting content plays, building links from and getting brand mentions, and I do this for a really wide variety of clients. But, what I’m gonna talk to you about today is not working for people like Red Bull because actually, it’s not as fun as you might think and nor is working in the music industry, which I also did for a while. I like to work with brands that people often think are naturally exciting and sexy, because they give you freedom to do really cool stuff and freedom to be super creative in a way that you can’t when a brand’s got a really strong crafted public identity. So, I’m gonna talk to you about what I think is the PR formula for content marketing that has worked across all of these clients. So, hopefully irrespective of where you sit, you’ll find it applicable.
I’m gonna start with talking to you a little bit about how the industry is changing from a media perspective. What is it these people who give out those big links, what is it that they want and how are their lives different? We’re gonna look a little bit at how you make contact with them, how you build relationships, and how you package your online content. And we’ll talk a little bit about risk management making friends with all the other people we now have to play with before we can launch a piece of content, and then I’m gonna tie it together with one case study at the end so you can see what it all looks like if you put it all in one box and apply it to a client.
So, let us have a think about big brands. You know, we often think, “Oh, we’ve gone through a hectic change period with the Google algorithm updating time and time again.” But, the reality is, so have all these big brands. They’ve gone through the rabbit hole too and it’s been hellish for them and so what we need to do, is have to think about how that has changed. So, what you’re seeing here is a piece of sponsored content that used to be how big brands dealt with publishers, but it’s not all about the money these days. One of the biggest changes I’m seeing is with people like MSN and Yahoo, if you look closely at this list, they’re publishers, they’re contributing publishers are brands. And every month I find a new brand being added to this list. This is Bankrate. I just searched all of their articles on Yahoo and I was astounded by how many they had.
Now, normally we’d rather pay for it but, publishers are getting so stressed out and so overworked that when a brand becomes so good at content, the publishers want it for free, rather than asking for money anymore. It’s adding to their portfolio. And we’re also seeing people like CNET, take their teams that were regional and merge them into being global teams, which is a really cool change for us, because it means you can now promote content 24/7, which is epic for the 24/7 rule, but even better if you screw up your first pitch. Yeah, the first time you get on the phone and you’re selling in a new piece of content, you sometimes trip over your words. Even the most seasoned people do. But if I call London CNET and they don’t take it, I’ve got another chance five hours later when San Francisco wake up, which is awesome. And then, do you remember this? You remember when you could get one piece of content on a website and it just went everywhere. You got like five different pieces. As a PR you’d be like, “Five hits!” As an SEO, “Five links!” And then Panda came along and all of that stopped happening at the same level — unless you live in Australia and then it still happens quite a lot but, well there’s something new. There’s a new syndication hack. Because it’s always gonna be something new, for everything we lose we get something and future publishing is leading away in that. Now, if you walk into WHSmith and you look at the big print shelf, I know crazy people buy print publications, a lot of it will be future publishing. But, they decided not to take their teams and make them global, they made them sector based. So, now they have a gaming team, they have a photography team, they have a tech team. So, when you call TechRadar, you’re actually speaking to a journalist that also writes for T3 and PC Gamer. That means you can sell in one piece of content and get it across all these publications. It also means you can sell them one piece of content screw it up and upset all these publications in one go.
So, let’s have a little think about how you fix that. So, I created a checklist, which I’m gonna just pull a few bits out of for you, of things you should do before you speak to a journalist. Firstly, if you’re gonna pick up the phone you’d better be at least 60% sure that they really wanna hear about this content. You’ve gotta make sure you know exactly what publication they wanna put it in. It sounds really silly, but when you ring a journalist and he says, “What publication do you want me to place this in?” and you don’t know, you lose all credibility instantly. And that’s because many of them are now writing for far more than ever before. Make sure you know that. Also, ever think about what section you want it to go in? You know, is this a news piece, do they write news pieces like that, is it long enough, the content you’ve got, to be a news piece or is it more of a Q&A? Make sure you know these answers. Also make sure you’ve read their publication. We all work in different sectors and when I was agency side, it was crazy I’d be starting off in the morning with pet insurance, debt in the afternoon and then maybe doing travel later on in the afternoon. There’s no way I’ve read all these publications back-to-back and all their competitors. But I can spend a good 30 minutes just scanning over a couple of them so that I’m semi-informed. It makes the world of difference and if you’re gonna go through all the effort of calling one journalist that could get you in five publications, it’s well worth it.
And the other thing I’d encourage you to ask is, what keywords are they targeting? What’s really working for them right now? What’s making people click on all of their articles? And make sure you’ve done a little bit of research as well, look at their competitors, look at the top pages, look at what are the top likes on their Facebook, the top shares on their Twitter channel. It’s so quick and it’s so easy and it tells you loads of information. If you just turn and say yeah, I see that everybody seems to be talking about X and Y and that’s what our content is about. That’s a pretty good and pretty strong and compelling picture if you’re a journalist. And that’s in part because we have SEO tools, so do all these guys. They, some of them, are being targeted at taking 60% of their headlines from automated tools telling them what they should be covering on what keywords. Who is better placed to work out what’s probably coming out of those tools? An SEO or traditional PR? SEOs have the advantage here and we should be using it.
But you don’t have to do it just with keyword tools. I go to a CES every year. It is a pretty good party, I’m not gonna lie. You should consider going out. But I go because as I walked through all these halls I get an idea of what are the key trends people gonna be talking about in technology over the next year? This year I had a client called Chi. Now, Chi is ethic they do the future of human interface technology. Now, I really can’t begin to tell you how futuristic and how awesome I feel about humanity when I worked on this project. But behind me, this is a machine learning system for agriculture. Okay? This could solve loads of world hunger issues, it can grow epic marijuana. I’m sure — they didn’t put that in their press materials but I’m pretty sure that’s the case. This is an art installation that when you hold up the mirror it takes a photo of you and then puts it up online to show how when you interact with the internet it leaves a footprint online. It’s this beautiful immersive poetry.
I had 90 submissions that I had to go through and a small budget and a small team and a small amount of time to get these guys coverage. So, I took the list of trending topics I’d noted down at CES, and then I searched all the research documents. Found which terms were repeated. So, where they matched and which documents had several of these. Because if there’s one thing a journalist is gonna like, it’s not just one strong keyword, it’s gonna be three. And it’s a point of reference one of the journalists at CES told me that convergence is gonna be the biggest theme in technology this year. So, three types of technology together, I was like, “I definitely see how that works from a keyword perspective and if it works for you we’re all happy.” So, that’s exactly what I did. And on a very small team, we’ve got over a hundred publications. Covering up pretty much every national and major publication in the UK and the US, and that would not have been possible if I hadn’t have used keyword research. But let’s have a little think about where the future’s going. Facebook, unfortunately, is now, or fortunately depending how you look at it, is rewriting its algorithm to combat clickbait spam. So, although I’m telling you focus on keywords you’ve gotta have some good content at the end because the algorithms are updating to combat this.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair for me to talk about journalists and not talk about time. But time is kind of irrelevant. When I speak to my parents about time, when I’m busy and they’re busy, very different situations. So, let’s put some numbers to it. This is a website that tells you how much journalists get paid, right? On average it’s submitted so it’s not 100% accurate. But this is BBC: if somebody’s getting around 50 cents a word or 45 pence roundabout; the average article is around 400 words, maybe 450 — that’s about 200 bucks an article. If it takes them an hour to write it, they’re making 200 bucks an hour. Let’s take off 50% for business expenses and tax. If you’re a freelancer, it’s a hundred bucks an hour. If you don’t give a journalist everything they need to write their story and it takes them two hours to write it, now they’ve made 25 bucks an hour. What if they need to do a bit more research to check that your data is good? We’re dropping by 50% again. We need to give journalists everything they need and if you’re known for that, they’re gonna make more money out of you. If anything talks, money talks.
So, let’s have a look at how we can look at glitter and learn about how we give journalists what they want. So, these are really cool. These are glitter poo pills. You can get them from Etsy. You take them they turn your poo into glittery stuff, brilliant. Got loads of coverage. Of course I paid attention — I love glitter. I have some in my wallet for anyone who wants them at the end of the session. But what was really cool about these stories was that they gave you everything you need to make a story. Almost the anatomy of it. So, they had a good headline, they’ve got a great image, and they’ve got a quote from the person who launched them. But, you’ve also got a second person in the story. Now, getting a client to talk about your product or service, is often a lot more energy than it’s worth. These guys just took it from Twitter. That’s brilliant. And if you put all of this in the Dropbox and you call in your content to a journalist and they can get everything in one go, even if it’s really late at night and they’re trying to hit their article limit for the day, they can write your story.
But, if you really wanna go to the top of the pile, the thing that’s really working at the moment and putting the cherry on the cake is always gonna be video. And I spent the last week with a $20 or so, about £15, tripod and a very, very smashed iPhone because it’s not financially viable for me to keep repairing and we keep smashing them, just as a point of reference. So, I went around took loads of video send it directly to journalists from my phone and they can edit it up however they want. As long as it’s landscape is good enough for most publications. But if you really wanna win at the glitter game, I was thinking, okay, if I was promoting this, how would I build the world’s best contact list? I was like I’m not gonna do backlinks of competitors. That’s not gonna help me really with glitter. What I’m gonna do is go find a similar story. Maybe, gold poo pills, turns out they exist too for the high spenders. So, I want to encourage you to think about doing backlink analysis of similar stories. Start tracking where these stories came from, who published them, what sections of what publications publish them? And then suddenly you have the most killer list for your glitter poo pills.
This scales backlink analysis… I’ve got a checklist for you of this. But, backlink analysis of competitor sites doesn’t help you build good PR promotion lists to get these really big links. Backlink analysis of similar stories does and it exists across the world. You’ll be hard pushed to find a story so unique that no one else has ever covered something similar. And phones I know it can be tough. If you don’t have a media database trying to get the phone numbers just can take forever. So, call the advertising lines. I’ll probably get in a little bit of trouble for saying this, but they’ll transfer you. You know, if everyone in this room does it is still only everyone in this room there’s really not that many people doing it.
I want to talk to you now about a story from finder.com. They did a story about the average Californian and they drilled a whole load of data and they found out that the average Californian is not who you thought it is. For started she’s like 35, she lives in Koreatown and they get some really cool graphics which forgot in all these media publications. Here are some of the graphics, but they did something even better, they got TV coverage. Now, TV coverage will influence all the print coverage. But, their founder, the only person they could offer as an interview subject was in Australia. That’s a really long way from California. TV stations want things quickly. So, they did something really old school, they used Skype. But, you don’t have to just use Skype. You can see here, is me with a robot attendee at my conference. How cool is that? And it was chasing kids around and journalists love it, and it’s actually really cool for them to be driving around a conference remotely. And I think we’re gonna see a lot of journalists attending briefings through VR as well. I mean from a legal perspective, if you’re doing promotion or around a particular country that’s far away it’s actually a lot of money and insurance to fly journalists out. You can just do it all through VR now.
But, they did something else. They wrote down a methodology for their research behind the story and that may not seem like a big deal, but liability is becoming a bigger issue in media today. So, let me put this in context. It’s less so in Europe, but this is definitely dominating in the U.S. Freelancers have written into their contract they are personally liable for any inaccuracies in their data. That means they could lose their house for publishing your content if your data is inaccurate. So, let me throw this question to you, if you’re sat in your home office and someone rings you with a story, they don’t give you the right assets they don’t back up their data so you could risk losing your house and you’re gonna make 25 bucks an hour are you covering that piece of content? You’re not. As a point of reference that piece of that liability is transferable, so even if their publication gets sold they’re still liable. Now, if you have a brand that people don’t know, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, I always use PR Newswire or Business Wire to put my story out because it gets a little bit of trust. They fact check and journalists can… they don’t have to trust you, but they can trust the wires as a point of reference; it’s a little bit of a backup, but you should still substantiate everything.
And I wanna talk about smoke and mirrors. I remember when I had like three or four Twitter profiles, something I was really into pets, other ones I’m really into tech and that’s what you use when you’re promoting content. Journalists move around so much now, it’s just not viable. So, when I took on a new client that was in the financial sector I learned everything I could about two areas of finance and when I sat down with a gentleman I said, “Hey, I know absolutely nothing about mortgages, but let me tell you about student loan repayments.” And then they taught me. I wasn’t trying to fake it. The SEO industry has been quite known for faking promotional aspects and that’s why journalists were initially weary. We just have to stop that. There is always a way to be honest and still have integrity about your subject matter and even better if you’re actually promoting something you love. We don’t like this when it happens to our content, right? It sucks. We’ve all had it. So, let’s look at how we can reduce it.
Firstly, big links, big visibility will suddenly mean brand managers. Oh, that means we actually have actual brand managers to contend with, PR, social people. Your SEO, content, outreach whatever you call them, your teams creating stuff that goes on the internet need to know your clients or your business is brand guidelines inside out. It will make everything go smoother. And then I learned this year and I’m kind of embarrassed to say I didn’t think of it sooner, but when you’re promoting big content, get the client to sign off on the ideas, the content creation and design and the promotional process. And then get them to sign off of on the sign-off process preferably in pen so you can wave in front of their face. Because that stops a team coming in at the last minute and saying, “Hey, you can’t put that out there, it clashes with what we’re doing.” And this is gonna become increasingly more of a problem as you start to get bigger links. But, if you really wanna chill out before launch, you wanna cut a cake up. Treat your content like cake. And you wanna say right I’m gonna sell an exclusive on the interviews, exclusive on the images, exclusive on the video and then suddenly you’re sleeping super well. Because you know that you’ve got all this content lined up before launch and when you’re trying to pick who gets that content, it gets really interesting. Because you can say, “Oh, which publication has the biggest circulation? Probably Daily Mail.” But has your client disavowed the whole of the Daily Mail? You might wanna fix that as an issue — maybe just go back to the pages. But you might wanna put on a mirror in the meantime.
And also which publications won’t publish if they didn’t get to go first? This is a big issue in the tech world. Make sure you know that. Ask them. And then, secondly look at your US/UK/international split. You can have a US exclusive and the UK exclusive and then you know that you’ve got all this coverage coming out you can sleep so much better. This is a cat sleeping, by the way. That’s how you all wanna sleep before you launch content, right? And give yourself the time, plan ahead. I’ve pushed a launch date out recently twice. I didn’t want to, but certain things were slowed down and I knew that we could be more prepared than we were, and when I stood back I was like other than having to admit that we haven’t run to schedule, which I really didn’t want it to do, that was the only problem with me pushing the launch date out. And it’s made us so much more successful. Be brave. Swallow your ego when you’re late, if it’s your fault, and move the date, you will be happier. And spread your content across several baskets. We used to always do one big campaign and then your heart rate is racing just before you launch. You’re getting super stressed out. Now, I try and have several campaigns in different stages. So, one in launch, one in build and then I have some business stuff going on, some case studies going out, you know, a little bit of Q&As. Whatever we can think of. And I’m always targeting my trade media with tips articles. Because that means if something launches and it doesn’t fly, and that’s gonna happen. It happens to everyone, it means you can distract your client with the other stuff you’re bringing in whilst you fix what’s going on with the content. It’s brilliant strategy it works really, really well. Because the one thing that really sucks is when you’re spending an hour to calming down a client and you should be spending an hour or two fixing a piece of content.
This is a trade magazine for the music industry — they cover hires. So does “Body Shop” magazine. So does “Locksmiths Weekly”, by the way; “Plumbers Weekly”; highly read magazines and, as a point of interest, highly converting. They might not have the strongest domain authority, but if you place an article for small businesses and that targets locksmiths in “Locksmiths Weekly,” you will get the phone ringing? It just happens and promote you’re hires, we’re all hiring. If you’re working in businesses that are growing, even Yahoo does it. And your local press will cover that as well. These are all little bits that you can have feeding in whilst you’re getting your content up and running. And case studies — you go on most websites and you search ‘case studies’, you will get a case study that comes up. And that is brilliant, because that means that you can promote every success you’ve ever done. So, every time I have a campaign that’s successful, you’ll find eight articles about it because it’s great for promoting. And business websites are super scalable because they’re all run to the same format. So, you know when I said you should read a publication and get to know it sectors. Well, with business publications or pretty this much the same so, you just get to know one really well and then suddenly you can promote all your content to load because you’re like, “Oh, yeah it’s for your business news section, I know your articles are around 400 words in length and have a big picture. Or it’s for your case study section; I know you love interviews and that you always need quotes, I’ve got quote.” Super scalable. And don’t forget your women. One thing that people often do when they’re doing business PR is forget to have a look around the office women. The amount of times I go into a meeting, claim I’m going to the loo, and what I’m really doing is hunting for a female face that I can use in press. Go speak to them, get their permission and then go back to the client and say, “You know that person over there? I think they would be okay if we put them in the press.”
And now, I want to speak to you finally about scalable frameworks. Because you get evergreen content that you can promote way around, but scalable frameworks really rock. And let me show you why. When I started at PledgeMusic, we had Apple Music announced, and I was like, “Ooh, I’m looking at the search volume, I know this is gonna be rocking, I know everyone’s gonna wanna cover it, I’m watching Tim Cook on stage talking about it, like how we can become part of this?” And then the press coverage started coming out. Everybody was furious about our artists not being paid royalties, and Taylor Swift was really, really vocal about it. And I understand, I do. But, everyone wanted to speak about it and I knew the search volume would still be there after every publication had covered everything they could about the royalties issue. So, we said what no one else is saying, and we wrote about all the good things that was happening with Apple Music and we put it in a blog post, but we didn’t publish. We got some photos of the CEO and then we sold it into Music Business News, and then we published it, and then we sold it into everyone else and we’ve got a really good amount of coverage for a smaller business in this sector. Simple process: craft content, selling exclusives, sleep well, go live, promote further, send out through all your other channels.
Okay. When it was our birthday, that’s exactly what we did again. Crafted a blog post, sold in an exclusive and sent it out. Now, actually we were delayed and we had a smaller team. So, we couldn’t get as much press or forewarning for this as we would have liked but because we had the process in place, we got loads of coverage and the thing is the process is based on what we know will build links. So, I know that people will reference the quote from the blog post, and I know that’s not a deep link to a website but it’s still a link coming in and it’s the consistency. Because journalists now know that we consistently post on current issues, we’re getting in a position where we can do what Bankrate did. And start offering content consistently to someone like MSN or Yahoo.
Now, I wanna show you some of the tools I’ve worked with. I put some on one side but there are two other tools here, one is Aesop’s Fables. When you’re crafting a piece of content or promotional strategy often you know something’s not right and you’re sitting here like, “I just feel it’s not right.” Ask yourself what fairy tale it relates to and then try and place all the bits of the story together and you’ll see a gap and that’s the gap you have to fill. So for example when the O2 was relaunching, it had a little bit of a bad rap — the O2 arena, right? But if you called up the journalists and say, “Hey, it’s a little bit of an ugly duckling story, it’s being taken over by the O2, it’s gonna be really revamped.” By saying it’s an ugly duckling story, you’ve told them everything they need to know and you can craft all your content within that context. So, I think everyone should read Aesop’s Fables.
But, I also think everyone should read The Charisma Myth because what I love about this is that we often talk about integrity almost being a deficit, like anything, you know, nice people don’t get as far as mean people; dishonest people get further. Well, The Charisma Myth basically says in order to be super charismatic, you can’t give someone a fake compliment — you have to find something you really value in them and tell them about it and that’s how you become charismatic. If you read this whole book and you work out how to be really honest but excited about all your content and all your clients, you will be categorically more successful with everything you do this year.
So I’ve talked you through the history of publishing, where we’ve got changes, how you risk manage, how you package your content there are some quite a few checklists in there which will be up online that you can have a look at. But I wanna give you three points to think about here. Let’s retire the old tactics of being a little bit dubious, even the ones that kind of semi-work they won’t scale. Let’s hustle with a little bit of integrity, let’s make sure that we’re being super honest putting the right people on a project. I’ve looked at a whole lot of agency project and the ones that are consistently performing are ones where the staff actually know about that subject matter, whether it’s a personal interest or a business that they used to work for.
And then finally, remember that the ground is moving under all our feet. If you wanna find commonality with a top-level target, remember that they get just as annoyed by Google updates as you do. Whatever things really annoyed you this week, probably annoyed them. That’s an excellent starting point. And then finally, I’m telling you to follow the trends and the keywords like Pokémon Go, but we’re evolving as an industry. We’re not young anymore. Every other industry has a code of conduct that they follow on ethics and morals and how they execute themselves. This is a really challenging subject for the SEO industry. But last year, interest in Star Wars massively dwarfed that of Cecil the lion, and further dwarfed that of the Iran nuclear deal, by what I would say is a staggering amount.
We create what people see is reality. When we’re picking these trending subjects, we’re pushing down something else to the bottom of the list. I’m not saying don’t make money for your clients, I’m not saying don’t piggyback on the back of Pokémon Go, but think about what you’re pushing off the search rankings now and again, because you are determining some people’s perspective of reality. SEOs used to be in the back dark room for a lot of developers. We’re now on the front foot changing brands and changing the way people see the world. But, let’s do it in a way that we’re really proud of. Thank you.