The Digital PR Process That Earns You Editorial Backlinks

Digital PR is one of the most open and cost-effective ways for any business to attract more customers, sell more products and attract editorial backlinks.

Yet most businesses miss out on valuable free PR coverage for their products and services – and the editorial backlinks that can result. That’s because PR is a total mystery to many business owners and SEOs:

  • They don’t believe their business is newsworthy, so they don’t believe journalists will be interested in writing about them.
  • They don’t know the right way to approach the media, so they never make a proper pitch.
  • They don’t believe they can approach the media if they haven’t got a ‘secret black book’ bursting with valuable media contacts.
  • And most of all they don’t know how to break down the PR process into simple manageable steps that nearly every entrepreneur or SEO can master.

In this article, I’m going to give you a step by step process that has the potential to bring you media coverage and earn editorial backlinks from popular news sources. Here’s what I’ll cover:

1. Find as many relevant media sites as you can
2. Read stories on your target media carefully
3. Build relationships with relevant journalists
4. Find out what is newsworthy about your own company
5. Craft a compelling story
6. Create something worth linking to
7. Write a great media pitch
8. Pitch relevant journalists and bloggers
9. Follow up appropriately (but don’t be a pest!)
10. Monitor and build on your success

1. Find as many relevant media sites as you can

Cartoon SEO researches editorial backlinks with large binoculars looking out on the market

The more relevant journalists and publications you find, the greater your chance of your pitch ending up on the desk of a journalist who is genuinely interested in your story. And the more scope you have for earning media coverage and quality backlinks.

Do your research. Don’t just look at the obvious publications – dig deep, find large and small publications in multiple sectors that are relevant to your business.

So for example, an accountancy business could greatly increase their chances of earning media coverage by approaching niche publications:

  • they could approach non-profit publications with a story on tax-efficient fund raising
  •  or catering magazines on how to manage cash flow in a crisis
  • or startup websites explaining exactly what a line of credit is
  • and so on.

To maximize your opportunities for editorial backlinks, you should see your market as a collection of niches and develop specific stories targeted at each niche. Look first at your existing customers – what niches are already there and what detail can you learn about them? Then find media sites that serve those niches and develop ideas for content and stories specifically about each niche.

As you dig into research, you’ll get ideas for further niches you could target.

Research is one of the most important steps – do your research well and you have the foundation on which to build not just one, but multiple campaigns. The advertising guru, David Ogilvy who founded one of the most successful agencies in the world once said, “without research I am lost”. So do your research and see it as a valuable asset that you can use time and time again, and something you can grow and fertilize with new ideas.

2. Read stories on your target media carefully

Man scans newspaper for relevant stories

What makes news in your industry? Take the time to read the media outlets you want to target. Look at news, opinion pieces, guest contributions, and more that regularly appear. – then think about how you could join in.

In today’s fast-paced digital world, most people don’t read, they scan – and that means they miss a lot of detail. But that detail is important – it can give you a massive store of ideas for stories that you could write, ideas that you already know are highly relevant to your market.

So while you’re researching, instead of scanning through articles and posts, learn to read well and absorb detail. Home in on one or two well written articles and pick out ideas and concepts that are mentioned but not fully explored.

Here’s how I do it:

  • Find a good article and print it out (I find this exercise much easier to do on paper than on screen)
  • Read through the print out carefully using a highlight pen to mark important phrases or concepts, any debates or research mentioned, the names of people, products and business mentioned
  • Write a list of everything you’ve highlighted (a mind map is a good way to do this if that’s your thing)
  • Finally go through your list or mindmap, pick out those that are particularly relevant to your market and comment up with ideas you could write about.

This exercise will often give me a list that’s 30-40 items long and that’s a goldmine for content or PR ideas. This is really a revelation – learn to do this regularly and you will never be short of ideas  content or public relations stories.

3. Build relationships with relevant journalists

SEO talks to journalists on phone while taking notes and smiling
The days of blasting out press releases to hundreds of journalists and hoping that you’ll be luck enough to pick up some coverage are long gone.

Generic pitches rarely work and waste your time. To succeed in earning media coverage and quality backlinks, you need to send individually tailored pitches to carefully selected journalists. And to do that you need to know as much about them as you can.

Build relationships with journalists as soon as you can – and you can do that before your pitch them. Follow journalists on social media, share and comment on what they write – show that you are interested in what they have to say.

Start with looking at their profile page. Most publications now have a profile page for each of their reporters and writers. Click on the profile to see what topics individual journalist cover, browse other stories they’ve written and get an idea of their style and what issues are of interest to them. That can tell you how they like to be approached: the profile often includes their social media profiles, and sometimes even their email addresses.

Some publications don’t have profile pages – The New York Times is a good example. But you can still get a lot of insight by doing a ‘site search’ on Google. Here’s an article,  How a Laundry Entrepreneur Spends Her Sundays by journalist, Tammy La Gorce – and it includes an editorial backlink to Sudsy Water Laundry:

This article by Tammy La Gorce includes an editorial backlink

The does not publish journalist profiles, but you can still see their publishing record by doing a Google search site:

Use Google site search to find other articles written by the journalist

All that information is there for you and it’s free – and it gives you an idea of what they’re like and the type of pitch they might respond to.

None of this intelligence gathering is difficult to do, and if you take the time to absorb it, you’ll be much better placed to make a tailored pitch that will attract their attention – and makes you look twice as smart as your competitors!

4. Find out what is newsworthy about your own company

Man has creative idea while relaxing in a bath
There’s no such thing as a boring industry – there are always great stories just waiting to be found. And while you might think that your business is boring, you’re people can have fascinating stories.

Here’s an example of a media story based on interview with two founders, How a master sommelier couple built a wine bar with a diverse following. The story is based on Rebecca Fineman and Christopher Gaither in their wine-focused restaurant in Dogpatch, San Francisco:

Founders Rebecca Fineman and Christopher Gaither in their wine-focused restaurant in Dogpatch, San Francisco

The article shows that even small businesses can earn media coverage on international news websites. And it also includes an editorial link to their restaurant Ungrafted.

Businesses are often their own worst enemy – they think their own company is too boring to be newsworthy so they just don’t try. But ‘Boring’, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder!

No matter how boring you think you might be, every business has people involved – and people are inherently interesting. All you have to do is find their stories!

Here are 4 places to start looking:

Stories about the founder or CEO (as above) – sit down with the founder and ask them about the origins of the company. Take time and probe for stories that could be newsworthy. And if you are the founder, employ a freelance reporter to interview you and write a story.

Stories about the staff within the company. Chat to staff, be aware of their interests outside, the charities they support, stuff that they do within the community. Recognize and encourage their involvement, sponsor their efforts – as well as having a happy staff, you’ll get the opportunity for positive media coverage.

Stories about the customers the business serves. Talk to staff who often meet with customers, find out what problems your products solve for them. You could even do a formal customer survey – you’ll find no shortage of customer stories when you start to look for them.

Stories about the influencers around the industry. Researchers, commentators, industry experts and trend-setters. Think how you can make contact and partner with them.

Collect these types of stories that feature your competitors. Now could you do the same thing for your business? It doesn’t need to be exactly the same but collecting examples provides a trigger point, a focus to help you look at your own business from a journalist’s point of view. Ask what was newsworthy about these businesses and try to understand why the journalist thought this would make a good story!

5. Craft a compelling story

Shakespeare cartoon figure thinks about how to write compelling story
Poor storytelling kills public relations stone dead. If you don’t craft a great story, you’ll never attract the attention of a journalist. You have to do the start of their job for them.

You could follow the classic story model of ‘a problem’, ‘a conflict’ and ‘a resolution’. It’s important to focus on the problems your company solves for people, not corporate waffle that is of little interest to people outside your business.
But many businesses use this approach:

We identified a problem
We worked hard to find a solution
We’ve just launched a new product

This is all about ‘We’ – it’s focused on the company, not the customer.
Focus on the customer and you have a more interesting story.This is not the best way to craft a story.

Here’s a better approach that focuses on the customer:

Customers have a common problem
Existing products don’t solve the problem because…
Now our team has solved the problem and it will save customers $x per week.

That customer focused approach gives you a much better chance of catching the attention of a journalist and standing out from your competitors.

6. Create something worth linking to

Three SEOs review content they've created to make sure it's worth linking to
Media sites are often wary about giving out backlinks so you’ve got to give them a powerful reason to link to your website. Create something that adds to your story – something they’ll want to share with their audience. Then you stand the chance of getting an editorial backlink.
For example, here’s the Jolly Roger telephone company. Most people hate unsolicited calls and see them as a nuisance so they created an online tool that turns the tables on unwanted telephone calls:
The AI-powered app engages the caller in a long conversation and frustrates the telemarketer. This is a creative initiative from a small business and gained worldwide press coverage.
What problems do your customers suffer from and can you create something interactive that will help them?
Unfortunately, some publications as a matter of policy will not give you an editorial backlink. However, don’t ignore them – they’re likely to have a decent readership and you’ll still get valuable benefits:
an increase in brand searches
click through traffic as a result
‘secondary’ links, when other journalists and bloggers write about you and they give you a backlink!
bragging rights – you can use “As featured on…” on your own site.

7. Write a great media pitch

SEO guy is writing a pitch to a journalist
Get right to the point – you do not have to justify yourself. A concise story, well-told, with backlinks to more detail is what gets you coverage.
You don’t need to justify yourself – trying to do so is the most common mistake that PR pitches make. They drone on about who they are, their reputation, and why they’re qualified to have an opinion – and do all of this before they get to the main point of the story. If you take that approach you risk the journalist losing interest and throwing your story in the trash before they’ve even got to the meat of your story.
DON’T open like this:
“We are the leading provider of xyz and have been in existence over 10 years. During that time we’ve grown to employ 25 people and export to over 20 countries…
DO open something like this:
“67% of small businesses miss out on xxx because they don’t know how to..”
So keep your pitches brief and razor focused. Practice writing headlines and a short, punchy intro that tells the story and makes the journalist want to read on because this sounds interesting.

8. Pitch relevant journalists and bloggers

An SEO amplifies a clear message to a journalist
Blasting out your press release to thousands of journalists rarely works. A personal approach to 20 well-researched journalists is much more likely to produce results -that’s where your research really pays off.
In step 1, I explained the need to carefully research niche publications, both journalists and bloggers. I also advised looking at their individual profiles and understand the types of stories they’ve covered in the past.
This is where that research work now takes center stage. Now, you need to pick out your best prospects whether it’s a single journalist to whom you want to give an exclusive or around 20 carefully selected who you already know are going to be interested in your story.
Here’s how such a pitch might open:
Hi Derek,
We enjoyed your piece on “5 Creative Ways to Manage Ways to Manage Staff Working from Home” and acted on your advice with great results. Now, we’ve added to your advice and created an onboarding video course for new staff (link to video).
Would you like to interview our CEO, John Doe the results and why we did the video?
You must tailor an individual pitch to each prospect. There is no real shortcut to this approach.
Tell them why you think the story is good for them, refer to something that they’ve written in the past and tell them how you have added to what they said before and have something new and worthwhile that you hope they can share with their readers.

9. Follow up appropriately (but don’t be a pest!)

Large fly chases a running journalist
Following up with journalists is difficult but it is essential – it increases your success rate significantly. But you need to be helpful, polite and never, ever be a pest.
When you’re starting out on your PR journey, it’s natural to worry about whether the journalist actually received your page and there whether they read it. And following up can dramatically improve your success rate. But follow up once and once only, otherwise you risk irritating the journalist – and that is the last thing that you want. in their study, The State of Journalism 2020 (free download) showed that journalists welcome follow up emails. Only 10% said they would prefer not to receive any type of follow up.

Pestering a journalist should be avoided at all costs. Have some sympathy for the pressures they are under – they have to work quickly, multitask like crazy, Get used to insecurity and must get poorly rewarded for their work. No wonder they can appear distant at times.

10. Monitor and build on your success

Female SEO shows charts reporting media coverage
Your first success is just the start – you’ll want to keep going and earn even more coverage. Save the contact details of any journalists you meet – whether they cover you or not. Promote their work on social media and approach them in the future with another story.
At the very least, set up a Google alert for your brand name or the specific product you were launching. And of course and if you want to take this seriously, there are software packages that can track your coverage. But let’s keep it low cost for the moment 🙂
The best way to say thank you to a journalist is to spread the word about their article:
Share the article on your own social networks
Write about it in your own blog
Reference it in your future writings.
And don’t forget to let your website visitors know. Add an “As featured in [name of journal ]” to your website. This builds trust in your brand and products and shows people you’re a serious business.
Build a separate list of journalists who have written about you together with a link to the coverage and their contact details. If they’re written about you once, they can write about you again so be sure to approach them again in the future.
Finally, add some notes about your success. What did you like about the experience? What worked well and what didn’t? Was there anything you could do better in the future? What did you learn from the experience. Write it down so that it doesn’t become a vague memory in the future – you want to remember the specifics.