So, you’ve spent time researching and writing your content, and now here comes the hard part – the pitch.
How do you get journalists and publishers to open your email, let alone read what you’ve written?
My guest today is Amanda Milligan, and as an experienced growth and content marketing specialist, she knows her way around words.
In this episode, Amanda shares insights on how to get your pitch noticed. She says that it comes down to just two things that, if done well, should get you noticed.
listen to this episode
- What exactly is digital PR and why do it?
- Why no amount of promotion is going to salvage a bad piece of content
- How to be something remarkable, that people will care about
- Creating an element of surprise
- How emotions play an important role in this field
- How Amanda comes up with her ideas
- Why you should be involved with a project from the beginning
- Answering questions to tell a new story
- How to spot worthy trends
- What you can do to ensure you have the highest chance of getting a reply from a journalist
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com. The no fluff, actionable marketing podcast for people who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to pitch stuff to publishers and journalists that they actually want to receive. My guest today is an experienced growth and content marketing specialist. She’s a marketing director at Fractl, which is a content marketing agency that’s in the U.S. She’s been a writer, a senior writer, editor. She knows her ways around words. And today, as I said, we’re going to talk about pitching stuff to journalists. Amanda Milligan, welcome aboard.
Amanda: Thank you for having me, Louis. I appreciate it.
Louis: Thank you for calling me Louis. As I said before we started recording, it’s nice to be acknowledged for my nationality. Anyway, the topic at hand is pitching stuff to publishers, journalists, what is being called digital PR, digital public relations, right? So maybe you can take a step back and just briefly describe the field of digital PR. What does it even mean?
Amanda: That’s a great question. We actually had to do a project on this recently, surveying what everybody thought it meant. I think this happens in marketing a lot where a term has different definitions to different people. The way that we consider it is basically reaching out to writers as you would in traditional PR, but online, right? So you’re not always doing the same type, and some people would still consider pitching press releases to be digital PR. But what we do at Fractl is more coming up with our own newsworthy content and pitching that to writers. So we work with a specific subset of digital PR that we think is the most effective. So you’re coming up with something newsworthy, and I’ll talk more about that, because that’s an important piece of this, and you’re pitching it because you know it’s going to be interesting to their audiences. So you’re sending them emails that are crafted in a very particular way that explain this is awesome, your audience is going to really value it and it’s available to you if you want to cover it.
Louis: And what’s in it for you?
Amanda: What does it mean to me?
Louis: What’s in it for you, like as the company? Because you don’t do that just for the sake of it, probably.
Amanda: Yeah. So the reason we do this for our clients… And actually we do it for ourselves. I do the same thing [inaudible 00:02:26] marketing agency, as we do for our clients and you get a lot of value out of this tactic. First of all, a lot of the reason it’s really appealing to people is you get backlinks, and not just any backlinks, you get really high value backlinks, some really good publishers that are sometimes no-follow, but there’s a whole debate around that and the value of that, as well. We find it valuable. So you get the backlinks, but then you also get brand awareness. And you start building your authority, too. Because the way that you’re mentioned in these news stories is different from other ways. It’ll say a study done by this brand or research done by this brand, so you’re also positioning yourself in a specific way. So there are a lot of really good benefits that come out of it. And the more you do it, the more those benefits compound.
Louis: So, okay. Backlinks for search engine optimization for SEO, in particular. So basically Google, in particular, I mean, any search engine, but Google is the biggest way long mile. They still use backlink as a signal to understand whether a piece is valuable or not. And the reason why they still do it in 2020, and likely to do it for years and years, is because it’s fucking difficult to get backlinks, right?
Amanda: Exactly. Yes. That’s why people hire us. You can’t just be a one person team, like, “I’m going to just get some backlinks from USA Today.” It is really tough. And you’re absolutely right, it’s tough for a reason. Those sites, when they link to you, are basically saying, we trust what they’re saying. And that kind of validation is what Google relies on to get a sense of how authoritative you are.
Louis: So backlinks is one thing. And then yeah, the social proof, the authority, is another. You associate yourself with a brand that is bigger, that is known, and by association then you become more trusted. But the downside of it, I’ve seen that happening multiple times, is that you could… I wouldn’t call it… It’s not guest posting, so you’re not posting on another site so people mentioned you. Do you see a lot of traffic coming from pieces like this? Or is it more like an authority play? Do you see traffic, people actually clicking on links?
Amanda: That’s a great question. This is the quote, the answer everybody hates, but it varies. Even just for the marketing work we do. We pitch marketing content to different marketing publishers. We’ll definitely get referral traffic from that specific piece. So yes, a lot of the time you will see a spike in traffic, but it’s not long lasting, because it’s just from people seeing the article and clicking through.
Amanda: However, it is a longer term brand play and it is a longer term link play, because you don’t just want to build a bunch of links in one week and then never build links again. That’s not sending the right message to Google. Like, “Yeah, we came for about a week to do things that people liked. And then we stopped. Now, we don’t know if we’re trustworthy anymore.” So while you won’t do a project and then suddenly your organic traffic it’s risen and will continue to for months, you continue doing it and you’re sending the sign that, “Okay, you’re continuing to do this. People are still talking about you on an ongoing basis.” Like I said, the work compounds and that’s when you start to see organic traffic continuously rise.
Louis: Okay. I’m going to just pause the interview briefly, because I can hear some noise now when it comes to every two minutes, or so, it saturates for a few seconds and then goes back. Do you have any other microphone, anything at all that you can use?
Amanda: The microphone I’m using is external and usually is okay. I wonder what’s happening. I’ll try to adjust the volume, too.
Louis: Have you set it up on Squadcast to be this mic?
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: What if you use your headset instead? Tell Squadcast to use your other mic and see.
Amanda: Yeah. Sorry about that.
Louis: No, no, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m used to that. Happens a lot.
Amanda: And my internet has not been as good ever since everybody started working at home.
Louis: Your internet is fine. I mean, your video doesn’t even break or anything. So I don’t think it’s-
Louis: … the video or the quality of the internet. It’s probably just the mic.
Amanda: Oh, I feel like it’s going to make… I might leave for a second and come… Is it okay if I leave and come back? Because it’s not letting me change it now.
Amanda: Actually, what if I just.
Louis: No problem. Okay. So building basically value consistently showing up, which is I think one of the first principles of marketing in general, but that’s applied to [Inaudible 00:00:11]. You need to show up consistently for years and years and years and Google, like any search engine, would value that, they recognize that in their black box algorithm, which makes sense. So to go back, back links is one thing, authority brand plays another, so to go into the psychology of it, by brand play we mean we build memory structures in people’s brain, they see our name maybe for the first time or not, but it refreshes the memory or create a new memory structure they’re associated with something. And the next time they might think about buying whatever you’re selling, they may think of you first, but it’s not a one time thing. As you said, it takes years, months to work out, but it compounds, as you said. So that’s good. Any other benefits outside of those two?
Amanda: When you start doing this kind of work, you build relationships with writers as well. So the more you get into it, the more that you have those connections that will make it a little easier later on. So that’s not an external benefit, but it is a benefit to starting to do this the right way. You’ll start to see the true actually forming relationships with people.
Louis: Wow, which is crazy. That’s a crazy new concept for a lot of folks. I’m being sarcastic but obviously, but yeah it is, that’s what marketing is about. It’s marketing markets, it’s the people behind it. And yeah, so you build relationship with writers, journalists, and it gets easier and easier. As you said, it compounds as well. That’s another great benefit.
Louis: So that’s why we need to pitch right, pitching stuff. Now it’s not for everyone this kind of tactic, as you said, it’s not a strategy per se. It’s a tactic that is part of a bigger picture, which is like SEO slash content marketing. From your experience, what are the type of companies or even individuals who benefit the most from this tactic?
Amanda: It can really range. We’ve worked with startups who need the media as soon as possible, because nobody knows who they are. So they want to get their name out there and say, “We are a player in this space now. People care about what we have to say.” But then you have the bigger names, or even mid tier businesses who have competitors who are outranking them constantly, and a lot of it has to do with basically what channels are you getting your customers from or want to? So if it’s search, this really is going to be a huge benefit for you. Now, if you’re only getting attention on social or email and that’s working for you and you don’t want to expand, yeah it might not be necessarily worth it to you.
Amanda: But if you’re somebody who’s looking at the search results and thinking, why is my competitor constantly outranking me? Why are people choosing them over us? A lot of can come down to exactly what you said, they don’t even know that you’re a viable option, or they’re not seeing you as an answer to their questions when they search for things. So a lot of different companies can fall in that bucket, like I said, brand new companies, huge companies who were still trying to beat out their major competitors. If you’re trying to battle in the SERPs, then this is something that you should look into.
Louis: And this, I think, is a great way to describe like your market. As for your agency, you don’t necessarily go after a specific industries of demographics, what matters is more the psychographic of the desires to beat the competition to show up in search. And it doesn’t really matter the industry, it’s about what they want to achieve, which is interesting.
Louis: So, okay. And in term of, we’re talking about a tactic here, and I don’t really like talking about tactics that might go away in six months because I want this podcast to be kind of evergreen and people listening to this in five years will still get value out of it, so do you think people will still use this tactic, this channel, in the next five years or 10 years?
Amanda: Yes. I might sound biased, but-
Louis: A bit.
Amanda: Yeah. Fractal started in 2012 and this has been our bread and butter since then. And because we saw that need and it was working for the company, and when it comes down to it, basically all we’re talking about… Because content’s not going to go away, and basically all we’re talking about is how do you communicate to somebody that they’re going to be interested in what you created? You’re going to be promoting content for the rest of the time, the content might change, what people want is going to change, all of those things will change, but being able to communicate in a more human way, and also to convey your points very succinctly and tell them exactly why they want it, or want to talk about it, I can’t see that really going away.
Louis: Okay. So it’s not going to go away. And therefore if you’re listening to this episode, you’ll get value out of it now and in the next years to come. So let’s go into a kind of a step by step method to actually pitch something that people would care about. And it feels like half the battle, even more than half the battle, is actually having something worth pitching.
Amanda: That’s absolutely right, yes.
Louis: All right. So I don’t know if we’ll have enough time to go in details about this, as well as how to pitch it, but it feels like if we go enough in detail about the product we are pitching, by product I don’t necessarily mean a physical product, it could be anything that we pitch, it could be a study, survey, or whatever. I think once we cover that well, the rest should follow quite easily, once you have something nice, it’s kind of easier to pitch something [inaudible 00:06:08] right?
Amanda: Yeah. You can’t… No amount of promotions going to salvage a bad piece of content. You can be the best promotions person ever, but if your content sucks, nobody’s going to want it.They’re going to be like “Cool pitch. But yeah, no I’m going to pass.”
Louis: So it’s like, marketing in general, you can’t polish a turd. If you have a shitty product, it’s going to be very difficult for you to do marketing.
Louis: Okay. So step one then is to have a product, an offering, an offer, worth talking about. Now, let’s go into that. From your experience, and you work across a lot of industries, it might be difficult to draw parallels, or maybe easy, I don’t know. If you wish you can pick a specific example or a few, but how would you advise folks to be something remarkable that people would care about, specifically journalists?
Amanda: Sure. So I tend to talk about three different characteristics that do tend to cross those lines, because you’re right, it’s going to vary, but you’re right, there are three things. The first one is emotion. And you hear this in a lot of different ways of marketing people say, “Tell stories, relate to people.” We talk about it in terms of emotion, like why do people care about this? What are they going to feel when they read it?
Amanda: We did a study years ago, I think in like 2013, that we took all the most viral images that year, and then we asked people what emotions were associated with them. It was really surprising actually because positive emotions were the most prevalent, which I did not expect. I kind of thought everybody would feel about the negative stuff and be sharing that a lot. But the positive content and the surprising content, so if you don’t even want to think about emotion, think about surprise because that’s a really common one. People like to be surprised by things. They want to know things they didn’t know before, or have their expectations challenged. So view something like that. Obviously publishers want it because it’s news. And that’s-
Amanda: Go ahead.
Louis: So let’s dive into this because that’s very interesting. Something that has been talked about in the podcast before about this concept, of surprise of changing the status quo, you think a certain thing, but what if I told you that this isn’t true? A few episodes ago, I talked to someone, a copywriter, who specialized in writing long, long form copy for Facebook ads. And we were talking about an example of a language school and she says, “Did you know that it’s a myth that adults learn language slower than kids?” It’s actually true. It’s actually a myth. I don’t remember why she said that, but exactly this “hmmm?”
Amanda: Yeah, right. I’d like to know that.
Louis: It struck my interests. So this is what we are talking about, a surprise, an angle, something that is in the norm, everyone believes, everyone take that for granted and you challenge it. And that is usually something that grabs people attention.
Louis: You don’t have to mention names of your clients if you can’t, or if you’re not comfortable with, but maybe we can go into examples. When you work with clients, how do you advise them to introduce this element into it?
Amanda: That’s a great question because people probably hear this and they’re like, “that’s great. But how do I know that something’s going to be surprising?” And I completely understand wanting to know that. So we tend to go into things, when we come up with ideas, we have a thesis in our minds. And you don’t want it to be something really stringent because you don’t want to be trying to spin the story or make sure it comes out a certain way. But you’re thinking, you have a question. “I wonder if the data would show X?”
Amanda: So you have something in mind where you’re thinking, “I’m going to set out to answer my own question about this topic.” And to you, it probably would be surprising. You’re expecting maybe this data is going to surprise me. I actually don’t know the answer. What we have to do, what everybody should do, is when you get the data, you have to look at it more objectively. So it might confirm what you thought, and that’s great. If it doesn’t, it might actually be more surprising. There’ve been so many times where we look at something we’re like, “Wow, we had no clue this was going to be how this was going to turn out. But it’s fascinating-”
Louis: Think of an example?
Amanda: I’m trying to think. I know I should have pulled some up.
Louis: It’s okay. Take your time.
Amanda: Well, one of the examples I’ve mentioned a lot because I worked on this project, there’s this incredible overlap between surprising people, shocking them, and semi validating something, they kind of thought it was true, but there was never evidence around. This is the sweet spot that’s really hard to find.
Amanda: So we had a client back when I used to work on accounts, I used to be the strategist for clients, and they were called Travelmath and we had people swab parts of airplanes. And now, I’m sure there’s more coverage happening now organically, but we had people swab airplanes to see the germ counts compared to other parts of the plane. So do you know what part of an airplane is the dirtiest?
Louis: Not the toilets?
Amanda: Right. Because you would expect that, right? So probably not. It was the tray table.
Louis: The pilots don’t.
Amanda: It was the tray table. So people see that they’re like, “Okay, I already kind of assumed that things are probably gross when people are coming on and off these planes, and they’re touching everything.” But it was to see the numbers, and to see what was the most disgusting, was the tray table and that quintessentially dirty things, it blew up. It was everywhere, and that’s kind of the sweet spot I’m talking about.
Amanda: If it’s surprising, it doesn’t have to be completely groundbreaking, but if it’s shocks people, and even better, if it’s kind of validating something people suspected, but nobody really ever set out to prove, that story in particular, it’s an anomaly. I’m not going to say that this is everything we do gets national coverage for years, but I looked. It’s still getting mentioned in the media. We haven’t touched it in years, but because nobody did it before, and nobody has done it since, that’s what they have to reference.
Louis: What was the link between that and what they were selling, out of curiosity?
Amanda: Yeah. And actually that brings me to my next point because Travelmath, so they worked in the travel industry, and they were all about helping you plan your trip. And that could mean distance between things, how much it’s going to cost to drive versus fly, it was all kind of logistics. So when we work with clients, depending on their goals, we also talked to them about what we will refer to as tangential content. So not always specifically what your product or what your services specifically trying to do because that might come across as being too branded sometimes. Journalists are like, :”Cool, you’re just trying to sell your brand. We don’t really care.”
Amanda: So we kind of say, “Well, what is your audience interested in that maybe is relevant to what you’re offering them?” So in this case travel and I was like, “Yeah, we’re trying to help you plan your trips. You just want more information about driving and flying and everything.” So we would come up with a bunch of ideas around the more general travel sense, where it would still make sense to people if they saw, “Oh, okay. Travelmath came up with this report. It makes sense to us. They’re a travel company they’re trying to help people plan.” Go ahead.
Louis: How do you come up with ideas?
Amanda: How do we come up ideas? Yeah, so it’s been a process, it changes over the years. It’s not like we had a way from day one that we stuck to because creativity is an interesting thing. It’s not something that you can just say like, “Hey, everyone’s going to be creative today. Go.”
Amanda: We use a lot of different strategies. I think that it’s wrong to think there’s only one way. So we tell people, you can find inspiration by just finding a data set that hasn’t really been analyzed before. So that’s one way. That’s the data first, and then you try to figure out the story. You can look at what your competitors have done, not even your competitors, others in your space have done, and ask yourself, Why do you think it’s interesting? What questions didn’t they answer? What questions does it raise for you? What are people saying in the comments? Understand what else could be explored in that area.
Amanda: You can see methodologies in the past, in any industry, that are just cool. Like, Oh, wow. That germ swabbing thing, that was cool to us. That hadn’t occurred to us, the fact that we can literally go and send it to a lab and they tell you, that’s different. So you can be inspired by a methodology in and of itself and then come up with what you think might be an interesting application of it. So we have just a document literally, a document of datasets that we found over the years, of tools we can use to poke around. I think-
Louis: What tools? Can you give me an example?
Amanda: We use [inaudible 00:15:08] now. Busimo is one of the tools, and they’ve expanded their offerings recently. Yeah and that one, at the base level, it’s good to just type in a topic and see everything that was engaged with over the last several months or years.
Louis: So you immerse yourself in the industry in a tangential way. You don’t overly focus on the product, and what it actually does, you just go one step before that. Okay. You’re in the travel space. Let’s literally look at everything at the minute that was going on in travel space and try to find, as you said, if there is data, [inaudible 00:15:43] that has done the news, why did it work? What do you like? What you don’t like? Are there any more questions, comments? What others have done? I know it’s a difficult question to answer, but what I’m trying to get to here is that yeah, there’s no like secret formula. It’s it just takes, I suppose, a lot of time, but it seems like you are, when I say you I mean you and the agency, you are at the very beginning of engineering it. You’re not at the receiving end where you get given half our story and you need to pitch it. You are at the very start of it as well, right?
Amanda: That’s a great point because it’s tougher if you don’t have your own confidence in what you’re pitching, and that goes back to what we were saying before. If you are a PR person and you’re just handed stuff, I feel for you because it’s harder if you don’t, yourself, have confidence that it’s going to be interesting. But yes, we tell our clients, we need to be involved from the beginning because we need to have an investment, and you’ll never know 100% that’s something’s going to do well, but we did the legwork to increase the probability.
Amanda: And we use things like seeing if something with a similar methodology has been interesting in the past, and seeing what publishers are talking about these days, the way you put it, immersing yourself in the industry is exactly right. I think there are certainly… I’m not telling people don’t care about what your customers think, that’s just a different component of all this. We also do onsite content. We do bucket it into rank worthy, so things that we put on their site that we want them to rank for, and then we bucketed into link worthy, where you might have to broaden out a little bit because like I said, the publisher’s going to be like, “We don’t really want to talk about your software right now. That seems like an ad. We want to talk about-”
Louis: Sorry. I keep cutting you, but yeah, it’s interesting. So rank worthy is more the stuff you can rank for yourself, they are closer to the product, it’s content pieces that are closer to product. That if people search it, they land on your site, are more likely to convert. The link worthy are more what marketers would call top of the funnel type of content, like very somewhat connected to you, but not that much. And therefore it doesn’t make a lot of sense to publish it on your site. Or it does, but what you want to get out of it is not conversion, is actually links. Is that a good summary?
Amanda: Right? It is. And we don’t, I think a lot of mistakes that marketers make is expecting one project to accomplish all of their goals. So you’re not going to have… And maybe, sure it happens every now and then, but the thing you put on your blog, it’s not going to earn 50 links from fantastic publishers and be completely targeted to the bottom of your funnel and convert. It’s just we think about it in a bigger picture and see how things work together in order to assist each other. Because if you’re building those links and you’re increasing the technical SEO benefits side of your site, that’s just going to lift up all of your onsite content, which helps it rank in Google’s results, and it just cycles through. But yes, for the quote unquote link worthy content that we’re pitching to publishers, we definitely zoom out, and you don’t always have to.
Amanda: There are times I use our client porch.com a lot as an example because they help people find home improvement contractors. So that’s pretty straight forward. You’re not going to do 50 campaigns about that. That’s going to get kind of boring, and there’s only so much you can say. But we did one campaign where we use some of their internal data, and that’s another thing, a lot of companies have internal data that’s probably really interesting to people, they don’t even realize it. So you can use, I think for that project, we use Porch’s internal data to kind of estimate the costs of different tasks, household tasks, for home improvement. And then we surveyed people to see how long, or how often they made those changes, and then calculated the costs over time of like, what is the most expensive piece of your home that is costing you over the lifespan of the house?
Louis: So what is it?
Amanda: Oh, I’d have to pull it up. I’ll have to send you the link.
Louis: But you see that’s what works. That’s what… I was bound to ask because that’s what humans do. You actually create… You sparked my interest with something that I want to know. I want to close the loop. I want to understand the answer, and that’s why it works. You’re compelled to ask why and now I’m frustrated because I don’t know.
Louis: But going back, so let’s go back a few steps. So I asked you, how do we engineer a piece that is worth of links from high authority websites? And you isolated this one, emotions, which is the surprise thing. From your experience, is there any other that you’ve leveraged or do you think surprise is by far the one you need to nail?
Amanda: I think it’s going to be the most common. I think it’s really useful and it works. I think that you can’t really limit yourself to the others.
Amanda: Also can you hear me? Because the video stopped.
Louis: Can you hear me?
Amanda: I think surprise is definitely going to be the most prevalent. I think it’s really useful because, like we said, it’s kind of a natural reaction to things and you want to know more. But really any emotion can apply across the board. One of my coworkers made a really interesting point where he said even really dry topics have a lot of emotion packed into them and you start to unpack them when you understand the problems people have in those industries.
Amanda: Take finance, for example. You say the word finance and people get bored, a lot of people are like, all right, we don’t care. But money is inherently very emotional. The cost of living, wanting to care for their families, needing different jobs. There’s so much. There’s pride, there’s fear. A lot of just basic human emotions are tied into money. And, in order to get the inspiration for content, that’s a good place to start.
Amanda: If you’re kind of at a loss, “I don’t know what emotions to focus on.” Ask yourself what the challenges are in those spaces. What are people worried about? What are they asking about? If you already do keyword research for your onsite stuff, look at that. See where the patterns are. There are a lot of tools out there that help you collect all of the different questions that are being asked. BuzzSumo’s one of them, Answer The Public’s another. And you can just get a glimpse of the types of problems people are facing. And then you start to see, ah, yes, there are emotions tied into this industry. And I think any of them are fair game if you’re speaking to them in an interesting and authentic and new way.
Louis: Okay, so that’s an interesting one. But it feels though that the surprise element is the thing that encapsulates the other. You need to frame it in a surprising way in order to get the attention. Or maybe I’m wrong, but let’s see.
Louis: So from the money, let’s try to give an example from the money side. You’re in the finance world, so you’d go through the questions people ask, you mentioned AnswerThePublic.com, BuzzSumo. You can also go on Google and just start typing questions and see what are the suggested terms. You can go down the rabbit hole quite quickly if you look at your own keywords and whatnot. So then once you have this list of questions, per se, how do you kind of sort them out? What’s the way to start looking at what could be interesting to answer?
Amanda: So when you have that list of questions, say you identified the concept of the American dream, for example. We’ve done a ton of campaigns on these topics and I can’t always talk about the clients, I’m going to talk a little more generally, but this is stuff that other people put out too. So you can ask yourself, what does that actually mean? How many people feel like they can achieve it? How many people have enough money to own a certain type of house? You’re basically delving into any questions you have related to those emotions.
Amanda: So, another semi-related example, because money is often tied with jobs. We did a project recently about people’s pride in their work and what makes them proud to be at work. So that was an example of taking, the emotion was the key part of that. But it’s a common theme that comes up, like job satisfaction. What does make people stay at a job?
Amanda: It’s these questions that help you. You got to just keep asking them and you start to end up at the heart of something where you have to confirm it hasn’t been answered, or if it has been answered, has it been answered fully and in every kind of way? You can have a lot of different perspectives, right?
Amanda: So we start with that list of questions and we get at, has this been answered? Can it be quantifiably explained? Is there a side of this that hasn’t really been delved into? And then you can start to think, well, what kind of data would help us get at that? So it will depend, but that’s often the kind of mental strategy we have. It doesn’t even just end with the first list of questions. You might take one and say, well, people are afraid that they can’t pay their rent, so let’s look at the data for that. What are people making across the country? How much have housing costs changed? So you kind of think about what data sets supplement those questions so that you can dig further into the answers.
Louis: And one thing that is very helpful to do, that the human brain is not really used to, because we are wired to recognize what is there, is to look at what isn’t there, right? So in the concept of what you said about the American dream and of owning houses and whatnot and looking at other studies that have been done in the space or the questions that have been answered already, the question is not really what are the ways that have been answered already, but more, what are the ways that these haven’t been answered? Maybe there’s an industry that there’s no data around. Maybe there is, I don’t know, a particular state or looking at the gaps instead of looking at what is already there. Seems like it’s something you do already, but I just want you to make this point.
Amanda: Yes, that’s a great point. And the third factor, so we said one was emotion, the second was thinking more tangentially, the third is newsworthy. And that is exactly right. You don’t want to regurgitate what’s already out there, you want to tell a new story. Or even if it’s complementing a story that already exists, you want to offer a new perspective to it. And the way that we tend to approach newsworthiness is to either create our own data. So we will use certain methodologies, for example, a lot of people do social scraping. They’ll look to see what people have said around the country on Twitter for a certain hashtag, for example. So you’re collecting data or you’re using data sets that already exist, but haven’t really been analyzed in a meaningful, straightforward way. There’s all kinds of data out there and people aren’t just using their spare time to analyze it, right? Like the government has a million data sets.
Amanda: And also combining different data sets, like that porch example I mentioned. That was their internal data plus survey data to arrive at something more useful. But we use data, we use these methodologies to come up with something that’s inherently new because you’re highly increasing your chances of getting media coverage.
Louis: And I think we’re all touching on the “t” word, like trends, right? Which is not something I’m a big, necessarily, fan of because I believe there are kind of two types of trends, should I say. Like these kind of overly engineered trends that are fads really, they’re just going to go away. You don’t know exactly when, but they are the ones that are sticking because they are more down to systemic changes, cultural changes, things that are changing because of new laws and the state of the world as it is. I mean, the basic, basic example, I don’t want to go into cliches, but with what’s happening with COVID, is remote work, for example. This is clearly not a fad. This is very likely to stick because of all of the systemic changes. So how do you spot worthy trends? And I suspect for you, it might not matter that much whether it’s a trend or fad, in a sense, right? Or do you prefer to focus on longer-term trends or just short-term newsworthiness?
Amanda: Yeah. There’s definitely a sweet spot because the challenge you come up against is that journalists are tasked with this. So when there’s breaking news, like some people try to jump on breaking news, it’s really difficult. We’ve tried, we’ve succeeded some of the time. But if it’s breaking, that means it’s just days of relevance and you could be in a great position where a journalist needs something that you have and you were able to put it together quickly enough.
Amanda: Sometimes if you’re a company that happens to have that information, yes definitely get out there and be a source for them. That’s a little different. But if you’re trying to come up with content around something that’s really trendy, literally only going to last for days, it’s not often worth it because by the time you put something valuable together and try to pitch that out, they’re already done. They’re over the topic.
Amanda: And even with COVID, it’s been really interesting because we have successfully pitched projects that we either had to completely pivot because of everything changing. Like the work example, we have clients in that space and it was like, well, this isn’t even the way things used to be, or this is the way things used to be and it’s not the way they are now.
Amanda: We have been able to pitch that because we were able to identify how it’s impacting on a longer-term, these different industries like you said. But when you’re dealing with shorter things, it can be worth it, but I would not dedicate an entire strategy around it. I think a lot of people use HARO for this reason, the help a reporter out site, because they’re looking to see reporters making direct requests and then you can say, well you can interview our founder, interview somebody who has this information, and that’s a little faster. But if you’re doing this creating content strategy, there will be a couple of times where you can say, we can get this together very fast and pitch it and it will be worth it. But I don’t think it’s like something you build your entire strategy around.
Louis: Okay. But it’s a nice supplement, I suppose, right? It could be a nice push to make a story worth it if it’s supported by some sort of a trend or trends, right? Set of trends. By just positioning it the right way. So how do you, before we go into actually pitching, like what type of emails do you send, how do you actually make contact, do you have any ways to recognize, to look at trends? Like, do you use any tools to do that? Like, do you have any methods?
Amanda: Yeah. So we actually just did a partnership campaign with Exploding Topics, that’s a relatively new tool. And I’ve noticed that the topics that they have are a little more longer-term. Some of them I hadn’t even heard of, which is interesting because they’re in specific industries. I’m like, what is this? But it’s a piece of software or something that’s trendy.
Amanda: But sometimes you see there are things that are longer-term trends. You see this in fashion and food, things that last a lot longer, like intermittent fasting, for example. That’s trendy but that’s something that people have been talking about for a decent amount of time, in the years category. So that could be worth doing something on. And if you can catch it at the right time, which is, I believe, why that tool is basically developed to help you catch those things early, then you can ride that wave longer rather than just catching it for the two days and then it’s no longer popular.
Amanda: So tools like that, Google trends is a classic one where you can just see what, in general, is trending up in your industry. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else. We do it a little more specifically, like if you’re using BuzzSumo, just seeing what kind of stories are popping up. If you do have tabs on different publications that you want to be in, it does make sense to see what they’re talking about and if you see that trending in a different direction.
Louis: Yeah. There’s a great analogy about trends and surfing the wave is, if you’re too ahead of the wave of the trends, you will be crushed by it. If you’re too far away from it, you will miss it. So there is a kind of a sweet spot in the middle where you don’t want to be too soon, you don’t want to be too late, and it’s definitely touch and go it’s not, as you said, you can’t guarantee any success out of it, you need to ship it and see what happens. Okay. [crosstalk 00:11:52] Go ahead.
Louis: I was just going to add that if you create something, you can always flag it for another time to promote it again. So there are times when maybe a holiday or something newsworthy happens when you’re like, oh, this is actually relevant once again, or even more relevant than before and then bring that back up. Sometimes people promote something and they just leave it alone. But that’s something I also recommend because you’re right, you never really know and if you have it in the back of your mind, okay, we created this, it’s interesting, maybe something will happen later where it makes sense for us to re-promote it.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s a very good point. And there’s this feeling when you work on something for so long, we can do numbers, we can do stories for so long that it’s like, you’re kind of sick of it. But the market, the people out there have probably never heard of it in the first place so you shouldn’t really be afraid of just re-sharing it, re-publishing it, if it didn’t go the first time, right?
Louis: Exactly. Yeah, you’re sick of it because you’ve been looking at it every day for two months.
Amanda: Yeah. There’s a quote about it, don’t stop publishing content until, or talking about something until your accountant is sick of it. So even if you’re sick of it, your employees are sick of it, your market is sick of it, if your accountant is not sick of it, keep going.
Louis: So we’ve talked about emotions, specifically the surprising element, looking at tangential stuff instead of just your own product-related content, and newsworthiness as another thing. So I think we’ve covered pretty well how to create a story using your own data, outside data, slicing things differently, looking at where things are not, what are the gaps. And now we have a few minutes to talk about how to package that and pitch that to people. So share with us some pointers on how to make sure that when you send an email or contact a journalist, whatever way that you have the highest chance of getting a reply at least or being opened in the first place.
Amanda: Sure. So this has always been very important to us, as it’s been a lot of our service offering and years ago we did our first publisher survey where we literally asked writers the way that they wanted to be pitched and we rebooted it in 2019, so last year. And we asked 500 journalists a bunch of questions related to this, and we had already formed a process around it based on the responses we’d gotten, and fundamentally it comes down to two things.
Amanda: The first, and the most important, is that you’re doing your research about that particular writer because the biggest pet peeve cited in this survey was, “I’m still getting so many irrelevant pitches.” People, to this day, are still getting a ton of irrelevant pitches. And I know this is true because myself, I’m not a writer, but I’m getting pitched for services constantly. And 9 times out of 10, I’m not even the right person for them. The times that I am, the pitch is clearly a template and they didn’t even actually look at our company or see why we’re a good fit. And nobody’s going to give you the time of day if you get that kind of an email. But this is still happening and it’s still so prevalent that you just realize this is what you’re up against, but also that there’s an opportunity to do better. And if you do, you can break through that.
Amanda: So a lot of what we talk about is, at the very beginning, you have this great piece of content. You probably, at the very beginning of creating that content, had in mind maybe where you want it to go. Hopefully. That’s a good strategy to have when you’re creating it, this thinking, who am I writing this for? Once you have any idea, who is it going to appeal to? And that’ll help you keep focused on that audience.
Amanda: But you not only need to understand the publisher, which that was the second pet peeve for people, that people weren’t actually understanding the publisher that they worked for.
Louis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amanda: You don’t even just want the publisher in your head, that’s a start. But every publisher is different. Some of them have staff writers and contributing writers and freelancers and editors. And who makes those decisions is going to be different. And who you should pitch, maybe contributing writers only publish there once every three months. Your odds of getting them to write about you in that one slot are going to be way lower than a staff writer who publishes every day.
Amanda: Then it’s what is their beat? And I didn’t know this until later on. I wasn’t directly involved with pitching earlier in my career, I was on the creative side, and it was interesting to learn that the beat that somebody has can be more specific than you realize. I think one example was, I’m making up what this vertical was, but it was something with psychology. So like sports and psychology, for example. People would think that they just covered sports because I talked about sports or they’re like, no, it’s a little more nuanced than that. I have an overlap of two different topics that I’m examining in my column.
Amanda: So a lot of people do like 25% of the work. They have a publisher, they find a writer that’s published some relevant stuff, and they pitch him. And that’s it. The legwork upfront will help you a lot because people will know that you put in the work. They’ll understand based on the way that you structure your pitch, they’ll see, oh, they didn’t just randomly pick me because I write for this publisher. They picked me because they’ve read what I’ve written, they’ve seen, maybe on my Twitter somewhere, how I said to pitch me and the type of stuff I’m looking for, and they understand the nuance of what I’m trying to do. So before you even write a word, this is a lot of the work and it does come down to, you can use some tools to help you like BuzzStream, we’ve worked with Buzzstream.
Amanda: Am I kicked out? Hello?
Louis: Can you hear me?
Louis: Hello? Hello? Hello?
Louis: It’s recording now.
Amanda: So, there’s a lot of nuance that you can uncover from either their past stories or their Twitter accounts about what they’re trying to achieve through writing for these certain publications. And if you don’t understand that, they’re going to sense that in your pitch. They’re going to know that you didn’t put in the legwork, and that you don’t understand the complexities of what they’re trying to do, and they’re going to more likely just pass over you. So, a lot of the upfront work is this part of the process. It’s researching the writers and understanding exactly what they write about. Because, in your pitch you’re going to have to explain why your content is going to be valuable to their audience. And you can’t do that, honestly, unless you understand who they’re writing to and why, and what they’re writing about. So, before you even write a word, you have to know this.
Louis: And, it’s like the old cliche, but I think it’s pretty much accurate, which is it’s much better to reach out to three, four people instead of 200, as long as you’re actually reaching out to them, knowing exactly who they are. I mean, the example that comes to mind, just to talk about US politics a bit is, you don’t reach out to John Madison, Fox News, the same way that you reach out to someone in CNN, right?
Amanda: Right. Yeah, so even just the way that you call out the insights in your project is going to be different. I’m not even talking about personalization to the person. Yes, that’s definitely going to change, but even the way that you frame your project, which I guess a relevant analogy would be if you’re creating a resume, and you’re applying to different types of jobs, you might not necessarily send the same type of resume or cover letter to every type of job you’re applying to. You have to tailor it to the people you’re pitching. And that applies even to what you’re planning to highlight in your project to that person.
Louis: And so, in your own projects, when you pitch for the stuff that you’ve built with the brands, I know it’s a difficult question to answer, but how many journalists, publishers, do you typically reach out to? What’s the norm for you?
Amanda: Yeah, it’s hard to say because we allow the promotion specialists to get a feel for how long they think the project is viable. By that I mean, we have a certain process which might help answer your question, where we start by pitching the exclusive. So this is a way to get higher-tier publishers more interested in what you have to say, because going back to something being newsworthy, if you’re telling them, “We’re pitching this to you as an exclusive, because we think this is a really great fit for you,” it’s going to be more appealing to them to know that they’re going to be the first ones to even talk about it. So, the first part of our promotions process, which can take anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks, is securing that first piece of coverage because it’s probably going to be the best coverage we get.
Amanda: And then, after that, it’s a matter of, you can build a list of however many people you think are going to be a good fit. Because anybody in promotions knows, it’s not like everybody turns around and publishes it. It’s not a key percentage. So, if you have 30 other people and you’re like, “Hey, these are all sites in a wide range. Some are going to be more national, some are going to be way more niche, but whatever your goal is for that, if you, based on the project, have a list of people you want to publish after you secure the exclusive and they get to run it, then you pitch everybody else. And obviously that’s going to have to be in spurts because you can’t write these types of pitches in a second. They take a little bit of time and you had to have done that research at the beginning. But, we base it on are people still opening these emails? Are we getting replies? Is this syndicating naturally from other sites? And they get a sense of this is still interesting to people.
Louis: Can you still hear me, yeah?
Amanda: Yeah. Okay. So…
Louis: Right. Go ahead.
Amanda: The way that we do it is by pitching the exclusive first. So it allows publishers a little bit of an extra benefit, because like I said, the newsworthiness was a big part of this. So if you’re able to tell them, “You’re going to be the first one to cover this,” you’re more likely to get their attention and this is a good strategy for getting the highest tier publisher possible from the get go. So we start with that, which takes anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. You’re not pitching a lot of people in that period. You might pitch somebody, they don’t reply to you, you pitch somebody else.
Amanda: Once you secure the exclusive, then you can pitch basically anybody else that you think might be interested in your content or relevant to your content and that could be any number of people in a different range of publications. So maybe you have a few more nationals you want to try hitting, and then you have a wide range of just middle tier, more niche publications that are more targeted to your audience; whatever makes sense for your project, and then pitch them. We’ve typically pitched over at least a month period, in general. So it will range but we…
Louis: No, that makes sense. Well, thanks for being so detailed about it. So yeah, pitching an exclusive sounds like a very good idea. And again, once you have a good product to pitch and once you know the people you’re pitching to and understand the nuances, it becomes much easier to get links… Going back to what we described, to get back links, to get authority, to get mentions, and then being a relationship this way.
Louis: Amanda, you’ve been a pleasure. Thanks so much for going through this step by step with me. Apologies to people listening. There’s there’s been a bit of technical issues throughout, but hopefully you shouldn’t really have felt them because hopefully we’ve done a good job masking them. What are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners today?
Amanda: I mentioned BuzzSumo earlier. I think that’s a great tool, especially for coming up with content ideas. We use it pretty often. I use Keyword Surfer a lot. It’s a great Chrome plugin for doing keyword research. Keywords Everywhere, I love too but that one’s paid now, which it’s still great but if you need a free one, Keyword Surfer is a good option for volume. And then I have to shout out to the Women in Tech SEO group, because I just joined today, because I joined their mentorship program, and within minutes I was overwhelmed by how supportive that group is. So, if you are a woman in this industry, I highly recommend checking that out. Yeah, yeah.
Louis: Nice. If people want to reach out to you if they have any questions, how do they do that?
Amanda: Sure. So you can email me directly at email@example.com. It’s ; it’s not fractl.com. It’s frac.tl, and that’s also our website. So you can check us out there. I also have a podcast as well, but it’s specifically about helping content marketers determine their ROI and get buy-in for their work. So, if that’s of interest to anybody listening, you can check me out over there too. But yeah, feel free to email me directly or find me on Twitter at Millanda, M-I-L-L-A-N-D-A.
Louis: Nice. Again, once again, thanks so much for your time and for sharing all of this pieces of wisdom. I think everyone got a lot of value out of it. So thank you.
Amanda: Thank you so much for having me on the show. It’s been fun.