20 common digital PR mistakes & how to avoid them with your next campaign

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Things to consider & questions to ask before launching a digital PR campaign…

Building links is hard, and building links from the press is even harder.

Actually, scratch that.

Building links from the press is really f**king difficult.

I used to suck at PR and my first campaigns were total failures but through trial and error, reverse engineering other people’s successes and adopting a mindset that you can learn a lot from every mistake you make, I’ve now earned thousands of links from the world’s biggest publications and run an award-winning digital PR agency.

Looking back, some of the mistakes I made along the way cost me a lot of links and coverage, but on the flip side, I’m a better marketer for learning those lessons first-hand.

But there’s a lot of mistakes that you don’t need to make, and I sat down with the team of digital PR specialists who I have the pleasure of working alongside to share our insights into the most common mistakes we still see being made in 2020 and what you can do to avoid these with your next campaigns…

Common Mistakes Made During Ideation & Strategy

The first step of a successful campaign is coming up with an irresistible idea that journalists will want to cover (and link to).

If you make mistakes during the ideation process, it’s often difficult to overcome these as you get further into your campaign.

1. Moving Too Far Away From Your Brand’s Expertise & Topical Focus

If a journalist reaches out and asks ‘can you explain the connection between the brand and the campaign, you’ve launched something that is too far away from your brand’s core focus.

Let me explain…

As an SEO, you shouldn’t be building links for the sake of doing so, you need to make sure you’re earning those that will positively impact your organic visibility.

And usually, that means earning links that are topically relevant to your brand.

If you’re a car insurance company, it’s natural that you’d earn links from finance websites, automotive websites and likely regional, national and international news publications and, therefore, launch campaigns that hook to car ownership, motoring and maintenance, alongside other closely aligned topics.

These topics make sense and you’re earning links that could also have the potential to drive referral traffic.

But if you launched a campaign solely with the aim of landing links that had nothing to do with your brand, you’re going too far.

Ask yourself whether a campaign concept positions you as experts in your wider industry, or whether journalists and readers would be left scratching their heads wondering why you launched it.

It’s a mistake to go into ideation with a view of “let’s come up with anything we think will earn links.”

Rather, figure out the topics you truly have authority to talk about and come up with concepts that place you as thought-leaders within your industry.

If you can’t explain the hook between a campaign and your business other than ‘to earn links’ you’ve gone too far and should think closer to your core offering.

2. Launching Campaigns With Only One Story

To maximise your opportunity for success, it’s important that you aim to launch campaigns that include more than one story or headline.

You see, even the best stories aren’t for everyone and not every journalist will get onboard with the main headline.

But, when you’re able to work in multiple different angles into a campaign, you’ve suddenly got an opportunity to take these to different journalists and publications, even offering exclusives to certain ones if you need to do so.

A great example of this is our ‘Cosmetify Index‘ campaign that saw us launch an analysis into the hottest beauty brands of 2019.

Alongside the main story, we worked in insights and headlines that revealed the hottest beauty influencers, those brands with the largest social followings and even a country-by-country breakdown to show how the top brands differ across the world.

Doing so gave us plenty of stories to push to different publications, even resulting in the likes of Glamour running different headlines from the same campaign over a couple of weeks.

Relying on a single story is risky but when you’re able to work in supplementary headlines, you’ll maximise your campaign’s success.

Abi Bennetts, Digital PR Strategist

3. Relying Solely on Seasonal Hooks

Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter…

They might sound like great opportunities to earn coverage and links, but it can often be a mistake to hook too close to seasonal events.

You see, unless you have a real reason to launch a campaign aligned with an event or a day, it often feels like a desperate attempt to land a quick bit of coverage; especially the likes of International Women’s Day, which has even seen journalists criticising brands for doing so.

Getting your campaign wrong in some cases can even result in reputational damage. And that’s not what you want.

That said, there’s other reasons, too.

When an increased number of brands choose to market around a seasonal event, you’re undoubtedly facing increased competition for a journalists attention. Their inboxes are busier than ever and it can be hard to cut through the noise unless your campaign is outstanding.

You’ve also only got a very short window to generate traction and if, for whatever reason, you’re unable to do so; you’ve not really got a second opportunity until the same time next year.

Our approach here is to think a little wider and launch campaigns, where it makes sense to, which could be hooked to a seasonal event, but that don’t rely on it for success.

That way, it’s not make-or-break across a short period of time yet you’re still able to maximise performance where there’s a chance to do so.

Olivia Smith, Head of Digital PR

4. Not Properly Validating Your Concepts

Just because you’ve had an idea, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work as a campaign.

One of the most important things to do during ideation is to validate the concepts which you come up with. Essentially, running each one through a checklist to make sure it stands up and that you’re not going to struggle to earn coverage and links.

We run all of our ideas through a simple, but effective, validation process that asks:

  • What are the main stories that this idea would tell and what do potential headlines look like?
  • Has this been done before? If so, how recently and did it perform well?
  • Where can we get the data from?
  • Which publishers do we think would cover this?
  • How does this align with the client’s brand?

It’s important that you’re able to cast aside ideas that aren’t going to work right now, and take the time to get this process right.

Imagine, as an example, launching a campaign that you then realise won’t perform as another brand did something similar a month ago?

If you’re properly validating your concepts, you’re setting your campaign up for maximised success.

Olivia Smith, Head of Digital PR

5. Relaunching ‘Old News’

Whilst this is something that forms part of our validation process, it’s worth expanding on further.

If you’re relaunching something that has done before, you need to be careful and really consider whether it’s the right thing to do.

Of course, we all re-run ideas that performed sometime in the past, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but you need to make sure you’re adding something new if you’re relaunching a story that has been run before.

What are you adding that’s new?

Maybe you’re re-cutting data to launch this year’s version of a campaign (something that works really well) or even layering in new data sources to create a more solid methodology, but if you’re simply redoing something without adding fresh stories, angles or data, be aware that you might struggle to land coverage.

At the end of the day, it’s not news if there’s nothing new about your story.

Olivia Smith, Head of Digital PR

6. Not Getting Other People’s Input on Ideas & Concepts

Sometimes it’s easy to miss that killer headline that you could pitch to the press at ideation stage, and that’s why it’s so important to get the input of others on your campaign ideas.

Whilst we all have our preferred ways of working when it comes to coming up with great concepts, you should always try to get insight from others on your team and your client.

When presented with a set of seed ideas and concepts, we all see different angles, different stories and see different visualisations on what they could become.

When you work solo, you could miss a hook or a way to spin a story that someone else would spot and it’s really common for campaigns to evolve (for the better) during discussions with others.

Emma Mortimer, Digital PR Strategist

7. Not Setting Campaign KPIs & Targets

It can be easy to launch a campaign and ‘hope for the best’ but there’s a lot of value in setting KPIs and targets, even if you’re only using them internally.

If you haven’t got a target goal for coverage (that could be a number of pieces, quality of pieces or even specific publications), you’ve nothing to aim for, and we all work more effectively when we know what we’re trying to achieve.

Of course, you’ll always want to exceed any goals and targets that you set, but having at least a rough aim helps to keep everyone on the same page and sets expectations across the board.

Common Mistakes Made During Campaign Production

If you’re confident you’ve got a great idea, there’s still mistakes to be aware of during production which can impact on your campaign’s overall performance.

8. Placing Too Much Focus on Your Asset

A fancy asset won’t save a campaign without a great story.

There’s a common misconception that you can great land links and coverage with impressive assets and see success by ‘launching something that looks great,’ however this is rarely the case anymore.

To put it simply, the purpose of an asset is to visualise your campaign and to create something of value to your readers and audience; but it’s got to be backed up by solid stories and headlines.

I often say that you can tell a great story in a number of different ways and still see success, including simpler or more complex assets, depending on budgets and resources.

But a fancy asset won’t successfully earn links and coverage if there’s no story there.

Always think story first and decide upon asset formats by figuring out the most effective way to show data and headlines.

Abi Bennetts, Digital PR Strategist

9. Overcomplicating the Data or Methodology

There’s often a temptation to overcomplicate methodologies and the use of data sets within your campaigns, but there’s a lot to be said for keepings things simple.

You see, often, it’s easy to get caught up in trying too hard to make the research for a campaign look credible that you end up layering in many different factors to strengthen out data findings.

However, if a journalist can’t pick out the story (or understand how you came to the headline) from your eight not-that-closely-related metrics, then they’re far more likely to run a piece around that other campaign in their inbox which uses one metric or data source but uses it to portray a strong, interesting and clear story.

Simple campaigns are often the most effective for the reason that they’re easy to understand and get straight to the point and more complex data sources definitely doesn’t equal a stronger methodology.

Abi Bennetts, Digital PR Strategist

10. Not Making Your Methodology & Data Sources Clear

Similarly, you need to make sure that your campaign asset makes it really clear where your data came from and what the methodology is.

Journalists are under increasing pressure to ensure that the stories they’re reporting on are backed by solid and credible data, so it’s important that they can easily verify the headlines of the piece, how you came to conclusions and the data sources you used.

Usually, for us, it’s as simple as adding a clear methodology towards the bottom of a campaign page; regardless of whether that’s a static or interactive asset.

That said, a methodology doesn’t just need to be a plain block of text and links to sources. We’ll always try to work it into the flow of an asset whilst ensuring it’s clear and concise and ensures anyone is able to verify where data came from.

On another note; be careful when linking to a Google Sheet that contains your raw data.

This is something that I used to do, but found that journalists would choose this to link to, rather than the asset.

By all means, share raw data if it’s asked for (we rarely get this), but linking to it externally often means thats the page that lands the links.

Clearly including a methodology and a reference to sources is usually sufficient, but leaving this out completely is a huge mistake and can lead to missed coverage due to confusion around where the headlines came from.

11. Choosing the Wrong Format to Tell the Story

Whilst it’s absolutely a mistake to rely too heavily on an asset to earn links and coverage rather than approaching campaigns story-first, you also need to make sure you carefully consider what the right format is.

Don’t forget, a format is simply a way to tell a story and visualise data and headlines and making the wrong choice can lead to launching something that looks great but doesn’t help journalists and readers to clearly see the story.

It always helps to keep a list of reference campaigns that utilise different formats that you can look upon for inspiration, and it’s often the case that falling back on tried and tested asset types perform better than something that’s completely new.

Ask yourself how complex your asset needs to be and avoid overcomplicating things just for the sake of it.

Rounding up a simple group of stats? We’ve had great success using a simple, but effective blog post format with embeds from Instagram, as an example.

Maps are a great way to present data that compares countries around the world and they’re a format that we’ve used time and time again. They’re easy for journalists to embed into their articles and if you’re able to add insights, trends and other comparisons onto your campaign page you’ll still be able to land the link.

As are infographics, despite many claiming that this format is dead.

From our perspective, it’s how you use a format. Infographics are still a great way to show charts, stats and visualise data; you just shouldn’t be thinking that the format alone will land you coverage (as it once did); it’s all about the story.

However, there are times when you need to launch an interactive or full-page takeover asset for one of a few reasons.

Maybe that’s because you need to launch a tool as part of your campaign, that you’re needing to focus on creating a full-page takeover experience (when working in sectors like gambling or payday loans, this is important – otherwise you run the risk of taking the focus away from your campaign towards slightly controversial topics in the eyes of some) or want to make your data easy to filter and sort.

Just think carefully on the format you choose and be sure not to lose sight of the stories.

Olivia Smith, Head of Digital PR

12. Not Using Internal Linking to Power Other Pages Rankings

It’s common that digital PR campaigns will see links earned to your asset rather than a site’s homepage or commercial pages, and that’s not a problem.

After all, it’s important that a link adds editorial value and that rarely happens with commercial pages.

However, from an SEO perspective, you need to make sure you’re effectively distributing earned link authority with internal links.

In fact, if you’re not carefully using internal linking to target key pages that you’re focussing upon for growth, it’s likely that you’re not going to see the same impact.

When using interactive assets, we’ll work a short blurb into the campaign’s footer and point internal links to key pages with a strategic use of anchor text, or if it’s a static piece, look to naturally work in opportunities to link to key pages to the copy.

Just make sure you’re passing link authority to closely topically aligned pages, wherever possible to see the strongest impact.

Common Mistakes Made During Campaign Promotion & Pitching

Once you’re ready to launch, there’s a few common mistakes to be aware of that can stop even a great campaign performing as well as it could do.

13. Not Checking the News Before Launching

If you’re not checking the news right before you launch a campaign, you run the risk of missing out on coverage due to a breaking news story.

You see, the unfortunate reality is that, however great your campaign is, it’s only as good the next best pitch or story in a journalist’s inbox.

If a breaking news story lands just before you send out your pitch, there’s a chance that yours could miss out on the attention that it deserves or could otherwise have had.

Examples of breaking news stories that can shake up the media include things like:

  • The birth of a Royal baby.
  • A celebrity death, engagement, arrest, accident or similar.
  • A natural disaster or terrorist attack.
  • Unexpected sporting announcements.
  • Political announcements and stories around Brexit, budgets and more.

These are stories that happen and that often always planned, yet ones that will take preference over your campaign’s coverage to a journalist.

Get into the habit of checking the news right before you pitch out and you’ll be in a better position to hold off if there’s another story that could impact upon yours.

Abi Bennetts, Digital PR Strategist

14. Writing Lengthy Email Pitches

Journalists are busy people and often don’t have the time to read lengthy pitch emails.

We favour short and punchy outreach emails and pitches that get straight to the point and highlight the main headlines and stories.

You see, the purpose of a pitch email is to encourage a journalist to click to view your campaign and hopefully feel inspired to cover the story.

Don’t make the mistake of putting everything into a lengthy email, but focus on grabbing your prospect’s attention and persuading them to view your campaign to see more.

Olivia Smith, Head of Digital PR

15. Only Pitching to Top-Tier Publications & News Outlets

If you’re only pitching to top-tier publications and news outlets, there’s a good chance that you’re missing out on huge opportunities to earn links and coverage.

Certainly in our experience, the best campaign performance is driven by closely aligned niche-relevant links and coverage, and that means moving away from a focus solely on DA or other meaningless metrics and pitching into those places where your audience hangs out online.

Trust me when I say that you can significantly increase a campaign’s performance by targeting smaller, industry-specific publications and these truly drive an impact in more ways than one.

When you’re able to earn links from the right places, you’ll not only see an SEO benefit but you’ll also earn referral traffic, be able to build audiences to retarget and build your brand’s authority.

In fact, ask yourself whether you’d still want a link even if Google didn’t exist.

If the answer is yes, you can bet that it’s a great link that positively impacts your growth in more ways than one.

However, it’s just as much a mistake not to utilise your campaign as a resource and pitch to non-traditional sources.

We recently launched a campaign that delved deep into the careers service spent of each UK university and, alongside pitching out to relevant journalists, we pitched to the press and news contacts at each institution, resulting in a number of .ac.uk links to the campaign.

When you think beyond just the usual media publications, you can really work to make your campaign work harder and earn those links that your competitors probably aren’t even trying to land.

Emma Mortimer, Digital PR Strategist

16. Not Following Up on Your Pitches

Emails in a busy inbox easily get missed and just because a journalist doesn’t cover your story from your first pitch, doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.

In fact, a prospect may be out of the office, working flat out on something else or simply not see your email.

It’s important that you follow up on all pitches, typically after two or three days, with a simple nudge to bring the email back to the top of a journalist’s inbox.

Usually, all it needs is a polite reminder, but we typically find that around half of a campaign’s coverage comes at the follow up stage.

If you’re not following up, you’re likely not going to get this coverage.

However, don’t overdo it. Usually, a single follow up is enough but be sure to analyse open rate statistics and consider re-pitching with a new subject line to anyone who hasn’t opened it either time.

Emma Mortimer, Digital PR Strategist

17. Ignoring Early Feedback & Not Making Campaign Changes

If you receive feedback from a journalist on your campaign, don’t hesitate to make changes and re-work things a little.

If a journalist responds and politely declines the opportunity to cover the story, reach back out and ask them what might have persuaded them to do so.

It may be that you’ve missed something small or could have done things a little different that would have made it be of more interest.

Understanding why prospects say no means you’re able to act to make any changes needed early on in pitching and use this to maximise success further down the line.

18. Giving Up Too Soon

It’s rare that a campaign goes big overnight.

Earning press coverage is hard work and we mustn’t forget how busy journalists are.

Just because your campaign is the most important thing to you, even to a journalist who is planning to cover your story, they’ve likely got many other things on their to-do list, as well.

Of course, this is not forgetting that sometimes you just need to re-think angles, find new prospects and keep on going.

Giving up too soon on a campaign is a big mistake and you need to work through a process to figure out what needs to be done differently to push things forward.

Common things we do to see success from a struggling campaign includes:

  • Finding a fresh set of journalists to reach out to, either at the same publications or new ones.
  • Rewriting pitches to focus on a simple story and hard-hitting headline.
  • Offer exclusive quotes or supporting content to make it quicker for a journalist to cover the story.
  • Leave it a week or two and simply try again. In fact, a campaign that we launched a few years back earned just three links on the first pitch. A month later, we repitched to a new list with a new headline and we ended on over 300 pieces of coverage.

Emma Mortimer, Digital PR Strategist

19. Not Thinking Like a Journalist & Not Pitching Headlines

Journalists cover stories, not content.

You need to inspire prospects and help them to see the headlines that they could run with your campaign.

Just to be clear, “Brand X Launches Infographic Y” is not a headline, it’s a statement and it’s never going to catch a journalist’s attention.

Use shocking or attention-grabbing headlines in your pitches and think like a journalist does.

Hopefully you’ve already noted down headlines right at the start of the process during ideation, so it’s time to bring those back out during pitching.

20. Missing Out on Opportunities to Re-Pitch at a Later Date

It’s a huge mistake to ‘finish’ outreach on a campaign, in my opinion.

Unless you’re launching campaigns that hook to a single event or date (don’t…), it pays to keep an eye on the news and pitch older campaign back out when there’s relevant opportunities to do so.

When we first launched The 2018 Pet Rich List for Compare the Market, we picked up around 30 pieces of coverage during the first phase of promotion.

A few months later, after we’d wrapped up the initial round of outreach, Karl Lagerfeld sadly passed away, leaving his mega bucks to his cat, Choupette.

Suddenly, Choupette had shot up to a higher spot on the Pet Rich List and we spotted an opportunity to update the stats and re-pitch, landing a second round of coverage from publications such as CBS News, USA Today and more, adding a further 20 or so links to the campaign’s performance.

Keep an eye on the news and when it makes sense to do so, don’t be afraid to take older campaigns back out to the press.

Learning from your own mistakes is key to digital PR success, and we’re confident that you’ll find some ideas here to inspire your next campaign and push for success!

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