Sunday, March 14, 2010

Killer PR - Driving Large Audiences

How PR and marketing can drive more readers to news stories featuring your company

Tom Foremski, former Financial Times reporter and editor of Silicon Valley Watcher, wrote a blog post about a killer public relations pitch for a journalist - a guarantee that the PR person could drive traffic to the story. Foremski said that journalists are being pressured to write stories on topics that will drive page views and that a clicks-for-coverage guarantee might push the reporter to cover a company. Foremski predicts that PR will learn to push traffic in the future, but I'd say that the future is already here. Practiced PR people already have several tools available to them that reliably drive large audiences to stories about their clients.

All of these tools are things you have heard of before, but when they are sharply focused they can drive thousands of unique visitors for a publisher. For some sites, this effort could double or triple their daily views. In addition to the benefits to the publisher, this promotional approach helps a company merchandise its successes quickly and consistently.

Six steps to drive traffic to news stories:

1. Build loyal Twitter following - Appoint at least one person to be your Twitter ambassador to help build a loyal following. Preferably you should develop several executives, product managers, engineers or other industry passionates to engage with the community. When relevant to their followers, they can be a great channel to share your latest New York Times story.

2. Send stories out to sales teams and sales channels - Merchandise the stories so they are easy for sales teams to share with their customers and prospects. This is good news and it deserves its own email with a well-constructed headline so busy sales people take the time to read it. If you are a multi-million dollar company, you likely have thousands of sales people, customers and channel partners that are eager to read the top-tier stories. Their livelihoods are closely tied to your promotional efforts and they want to know what third parties are saying. Throwing it at the bottom of a monthly marketing update email won't help much. Take the time to summarize the story and write it so readers can easily forward it to their network.

3. Build an email list and RSS feed of news stories
- Your press section of your Web site probably already lists your top news stories. Add a way for visitors to subscribe to the feed with email and RSS. I worked for a start-up company that built up a list of over 1000 subscribers to its opt-in list. Examination of the list showed that most of our channel, customers, investors and even prospects asked to get this news pushed to them. The list grew on its own without any nurturing from the marketing team. It became one of our best promotional assets and it cost us nearly nothing to build.

4. Socialize your news - Post the news stories to your company's moderated social media sites such as its Facebook Fan page. People are fans because they want to know more about your brand and products. Keep the content fresh and build your community with your hottest hits.

5. Company sponsored media channels
- Larger companies have lots of channels, such as newsletters, that reach out to their internal and external publics. Be sure your best news stories are promoted in these outlets. This tactic doesn't drive immediate traffic to the story, but it can add a lot of volume over a longer period.

6. Measure the traffic - The publication's Web site manager may notice a spike in traffic to one story, but it isn't guaranteed the reporter will know that it came from your efforts. Closely track the traffic that you are generating for the story by using a unique link in your promotion of the story. This will allow you to count the number of times that someone with your link clicked on the story. Also, count the number of Tweets that link to the story using tools like Topsy. In your next conversation with the reporter, let them know that you saw the large audience for the story. Also, share this information with your boss - you are driving thousands of additional impressions for your brand and you should get credit.

With this list, I'd also like to add some caution. Please respect the terms of use of social media sites. Don't AstroTurf them with your votes or posts. It's perfectly OK to post your news to your Facebook Fan site, but it would be unethical to drive your employees to Digg a story to drive up its popularity. Your goal is to help people read the news who have an interest in your company, not artificially inflate it. If popularity or ranking is the purpose of the social media Web site (like Digg, and Reddit), think twice before you canvass for votes. Send your followers to the original news story to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Also, it is important to keep a close eye on the ethical implications of your story promotion efforts. Just like it would be unethical to offer a reporter money for a story, it seems difficult to expressly promise clicks for coverage. I'd never promise a client that I can get coverage in a specific publication. In the same spirit, I'd never want to promise a reporter that I'd drive traffic on a specific story. Generally I'd recommend that PR people build relationships of trust with reporters and the reporters will look to you for assistance in building and promoting their stories.

PR and marketing teams that become media companies and develop their communication channels have the opportunity to greatly increase the readership of news stories. A disciplined approach can increase brand impressions without any additional cost. So, if a killer pitch includes lots of readers, then PR is ready, well, to kill.


Kevin said...

Very true that the time is now...well written and good tips. Thanks, Travis!

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