PR Lessons From a Student Journalist

Posted on August 1, 2011 by Comments Off

By Kate Spencer, intern

While communication pros pride themselves on capturing the attention of media giants like the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, student journalists and the power of the college newspaper often are overlooked. As a recent college grad and student journalist, I know firsthand how influential the student population can be, if you tap into them correctly. Successfully pitch a college newspaper, and you’ve successfully pitched the generation that will be deciding whether they want to use your next great product.



The following are some tips for successfully pitching college newspapers:

Students want to read stories about other students. When telling your brand’s story, don’t forget that students want to see themselves reflected in your story. Having a 50-year-old male at the center of your story won’t speak to the college students you want to reach. Make your stories real, and personalize them to students and their experiences. Most students will be in debt after graduation. Most are worried about finding a job. Most are planning to move back in with their parents to save on rent. They want to know what your brand can do for them, and how it can help them get ahead. Know your audience, and speak directly to them.

Don’t forget how crazy the lives of college students are. College journalists are some of the busiest people you’ll meet. They’ll go to their morning class, skip lunch to cover breaking news, go take a test they didn’t have time to study for, drive to their internship, grab a quick dinner on the way back home, meet a source for an interview, do 30 minutes of homework, then spend the rest of the night editing stories and publishing them online for the morning news cycle. They’re not reading your carefully crafted press release while sitting at their desk perusing their morning emails with coffee in hand. They’re dashing from class to class, from job to job, from story to story. Be mindful of their schedules as you work to communicate effectively with them.

Go digital. Student journalists have grown up in a world of multimedia, social networks and virtual gaming. They are all about images and visual aids. Distinguish yourself from every other PR agency out there: Instead of sending an electronic press release, email a student journalist a short video pitch or an infographic that synthesizes the information for them. Can you make your video pitch seem like a movie preview? Can you create an infographic using their school colors? Make their jobs easier by giving them information that catches their eye instead of burying facts in text-heavy documents.

Turnover, turnover. Make a name for your brand with the student paper, not the student journalist. The turnover rate of reporters and editors is very high – some reporters will stay only a semester, while others will skip around to new positions and roles within the paper for three or four years. As a general rule, reporters will typically change every year or so. Plan accordingly.

Forget the big-picture stuff. A college journalist isn’t going to write about a big national event. Why would they waste precious resources writing about something big when they know that the New York Times is going to write a better, more in-depth story about it? At our paper, we spent our time trying to find a local angle to every big story. We didn’t care how the merger of two companies was going to affect the stock market. We wanted to know if we were going to get better deals on their products, or if they were going to offer special sales. Every story needs a local angle in order to generate interest.

Don’t waste time mailing things. By the time we received press releases and promotional materials in the mail, we already had our sights set on other coverage. Even if the materials were mailed far enough in advance, we always tended to disregard anything in print because we all worked online. We communicated online in a virtual newsroom, we edited our stories online, we sourced our stories online and we published our stories online. Anything that took us out of our normal sphere of operations often slipped off the radar and out of sight. My advice? Save your money and pitch online with multimedia and social networks.

Got free stuff? Send it their way! College students are best known for always being broke. Want to grab their attention? Create special deals for them they can’t get from anyone else, something that you won’t give every journalist on your media list. My fellow managing editor received an all-expenses trip to Florida from Nissan so he could cover an event happening there. Though he did put a disclaimer at the top of his story disclosing the expenses, Nissan still received exposure to 30,000 students and a pat on the back from our paper for treating us so well. Student journalists are rarely, if ever, paid — a trend that is likely to increase in coming years. Many times, perks and incentives are the only way to keep college journalists invested in writing.

Student journalists want to be treated just like professional journalists. Give students the same access (or better) that you would give any other news publication. Know why? They’re going to go home and blog, post to Facebook and tweet about all the cool stuff they get to do. All their friends will know what good treatment they receive from you. What’s more, they’ll grow up feeling that special connection with your brand and will take that attitude with them into the classroom and into their work environments later on. Just because they’re “college kids” doesn’t mean they won’t have a valuable impact, whether it be positive or negative.

SEO Resources for Public Relations

Posted on June 24, 2011 by 2 Comments

Search engine optimization is a PR tactic. And if you think it’s the other way around, you’re doing both wrong.

Let me rephrase that. Certain elements of SEO are important tactics for integrated communications professionals to keep in mind. SEO is not an overall problem that PR should try and tackle. It can affect ecommerce, reputation and, if not managed properly, can be detrimental.

I recently attended SMX Advanced in Seattle and had my mind blown by the smart insights on how to make your content discoverable. The great thing about SMX Advanced is that it is just that: advanced. This isn’t how to write keywords or meta tags. Instead, we heard about correlation statistics, how to properly architect 301 redirects and how to optimize your PPC efforts.

And if you find yourself wondering what I just wrote, here is the best beginner’s guide to SEO.

What I took away from this experience is that while we advocate for creating our own content and being the story we want to tell, we need to make sure that people can find that story before they find any other. After all, we’ve come a long way from “write good content and share it.” So, how do we boost our rankings by using SEO as a public relations tactic? By exploring the tactics and resources below, you should be pretty well on your way.

Note: You’re going to see the word “correlation” a lot. Remember, correlation does not equal causation. For more on causation versus correlation, please see this Wikipedia entry.

Optimize Your Content

Many factors affect how your content will fare in search engine results pages (SERPs). Thankfully, the folks at Search Engine Land have put together the Periodic table of SEO factors. What’s important to note is that your text still matters.

SEOmoz recently released its 2011 search ranking factors and found that keywords still have a significant impact. In fact, as you can see in the chart below, keywords in the domain of the content you want to rank is one of the most important factors.

Domain Level Keyword Usage

Domain Level Keyword Usage

The important piece of keyword optimization is to stick to a core set of keywords. Properly choosing which keywords you focus on is vital. Here are some articles from Search Engine Land that explore the topic of keyword research in more depth:

Speaking of keywords, the way people talk about you matters. The anchor text that is used to link back to your content carries a special place in the hearts of the algorithms that dictate where your page lands in the SERPs.

The quality the sites that are linking to your content matters as well. As social factors matter more and the Web crawlers get smarter about automatically written text, security exploits and recognizable sources, the metric that one SEO expert calls QualityRank matters more and more. What this means: When working with a reporter or blogger, ask them to link to your site or announcement with the keywords you have identified.

If you want to define wether or not a source is quality, Google has made it easy by offering a list of 23 questions that help it define a quality source. Measuring quality can also be done with tools from Raven Tools, SEOmoz or Google.

The freshness of your content also matters. By creating fresh content, you are helping in a number of areas. Specifically, you are making it more likely that people will share your content across social networks, as well as making your content more engaging. And the Web crawlers look for engagement metrics.

Optimize Your Website

Whether it’s a product page, a blog or a press resource, having the proper site architecture is a key consideration. For PR professionals, there are a few key areas that you want to ask your client’s technical resources about.

Telling a Web crawler how to navigate your site looking for content to index can help it focus on the essential content. It is important to link to content on your own site. It is more important to focus those links on only important content. Some search engines will actually enforce a penalty for too many internal links. On a broader scale, Robots.txt is a standard that tells Web crawlers which pages on your site to ignore and helps focus them on the key pages on your site, such as your blog and product information pages.

For those that are producing product marketing content, as well as new product announcements and other PR content, there will be times where duplicate content can and will appear. This post on SEOmoz breaks down how best to work with duplicate content using a variety of methods. Handling this is an important part of sculpting how the Web crawlers index a site.

Technical limitations beyond your control can also affect how your content fares in the SERPs. Being able to display your content fast makes Web crawlers happy. Covario, which provides SEO consulting services, recently released a data set that examined 800,000 landing pages. It found that page load time had a “surprisingly strong correlation” to search results. Here’s an extra geeky look at how to optimize page load time.

One aspect of optimizing your site for search is in the URL. Most content management systems allow you to set up how your permalinks display. What is important to note is that your permalink does not need to match the headline you’ve written for your press release or blog post. Both SEOmoz and Covario found strong correlations between how a site ranks in the SERPs and how it displays keywords in its URLs, which we also address above. Bonus points for those keywords coming before the .com in the URL as well.

Optimize Your Social Experience

I have recently realized that tweeting and sharing/interacting on Facebook is SEO because Twitter and Facebook are search engines. As of April 2011, Twitter’s search API handles 1.6 BILLION queries per day. Twitter fields nine times more search queries per second than it does tweets. That breaks down to 18,000 queries per second. Keep in mind, Twitter averages 2,200 tweets per second.

The social factors have various effects on each other. For example, if searchers “block” a site, it can have a negative effect on both the trust and personalization variables that have been linked to the various algorithms used to rank sites. However, both Google and Bing integrate Facebook share data into their search results.

Various social actions have a positive correlation on how the page will rank. Source: SEOmoz

Now, it’s important to note that sharing articles on Facebook might not inherently boost their search rankings. It’s just a common trait that well-performing pages have. That being said, while at SMX Advanced, I watched SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin create a page and then test how it would perform in searches based solely on Facebook shares.

Sharing in and of itself is not the only aspect that matters. Who shares your content and the language they use comes back to work in your favor. A factor called “author authority” weighs who is sharing the content and how influential that person or account is. This post explains just what Google looks for in determining author authority. Other factors such as online reviews or tweets have had a measured effect on the performance of a website.

By optimizing how you tweet about a Web page by having an editorial calendar and focusing on your desired keywords, researchers have seen a positive correlation on the SERPs. In addition, Twitter, most of the major Twitter clients and search engines can parse shortened URLs for your search terms. Meaning if your search terms or keywords are in a URL, it can be seen, even though it has been automatically shortened.

The cumulative takeaway on the correlation effects of various ranking factors is simply: It all matters. There is no smoking gun; however, social sharing and authority indicators are loading the clip with some pretty shiny bullets.

There is a lot of other information out there and I fully intend on sharing more information and strategies, as well as best practices for taking advantage of this information in the future. Until then, if you have an SEO resource, please share in the comments!

Is PR Missing Out on the Mobile Revolution?

Posted on August 16, 2010 by 2 Comments

PR, as an industry, is not known for being a group of early adopters. Social media has been a bit of an exception. While the entire industry may not have adopted social media early on, many of social media’s early evangelists came from the field of PR. The argument is that there was an obvious benefit in the way PR approaches working with influencers and building relationships and building online communities and working with online influencers. It hasn’t been a seamless relationship but what relationships are seamless?

There’s a new revolution happening in conjunction with social media and that’s the rise of mobile. Mobile and social go hand in hand (no pun intended) but how marketers approach each couldn’t be more different.

Social media has been incredibly disruptive for marketers because no one is really sure where it belongs. Does the PR team drive it? Customer support? What about the digital team? There is no right answer here but you rarely here advertising brought into the conversation. Not that they don’t belong, they just haven’t done much yet. Although that is changing and thanks to the Old Spice guy we’ll see a lot more changes.

But now mobile is causing the same kind of disruption in marketing orgs and I hear similar battles going on. Does mobile marketing belong in advertising? Digital marketing? Interactive? But you don’t hear any mention of the relation-based groups like PR or customer support.

The easy answer is that one’s an approach (social media/PR) and one’s more of a platform (mobile/advertising).

I think that this is a mistake and PR people will soon be playing catch up to advertising if they don’t find a way to leverage mobile beyond just the social media applications.

Twitter and Foursquare do not a mobile strategy make.

Photo credit By bfishadow

My Advice to PR on How to Communicate With Marketers

Posted on July 7, 2010 by 2 Comments

Use PowerPoint, not Word. Seriously.

I know you were expecting some answer like use more data or numbers or talk slow, but one of the biggest problems I’ve seen when PR tries to integrate with marketing is that they aren’t presenting the message right. When I first started at HP in a Global Marketing Unit (GBU) I wrote my first report in Word. I thought I had committed a cardinal sin. My manager told me to put it in PowerPoint and never do that again.

Social media is continuing to blur the lines between PR and marketing. Waggener Edstrom has traditionally been a PR/communications agency, but over the past several years we have shifted to doing integrated communications. Which means we are just as likely to work with marketing as we are PR. But still, most of our clients are  in PR.

The first thing I noticed about PR vs. marketing was PR’s propensity to use Word. It makes sense; most of the stuff PR does (or used to do) was done first with typewriters, then with word processors (the hardware devices, not the software), then Word.

PR people usually come from a writing or journalism background. They write. Marketers don’t do that. Formal pricing documents like SOWs and initial RFP responses are usually done in Word, but that’s it.

My advice to PR people who find themselves working more with marketing is to use PowerPoint and lots of visuals like charts; they like charts.

Marketers don’t read; they just want pretty pictures.

Want to Get a Blogger’s Attention? Comment.

Posted on June 16, 2010 by 3 Comments

Let’s face it. In the blogosphere, you’re either a spectator, critic or creator.

To put the spectator or critic categories into a visual format, consider the following. Would you rather be:

A) A Statistic …



B) A Connector …


The answer is easy for anyone who has the intent of ever building relationships and engaging with others online.

Let’s be honest — we’re all strained for time. PR people are lucky to sneak in a glance at blogs or social news sites before having to jump back to client work (unless you’re Gatorade and have opted to centralize monitoring with a social media war room … yea, I’m jealous). While most people may be perfectly okay consuming content in a passive manner (option A above), we all know that it takes active participation to actually build dialogue and make connections online.

Too often, blogger outreach is still vastly overlooked on the PR front. Don’t get me wrong, everyone loves a headline story in the NYT or Washington Post. But, why only bank on delivery of the golden ticket when having a vast network of influential bloggers can drastically help boost your outreach? In addition, bloggers are often the starting point for building momentum around a story that will eventually help you leverage outreach to top-tier publications.

So Scott, let me get this right. You’re saying we just need to start commenting like crazy on industry blogs and we’ll be moving right along?


Connecting with bloggers is different from connecting with mainstream media. You don’t pitch bloggers. You build relationships, and as we all know, relationships take time (check out Brian Solis‘ and Arik Hanson’s tips on blogger relations).

Commenting is a solid start to building relationships, but it’s important to remember the following before throwing up any random response:

1. Comment early
If you’re not already, you should be using Google Reader, Feedly or some other aggregator to pull in blogs and news sites that you want to read daily. A quick glance at your reader each morning provides a great opportunity to be one of the first to comment. This shows the blogger that you’re attentive and also gives you more freedom to shape the follow-up discussion.

2. Keep your comment concise and relevant
Deviate too much from the topic of the post or try to be a sly marketer and you’re asking to have your comment blocked or deleted.

3. Add value
Very rarely does a short “Great post!” comment do anything but boost the comment stats for a blogger. Provide some additional insight, share a relevant link to a similar article or useful resource (again, be careful not to appear as though you’re marketing yourself — it’s good to link to content that doesn’t directly benefit you), suggest that the blogger connect with person X — the options are endless.

4. Provide your name and a legit link
There is nothing worse than seeing a comment from someone only to find that it’s a spammer attempting to get you to click over to a bogus site. Keep it personal by linking your comment to your Twitter handle, blog or LinkedIn profile. It’s also not a bad idea to sign off your comment with your Twitter handle for other commenters to connect with you. NOTE: If you’re a PR pro and represent a client, say so. Transparency trumps all.

5. Monitor
Don’t just leave a comment and not return to a post — especially if you are voicing a strong opinion that is likely to generate further conversation. Some blogs do provide the option to be notified when you leave a comment, but if not, be sure to check back one other time that day and the morning after to see if you should respond further.

6. Show respect
Would you walk into someone else’s house and greet them by spitting on their shoes? No … at least I hope not. Same rules apply. It’s absolutely okay to disagree with a blogger (and bloggers will often write posts with the intent of prompting feedback with differing opinions), but don’t come out of the box with a contentious line. Step back, breathe, think about what you want to say, and carefully craft your response in a respectful manner lest you plan on being shunned from the comment board forever.

Bonus — Connect Further!
Comments are great, but you can easily be buried in the mix, especially with popular bloggers or posts. If the blogger provides an e-mail address, try connecting further after you’ve commented on his or her blog a few times. Your name will likely ring a bell as most bloggers receive e-mail notifications when a new comment is posted. That being said, keep your initial outreach simple. Don’t dare use the e-mail as a way to paste in a press release or irrelevant pitch and call it a day simply because this blogger made it onto your target outreach list.

On that same token, do your research: Some bloggers refuse pitches all together. But, remember degrees of influence. A “don’t pitch me” blogger may help you connect with a better resource down the line.

If not by e-mail, try poking around on other social sites to connect further. A few retweets and replies or consistent post bookmarks on Delicious are likely to help draw a blogger’s eye and assist with name recognition down the line.

Finding Time to Comment

Kiesha Easely recently provided a breakdown on her daily blogging schedule. Few people in PR have time to maintain this intense of a schedule, but it’s a good example. At the least, you should be monitoring. It’s too easy to do and way too important. If you’re not, you’re missing out on huge opportunities.

Start by taking 15 minutes after your daily monitoring to comment on three different blogs. Analyze the types of comments on others post, and find ways to fit your voice into the conversation. Over time and if done right, people will respect you as a member of the community.

Now, go get your comment on.


Is Your PR Mobile Ready?

Posted on February 18, 2010 by 2 Comments

Some of you in PR land feel pretty good about how well you’ve evolved over the years.Your PR is digitized and has been since the ’90s.

Your communications are social, have been for years. In fact, you’re baffled by people who still don’t “get it.”

But is it mobile? Grok these stats for a moment:

From CNET:

6.8 billion people on the planet
5 billion cell phone subscriptions
1 billion with Internet access

From ReadWriteWeb:

91% of mobile phone users visit social networking sites
79% of desktop users visit social networking sites
They spend 2.7 hours per day on the mobile Web
45% are posting comments on social networks
43% are connecting with friends on social networking sites
40% are sharing content with others
38% are sharing photos

How is mobile affecting your communications strategy? How do you see it changing over the coming years?

News Has Always Been Social

Posted on August 19, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director, WE Studio D

Playing with the TypeDrawing app.
Image by Tac Anderson via Flickr

News has always been social. News has always been a conversation starter. We know this, it’s why we focus on storytelling and relationships. The fun part is how those conversations manifest themselves online.

Arianna Huffington has a guest post -The Future of News Will Be Social | Facebook – on the Facebook blog talking about how The Huffington Post is deploying Facebook Connect to launch a whole new product: HuffPost Social News.

While The Huffington Post is leveraging the Facebook API (Application Programmer Interface) to harness the conversations on Facebook, NPR is opening their own API to let people pull from their rich database of content:
NPR Opens 80,000 Transcripts via New Transcript API

What does all of this mean to you? If PR is about telling great stories and building relationships, the next evolution of the PRprofessional means doing all of that in a digital environment. Study: New PR Hires Must Blog, Tweet, Use SocNets |MarketingVOX. One key finding I’ll highlight:

Among those responsible for hiring PR and marketing employees, 82% of respondents say mainstream media relations expertise is either important or very important, while more than 80% say knowledge of social networks is either important or very important.

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