Everyone wants to know the secret.
They want to know how to promote content AND meet their marketing goals.
Whoa, OK, chill out.
This week, we finally tell you. I interviewed fellow Fractlite Ashley Carlisle, who explains how promoting content is more of an art than a science.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to decide who to pitch
- How to get a writer’s attention
- Who on your team should be collaborating
- Why content is an important piece of the promo puzzle
This podcast seeks to answer your questions about content marketing and digital PR with straightforward, actionable tips. You can find all episodes here.
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Amanda Milligan: Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answer your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get right to it.
I was down in Florida for Thanksgiving, so I’m very excited to be in the Delray, Florida Fractl office this week. And because I’m here, I figured I’d take advantage of the fact that I’m with all my super smart co-workers and interview someone from Fractl this week. So on the show, I have Ashley Carlisle who is a promotions manager at Fractl and I’ve actually worked with her for—I don’t know, the last two years?
Ashley Carlisle: About two years now.
AM: So I’m really excited to have her on because we’ve talked about promotions on this show, but we haven’t really gotten too in depth about it. And I think it’s something that literally everyone can benefit from knowing a little bit more about. So, Ashley spent years pitching our content from a client standpoint and we work together in our marketing department. So she has a lot of experience with this so welcome to the show, Ashley.
AC: Thanks excited to be here.
AM: So just to start. Can you talk a little bit about just your role or maybe like the evolution of your roles at this company.
AC: Yeah so I started as a Media Relations Associate, so pitching client campaigns to various publishers. Did that for quite a bit and then branched on over to the marketing team to do the brand strategy pitching Fractl’s content, writing guest posts and columns, getting our agency’s name out there. Then was brought back over client-side to manage the promotion’s department.
So now manage a team of about 20 or so Media Relations Associates and Strategists across several account groups, oversee the campaign performance for about—how many clients are we up to at this point about 50 or so.
AM: Personally, our team has 12 and there are 5 Account Managers.
AC: Yeah, I think at any given point there’s about 70 or 80 campaigns and active promotions. So lots to always do every day, but it’s exciting to work with the new Associates and training and working on the new campaigns with them, mentoring our senior strategists on their individual research initiatives. Definitely keeps the day varied.
AC: Yeah. I hear you’re busy. Look at my Google Calendar.
AM: Yeah, Ashley is one of those people I feel like who’s a natural at this and has just I mean—she’s at the point now, she’s training all of our new people and has so much good insight. So again really pumped to have her on the show. So just to start—there’s a lot we can talk about. So just maybe so people understand the context, outline the overall process like top level. How do we go from, “here’s a piece of content” to “this is published somewhere.”
AC: I would say even go a little bit further back—what our clients are coming to us for in the first place and that’s really just getting their brand out there, getting brand exposure, earning those top-tier publication’s coverage and links and all that fun stuff. So we’ll get a completed campaign from production and have to identify where that piece of content should live on the internet, determine what kind of publishers would be most interested and covering the data, or you know, the hook behind that particular campaign.
So that’s a pretty time-intensive process. I would say of just trying to build out the media list and trying to identify those key Publications that not only are interested in the content but also aligned with where our client wants to be seen online, what kind of audiences as publications have and if it aligns with the clients target audience. When we get a new campaign in promotions, first thing the Media Relations Associates will do is create a pre-pitch strategy doc, look over the campaign, talk to the project manager to determine, you know, where this campaign came from, the key ideas behind it, the key takeaways, the most interesting information.
They’ll come up with some different targeting angles in terms of what kind of publications are going to be interested in it. They’ll come up with a few ideas in terms of subject lines, stats to pitch, things like that. So they’ll get all that information together, collaborate with the team, make sure everyone is in agreement—yep, that looks like a good one to go after [or] no, maybe, you know, have you thought about this publication instead.
So then we’ll start pitching what we call the exclusive and in Fractl lingo, essentially that means we’re targeting those top-tier publishers with high Domain Authority, large audiences, a lot of social engagement, a lot of syndication potential. Pitching them first because we want to be able to leverage the exclusivity of the actual content, so we’ll be going after usually what we would say Domain Authority over like 70 or 80.
So those are your very recognizable publications like Huffington Post—
AM: Our big names.
AC: Time, The Guardian, Newsweek—really just about any big name news publication you can think of. A lot of those publications have various sections and editors, whether it be lifestyle or health, science, finance—literally anything that you can think of and their audiences are so broad that they’re perfect for a variety of our clients and their content. So that’s the exclusive and then I would say that takes about one to two weeks. Sometimes three depending on what the new cycle is and then once the exclusive is secured everyone celebrates and then we go into what we call pitching syndication.
That generally occurs until we reach the goals that we had set out for that campaign. So could be pitching syndication for a couple days or it could be for a few weeks. And that’s just to help build out additional coverage, you know, a healthy link report essentially for our client’s goals.
AM: Right, because a healthy link report isn’t just one, I mean, amazing link, but a good, normal, natural link report is—you get that coverage and then you get natural syndication too, right? You get that top placement and yeah people just pick it up.
AC: And that’s another reason that we really go after those top-tier publications because those are the ones that naturally syndicate very well in the sense of you know, someone sees an article written on Newsweek about a topic that they’re kind of interested in. The writer goes back to their publications and is like, hey I want to write about this and here’s the source so they’ll link back to that Newsweek article as well as our client’s information. So that’s how that natural syndication works out and we continue pitching syndication to generate some of those links as well.
AM: Right, so we get the best of both worlds in those following weeks. So it makes sense, leveraging the new-ness of something, which is inherently newsworthy to get those high authority sites to cover it. So when you’re setting out to decide which ones you’re going to pitch when you’re doing it for the exclusive placement, how do you narrow down exactly like okay, these are the ones we’re going to target for this content.
AC: So there is not an exact formula to it. I would say it’s more of an art than a science and it definitely—there’s a learning curve for some of our new Associates where once they kind of get their feet wet and start working with a variety of campaigns and clients, they start understanding of what publications are best for an exclusive and which one should be saved for syndication.
I would say some of the factors that go into determining what’s an exclusive versus a syndication publication is first and foremost the Domain Authority—usually, we try to shoot for 70 or 80 or above for the exclusive. Another thing is just looking at the social engagement of the website as well as the particular writer so we can go on their Twitter page, their Facebook page, see how many followers they have, how frequently they’re posting, if they get a lot of engagement from their audiences—and that’s a good signal to us that okay, there’s a lot of readers here. This is going to be something that’s gonna get a lot of views and page clicks.
Another thing that we look at is just being aware of placements that have resulted in natural syndication. So, we can tell you right now that the USA Today network is fantastic because they have a ton of local and regional news publications as well as the USA Today National. So that’s always a great one to go after. So I would say those three are probably your biggest factors there.
AM: I think I’ve mentioned on the show in a previous episode how often we try to do like geographic content and a lot of that plays into the syndication strategies, right? Like it’s so much easier to target those mid-tier publishers or a lot of just local news, you know.
AC: Local news and radio. Surprisingly radio. I think that’s an interesting one where people don’t really think of it at first. All those radio stations do have websites and they’re more than happy to link to your recent study or govern the latest report that your client comes out with.
AM: Mhmm. So you talked about looking at a particular writer’s social engagement. What else do you really look for? Like, okay, you’ve maybe pinpointed the publishers that are going to be a good fit. How do you decide—aside from obviously like, they’re in the vertical like a finance writer—is there anything else you look for aside from their social engagement?
AC: Oh for sure. Yeah, we look at especially just the frequency at which they publish content and articles if they’re only publishing once or twice a month they’re probably knocking be the best person to go after just because they’re probably either a contributor or they just don’t get a lot of opportunities to write for that publication. So not gonna be the best person to go after.
We look at the hierarchy at a publication, usually staff writers and contributors have to go to some sort of Editor to get their article or idea approved. So sometimes we try to skip the middleman and just go straight to the editor. One of the things that we’ll look at will be just the kind of content and things that they’re writing about in their articles. So if a lot of their articles are focused on you know, op-ed pieces and things like that, they’re probably not going to be too interested in writing about the latest and greatest report or study from any client.
They’re going to be writing about their own opinions, their own experiences. So those are people we usually try to avoid as well, people who write though, about the latest and greatest report from you know, a competitor or save our client. We know right then and there okay, this is going to be a pretty good person to go after.
AM: That’s a great point. So you have the list. You’re about to pitch them. Presumably, you’ve done a ton of research on that writer, on that publication. Which the team builds that over time. Like not even that campaign specifically, are they doing the research. They’ve just done a lot of it.
When you’re starting to write that pitch email—and this is something that people just have questions about always—how do you differentiate our emails that Fractl sends from all the other emails these writers are getting in their inbox.
AC: So I think something that really sets Fractl’s Media Relations department apart from any other PR agency is just how much time and effort we put into personalizing each and every single pitch that we send out. Everyone knows that we don’t do templates.
We don’t, you know, spam the inboxes of hundreds if not thousands of people—that’s just not our style and there’s no real big ROI on that. So we really focus on personalizing and tailoring each of those pitches. And so when we’re writing to a specific editor at Time Magazine, we’re going to look through their author archives. We’re going to look at their Twitter page. We’re going to look at their most recent coverage and try to be able to find something that we relate to them about.
Whether it’s on a personal level—say you saw on their Twitter page that they just got a new kitten and you love cats and you’re a crazy cat lady just starting out with, “Hey just saw your picture of your new kitten he’s adorable. I just got one myself.” Just kind of opening up with a friendly, warm greeting or looking at their most recent coverage and seeing how they just covered like I said, a competitor of the client’s, their latest report on XYZ. We can come back and say, “Hey, that was a really great piece. I didn’t know much about that until I read your article. You make a really great point about ‘whatever’ just wanted to see if you’d also be interested in writing a follow-up with this new report from my client” and going straight into some details about that and the pitch.
AM: Yeah because—this is also something that comes up a lot—and there are people behind these emails. I know that’s crazy right? I know, it’s funny because whether it’s on Twitter via email, it’s easy to get—I think templates aren’t just people being lazy and they just forget what it’s like to receive those things and I think it’s going to work and then you know, you get something that’s really just standard and kind of neutral and boring and you’re just never going to respond to that in a way you would as somebody actually trying to make a connection with you.
So how about—like obviously that personalization is going to get somebody’s attention. But is there anything else like in the subject line? I know that there are a ton of, from what I’ve seen, even a lot of different ways to approach a subject line and the process is kind of like—you try if you see what kind of open rates you get and adjust. What how what I’m personally curious about actually: How often do you guys still use like the Curiosity Gap subject lines and are those still one of the more successful?
AC: For sure, yeah, I would say call those the Info Gap subject line category. When we’re kind of strategizing out our campaign, we come up with a few ideas of different sorts of subject lines, whether it’s stat-based—pulling a stat that’s really alarming or surprising or compelling, using that as a subject line.
Using a super personalized one that might be related to, like I said, their new cat that they’re posting about on Twitter or using the Info Gap approach, which is basically trying to really prompt their curiosity to open the email and see what that pitch holds for them.
AM: So you’ve done all this work. You came up with a list of people you’re going to pitch. Then you build out these pitch emails that are personalized and send them out. All this is obviously critical to successful pitching, but how important is the content itself pitching?
AC: That’s that’s the key right there, just having really really solid content. And so we especially recently have really been trying to facilitate a better feedback loop between our production team and our media relations team. Being able to have our media relations team give feedback back to the project managers and creative strategists creating the content. Say hey, you know what this worked really well, we should continue with this kind of methodology for these sorts of studies or surveys. Or hey, you know what, this one didn’t do too well, we got some feedback from publishers that they weren’t interested in whatever reason. Maybe in the future, we shouldn’t try that anymore. Over the past two quarters, I would say we’ve done a really great job of being able to better facilitate that Loop and I think our content has improved tremendously from that.
AM: I was just talking to my account team the other day about this whole thing because like you actually just said—as a company, we’re trying to have more kind of a natural rapport between promotions (which is the department that promotes all of our content) and production (which is the department that actually makes the concept that we promote). How we’re organized into teams now right with a few creative people and a few promotions people but everything we do we need each other.
We are really a team because when people are creating content, they need that feedback from promotions to tell them, okay, this is cool—that’s a very objective word—but why is it promotionally viable as we say, right? What makes it interesting not just to publishers but to the readers and will it get the goals that the client hired us for like you mentioned. And then promotions too, like something—I heard that we’re trying to do more often—is if the promotion’s associate is pitching it and they’re thinking, maybe I’m not seeing what the most interesting point of this is, they’ll go to the person who created the content say, hey, what did you think was the most interesting part about this? You made it you were really invested in it. What did you think was the highlight there?
So I really love that we’re doing that and I think it’s making a huge difference. That feedback loop is so critical and something that probably everybody listening should take a second and think, do we have those communication channels open between departments? Because sometimes it doesn’t happen naturally unless you have that kind of foundation built in for people and they feel comfortable. We use Slack, but even just rolling over to somebody else and saying hey, can you look at this really quick.
AC: I think even one simple change that we did that I think really helps that it just the seating arrangement of our office. We used to be divided up by departments where we had our account managers in one area or production team one area and our promotions folks and another that was all fine and dandy, but it wasn’t really facilitating that in-person communication.
We were relying a lot on Slack and email and sometimes those little questions that could completely change the way a campaign is being promoted weren’t being asked and now we sit by account groups. So we have our promo and creative folks all mixed together and I’ve just seen, walking around the office, people talking a lot more about ideas and challenges that they’re facing and how to work with them.
AM: So now that I think we walk through the general process all the work that goes into it. What are some examples of the actual results you get from doing this kind of work.
AC: So I think we can kind of categorize results based on what the client is looking for. Some of our clients come to us just wanting to do brand awareness in front of the very specific audience. Whereas some want those viral wins and those viral campaigns that generate tons of media coverage, tons of links, tons of social shares, all those fun metrics.
AM: There’s a little disclaimer that goes with that, right? If they come to us with that, it’s like, okay, well, we’re not going to be branded at all.
AC: Yeah, that’s when we go with our real tangential content at that point and hopefully they let us run free with our ideas because those are the ones that get the best coverage, I think, when we can go a little crazy. So I think a good example I can remember that I actually worked on and I was Media Relations Associate was for Travelmath. We did a couple of really cool campaigns for them but the one I’m thinking of in particular was the Airline Hygiene Exposed campaign where we actually had some of our team go and swab different parts of an airplane as they were traveling for germs and bacteria.
And that was like a little gross. Found out some interesting things about how dirty planes are. Tray tables are disgusting. So bring some Lysol with you. I literally think about that study to this day. I know but I flew down here—
AC: I’m sorry. That’s right.
AM: —Like I pulled the tray up and I’m like, oh my God, like I touched it and I freaked out a little bit.
AC: Yeah, it’s insane. So it scarred most of us for life in terms of airline travel, but we got some really awesome media coverage out of it. I think we got somewhere in the range of 300 dofollow links, tens of thousands of social shares, radio coverage on NPR which was pretty seller. I’m a huge NPR fan. When I heard about that, I was super jazzed. It even got like TV coverage on The Today Show, on Late Night with Seth Meyers—like some pretty crazy stuff from this, you know, very basic idea. I think it just had this trifecta that we try to go after when we’re coming up with these viral campaign ideas. And that’s the original data—we essentially did the studying ourselves in terms of collecting those swabs and all the information for that. It’s widely appealing—everyone I’m sure at some point in their life has gone on an airplane. And the surprise factor—just wow, yeah, airports are gross but just how gross are they? We have the information for you. So that really came together in this promotional trifecta to get that viral win.
AM: Yeah, I remember I was the account manager on that account back when we did that and it was just so great for them from a brand awareness perspective. The name Travelmath is appearing on all these major national news sites. And because they as a brand are pretty widely appealing because literally any kind of travel you do—not just flight, you know, not just taking flights but driving—you could use that site.
So it made sense that they would want content that was also very widely appealing because really anybody could be a potential consumer but we know not always the case.
AC: Right, sometimes some of our clients come to us and they are very specific about who they want to reach. These are most commonly like our B2B clients—like Alexa is one and actually, Fractl Marketing would be a good example of this. You know back in the day when we were Fractl Marketing team, we would create very niche content related to content marketing as well as media relations, PR, SEO, things like that.
We’d run some pretty interesting studies and we would pitch those findings to very niche publications. So I remember doing that not too long ago. Now we would get coverage from what we would probably consider the “Time Magazine” at content marketing which is like the Moz blog, the HubSpot blog, PR Daily, Social Media Today—those kinds of publications where you know, if I go home and tell my roommate about it, he’s probably like, I’ve never heard of the Moz blog before but if I went and told my coworker, they’d be like, oh my gosh, that’s amazing. You know, did you get to talk to Rand? We’re on the blog now? So yeah, I’m excited.
AM: Yeah, it’s a matter of like you said going back to those initial goals because our goal and Fractl marketing was to get in front of the eyes of people who were interested in content marketing. I would not have made sense for us to do a study and pitch USA Today because 99% of the people who would have seen that would be completely irrelevant to our goal.
AC: Right. So, like I said, the B2B clients are more likely to come to us for those niche content campaigns. And so they’re aware that they’re not going to get that viral win that goes on USA Today or Time but it’s going to go on the essentially Time Magazine of their industry and that’s what they’re really looking for, that nice brand awareness like you said, or maybe they’re trying to get more conversions. Usually, conversions is the big one for them.
AM: So this kind of ties back to what we were saying before but with that in mind—when you’re looking for people to pitch or pitching, how does—if you’re working in that narrow of a space—does that change how you search for target publishers when you’re building out your pitch list?
AC: It can be a little challenging especially for some of our newer Associates to find those really niche publications, especially if they’re not too familiar with that vertical to begin with. I know when I was pitching Fractl marketing content, I knew of some of the bigger marketing blogs, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to list off the 50 that I could off the top of my head now. It just kind of came with time, being more familiar with that particular vertical and the publications that are popular within it.
In terms of trying to find them and how that works, Google helps a lot. Keywords are great. Even social media like Twitter and finding those smaller publications—the writers that are constantly tweeting out not only their work but the work of other people within that industry.
I would say list building for those niche publications is a little challenging at first, but once you’ve gone through a few campaigns within that vertical it becomes a lot easier and honestly, I think it’s easier to build relationships in those verticals. Those writers and editors can almost guarantee to not pitch nearly as much as an editor at Huffington Post. So they’ll see your name in their inbox pretty frequently and they’ll see that you’re giving them a lot of stellar content.
So they’ll want to actually start working with you, collaborating with you, giving you ideas of what kind of content they’re looking for and that’s really the ultimate end goal—is to be able to collaborate with the publications themselves about, hey, what kind of content are you looking for—maybe we can go work on it and come back to you in a few weeks or a month.
AM: Yeah, it’s a great point. That’s when those relationships are built, they can see the value you’re giving them and I feel like you guys do that too. If you see that somebody’s published a certain type of study or a certain type of report that did well for them and you push him and say we have something updated and new—I saw how well it did for the first time. So here we go. Exactly. We want you to have the same benefits this time around too.
So just to close out, I wanted to ask what your favorite part about pitching and promotions is.
AC: You know, it’s funny. I actually just asked our team that. I’m about to give a presentation in a few minutes to the production team about the day in the life of Media Relations Associate. So I asked everyone, I was like, hey what’s you guys’ favorite part of the job. Everyone said just getting a response.
I thought that was so funny and it’s true, sometimes it is a little discouraging sometimes when you spend all this time on a pitch and you don’t get that response or maybe you’ve been working on, you know, a dozen two dozen pitches and you don’t get a response. Not even just a hey no, no, thanks. It is a little sad sometimes but then when you finally get that writer who’s like, “Oh my gosh, this is perfect. Thank you so much,” you really, really appreciate it. I’m going to write about this tonight and it’s going to go live tomorrow morning. That is like the best feeling in the world.
AM: Sometimes that’s all it takes for content to take off is that you know, and we’ve seen that happen, where a campaign maybe 20 days or 30 days it took to get that first exclusive placement and then it ends up being like the only thing we needed it just takes off. The publisher is perfect and it’s a perfect fit and all these people wrote about it because it was on the publication. But every day you don’t hear something you get discouraged, but it goes to show the work is worth it. Oh, yeah the investment you put in does pay off.
AC: Yeah, it’s just persistence and you know pivoting when needed realizing, okay, maybe this angle didn’t work. Let me try something else and finally figuring out the right formula of the right angle to pitch and the right person to pitch great.
AM: Right, thank makes total sense. Well, thank you so much for being on the show, Ashley.
AC: Thanks for having me.
AM: I think there’s a ton of background noise in this episode. I’m pretty sure we’re having like what we call a wine-down event. I’m pretty I saw a lot of wine in the cafe, so I’m pretty excited right now. This is where people just chill out the afternoon, so we’re probably gonna go join that but thanks for listening this week.
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