Welcome to the first episode of OutSpeech: the brand new digital PR podcast!

Outspeech is a monthly digital PR podcast which discusses and gives commentary on ongoing themes, topics, campaigns and beef (vegan options available) in the industry.

A new episode will be released on the last working week of every month.

The Outspeech podcast is hosted by Jess, Digital PR Specialist at Impression, but we’re always looking for lovely guest speakers to take part. We like to chat with anyone. If you’re interested in being a guest, get in touch!

Our guest speaker this month is Laura Hampton, Head of Digital Pr at Impression and this month we shall be discussing what is the shape and direction of Digital PR in 2020!

Transcription: OutSpeech January 2020

Jess:

Welcome to OutSpeech; the brand new digital PR podcast!

My name is Jess Hawkes, for those of you that have the unfortunate circumstance of knowing me already will know that I am a digital PR specialist at Impression, all round language nerd and I have quite a lot of opinions. Thankfully I’m also doing the editing, so if I say anything offensive I can take it out.

My guest today is Laura Hampton, she is an SEO veteran, all round badass and consequently is also my boss as the head of digital PR here Impression -I’m just going to let her introduce herself.

Laura:

My name is Laura – I’ve been head of digital PR here at Impression for the last couple of years, prior to that as Jess mentioned I was full-on in the world of SEO both in-house brand side and also agency side so yeah, that’s me!

Jess:

Before jumping in let’s talk about why we started this, give some context around the whole thing. So, why did we start this? Well, there are a lot of opinions on the internet, aren’t there? And I want mine to be amongst them ..just kidding. We’re at this nice point in the industry where we are really shaping it; digital PR at this point of time is quite a young and malleable discipline and the people within it have his great ability to be able to mould it into a shape that we want. Sometimes there might be misconceptions about an industry due to its history, or it’s so large that it’s split opinions – but we have a smaller community so we are in a great position. I want to hear the voice and opinions of the industry; I feel like there’s a lot of people putting their opinions out on Twitter and it feels like sometimes it’s only the people who are shouting loudest that get heard, but I know that the community is wider and more diverse than that so that’s what this podcast is all about! I don’t want one or two people to be representative or role models in the industry; I want everyone to have a say.

So the format this is going to take is that we’re going to discuss a couple of campaigns that we’ve seen and liked, we’ll also have what I affectionately call the Rowdy Roundup, where we’ll discuss things that have been going on in the industry over the last couple of weeks, any twitter beef, and then we’ll get them to the main chunk of the podcast. This month we’re talking about quite broad topic which is the shape and direction of the digital PR industry, which kind of feeds into what I was saying earlier about us having this ability to change it. I want to discuss with Laura who’s been in the industry for many years, and has been one of them pioneering voices in changing the industry, what she thinks about it.

But before we begin, let’s get into the Rowdy Roundup!

The Rowdy Roundup

Jess:

So what’s going on in the industry this week? Laura – have you seen anything exciting which has been kicking off the you’d like to discuss?

Laura:

Well Jess, I did see that Buzzstream have added emojis so you can now do outreach through Buzzstream including emojis, which is something that I am excited to learn more about. Coming from an SEO background I’m very much driven by data rather than opinion and I know there’s a lot of opinions about whether or not emojis are appropriate, whether they had personality and actually whether they get better engagement rates – and the reality is I don’t know because the only way that we previously have been able to use them in outreach is doing it on the Gmail platform. Whereas now, having this ability with Buzzstream hopefully as a team we will be able to do some experimenting to see we can see if we can get better open rates and open the doors to a lot more experimentation around using emojis, and something which has previously been very opinion driven.

Jess:

At a conference recently one of the journalists was saying using emojis helps to grab their attention but I just feel like it’s going to get oversaturated – and everyone be using emojis it will become harder to establish which one is actually a good story; it will just be headlines full of emojis!

Laura:

I think it’s interesting seeing different people’s style. For me the biggest thing in an outreach email is that you need to be authentic and it’s got to be your personality that’s coming across. We had a discussion yesterday about the things in email such as how are you and hope you’re well at the beginning and I think that’s just quite a personal thing, as long as you’re being authentic, I think that’s how you can build a rapport and relationships and get people engaged. Whether it will encourage people to open your emails in the first place, I don’t know, but having that functionality on Buzzstream will give us a bit more data at least.

Jess:

Yeah I guess so – I think I’m just a bit more old school in that, and I always banging on about this, but if you’ve got a good story that’s the only way that you’re going to get journalist to feature it. Even if they do open the email – doesn’t mean they’re going to feature it!

Laura:

What’s your top tip for a headline then, what gets people to open your emails?

Jess

Han on, I’m meant to be interviewing you! I think you always generally have got to lead with the strongest story; it’s all about relevancy. There’s no point going out with blanket email to different journalists because there is a way that you can make a headline for the journalist bespoke, so even between the nationals they vary hugely so the people that will go to from the Guardian for example will have a completely different headline to the tabloids.

Laura:

So you would change your headline in the email to suit the tone and headline of the publication?

Jess:

Yes, absolutely. So, anything else going on this week?

Laura:

I’ve been following a lot of stuff from @infoisbeautiful on Twitter. They’ve been doing some wicked stuff recently with mapping out data which I think is really interesting.

The PR industry does a lot of mapping and comparing different statistics to one another and I think they’ve been really good recently, especially at the visualisations, so check them out. I’m really into how we visualise things at the moment as much as the data sources that we utilise. There’s been quite a lot and if we come back to campaigns that we’ve enjoyed which I think we will, there’s been quite a lot of campaigns from DigitalLoft, an agency that I have followed for a long time. I think one of the things that been doing really well recently is using different sources of data and combining them in a way which makes them press worthy, so whether that’s visualising discrepancies between data, or taking data points for a recent campaign. For example, they were able to show the most stressful tube lines in London and they used data points that you wouldn’t typically put together to form the idea of stress but they’ve done that to come up with this really newsworthy headline, so I’m really into that at the moment.

I also saw the Outreach conference speakers have been announced, so that’s exciting. It’ll be really good to go down there and check out those guys. I’ve been to a few Outreach conferences now; one was really good and one I didn’t enjoy as much – so I’m excited to see how this one pans out.

Jess:

What do you think changed? What was the difference between the two?

Laura:

I think the first one I went to was much more practical and the tips were more applicable, whereas the second one I felt it was a bit more of a showcase of stuff that people have done, which is always nice but there’s so many channels for us to see campaigns that working well, on Twitter, we have Pinterest boards in house, and internally we share a lot so I think I have plenty of ways of getting hold of campaigns that I can be inspired by, what I really want from a conference is people to tell me how they did them and the working behind them.

Jess:

What do you think about journalist panels because I know that’s quite divisive?

Laura:

I struggle with journalist panels purely because I think that sometimes we are at risk of reducing our discipline down too much, so we sometimes talk about journalists and completely forget the fact that those are human beings and they all have different opinions. As much as you can sit and watch a panel and they can say “I only want two emails at most”, you can take that away and actually missed a lot of opportunities because there are other journalists who would be happy to be emailed three or four times; just got to be taken with a pinch of salt. But I also believe it’s important to understand our audience which as PRs is journalists, so that we can learn from journalists the better.

Jess:

Sometimes it’s quite funny as well because they’ll be two journalists on a panel and they are saying completely contradictory things, so you’re just sat there thinking, “ok so what do I take away from this?” You just don’t know what to do.

Laura:

A problem is also when they say things you know not to be true, so one specific example at Outreach conference one journalist was talking about how they never make people pay for coverage, but we also had seen an email where they had responded asking for payment. So if the journalists are willing to be honest and transparent with us on the panels then it’s a really valid source of information and should be taken seriously, but if it’s not that kind of quality or if they’re hiding stuff, it’s less useful.

Jess:

There has been quite a lot of stuff kicking off on Twitter this week. One thing which was raised is someone looking at someone else’s campaign and there were certain questions about it – what do you think about looking at each other’s campaigns in the industry? Do you agree of it?

Laura:

Yeah 100%. I’m very much and advocate for sharing things and as you mentioned at the beginning I also believe that digital is a very early stages of its evolution and we as the team at Impression and in people in digital PR across the country, we have a real opportunity in order to evolve it in a way that we see fit and that for me makes it very exciting industry. It also to an extent makes it a less competitive industry as I know that people will choose to work with us over someone else because they like our approach and our approach might be very different to other people’s, and conversely other people might use other agencies because they prefer their way of doing things, so I think it’s really good. I’ve actually got quite a strong network with a number of PR managers from different agencies across the country and I get so much value from just chatting to them. We go to Nando’s and we go eat chicken and talk about links, it’s the dream. We should be inspired by one another and something that I really enjoy doing with you guys here in the team is that when we share campaigns with one another, it’s to celebrate the things that we really enjoyed and we will also rip apart the things that we would have done differently ourselves and things that we don’t like. So for me it’s about learning all the time and if you never look at what other people in the industry are doing you’ve got a really blinkered view of what you think the industry needs to look like and I don’t think that’s fair. I think it’s in the early stage of evolution so let’s learn as much from one another as possible.

Jess:

Yeah, I agree with you and I think personally I think it’s a compliment if someone wants to mine a backlink profile to see how great my campaign is. This leads us nicely onto our next feature..

DR Op it like its hot

Jess:

In this section we shall discuss one campaign that we’ve seen this week and have liked and why!

Laura:

I do have an Impression campaign that I want to celebrate.. however I also have a campaign from another agency that I’ve enjoyed. So the one that I really want to celebrate first is from Impression, specifically from Damian Summers in our team. He put together a campaign that had two distinct phases which I really enjoyed. There’s been various people at conferences that have talked about evergreen PR content and this idea of being able to bring content back out and re-pitch when it becomes topically relevant. So this the campaign, Damian looked at all the songs on Spotify within lullaby playlists and he was able to go through and with the help of our ppaid media team he built a script that pulled out some of the characteristics of songs, such as how many beats per minute what key it’s in and lots of stuff like that. He then worked out the formula of the perfect lullaby which he then applied to the UK’s top 40 charts and worked out which popular songs were most like lullabies and therefore would be most likely to get kids to sleep; so it was the modern-day lullaby. By itself this managed to get quite a bit of coverage I think 50 + links in the initial stage. He then went back and re-did the campaign for Christmas songs, so he could work out Christmas lullabies to help kids get to sleep whilst waiting for Santa. Overall between the two phases of outreach he picked up 78 bits of coverage including features across national publications, but also something that was really important to the client is that be featured in kids and parenting specific publications which this absolutely hit the nail on the head for that. As well I think it can be really challenging when you’re working, especially kids and parenting sector is you’ve got to be able to prove your credibility, especially when you’re trying to give advice on parenting. People don’t want to feature advice for kids if it’s not backed by medical or whatever specialists, so for him to be able to on the behalf of an ecommerce site be able to to come up with a campaign that landed in that sort of publications, I just thought was really impressive so I just want to share that.

Jess:

What a lad.

Laura:

What an absolute lad. I also really enjoyed, and I mentioned it earlier, a couple of campaigns recently from Digital Loft, so from James Brockbank and his team. I know that they recently brought in Frank Griffin who I met at Brighton SEO and I thought she was absolutely fantastic when she spoke on stage so it’s been really exciting to watch her develop into her role. The first campaign I want to bring up is the hardest working musicians for a music production client, and what they did was they looked at various data sources to work out which musicians work the hardest for the money. Apparently Ed Sheeran came number one. That got 31 links, but what I really liked is that as well as the links it was quite simple but absolutely bang on brand for that client. For a music client to be able to talk about music that’s exactly what you want. In a similar vein their campaign around most stressful tube lines that was done for meditation client I believe, so the idea of stress tied into meditation and relaxation that for me it’s bang on brand. It’s only got three piece of courage at the moment, but I do expect that to grow. Something we talk about quite a lot at Impression is this idea of ‘Circles of Focus’; it’s recognising that the topics that you’re going to talk about properly fit into three categories. At the centre of the target being most closely related to what you actually selling, whereas one or two steps away from the centre is further away from the core product; I think the dream is where you can get mass media attention while speaking about your core topics and that’s what Digital Loft has done especially well recently.

Jess:

It feels frustrating when you see a really cool campaign that’s got a lot of consumer worth and it’s picked up loads of links but then you think how does that even relate to your brand?

Laura:

Yeah exactly, and I’m sure iProspect won’t mind me mentioning this, but they did a campaign which looked at the favourite chocolate in a box of Quality Street

Jess: The general selection

Laura:

Yeah, it was a really cool campaign and I can see how it’s a great way of showcasing their ability to do something quite cool and creative and probably landed quite well with their prospects and clients as a showcase piece. However in terms of building that link profile as a digital marketing agency, I don’t think I quite got how that would contribute and I think as Google continues to grow and increase its understanding of things, especially since the September core algorithm update around EAT we’ve really got to use a backlink profile to communicate our expertise and authority and our trustworthiness, and having people talk about you in relation to the use of chocolate.. I’m not sure that’s going to be as beneficial to them as may be doing a white paper about SEO, for example.

Jess

To play Devil’s Advocate then, how is that any different to the Pawry party app that we did at Impression where we turn pictures of Boris Johnson into puppies?

Laura

That’s because we did that one, so I just much preferred it..!

I think it’s all got to play part of a wider strategy, so for Impression for example we have run a large number of campaigns over the years where the targets have been digital marketing publications and that’s obviously our core area and that’s what we want to talk about, we want to get links and features in search engine and search engine journal PPC journal etc. But we know we need a broad set of publications talking about you as well so I’d say that the campaign that we ran sits on that kind of outer layer which forms part of a wider strategy, which for iProspect to be fair is what it does as well to be fair, but I just really want to celebrate those companies that hit the core topics more than anything because I think that’s the hardest thing to do.

Topic discussion: What is the shape and direction of digital PR in 2020?

Jess:

Ok cool, so without any further ado let’s move on to the main topic discussion of this month’s podcast: what is the shape and direction of digital PR? So when I put this together I made it quite intentionally broad and I feel like it feeds into what I was saying earlier about what shape is the industry currently taking, where we are expected to go in 2020, will it change or evolve and in what way? Do we see it growing independently away from SEO or further with SEO? All of these questions that we hear quite frequently in the industry and I would like to talk about with Laura today!

So Laura, in terms of digital PR, is it something which is separate from SEO or is it something that’s still quite heavily connected?

Laura:

I think I think we see differences all the time and I think this year is where we really come to a crossroads in terms of how we are connected to SEO. I know for Impression, digital PR continues to be driven by an SEO gole more than anything and I think for me the difference between traditional PR and digital PR is that digital is measurable in a way that traditional always struggles to be, so traditional use proxies for success such as AVE, circulation, reach etc. I think they’re very difficult to prove a return on investment, it’s hard for the client to prove an impact on the bottom line whereas digital PR is something that we can plan to be measurable and the most clear way of doing that is via SEO, as we know that Google has explicitly stated that when you’ve got more good quality, relevant links coming to your site you can expect to see see the needle move in terms of your ranking improvements which leads to more traffic and value. So so far that has always has come from an SEO need more than anything else, but with that said the way that we used to build links even 5 years ago (I’ve been working in SEO for 12 years now because I’m the oldest person in the agency there’s no one older than me!) but when I used to build links back in the early days it wasn’t through PR techniques, it was through broad range of other techniques that never even touched on PR; I think the closest where they got to PR was the production of infographics that even that can’t masquerade as news! So for me the involvement of PR specialists such as you, and the rest of the team here and other people in the industry, the addition of that skillset means that we’ve got to recognise there are more benefits to digital PR than just link building. I think we’re seeing that. A lot of the stuff that we talk about internally is about the broader benefits, so if you know you’re going to get links from it but you’re investing more time into a bigger PR campaign, what are the other benefits that you’re going to get? It might be a campaign that’s difficult to quantify like brand awareness, that still something we can agree with the client and make sure that the messaging is on point. It might be something related to audience building so we’ve got tools like Google Analytics for example which will give us insight into affinity categories and their broader interests about audiences. If we know that we’ve got a client who wants to speak more to parents for example, we can now quantifiably and tangibly judge whether we are hitting that metric. We can look at things like using bigger content marketing pieces to actually gather people’s email addresses and remarketing lists, there’s many more benefits once you bring in a PR specialist beyond links but if we can also tie that into the link requirement and tie it into to SEO goals and understand how it’s helping us to increase visibility online, for me that’s the measurable aspect that so unique and so valuable in digital PR itself.

Jess

I think it’s fair for a digital PR specialist to be judged on organic performance if they’re just driving links towards the site?

Laura

In a way, yes. So we talk here a lot about the difference between own goals and shared goals. So if we play this out, the own goals that we can be responsible for are the links that we build; so the number and quality and the placement of them links. So by placement I mean where they are in the page that’s linking to us, so we can be strategic and intelligent about how we place those links. But then we can also recognise the shared goals of our clients, so I’d say that in my experience and the vast majority of my experience people aren’t paying us to build links, they are paying us to increase their visibility, or they want to reach a new audience. So whatever it might be, we have to recognise that we share those goals with them and we certainly have plenty of cases where I’ve been able to share the impact of us achieving our own goals on the shared goals – but we’ve also been able to show that’s not happened. So to be really transparent, with one client recently we were smashing it in terms of link building results we’re getting so many links coming to the site but that shared goal of traffic and rankings but the shared goals weren’t being achieved, and that opens its discussion point because we can then talk about well if we’re doing our part and we’re getting the links where is it falling down in terms of your wider SEO strategy? This particular client, it was a combination of technical issues and some content challenges that once fixed we were then able to work together to work towards that broader goal, so I think it’s important to have those honest conversations with our clients but also be able to recognise that as specialists we can really only be judged on what we directly affect

Jess:

Yeah it can be difficult as clients have different expectations as well

Laura:

Yeah, I think it’s about setting expectations. In many cases we are working with huge brands at the moment when they’ve got massive in-house SEO strategies they’re not looking for us to come in and say “hey have you thought about this?” They’ve already done that and they’ve put the legwork in, they come to us and they say “we just need some good quality links” either to the website or this particular page, and we do it. Then we recognise that for other clients digital PR is really fun (it’s arguably the sexy part of digital marketing) and people like to invest in it and they can sometimes go straight to digital PR before considering other aspects of their broader strategy first.

Jess:

and we’ve seen that as well

Laura:

Yes certainly, so I think it’s important to be rounded marketers and to be judged fairly.

Jess:

In terms of what we can expect to see in 2020 then, you hinted at this is this year is it’s going to be a lot of changes. What does that look like to you?

Laura:

So for me there’s a few things. So for me, I mentioned this idea of being a crossroads and the main area that I actually see being split is not SEO vs digital PR – it’s actually digital PR vs traditional PR. So I’ve given it a lot of thought and especially leading a team Impression, I’ve got to think about what tactics we will be not employ, what we will not do; especially as we come up in more and more pitches where people are saying to us, “look guys we’re choosing between you and a traditional PR agency” or they are thinking about moving their traditional budget into digital. So what is the difference? I see plenty of online only campaigns where you create an online asset and that’s cool, that’s really easy to see how that’s digital PR – but then conversely we’ll see things such as things that you guys have done, some products recently for example, where you’re actually influencing product development as much as we are PR. Or you see a big campaign for example by Missguided where they did a product campaign with Rise at Seven, where they put a jumper on a dog and jumper on a person and for that for me is a much more traditional technique; the whole Christmas dinner thing eyc – a lot of the stuff that Carrie Rose and the team are doing I would argue is much more rooted in traditional PR tactics than they are digital. The thing that really brought home to me the fact that we’re at the crossroads is that the other day I saw Will Hobson put a tweet out saying that he is interested in learning more about crisis comms, which for me is very much embedded in traditional PR practices and that’s where I draw the line for us. It’s not where we would add value and actually the way that we are defining it at Impression is that digital PR is measurable PR. Any way in which we can drive measurable gains for a client, regardless of tactics, as long as we can drive a measurable gain and we believe the investment is worthy of that potential return then we will do it. But I think there’s a lot of people across the industry and also client-side who people are making decisions where they have to choose between traditional and digital and I think that’s going to be a really interesting conversation for us to have throughout this year

Jess

Yeah, we go up against traditional PR agencies all the time, we see this quite frequently, don’t we?

Laura:

Yeah we do, and we see traditional PR agencies starting to move into digital PR as well and they’re trying to define what they do and I think it’s a really interesting time for everyone. The other thing I think that is going to really affect the industry, well, a couple of other things actually, but one of them is the EAT update. So this is kind of old news now, but back in September there was the major core algorithm update from Google which really focused more than any other update before on this idea of “expertise authority and trust” and we really have been working through what that means from a digital PR perspective. If you think about how Google is now looking through backlink profiles in terms of how well it communicates those EAT factors, if you are a digital marketing agency for example, putting out a campaign about chocolates then the links going back is probably seen as slightly less relevant. And the same for Impression during a campaign where we change photos of Boris Johnson into dogs, the coverage that we getting arguably is less relevant depending on how well targeted it is. I think there’s going to be a really big focus, especially for those businesses operating in the ‘your money or your life’ sector. We’ve spoken to quite a few finance businesses, insurance companies and health websites recently who need to focus on how they can create that perception of expertise authority and trust through the link building activity. Whether that is campaigns that sit at the core of their ‘circles of focus’, right through to the greater investment thought leadership, author profiling, and growing people as spokespeople, or comment and newsjacking. I think it’s going to become much more sexy again, I think we’ve almost lost it over 2019. I think we got really shouty about creating campaigns and stunts and that was cool, but having that layered approach where you also pick up the basics of thought leadership, or commenting or author profiling is going to be really more important

Jess:

Do you think that we’ve lost it? Or do you think it’s people who are doing it steadily in the background and still getting results and not necessarily shouting about it?

Laura:

I think even here at Impression we’re guilty of it, I was speaking to one of the team last month and he was saying that he had become really excited by campaigns and you [Jess] even recognise this yourself, that it’s more efficient to get links for someone through a campaign rather than thought leadership comments; you can get 50 links for 1 campaign whereas you get one link from a thought leadership piece. Whereas our heads have been turned by those more exciting creative campaigns, that’s not to say that people haven’t been doing it but it’s just my feeling that as an industry we have started to chase more of the big other stuff and this year especially if you’re driven by SEO metrics we really got to be using a full spectrum of techniques.

Jess:

Yeah I think that’s fair. One thing I was looking at when I was looking at a strategy earlier with my colleague Rebecca is that we’ve included both creative campaigns and thought leadership in there and that’s because, like you’re saying, creative campaigns are great and it’s more efficient as you get more links but we can tie the thought leadership stuff closer in with the actual clients goals – so it’s way further down the funnel for me whereas the creative campaigns is loosely related to actually what they’re actually doing. Lower resource, higher reward. So generally it’s that approach means we can hit both of them touch-points in the conversion path whilst gaining a consistent amount of links.

Laura:

Yeah for sure, and I think for me that’s much more of a focus for this coming year especially when we look at other SEO things like the March update which we were expecting to be big, where Google was changing its use of ‘nofollow’ tag and for me that’s something that to be honest I’m really struggling to care! Just because it’s something that’s always been there for a long time, it’s the nofollow attribute that Google has alluded to the fact that it’s going to be ugc or sponsored attribute as well, which has a potentially big influence especially in the PR industry and I wrote a blog post about it so I won’t go into too much detail too much now, but for me how Google views links is always being updated and something that’s so important is that whole EAT Focus and when we are looking at our clients backlink profile, we need to be asking a question not have things been tagged ‘nofollow’ or ‘ugc’ or whatever. We need to be actually looking at, ‘does this backlink profile communicate our expertise authority and trust’ and ‘does it show us to be the best brand to be featured in the search results’ and that’s really where we want to focus on quality as well as quantity in 2020.

Jess:

What advice would you give someone then he’s just joined the industry?

Laura:

Go get yourself a broad understanding. It’s so fluffy.. what I mean by that is because the industry is at the beginning of its evolution and we’re still in the early days, yes it’s been around a few years but it’s still malleable, we can shape the way we want. Listening to Saffron, someone who joined the team at Impression as someone has no experience, I very much value the thoughts that she has and opinions that she has just from her very limited not yet influenced opinion. I think, “we can’t possibly do that because it didn’t work last time” but for people like Saffron and the people coming into the industry, talk to people like you with 8 years experience, you need to immerse yourself in as much as possible and that’s why I’m going back to our conversation earlier, look at your competitors you need to look at what they’re doing. But also understand SEO, understand paid media, understand paid social, understand email marketing, understand content marketing, understand remarketing, understand cookie explorations. Go get yourself as much knowledge as you can. Basically just do everything. One of the things that I like most most as a team is that the specialist expertise that you bring, like nobody can ever devalue what you guys bring in terms of your knowledge of Pr, in terms of your insight of the media, in terms of your passion for press practices, you’re all such nerds. I think if I was just starting out or advising someone starting out I’d say it’s such a broad discipline still that you should make yourself consume as much as possible, find your niche and start to carve out your own role.

Jess:

What do you predict the industry to look like in 10 years from now?

Laura:

It’s going to be absolutely banging! I’ll be 43.. that’s insane. I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to work here anymore, I’ll be too old! What do I think it will look like in 10 years? I think it’s going to change a lot.. which is a well fluffy answer to give. But I do think the amount it’s changed so far is huge and if you look at it in context to a similar a practice such as SEO that’s kind of reached a the status quo in terms of what is best practice. You can pretty much go to any SEO agency and they will tell you that your strategy is a combination of technical content and links and that the kind of things like that are embedded. I think similar will happen for digital PR, we all agree that link building sits at the core and find that the various techniques and tactics that work for us and certain elements will become embedded same way that SEO continues to evolve into progress down different disciplines. I think that’s what is next on the agenda for digital PR, we are already seeing some agencies are really emerging as stunt driven and learning that line between traditional and digital and finding some of them traditional styles of campaigns working really well. We have others like Digital Loft who were super data-driven, and at Impression I think you guys all individuals are coming out niches. So I think in 10-years time it’s going to be much bigger, it is going to be much more recognised, it will be something that’s not a gimmick but there will be a lot of challenges.

Something that plays on my mind and keeps me awake at night is the idea that if we continue to build campaigns on an orphaned pages of websites, so anytime we put a campaign direct off the root domain, so impression.co.uk/campaignhere for example, that for me is something that Google can really easily pick up on and think, “links to an orphan page on the site plays no role in the user journey so we’re just going to devalue it”. It’s at that point we’re going to see a lot of these big sexy campaigns actually lose value from an SEO perspective and that’s something that does play on my mind and it’s something that I think that Google, like with the Penguin update, is going to come out and sort it out.

This is going to be a controversial topic for the podcast but I think there’s the potential for Google to come out somewhere and regulate this, so that these brands with the biggest budget to spend on PR aren’t necessarily going to be on top of search results anymore; and that’s something we are gonna have to face more strategically in our approach.

Jess:

How would we differentiate traditional marketing practices that’s on an orphan pages such as competitions for example?

Laura:

But then you wouldn’t expect a competition, say if you got 50000 people to enter a competition that was featured on ITV, and then you wanted to be seen in the search results and see your keyword ranking results going up, you can’t expect it to go up. What’s going to happen is these ‘flash in the pan’ campaigns that’s taken down one at a time. I think the same could be said for a lot of companies that we see when is it directly on the root for me, that’s a really tangible way of Google seeing it and saying that activity is where we’re going to have to draw the line. I’m not saying that that’s going to happen but I think as digital PRs going forward we are going to have to learn to be much more integrated in our approaches; we’re gonna have to be more strategic to where we are adding value and it’s not just coming up with great campaigns – it’s thinking about where it’s going to sit on the site, audiences for remarketing, whatever it may be. We have to face challenges from Google, from my clients and from each other and I think it’s very exciting actually!

Jess:

The thing is we have to learn to be adaptive and thinking, “s*** what are they going to do next?” Which is nice because as you say, it’s an exciting discipline and we have to be as adaptive as we can to see what works at the moment

Laura:

Something else that I’d like to think this happened since it was released many years ago is Google has held a patent for implied mentions or implied links for a long time. It genuinely exists online. It’s held this patent for a long time for implied links, and the idea is that you can be talked about but not linked to and that should still hold value. This will draw questions on what is today known as digital vs traditional PR and there’s a lot of complexity around that especially if you’ve named your digital marketing agency ‘Impression’ for example, and that’s just a word that people are going to struggle to understand; tying together mentions of the brand of Impression with our agency specifically that’s a challenge that Google has yet to overcome, so it couldn’t give us the value of that mention or applied link now because it can’t unequivocally tie together our brand with that word. But I think moving forward especially with Google’s investment in rank brain and more recently other stuff that’s been happening around language processing and understanding how that works, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to get to point within the next 10 years where we talk about ‘Impression’ or ‘Tesco’ and Google registers that someone is interested in this business and it should rank higher.

Jess:

Surely it’s not out of the realms of possibility to tell the difference between a proper noun and an improper noun, I don’t think it’s very complex considering they are leaders in technology?

Laura

I guess if you play out the complexity of ‘Impression’ though – it’s a challenging brand name for us to have in our industry because ‘Impression’ is a digital marketing agency, it’s also a thing that refers to paid media so you get ‘impression share’, it’s also a word that’s used in Google Search console which refers to somebody seeing your brand, it’s also about branding making the right ‘impression’ – so you can’t even take the proper nouns that dictate it as it’s used to describe the trademarked ‘Impression’ share so that’s also capitalised. You couldn’t look at where it’s contextually related to digital marketing since we might be talking about it generally, it’s a complex area. I think it’s well worth having a look at the original patent around it and understand this idea of implied mentioned, I’d really like to think that it would be a real game changer.

Jess:

Do you think it would make it easier then?

Laura:

No, I think it would not be easier.. I think it would make it fairer. I think when you guys land coverage in national publications and because of policy there is no link. Publications don’t link back and not just national publications but trade publications whatever, where they’re willing to use your content and they’re willing to credit the source of that content by name, to me that doesn’t feel right and that’s just my opinion. I have no data to back it up apart from the fact that this patent has existed for a long time – so I’d love to see that change.

Jess:

Do you think generally the industry is getting harder then?

Laura:

I think it’s difficult for me to comment at the moment what you mean by hard, to get results?

Jess:

Well on social, on Twitter, at conferences people are saying because publications having policies where they don’t link, as a discipline it is getting harder than it used to be three years ago as journalists are increasingly more savvy to SEO practices they don’t even necessarily have a policy sometimes they just say, “I’m not going to because I know it’s going to benefit you in some other way” due to journalistic integrity or something.

Laura:

I don’t think it’s getting harder – if you think of what actually a link is, yes it’s a proxy vote for your website, but it’s also a method of user travelling around the web – so it’s method of travelling somewhere else to include a link in a story off of their own website and I can totally understand why journalists wouldn’t do that without a reason. So that’s where we still see campaigns coming out where people talking about what’s the thing on your website that people would want to come and interact with, others want to see or want to read for more information – you know that’s where I think we’re not getting into it too much, that’s why I think ‘dream job campaigns’ work really well because you put the terms and conditions on the site, there are things such as product stunts which work well because in order to get the product you have to link – so it’s giving people reasons to link that I think is really important and that’s where it’s just about being savvier.

But I also think that journalists are becoming more savvy to SEO practices in terms of giving links to us; hopefully they also recognise that externally placing links are valuable part of their own strategy, so if you are a news publication that say, only ever links internally to its own content as a source, that to me doesn’t scream of credibility whereas a publication which is willing to link out to credible sources, I think that’s where we’re going to see journalists becoming savvier to that.

Questions

Jess:

At this point in the podcast, we would usually look at questions that people have put up on Twitter but as it’s the first one I haven’t had a chance to go to people yet and explain what that’s all about! So I’ve just gone to the team here at Impression and got some questions, so Laura; the first question I’ve got is from our Senior technical SEO specialist Edd Wilson. He wants to know, what are the biggest things that digital PRs can learn from SEO and vice versa?

Laura:

The biggest things that SEO can learn from digital PR.. the biggest thing is to understand that we do support each other especially in digital PR and SEO. I think digital PR actually crosses over into a lot of different disciplines but we need to learn how each one can support the other and understand the specialist skills that digital PR practice should bring to the table. So we’re very fortunate at Impression that the people that we’ve got within our team are from traditional PR backgrounds and journalism backgrounds and they really understand the press and the media and they completely get coverage that puts the right messages across. So you can quite easily come in and just pick up links from a resource page, or broken link building, or citations, or whatever- but if you want someone who can help you get your message out the right place, if that’s where you really need the digital PR specialism. So I think that’s what SEO can kind of take from digital PR. On the flip side then digital PRs can learn from SEOs on how to drive the most measurable and tangible value out of their campaign. So I know that we can come up with the best campaign idea and it can run in some fantastic publications, but in terms of those shared goals and impacts that has for a client, we can get more out of it. The more integrated we are with the SEO team, review the backlink profile, getting to talk you through what is needed, which pages need to be focusing and what types of topics we need to be talking on what publications, work with each other and having that integrated approaches, we can all get more out of it!

Jess:

Something that not just us but the industry is sometimes a bit guilty ofm is we don’t talk across teams enough and we’ve seen people come from more traditional PR backgrounds who had to learn about SEO and then SEOs just saying “get me some links”. I think for both sides to integrate is quite clearly the best way forward; it’s also known what’s relevant and what’s not – for example a technical SEO specialist doesn’t need to know the intricacies of the media and do you know how to render javascript si it’s making sure it’s the relevant things.

Laura:

What we need to really recognise in this conversation is that digital PR is in the relatively early stages whereas SEO has been around for a long time, so by definition SEO specialists have been around longer than digital PR specialists and digital PR is being brought in as a way of building links as a digital PR specialist or is a digital PR agency we shouldn’t just be saying, “right we’ve got this, we’re gonna tell you how to build links” – because people have been building links for years before it’s discipline existed. We need to respect people like Edd who have been in the industry for a long time and have been through Penguin updates. He’s been through black hat practices and he’s seen what works an what doesn’t and I was speaking to a guy who was involved in the whole interflora Sandboxing the other day and we need to respect the historical knowledge and speak to people who have been in the industry a long time and have that experience.

Jess:

Our next question comes from Saffron, our Digital PR analyst. How many follow up emails do you think is acceptable? We talked about having different amounts but what would you do when you’re looking at a campaign, what would you advise?

Laura:

I genuinely don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to this. For me, send at least one follow-up just because I know that from my own practices when I look at my emails inbox, even now during the course of this podcast I probably have got 50 new emails! It’s really hard to keep up with your inbox, if you then think about what it’s like as a journalist getting hundreds of emails a day – you might just miss one! If the story is really good I don’t like to think a journalist of not having the opportunity to use it just because they missed it by accident, so I always do at least one. I often do two but I will leave a longer period of time between the second and third one but that’s just me!I think it’s all about people’s preferences. One thing I would say is that we do keep Buzzstream lists or whatever an outreach platform you are using up-to-date with information about journalists so if they do specifically say that you don’t want a follow up then make sure you take note of that and do as they asked.

Jess:

Next question is: how important do you think the journalist and PR relationship is? This question is also from Saffron.

Laura:

It’s quite a controversial discussion – I love it! I look at it from the old school approach as I do think your relationship is important and I think it’s important a very specific stage and that is the point of them spotting your email and opening it – and for me that is always been one of the biggest hurdles. You can be so confident in your campaign and you can know that you don’t see how they won’t use it if they don’t open the email, whereas I think if you’ve got a relationship with someone which can be built in lots of different ways, which I come back to, if you’ve got a relationship with a journalist, they’re just more likely in my opinion to open email. Relationships might come from traditional practices, like you might have literally been for a coffee of them and that’s fine, that’s legit. It might simply be that you’ve worked with them on previous campaigns and have seen that you’ve done a good job. I know that when I was working with a client a few years ago I pitched an idea to this chap from Forbes, but I actually spoke to him on the phone originally, and he really loved the story and used it and that story got so much engagement on his site and it got picked up by so many other sites. He thought so well about content I provided which meant there after every time I had something like that which was relevant to him, I would either pick the phone to him or I could send an idea to him and we had that relationship that I knew he would answer me because he’s seen proof of my work. I think for me that’s where the relationship is important and I know that there’s been talk in the industry about building your own profile and Twitter and making sure that you are a known person. I remember years ago people like Lexi Mills did a fantastic job of doing it – I know that any time a journalist got an email from Lexi Mills they must have opened it, because she was so widely celebrated as someone who did fantastic work and great content. So I think if you are recognised in that way, it just makes it easier to get your email opened. That said, I don’t think that is the be all and end all – if you’ve got a fantastic story even if no one has ever heard of you, you can still get a place because the story is what counts.

Jess

Yeah, story first and foremost for me. I agree with you that there is a level where relationships are relevant maybe not as old school as it used to be more in traditional PR disciplines.. may be going out 100 copies a day that seems time-waster and probably too much caffeine to handle±

Laura

Typically what we’re trying to do in digital PR for SEO purposes is building a wide variety of links so whilst getting repeat coverage has its value, you’re quite often trying to explore different topics or trying to reach different audiences, which means it’s unlikely you’re going to be speaking to the same journalist time and time again. So what I would advise is maybe have a select pool of journalists who are quite generalist and may be applicable to lots of your campaigns or lots of your clients if you’re agency side and try to nurture those relationships. But I also agree with you, that the story is what’s going to resonate providing you can get them to open your email in the first place!

Jess:

Well if you put an emoji in it then it’s fine! Another question from James a digital PR specialist in the team; how long should you wait until you can see start saying benefit from a digital PR campaign in your opinion?

Laura:

So again it depends.. which is a generic fluffy answer! But it really does depend. I had a conversation the other day with a huge travel brand and she was saying that that they worked for an agency for a long time and they were really struggling to see the tangible benefits of their investment, because what they were doing was great but they were building links to these orphan pages and they were getting all kinds of brand mentions but for this particular website which has got millions of links, it’s really a drop in the ocean. So you can’t expect to see massive changes if you are operating in that kind of landscape. What I talk to her about then was picking the battles that we know we can win; so we will work closely with her to understand which areas of the site are actually going to be benefit from links and we can do that by looking at what’s ranking above you, using the sites that ranking above you to see if they have got more links and you can see if you’ve got 50 vs 100 then you’ve got something quite quantifiable to target. It’s not the be-all and end-all and there’s many factors at play but I think pick the battles where you know you can make a tangible difference quite quickly and that’s where you can see the differences. If you were working for a client where you know you still want to get them homepage links and you still want to be driving more links to the brand that’s got millions, as long as there’s a trend in the right direction then that’s what’s really important in terms of a campaign. I wrote a post on LinkedIn a while ago which was entitled “would you do it if it wasn’t for the links?” and that looked at should we be doing activity that is solely for the purpose of getting links? And in my opinion no, we shouldn’t. We should say what the other benefits come from that coverage that’s been achieved or that piece, whatever you’ve created. I know we had a client shared a while back where every time we created the piece of content they gave it to the sales team and their sales team put it on LinkedIn they got loads of engagement and prospects for them. They said even if we got zero links, this is a fantastic asset for a tea. We’ve got another and that tool hits a really wide range of KPIs, including search rankings, so it’s hitting a lot of localised search terms and we’re already seeing the benefits of that. We’re getting rewarded with the traffic of the new ranking positions and new conversions, so again if you guys get 0 links it’s already met goals and it’s also capturing audience data capturing marketing!

Jess:

That’s all we have time for today, thanks for tuning in, feel free to let us know what you think below!

Jess Hawkes

Senior Digital PR Specialist

Senior Digital PR Specialist. 50% tea, 50% opinions. Often mistaken for being sarcastic even when being sincere. Best use of PR in a Search Campaign, European Search Awards 2019.

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