How to Get Press Coverage with Digital PR


Tactics for getting press coverage with digital PR are as broad and varied as the public relations agencies and clients that pursue them. The news media is influential, so everybody wants to get press. But everybody knows how to get it.

In this post, I'm going to share the digital PR strategies Sarah Evans (@prsarahevans) uses to generate media coverage for her clients.

Paypal, Cox Communications, MGM International and WalMart are just a few of the companies she works with.

If this post TLDR, use these links to jump to what you're interested in>

Table of Contents

I connected with Sarah today. She's one of the most talented and effective digital media PR professionals I know.

She generously shared which digital PR tactics are working best for her right now, during this time of economic uncertainty.

YouTube video replay of PR Tech Wednesdays with Sarah Evans

Digital PR vs. Traditional PR

She provided all sorts of digital PR examples, digital PR activities and details about the types of digital PR programs she has underway. And Sarah also made a point to say that as a result of the pandemic, everything old is new again.

She's combining digital PR tools with old school mainstream media relations tactics to increase her effectiveness in these lean times.

“I think we're at 23,000 reporters either furloughed or laid off. Things are changing so quick. We need resources to be able to get reporters the types of stories being covered,” says Sarah.

She uses digital PR tactics to gauge what types of stories are gaining traction in the news media. And she uses email to develop Weekly Stories email pitches. They're not too formal. And they give journalists an easy way to glance over the various stories she's pitching on behalf of clients.

If It's too Polished, It's Less Newsworthy

The not too formal part is an important distinction, because the more polished it, the more is looks like mass communications.

Longtime Rogers & Cowan Entertainment Publicist Julie Nathanson

When I was at Rogers & Cowan, I was in a meeting with the Julie Nathanson, who passed at 68 years old this week. I'll always remember her as helpful and kind.

We were talking about putting together press materials for a new client. These were the days of press releases, bios, fact sheets and backgrounders stuffed into dual pocket presentation folders.

Only the Grammys — with the help of IBM and Ron Bloom — could pull off an online press room in those days. But that's another story.

Anyway, in the meeting with Julie, I suggested printing slick folders with the clients picture and logo on the front. Then we could do a mass mailing to all relevant media.

Julie took a post it note. She wrote the clients name on it, stuck it on the front of a blank presentation folder and said, “Here, send this.”

She wanted the client to look undiscovered.

News is New

Reporters want a scoop. They want something newsworthy, not something everyone knows already.

But since no one prints less than 500 of anything. A printed folder would have signaled to journalists that we were pitching the client far and wide.

My boss Steve Doctrow jokingly referred to my suggestion as a pamphlet airdrop, a form of psychological warfare in which leaflets (flyers) are scattered in the air.

An American leaflet container with 22,500 pamphlets being loaded during the Korean War.

So if the media bit, they were likely to publish a piece everyone esle would be publishing at the same time.

If everyone covers it, it's not a scoop. Reporters want exclusives. It's called news for a reason.

Julie understood the concept of creating newsworthiness before it was called earned media. She was a master at how to get press. It was a lesson I’ll never forget.

So rather than carpet bomb journalists with a bunch of individual one-off media pitches for different clients, she sends one round-up pitch. She personalizes each one and sends them weekly, at the start of each media contact's news cycle.

This approach gives clients something they can't get with DIY PR. They get the opportunity to presented in a collection of pitches, which is more likely to get read.

How to Get Press with Digital PR Tools

Let's start with the digital PR activities she and her team do to determine what stories are currently trending in the news.

Twitter lists Sarah Evans uses to get press coverage for clients

Twitter Lists – Sarah has built the most comprehensive collection of Twitter media lists I've ever seen. And they're all available on her account publicly. It is an incredible act of generosity to anyone looking to get press.

Sarah uses those lists to see what stories are getting coverage in each of those news categories and tweaks her media pitches accordingly. She calls it her digital PR litmus test.

Muck Rack Trends – Muck Rack, which maintains lists of journalists by topic and category, recently introduced a product called Muck Rack Trends. It allow you to see what's trending in the news media.

SEM Rush – Sarah uses SEM Rush (I'm also a fan) to see what people are searching. By looking at search volume, she can see what people are interested in.

She uses that intelligence to inform her pitch, niche out her topics and embrace popular language. I've long believed there's perhaps no digital PR skill more valuable than basic SEO.

Digital PR and SEO go hand in hand. If you're interested in learning basic SEO, I have a free Basics of SEO course you’ll love.

Google Trends – This is a great tool for comparing relative search volume among five keyword phrases. Google Trends is a free online tool, but it only shows data for fairly high-volume keyword phrases. If you want more narrow terms, like B2B oriented phrases, you're going to need a premium service like SEM Rush.

Networking – There's nothing like a good old-fashioned networking. If she can't meet with journalists in person, Sarah calls them on the phone to see how she can help. It's taken years to build those relationships. But that's what it takes to get press.

Johna Burke, CEO of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications, recommended a bonus tool. She recommended checking out popular search phrases called Answer the Public.

State of Online Media Monitoring

Johna was incredibly supportive when I was writing the 2020 Media Monitoring Buyer's Guide. It's an in-depth vendor neutral report I wrote with a side-by-side features comparison chart, analysis and reviews of the top 10 media monitoring platforms.

Feel free to use to find the best media monitoring solution. I was frustrated with what was out there to make a purchasing decision myself. That's why I wrote it.

She introduced me to Jonny Bentwood and Eric Koefoot. They both provided amazing insights on what buyers should look for.

Newbies don't know it, but if you want to get press, listening is the first step.

Jonny shared his free and premium PR Tech stacks. Eric K. spoke to me in detail about the risks of over relying on automated solutions.

Listen before you start talking

For me, it was an opportunity to dig deep and learn about artificial intelligence and whether it's a threat or an opportunity and why.

I learned the difference between neural networks (which is AI that solve a focused task) and artificial general intelligence (which we're no where near at this point).

Artificial general intelligence is what would required to replace humans. You'd need tools that could understand natural language.

As part of my research, I connect with the chief scientist at Pinterest who is also a professor of computer science at Stanford. I asked him why AI can’t solve the fake news problem.

He said that to get rid of fake news, you have to build a software that knows all truth. Becuase unless you know what's true, how can you say what's false?

Not quite so easy, right? So as cool as PR tech is, it still has its limits, and will for a long time.

Neverthelss, these are the tools Sarah uses to figure out what topics are trending and most likely to resonate with her news media contacts.

From there, she develops a weekly stories email that she segments and sends out to her contacts to secure media placements. So let's start by taking a look at he she structures those emails.

Traditional Public Relations Best Practices

Here's what goes into Sarah's Weekly Stories Emails (she creates print, TV and digital versions) which she keeps short and sweet:

  • Each email starts with a personalized intro
  • 5-7 bulleted story ideas with brief descriptions
  • If it's a TV pitch there are links to visual assets on Dropbox
  • If it's a print pitch, there are links to background info

I use a tool called YesWare. It which connects with my Gmail and lets me see how many times someone opens my emails. If I want, I can also see whether they click any of the links in the email.

YesWare Email opens report

For me, this is useful because I don't have to send out a mass email to track the opens and click-thrus. And I don't waste time manually inserting bitly links and Google campaign builder tracking links either.

I find that having a sense of whether or not someone has seen something helps me gauge how aggressive to be with my follow-up. There is a whole universe of useful email productivity tools like Right Inbox, but that's something for another post.

Sarah's digital media relations tactics help her figure out which stories are most likely to be well-received. Then she writes a good old-fashioned email summarizing her pitches, which she personalizes and sends to her media contacts.

Email is old fashioned. Ask anyone under 16 years old.

Digital PR Starts with Owned Media

I want to add a point something out for those readers who are not public relations specialists. If you don't have a lot of experience in media relations, there's an important point I need to make. You really need to consider this or you're going to miss the mark.

You may think that putting together a simple sentence with information about your company and sending it to journalists is good enough.

But it's not.

If the information isn't newsworthy, you'll get no response. And if your pitch is seen as self-serving. You may even be seen as a pest and potentially even bias them against covering you in the future.

The Risk of DIY Public Relations

How to get press: Secrets of Successful PR campaigns
2020 Secrets of Successful Earned Media Campaigns

If you want a primer on what makes news, I have a free white paper on the Secrets of Successful PR.

I write a lot about the owned, shared and earned media. Getting press coverage is earned media, because you have to earn it. Unless a journalist can qualify you by visiting your website and checking out your social media profiles, they're unlikely to take you seriously.

Your Website is Your Press Kit

If you want to get press, it starts with owned media. You need to develop your message and identity first. Then comes shared media. You need to become of member of your digital community. Then you're ready for earned media.

The problem is too many people skip owned and earned media. They hire a PR firm only to be disappointed when they don't get press coverage.

But they haven't developed a clear message and they haven't built any street cred.

If you want to get press, start with your owned and shared media strategy
2020 Startups Guide to Earned Media

I explain this process in a another free report I wrote called the Startups Guide to PR. The basic premise is, get you message straight and build relationships with thought leaders in your community.

Otherwise, you're a ghost.

It's risky for journalists to cover ghosts. If they can't substantiate you as a credible source, they're risking their own reputation by covering you.

If you're new to PR and you want earned media, download and read it. It could save you tens of thousands of dollars and months of wasted time.

Using these digital tools to fine tune your pitch and drafting a summary of all the stories you're representing is a smart approach.

Sarah segments and sends them to reporters. This sort of media pitching strategy is certainly a great way to get press and help reporters on deadline at the same time.

Join Us Next Wednesday

This blog post was written from a conversation I had with Sarah on PR Tech Wednesdays. If you'd like to join us, it's a weekly video chat I host every Wednesday at 12 noon Pacific time.

It's free. And you can join us every Wednesday at PRTechWednesdays.Com.

Want better digital marketing?


White Papers


Subscribe to my Blog

  • Hidden
    Blog Post Page Subscriber
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
email sign up widget image