Digital PR

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WATCH AGAIN: Missing Link #3: How to build a successful digital PR team

If you missed our webinar with James Congdon on How to build a successful digital PR team, you can catch up here..

Our very own James Congdon, has been recruiting candidates for digital PR and outreach roles for many years and has volunteered to share some insight into how to recruit the right people, in order to build teams (both agency and client-side) that not only gel, but are also successful.


The webinar covers:

  • The ingredients for a successful team
  • What to look for when hiring
  • Should you test candidates and what kind of tests work best?
  • Tips to improve your hiring process and attract the best talent

About James Congdon:

James is the Growth Director at JBH and founder of recruitment partner WithFrontier. Not only has James spent over a decade working both client and agency-side in digital marketing, he’s also been instrumental in building digital PR and outreach teams, helping agencies and brands across the UK recruit for a range of roles in SEO, content and digital PR.

His first hand experience of building digital PR and outreach teams combined with his extensive personal network means that he truly understands the requirements and demands of the industry, ensuring he matches candidates with the most relevant roles.

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WATCH AGAIN: How to pitch to home, interiors and lifestyle journalists post-lockdown

If you missed our Missing Link webinar with top home and interiors journalists you can catch up here.

JBH invited Jenny Wood freelance journalist for publications including The Daily Mail and Good Homes and Olivia Heath, Digital Editor at House Beautiful, to share insight into how the pandemic has affected their roles, the types of pitches they want to receive and the opportunities for brands.

Jenny & Olivia covered the following topics:

  • How the roles of home and lifestyle journalists and editors have changed
  • How has it impacted the news desk / the publications they write for
  • What kind of stories do they want PRs to pitch
  • Pitch fails
  • How to optimise stories for coverage

Jenny Wood
Formerly Lifestyle Editor at Buzz (The Sun), and before that, Features Editor at LOOK magazine, Jenny has over 20 years experience working and freelancing for publications including The Daily Mail, Notebook, Fabulous, Red, Good Homes, Glamour, Metro, Top Santé, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Own, Closer, Pick Me Up, Chat, Men’s Health, CosmoBride, Real Health & Beauty and Company.

She specialises in lifestyle, homes, real life/human interest stories, emotional wellbeing, health and fitness, sexual health and out-and-about features.

Olivia Heath
Olivia has been the Digital Editor at House Beautiful for four years overseeing all editorial output online, as well as managing social media channels and spearheading new campaigns and franchises. Before making the switch to homes & interiors, she worked in showbiz & celebrity for four years at Reveal magazine online.

Formerly Lifestyle Editor at Buzz (The Sun), and before that, Features Editor at LOOK magazine, Jenny has over 20 years experience working and freelancing for publications including The Daily Mail, Notebook, Fabulous, Red, Good Homes, Glamour, Metro, Top Santé, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Own, Closer, Pick Me Up, Chat, Men’s Health, CosmoBride, Real Health & Beauty and Company.

She specialises in lifestyle, homes, real life/human interest stories, emotional wellbeing, health and fitness, sexual health and out-and-about features.

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70% Of In-house Marketers Aren’t Listened To By Outreach Agencies

The shift towards a natural, PR led approach to backlink acquisition, comes with so many positives.

We have seen an increase in job opportunities for a brand-new discipline, an overall higher standard of work, and it has led to the birth of a flourishing community under the SEO umbrella.

But this doesn’t come without its drawbacks. A lack of understanding or synergy between the client and the agency can result in frayed early relationships and burned bridges before any contract is even won.

But why?

We got in touch with 15 senior in-house marketers to find out what it’s really like to be pitched to by Digital PR & Outreach agencies. And they didn’t hold back.

We asked them about the internal challenges they face when electing a supplier, and we sought to find out whether agencies are sympathetic to these challenges during initial conversations.

Of the people we spoke to, more than two thirds said that agencies had failed to listen to their requirements in some way, and had neglected to understand their internal situations and nuances.

Andrew CoCo, Senior SEO Manager at the Walt Disney Company explains how he feels like his requests fall on deaf ears when working with outreach focused agencies:

“Most of the time I feel like I am being talked to rather than truly listened to”

Richard Shove, SEO Consultant for Samsung, told us:

“There’s a big difference between being listened to and being heard by outreach and PR agencies.”

Let’s unpack these comments so we can understand why the client agency relationship is so disjointed, and identity ways to make everything more aligned.

– So where are agencies going wrong?

Drop the dictatorship because clients aren’t laymans

The notion that agencies know best and that clients need ‘educating’, isn’t new in any industry, and it would seem that SEO and digital PR agencies are no exception.

In a quest to ‘pioneer’, agencies often neglect to consider that clients are knowledgeable specialists that understand the business and industry that they work in much better than us.  Outreach agencies know what will get links, but we can’t just assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will work for every client.

Chris Hutchings, CMO at Quidco, captures this sentiment:

“The very best outreach suppliers always engage the client in the process, particularly as they know that we (should) know our own business and sector inside out.”

Support and collaboration is what will help us to forge solid working relationships with potential clients. It’s also worth remembering that many in-house marketers have worked agency side.

One of those is Richard Shove, SEO Marketing Manager at Samsung. He told us that agencies need to be humble and really listen to what their clients are saying:

“My experience is that agencies believe they know best and this is to their detriment. The mistake that they have made in the past was to assume they naturally had all the answers”says Shove, who has also headed up organic search for brands including, Farfetch, and global agencies such as OMD.

It’s easy to see how relationships between outreach supplier and client can go this way. Agency cultures centred around being ‘leading-edge experts’, have helped to cultivate this toxic way of working.

We wrongly assume that we need to enlighten the client, and even replace what they and their teams are doing, rather than operating as extensions of them (something we’ll discuss later on in the post).

This can mean that we dictate rather than listen, and we ultimately end up sabotaging working relations before they begin.


Understand potential clients before you attempt to work with them

Turgay Akar, who heads up Global SEO at Playstation, explained that he often feels as though he is looked down upon as ‘just a technical SEO’ by agencies who pitch outreach strategies. Commenting further, he went on to say:

“Agencies can make the mistake of wrongly assuming that I have no understanding of what gets shared or generates links. They fail to understand what technical SEO actually means in that respect.”

We doubt this particular agency would have made this mistake if they’d had Hannah Bryce, Head of SEO at Holland & Barrett, on their team.

“Just checking your prospective clients out on LinkedIn should tell you whether they’re likely to have built links themselves before, or worked with others that have… In my opinion, the worst thing you can do as a potential partner is to assume your client knows nothing and pitch at that level. Do your research and your clients will listen instead of inwardly rolling their eyes and switching off while you explain what Domain Authority is.” 

We need to get our fact-finding down to an art. Before we get to the first conversation stage with a prospective client, we should have a solid idea of who we are going to be speaking to if we are to pitch at the right level.

Are they at a level in the business that would be pretty far removed from any granular understanding? Or like Tugay, is being ‘schooled’ the very last thing they need. It’s a minefield, but we need to consider these things. We can’t even begin to prepare for the next stage without this knowledge.

Also referring to a need for outreach agencies to do better at pre-pitch due diligence, Hannah Bryce of Holland & Barrett says :

“It’s hard to pitch to every level in the room. So make sure you research your key contact and spend time talking at their level before pitching to a group of people who probably know far less about the ins and outs of outreach and digital PR.

Hannah warns against going into too much detail and losing the room:

“Similarly, if you go too granular, people who don’t know what you’re talking about can switch off and if they’re the ones holding the key to the budget, it’s easy to lose your chance. Very rarely (if ever) do I get asked ‘how much do you already know about this?’ or ‘How much does your director know about this already’ before a pitch goes ahead.”


No question is a silly question

Outreach agencies need to be certain that they are on the same page as the prospective client. So many of the scenarios cited above could have been avoided if the right questions had been explored by the agencies.

Typically, they should make it their mission to be clear on the following:

  • What success really looks like for the client. Is it really just the links or are other KPIs going to be a factor?
  • Are you dealing with the decision maker, or are you going to have to tailor the pitch to other stakeholders?


Be aware of any red tape in order to get a head start

It’s not just the people we need to be familiar with. Internal restrictions, processes and ways of working are also something we need to be fully up to speed with as much as we can before we pitch.

Offering a solid example. Owain Lloyd Williams, SEO Manager for PeoplePerHour told us:

“Any good in-house SEO will be familiar with issues like internal politics, CMS restrictions and project feasibility, and there is where there can be a disconnect with the “blue-sky thinking” that agencies sometimes bring to the table, which can be time-wasting”.


Don’t compete with internal teams – win their trust

For example, as outreach specialists we know that we operate in the same arena as the traditional PR team. This isn’t news.

Whether agencies like it or not or whether they agree with what they are doing, they are also the client. We need to work with them and to gain their trust.

Richard Shove talks about a need for agencies to understand and acknowledge the fact that  although outreach and digital PR suppliers are working towards SEO goals, the nature of our strategies mean that budgets may need to come from other departments too.

“Agency credentials won’t be known outside of the SEO team… Sign off processes are the real killer – There is often a question around budgets for outreach and whether they sit under PR and brand as well as SEO”.

This means that the PR teams are our client too!

Kieron Hughes, Director of Organic Performance for PortSwigger says:

“You then add digital PR to the mix, which is trying to be more agile and gain online coverage/links on a regular basis, and it can lead to a difficult relationship – The challenge is in working to establish respect on both sides. It will help to remove friction, but also help to achieve more collaboration which will ultimately deliver better results.”

One surefire way to break the ice between agencies and internal teams is to go in and pitch the very things they are already working on.

Manisha Mehta, PR & Outreach Manager at Mojo Mortgages describes a situation where the pitching agency was essentially pitching for her job!

“I’m from an agency background, and one thing I noticed when I moved in-house was that a good few agencies who pitched to me didn’t realise that I was actually doing the work they were pitching to me, or the fact that I actually had a strong digital team around me, so I had a fair amount of knowledge about anything that was technical SEO/outreach related.” 

You’ll start to spot a trend here, because Kelly Edwards, SEO Manager at insurance specialist Howserv, believes that, in her experience, outreach agencies need to make it their business to be familiar with the people within their organisation, and to be more aware of the work that is going on behind the scenes.

“I have been pitched to by a few outreach agencies  who have announced that they’ve stumbled onto some amazing opportunity that we’ve clearly missed…Not only ca this be incredibly patronising to assume that we don’t know what we’re doing, but in a pitch is dangerous as is making assumptions on the business or direction without having embedded into the business or understood our priorities”.

Owain Lloyd Williams of PeoplePerHour, cites another example:

“I’ve had examples where an outreach/Digital led agency has emphasised avenues that the in-house team has explored previously because they haven’t properly probed on past efforts or brand history”.


Agencies are extensions of internal teams – not replacements

As Digital PR specialists, we have all had our media lists reviewed by the internal PR team, or have to field requests from branding teams wanting to to display large company logos on our campaigns.

But have you ever stopped to consider the intent behind the requests? To do this effectively, we have to understand how an organisation works and what makes it tick. This includes understanding the people that work there. What are they contributing and what is most important to them?

The answer to these questions will enable us, as service providers to nurture strong relationships with internal teams and be able to relate to their own challenges. Only then can we truly begin to deliver something of value.

A great example of effective client-agency workings came from Stephen Morris, Head of SEO at high-end furniture retailer OKA.

I spoke with him at length about this topic, and he explained the following:

“We’ve tweaked how we work with our agency slightly, so instead of them creating a list of “agency tasks” and us doing “in-house stuff” we compile everything that needs working on into (our workflow platform of choice) & consider all the work in its entirety across the entire available resource. So now we have one overall picture of what needs doing and we allocate it to whoever in the team is best-placed to do the work when it needs doing – whether that be someone in-house or someone at the agency. We’re one team working on one project.”

He goes on to say;

“We still discuss new tasks monthly – some originate from us, some from the agency, but everything goes into one project plan and is prioritised, regardless of source. As the client I “own” the plan and it’s totally flexible – we can change priorities more easily if something new comes up, we could scale up resources to get things done quicker or if someone leaves or – God forbid – we change agency, the plan goes on.  It’s totally open – everyone can see everything and everyone’s input is welcome, because we’re a team, whether we’re directly or indirectly on the OKA payroll


It’s time to build bridges

Once you have familiarised yourself with the who’s who of the organisation, it’s time to build bridges with them

A lack of synergy between internal and agency teams can exist due to a reluctance from the supplier to spend time forging healthy working relations with them. Either way, the strains are real.

Manisha Mehta, of Mojo Mortgages reveals that synergy is important when you have a lot of moving parts to manage.

“Agencies need to work with others and collaborate if they are to work with us long-term. If you have different agencies for different marketing channels, then there’s no doubt that your digital PR/outreach agency will have to work with them at some point, and synergy is really important – An agency that’s able to build consensus with others is a huge asset and you’ll be able to see that collaboration shine through in the work they produce” 

When discussing an absence of any effort from agencies to build relationships with internal stakeholders for the brands she has worked at in the past, Hannah Bryce of Holland & Barrett said:

“They (outreach agencies) need to be able to work with internal stakeholders and potentially existing external PR teams.”

Supporting this, Wayne Thompson, Head of SEO at Colewood Internet informed us that the final decision is often above his head and nurturing those key stakeholders will pay dividends in the end.

“When outreach/PR agencies pitch to companies, from my experience, they really don’t take internal stakeholders into consideration”.

And Chris Hutchings of Quidco adds:

“Agencies need to take into account that the client will have their own stakeholders/internal challenges to consider.” 

PortSwiggers Kieron Hughes, talks about his struggles when it comes to building effective working relations between outreach agencies and his internal PR team.

“For larger businesses, they likely already have traditional PR expertise either in-house or agency. The biggest challenge I’ve experienced is in achieving the right levels of collaboration between traditional PR and digital PR.” 


Understand the business, the brand AND the industry

Owain Lloyd Williams explains that, more often than not, he does not feel listened to by outreach and digital PR suppliers who fail to understand him and the business.

“Agencies will of course want the best for their clients from a purist SEO standpoint and will convey this during the pitch process. What they fail to do is tie things back to actual tangible business objectives and internal goals.”

Richard Shove once again sums this up perfectly, saying:

“The best agencies are the ones which really listen and understand the nuance of the business, and adapt their strategies/proposals to reflect that.”


A lack of industry knowledge can cost you the pitch

Andrew Dipper, Global Head of Digital Marketing for Frank Recruitment Group, explains that a lack of niche industry knowledge from the agencies he has encountered in the past is one of the reasons why building a mini agency in-house proved to be a better option for him.

“Over time our team has developed a strong understanding of our business so know what our story is, who our key people are, what tactics work and what won’t, how our competitors in the market operate. It’s that business and industry knowledge that’s essential for me, and an area I think marketing agencies sometimes struggle to develop and maintain when they’re juggling plates across multiple industry verticals and clients.”


Are we valuing creativity too much over client goals?

The cracks in client-agency relations may come from our fixation on creativity and a desire to be ‘specialist experts’ above any consideration for business objectives.

Often agencies get a client brief, it states that they want x amount of high-quality, topical links per month or quarter. Tunnel vision will inevitably creep in and we put forward self-centred strategies rather than those that take other channels and stakeholders into account.

An all singing, all dancing campaign about Love Island that will appeal to ‘mass media’ will get the links. Right? Maybe so, but unless that ties in with their overall business objectives and goals, then internal stakeholders are never going to see the value of what we do.

Sam Pennington, Head of SEO for Missguided, agrees;

“I have been pitched to many times, and most agencies do not understand the company at all. The requirement is far more complex than just gaining links”.

Dylan Mazeika, SEO Manager at told us that he’s looking for agencies who are the missing piece of the puzzle

“The best pitches I’ve had really started with a meeting where we all got on the same page about what my organizations KPIs were, where this agency etc fit into that puzzle, and how their work would directly impact the bottom line for those KPIs.”

“There ultimately has to be a balance, but at a very basic level, I would expect an agency to have an understanding of why we need links, and what type of activity would it take to achieve the performance goals” – says Kieron Hughes, of PortSwigger.

And what if you win the business?

Although we’ll cover effective onboarding within the next post of this series, the bare minimum of what we should be doing is familiarising ourselves with every nuance from the get go.

Every way of working that may affect the delivery of what we do should be clear to us, and we need to continue to ask the right questions so that we are aware of any internal politics, the organisational structure, and the active projects and work that the internal teams are already doing.

Bryce who is also cofounder of the SEO SAS podcast, explains more about her view on the research process:

“Once a client is onboarded, kick off meetings are key to ironing out ways of working while learning what their internal teams are already doing or have been doing. Until you have done this, you don’t even know if you are delivering any value with the strategies you put forward.”


We should indeed be delivering innovative work, but it shouldn’t be at the expense, or in ignorance of the overall business goals or unique situations of clients. 

We also shouldn’t be assuming the client has completely neglected to think of these strategies themselves, and unless we take the time to find this out in the beginning then we risk alienating them from the offset.

  • As agencies, we need to start seeing ourselves as extensions of existing teams and not replacements
  • By being better at understanding a business before we push strategies, we stand a better chance of hitting the mark for them
  • We also need to be greater at understanding and empathising with roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder and the challenges they might be facing internally
  • Following on from the above, we actually need to listen too. Because as Richard Shove of Samsung explains: “There’s a difference between being listened to and being heard”

Once we do this, we stand a better chance of building long-lasting working relations that can be nurtured over time – equally beneficial for both client and agency.

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The digital marketers reading list

It does not matter how many years you have spent in marketing, there are always new things to learn. Reading is an important part of being a marketer: Books not only provide information and education, but they can also be a valuable source of inspiration for our marketing campaigns and the way we approach the audience.

For this post, we have asked fellow marketers (that we know personally) for their book recommendations. Before we dive in: Thank you to all the marketing-bookworms that contributed!

The result is a reading list that covers different aspects of marketing: the different channels, the psychology behind words, and how to spark creativity – to only name a few. We tried to group them in a logical way, but there will always be overlap between the categories.

A strategic approach to marketing:

Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers by Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares

Traction provides a practical framework for testing different growth channels methodically and in a timely manner. It is aimed at startup businesses and how they can shift focus slightly form the product they create to the way how they market this product and build a customer base.

On the journey through different marketing channels such as viral marketing, PR, SEO, advertising and content marketing, you will understand what could work for your industry or company.

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters by Richard Rumelt

This book combines theory and practice when it comes to creating and implementing strategies. It goes beyond just marketing by looking at intelligent business thinking and the way how to come up with a differentiated and successful strategy that improves performance. The examples are not only business focused, but also take global history into account to make you rethink the way you think.

The Content Strategy Toolkit by Meghan Casey

This book was recommended by Helen Hill in the ContentUK community with the following words: “This book is blooming marvellous for content strategy. It was absolute gold when a project I was working on as a designer became more about content strategy and I had to quickly learn some more stuff.”

We could not have said it better as this is the perfect read to quickly learn about content strategy from audit to analysis and implementation.

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson

In line and a classic for content marketers is this one by Kristina Halvorson. It is an in-depth guide that will teach you how to audit existing content, decide what is good or bad and to come up with a content strategy that allows you to create meaningful content. It takes timely delivery and budgeting into account and goes beyond website content by including any type of content that contributes to your brand, e.g. social media and digital PR.

Advertising and Copywriting:

Why I Write by George Orwell

It is short and to the point: Why I Write teaches you everything you need to know about copywriting from the perspective of a political writer and his journey. Orwell’s writing was inspired by the Spanish Civil War and the essay published in 1946 but it is still a popular read for everybody who wants to show his passion for words.

Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy

It was published 1963 but is still a required reading in many advertising courses in the USA. This indicates that the basics of marketing are still the same, they only manifest themselves today in new ways and on new platforms. Confessions of an Advertising Man focuses on advertising and copy writing and the entire book is written as advertising copy. As such it makes you a better copy writer.

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

We are going back in time even further with this publication from 1923. Hopkins can be seen as the father of modern advertising techniques and he laid a foundation that is still valid in 2020. The book covers all aspects of advertising – headlines, psychology, strategy, budgeting, campaigns. If we hadn’t mentioned the year, you would not have thought that it is almost 100 years old as these aspects still matter in everything we do in digital marketing these days.

The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR by Al Ries

We are reaching the 21st century with this classic by Al Ries. At JBH we know about the importance of Public Relations and visibility for your brand. Ries also focuses on brand building and PR campaigns by providing case studies, successful and unsuccessful ones. The book provides an understanding of what happened to traditional advertising and the changed landscape towards digital marketing.

Creativity and great ideas:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

The idea behind this book goes back to another classic, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He introduced the idea of “stickiness” and the Heath brothers provide more detail into what makes an idea memorable, or sticky. The book contains plenty of case studies from all areas of life: business, society and private that will all show you what makes an idea stick and leads to SUCCESS – Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories.

Purple Cow: Transform your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

This book also takes the reduced significance of advertising these days and provides a solution to advertising avoidance by creating remarkable products and marketing them in remarkable ways. Seth Godin understands remarkable as the opposite of boring.

Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads by Luke Sullivan

For some, this is a history of advertising, for others a great source of inspiration for marketing copy. Luke Sullivan looks at the day-to-day operations of advertising agencies through time and presents plenty of advertising campaigns in different mediums throughout the 20th century. He shows why bad ads sometimes work where great ads fail and how to balance creativity and sales. The title is inspired by the 1960’s Mr. Whipple ad for Charmin toilet paper.

Can We Do That? Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them by Peter Shankman

In a similar way to Luke Sullivan, Peter Shankman analyses campaigns, but his focus is on PR. He reveals in several case studies why certain PR campaigns worked or not. You will see impressive creative examples you would have never thought possible.


Influence: Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Marketing has the ultimate goal of selling a product. The examples and lessons provided by Cialdini are real-life situations that happen in direct contact that can be taken into marketing. It is about listening and using the right words to influence people. You will learn why people say yes and take these learnings into your marketing copy.

This is Marketing: You can’t be seen until you learn to see by Seth Godin

Seth Godin equally embeds a psychological approach by looking at the way how purchase decisions are made and how you can connect with your target audience once you have defined who that is and who not. Based on those insights, you can reframe how your product or service is presented.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

In Don’t Make Me Think, Krug focuses on changed human behaviour due to technology. Decreased attention spans and brevity of focus lead to users taking the first available solution to their problem. As long as you manage to present your solution first, you win. Kruger provides insight in how to do that.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Now this is a surprising one. Dr.Seuss is not exactly known to have been a marketer and yet, this last book that had been published during his lifetime was suggested. We know why. It is about the journey of life and its challenges; one thing we have noticed in almost all marketing books: You always learn something about life – private and business. Marketing is related to being human, to talking to humans and to use psychology. It always comes back to how we think, how we make decisions and what inspires us. When we learn about marketing, we learn about ourselves.

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Who’s who in the WorldWideWeb: Blogger, influencer, content creator, journalist

When we run a digital PR campaign, we do that to gain visibility for brands. We create bespoke content and get it in front of those that can republish or reference it or even link to it. Traditionally, those people were journalists and the ultimate goal was to get a link in national newspapers like The Guardian or The Sun.

But the landscape has changed, traditional publishing and journalism have a different look now and there is more competition to gain an audience than ever before. In certain ways, the internet has democratised the world of publishing. It has never been easier to build a website and publish content and this expands the media landscape. This also changes the approach of an outreach agency like JBH – whom should we reach out to these days?

Journalist outreach

When a brand approaches an outreach agency to help with digital PR and content marketing, they usually think of journalist outreach and this is still what we do on a daily basis, we promote content by informing journalists about it. But what is a journalist? This is how Wikipedia defines a journalist:

“A journalist is a person who collects, writes, photographs, processes, edits or comments on news or other topical information to the public.”

To say this differently: A journalist gathers information and provides it to an audience in images and text.

When we do our research to find journalists and websites that are topically relevant, we see more and more websites coming up that can be labelled as “blog”. In that case, the person who can publish content does not qualify as a journalist, but a blogger. Should we reach out to them?

Blogger outreach

If we go back to the definition of a journalist, gathering and providing information in text and images – we could say the same about a blogger, right? Also blogging has changed over the past few years. Originally, blogs were a form of online journaling, a public diary. Over the years, they have become more professional, some of them would probably qualify as an online magazine.

The style is still mostly informal and personal, but that is a technique that also journalists use more and more these days to connect with their audience. With content management systems like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace and off the shelf templates, everybody can create a professional looking website within a short time. That removes the reliance on third-party publishing platforms like Blogspot which were originally used for blogging.

The quality of a blog

Bloggers these days refer to themselves more and more as “content creators” because that is what they essentially do, and the term “blogger” has a negative connotation. When we hear the word “blog” we still often think of a child-like diary with some images, but when we look at some of these “diaries”, we see a beautiful website that provides useful information. If the travel blogger introduces himself as a “content creator who runs a travel website”, the whole thing becomes more official character and is no longer seen as a childish diary. Look at the following images:

Screenshot of National Geographic Travel on 09/09/2020 Screenshot of Notes from the Road blog on 09/09/2020
Screenshor from Uncornered Market Blog on 09/09/2020 Screenshot from Conde Nast Traveler on 09/09/2020

Do you recognize any of them? Two are established travel magazines, the others are travel blogs. In the top left corner is National Geographic Traveler, the top right corner is a blog called Notes from the Road. The bottom left corner is another blog called Uncorneredmarket and the bottom right is Condé Nast Traveler. The difference is that two of them go back a long time and were born from print publishing, they also have a team of writers and photographers (journalists) whereas the others are run by a person or a couple and exist only online.

The quality of the writing and the images do not give that away and they might even share the same audience. If we look at a link metric like TrustFlow, the uncorneredmarket with 49 can easily hold a candle against Condé Nast that has a TrustFlow of 42 (of course, there are a few more metrics to look at to judge the quality of a website, but we speak about those another time). Why would we not consider these blogs a publication to reach out to? Every publication once started small and grew over time. Maybe todays blogs are the Condé Nasts of tomorrow. Maybe, in 10 years from now, you would be happy you had gotten that link when the magazine was merely a small blog.

Influencer outreach

Most bloggers these days also connect with their audience on social media channels and share their stories in imagery. They also promote certain brands on their websites and as such, they could be seen as influencers because they can influence their audience to buy a certain product or visit a certain place. Influencer marketing is generally seen as a separate type of campaign and many brands make use of this opportunity these days.

Also the term influencer has more and more of a negative connotation because of fake influencers and those abusing privileges, but does it really matter how we call a content creator when it comes to digital PR campaigns? What should matter is the reason why we are reaching out to somebody and the quality of their website.

As long as it is a credible, authoritative website with real content and an engaged audience in the right topical niche, it is worth speaking to all of them: journalists, content creators, bloggers or influencers.

800 532 Jane Hunt

Missing Link #1: ‘Why I made the jump from journalism to digital marketing’

Many digital PR’s have different routes into the PR and SEO industry, but starting out as a journalist before moving into digital marketing can be highly advantageous.

To find out more about this leap, the benefits and the skills that crossover, we talked to Surena Chande, Digital PR Manager at Re:signal about her experiences


The webinar covers:

  • Why Surena made the jump from journalism to Digital Marketing
  • The transferrable skills and crossovers from journalism to Digital PR
  • The biggest challenges, downfalls and ways Digital PR has changed over the past few years
  • How the journalistic landscape has changed and affected digital PR campaigns/outreach

About Surena:

Surena Chande is a Digital PR Manager at Re:signal and  freelance journalist who left journalism full-time in 2017 to pursue a career in Digital Marketing. She has since gone from working on titles such as OK!, BBC Good Food and Cosmopolitan, to landing top-tier international coverage for clients including ASICS, Babylon Health, GoCompare, Tide, BuzzBingo and more.

Since working in the field, she has shared her insights at a number of industry talks and webinars, trained not-for-profit organisations in Digital PR and is often found tweeting outreach tips.


1024 682 Rebecca Moss

Don’t follow this link…or maybe do!

Links are at the core of digital PR; they are the reason we do what we do. Digital PR campaigns are meant to promote a brand, create visibility, and attract backlinks from authoritative websites. But there is the much dreaded nofollow: But is it necessarily bad?

A healthy backlink profile

Every website has nofollow links in their backlink profile. If there is one without this type of backlink, it screams manipulation. If we look at some UK and US publications, we see that it is perfectly normal to have a certain ratio of nofollow links in the backlink profile (screenshots taken from on 03/09/2020): nofollow follow ratio follow nofollow ratio follow nofollow ratio follow nofollow ratio

This is what we would call “natural”. Any healthy backlink profile that has naturally grown over time without paid link building, will have both, follow and nofollow links.

The purpose of the nofollow attribute

A link in content can always be seen as a reference or a vote. If a writer links to another website without being asked for it, he or she does so because the other website provides value to the reader. The link becomes a trust-worthy reference to a useful resource. Google’s algorithm is based on these trust signals. Crawlers follow these links and discover more and more pages on the web through links. If that link comes from an authoritative website (e.g. an established news site), it has positive impact on the ranking.

Google introduced the rel=”nofollow” as an attribute for HTML links in 2005 to add to comment spam and user-generated content (UGC). It was meant to prevent the abuse of this type of content for unnatural link building.  It was an indication to Google’s crawlers to neither use those links for crawling (the crawler does not follow the link) nor as a ranking signal.

Paid and sponsored links too were from then on required to add a nofollow attribute.

But the internet is changing. A few years later, websites like Forbes and Wikipedia made all outbound links on their website by default nofollow. That might have been a preventive measure to ensure accordance with Google’s guidelines or was meant to discourage digital PRs and link builders to reach out to their journalists and contributors requesting a link.

That was not what Google’s engineers had in mind when they introduced the nofollow attribute and it had an impact on the link graph. Google had to make a change again.

UGC and sponsored links

About a year ago, in September 2019, Google introduced two new link attributes to make a further distinction. User-generated content should be marked as rel=”ugc”, paid links as rel=”sponsored”. Links that contained these attributes. The nofollow attribute was from then on, a catch all for all other kinds of not-trusted links. All three attributes would be ignored for crawling but might be seen by Google’s algorithm as a “hint” for ranking.

Already at that time, Google announced a further update for March 2020. From that point onwards, this type of link would also be treated as a “hint” for crawling. This is from the Google webmaster guidelines:

screenshot of googles guidelines for nofollow, ugc and sponsored attributes.

The fact that the nofollow attribute is still acceptable for paid links and that Google did not require any changes to previously published content, places some question marks to these changes. It brings us back to the question how Google recognizes a paid link in the first place. So far, it has not had an impact on websites like Forbes to change their policy around outbound links, they are still nofollow by default.

How much impact a nofollow attribute really has on the ranking impact of a link is still unanswered, maybe there was never really a difference in the first place. What matters though is that a backlink profile looks natural and that includes all types of links.

1024 682 Rebecca Moss

Tapping into a new market: Digital PR for international markets

Last week, we covered the basics of entering a new market. We looked at keywords, translations, search intent and some particularities of different markets. Once the website is launched and everything in place, you might want to launch a first digital PR campaign to attract backlinks in the market where you just launched your website. You get as far as translating your content marketing piece and the press release but get stuck at the outreach stage. How to approach a journalist in that market? Does the same campaign work across markets or do we need to make changes?

At this point, just a translation will not do the job. Already when you create the asset, the content piece to outreach with, you want to take local knowledge into account. There might have been facts in your data set that are not interesting for a UK audience but could be beneficial if highlighted for a different target market. Visuals also play a key role in a data-led campaign and this can change from one market to the next.

Why does this look different?

The most important consideration for any digital PR campaign is always whether it will resonate with the audience. Visuals play a key role in this matter and are at the same time one of the big traps you could walk into. To demonstrate what we mean by that, we look at some major publications and how they appear in different markets.

This is Vanityfair for Italy:

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

This is the same publication for English speaking markets:

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

That is Vanityfair on the same day for Spain:

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

And that is the French version:

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken on on 26/08/2020

If we compare all those websites, the only constant seems to be the font of the logo, everything else is changing from images to colour schemes and use of text. The reason for this is a difference in audience perception.

It is not a coincidence or singular case. To prove that we look at Business Insider in different markets.

Germans are very business-like:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

Italians even embed Facebook in their business insights:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

The French do it too:Screenshot taken from 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken from 26/08/2020

The Mexican version gets a bit more colourful:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

The Nordics put images to the right side:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

We could continue playing this game, but you know what we are trying to say. It is best to have a look at some publications in each market before you design your visuals.

How to approach a journalist?

Your asset and the press release are ready, and you start working on your outreach list. You identify suitable websites and journalists for that market, and you start contacting them. No response. What could you possibly have done wrong?

The first thing to look at is the tone of voice you used in your press release and the way how you address the journalist. Your English press release might have started with a casual “Hi Tom” and the translator correctly translated it. But there are markets where casual is too casual. Whilst Italians take these things easy, a journalist in France or Germany will in most cases immediately bin your email if you are not super polite. The English “you” has two different equivalents in other languages. There is an informal way and a formal one. If a language has both variants, you are in most cases better off using the formal way of address and of course their surname. In the English-speaking world, an email that starts with “Dear Mr. Smith” might seem overly polite and would probably make you feel old. However, it is crucial in other markets to keep this type of etiquette.

Why does nobody respond?

Another place to look for clues could be your subject line. Did you translate that one from English? If the answer is yes, look at last week’s example of the movie titles that had changed completely in the different markets. Maybe it is worth reviewing your subject line to get journalists in other markets to open your email.

Once your press release has been updated, take another look at your content asset. We already spoke about design, but are you providing enough detail for that market and are the facts interesting for the audience? One example would be the methodology which should be extremely detailed in markets like Germany and not have a single hole. Journalists in that market are very detail oriented and want to know where exactly the data comes from to ensure accuracy before they republish or link to anything.

That is still no guarantee for a successful digital PR campaign as there is one important factor we have not yet talked about: the media landscape in that country. It is crucial to know the market well to be fully aware of all the traps. In Germany for example, it is important to know that many publications belong to the same media group. Depending on the topic of your campaign and the angles, you might have reached out to multiple journalists and different publications that are all working under the same editorial guidelines. Those are usually the same across a portfolio of publications that are under the same roof. We can for example look at the publishing house Bauer and their portfolio of publications.

This is their lifestyle portfolio:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

Screenshots taken from on 26/08/2020

The women’s magazines:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

Those are aimed at women too:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

If you target food publications:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

The health topic is clearly underrepresented:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

There are only 3 for cars:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

And let’s not forget those aimed at men:

Screenshot taken from on 26/08/2020

As you can see, there’s a wealth of publications in one hand (and we only looked at one publishing house). Even with multiple angles, if it doesn’t adhere to their guidelines, you will have a hard time because one rejection of your campaign is equal to a rejection of up to 8 publications.

There is only one solution

Before you plan a digital PR campaign for a market you are not familiar with, it is best to get somebody on board who is! Learn as much as you can about the market and its particularities to know what works for the journalist and the reader once you get the journalist to read your press release.

At JBH it would be our pleasure to assist with your international digital PR campaigns. Get in touch!

1024 682 Jane Hunt

WATCH AGAIN: Cut through the digital PR bullshit

Did you miss our webinar with Alex Hickson? Don’t worry, you can watch it back now...

If you’re new to the digital PR / SEO industry you may get given a lot of advice, but which is worth listening to and which is pure BS?

To find out, we were joined by Alex Hickson from Rise at Seven who with over a year of experience in the industry shares some of the well-intended advice he has been given – good and bad – and advises on how you can cut through the bullshit and learn from others.

In this very honest webinar, Alex discusses:

  • How to separate the good advice from the bad
  • How to promote yourself in a competitive environment and be authentic
  • How to navigate the first steps in your career

About Alex:
After a year with digital marketing firm Edit, Alex Hickson has recently become a Senior Digital PR Executive with Sheffield-based, Rise at Seven. In his first year, Alex has already worked with a multitude of B2C and B2B clients delivering high standard campaigns and PR strategies, been nominated for an EU Search Award, delivered industry talks and academic lectures, and started an online series supporting furloughed digital marketing professionals through COVID-19.


1024 682 Jane Hunt

WATCH AGAIN: What Journalists Want – Post Lockdown Edition

If you missed our webinar on ‘What journalists want – post lockdown edition’ with Amie Sparrow, who heads up Digital PR at Blue Array, then you can watch back now!

In this webinar we cover:

  • How lockdown has impacted journalists over the last few months
  • How the roles of journalists have changed
  • What do they want / need from PRs post lockdown?
  • How to make your pitches more relevant and targeted
  • What’s the ONE thing we can do to make their lives easier AND gain coverage?

Also, here’s a list of useful resources that we discussed:

Thanks for joining us and see you at the next webinar 😀