The Ultimate Guide to Digital PR: 8 Steps to Doing It Right

Image of Mandi Sadler
Mandi Sadler
Published: Nov 18, 2021

Believe this: It’s absolutely possible to bootstrap your way to PR success. 

You don’t have to hire an agency. And you don’t have to build a 20-person in-house team. 

You just have to understand what actually gets coverage in today’s world. You have to produce trustworthy content. And then you have to get that content in the hands of the right people. 

In my first year of running PR at TrustRadius, we used the Digital PR approach to drive over 1400 new backlinks from 500 new domains. 

Along the way, we built relationships with journalists at Forbes, Demand Gen Report, MarketingProfs, Diginomica, ClickZ, and MarketingLand. 

I’m here to tell you how we did it—and how you can too. 

The Digital PR Strategy in a Nutshell

Digital PR is the brilliant marriage between media relations and SEO.

Done well, it achieves the twin trust-building benefits of third-party validation and search presence, two elements of the Grow With TRUST framework that every brand should covet.

Every piece of content we produce at TrustRadius is optimized to rank for high-value keywords. That’s why the vast majority of our backlinks come from organic SEO and increase over time. 

SEO is what gives our content “wings.”

But we also get high-quality PR coverage by optimizing that content to catch journalists’ attention.

We’ve found that journalists trust our content when it includes original research—whether that's market data from our own platform or survey data from our community. 

Our Digital PR strategy involves producing ~9 PR content projects in-house per year. 

~3 of those are major research reports (like our annual B2B Buying Disconnect). These reports take 7-8 weeks to produce in-house. Then we spend an additional 3-4 weeks on promotion.

The rest of our projects are smaller (like our research on business buzzwords). These take less than a month to research, create, and promote.

Our Digital PR strategy boils down to these things: 

  • We publish original first-party research
  • We optimize those pages for SEO 
  • We pitch that content to high-value publications
  • We rank for high-volume search terms
  • We collect organic and “earned” backlinks over time

If you’d like to follow a similar process, here’s where I would start: 

Step 1: Build an In-House Content Machine

The Digital PR strategy at TrustRadius started with Mark Barrera, our VP of Audience & Content Acquisition. 

Mark is an expert. He knew that we needed to build a reliable engine for high-quality backlinks and brand awareness. So he hired a PR + SEO Specialist (that’s me) to execute his vision. 

Our company is also blessed with a killer in-house research team—a powerhouse group of researchers and writers who help us produce content. They harness first-party data from our platform and our community. 

As the solo PR person, I guide the research team in topic selection and strategy. They research and write. Then I edit the content and promote.

Finally, we knew we needed a great content designer to make graphics for our research. We partnered with a couple of contract designers to get this done. So far, it’s worked really well for us! 

Our Digital PR projects now have a core team: 

Role

Responsibilities

PR Specialist 

  • Manage project tasks and timeline
  • Research topics + market trends
  • Guide survey design
  • Edit content 
  • Serve as artistic director
  • Promote content (PR + Social media)

Research Analyst

  • Design + distribute survey
  • Analyze survey data 
  • Approve final content 

Content Writer

  • Write research content 

Contract Designer

  • Design all graphs, social graphics, PDFs

Research Director 

  • Assist with strategy
  • Approve final content 

You could easily replicate this system “on a budget.” I recommend hiring a core duo of PR Strategist and Research Analyst. The analyst can write the report, and you can always outsource your design needs. 

Step 2: Research Hot Topics for PR  

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This is the step that gets everybody talking. 

People always ask us, “How do you know what topics to research?” or “How do you find new trends?” or “How do you know what people will be talking about in 6 months?” 

The truth is, story hunting is the secret sauce of the PR world. It’s our job to spot trends in the wild and to craft story ideas based on what we see. 

A thorough PR team uses automated social listening tools to track major topics. They follow relevant influencers on Twitter and LinkedIn. They’ve got subject matter experts on standby for a quick phone call. And they’re constantly reading articles (or skimming, let’s be real) from target journalists and publications. 

If you’re not there yet, here’s what you can do: 

  1. Start on Google News. Type in your main topic area and look through 3 pages of results. See what's hot. Notice what angles people are covering right now.
  2. Research keywords. Use a tool like SEMRush to see what keywords have the highest volume in your topic area. Look for variants that have thought leadership at the top of page 1 (as opposed to sales or product pages). 
  3. Search hashtags. Search LinkedIn and Twitter to see what real people are saying. Read the comments and follow any new influencers you find. 
  4. Blog surf. Search for the "top 10 blogs" in your topic area. Then dive into each one and notice what major topics they cover. Pay close attention to how they cover news/research from companies like yours.
  5. Gap analysis. Now it’s time to look for gaps. What are people NOT talking about right now that's new and different? This final step is crucial. This is your edge. 

Honestly, this is not a super-efficient process—but it's a good one! 

I typically spend 1-2 business days gathering this information for every campaign. But I see it as time well spent. 

Step 3: Produce a Killer Piece of Content 

Letters with writer using tablet in a beige chair and an office spaceNow for the hard part: there’s really no shortcut to writing great content.  

At TrustRadius, we tend to get the most coverage from first-party data—so our process starts with doing research.  

We rely heavily on survey-style research methods for our PR campaigns. I would say that 80% of our PR coverage comes from survey statistics and 20% comes from our platform itself.

We're also exploring other ways to earn coverage. For example, we just finished a series of statistics posts that include stats from across the web. But for the most part, we earn coverage with new proprietary research.

My best tip is to make sure you can trust your research. Your claims should be based on facts, and your data needs to be bulletproof. This is how you build trust with your content. 

After the research is done, it’s time to turn the data into high-quality thought leadership. 

Writing great content is tough, but the art and science can be taught. When I first joined the team, our researchers needed a bit more training to learn how to write for Digital PR. So I gave them an intensive on best practices.

I gave them this guide on content writing for SEO, along with a handy checklist for quick implementation. Then we did a series of interactive training sessions to get the team up to speed.

We also trained our writers on how to create content with a bold, newsworthy tone.  

If you’re looking to follow a similar process, here are some important priorities: 

  1. Produce original data that’s interesting, solid, and defensible.   
  2. Create content that ranks for high-value keywords.
  3. Write with a PR-worthy tone that attracts journalist attention.

Step 4: Find the Right Journalists   

Every good PR process starts with a high-quality media list.  

Right now, the sites we partner with are all in the tech space. Publications like Demand Gen Report, MarketingLand, MarketingProfs, Forbes, etc. 

This list changes slightly for each campaign. And the way I find these sites is pretty simple. 

Let's say we're running a campaign on downstream intent data, which is one of our key initiatives this year.  I’ll search Google News for recent articles on intent data. Then I’ll write down the sites that seem to cover it frequently.

More importantly, I’m looking for the individual people who write about this topic. 

Not everyone at DG Report will cover intent data. But 1-2 writers might! We need to identify those people and build a relationship with them.

We've also found that tech journalists often write for multiple websites. So if we take a people-first approach, it's much easier to get a broad reach.

Pro Tip: When searching Google News, make sure your filters are set to “this year” or even “this month.” Nothing is more frustrating than finding the PERFECT writer for a campaign, only to realize they went dark on Twitter 3 years ago and were never heard from again. 

Another Pro Tip: Don’t skip over the small blogs. Relevant bloggers can be your biggest allies. They have more control over the editorial process, so they can feature your content more often. 

Last Pro Tip: If you’re willing to shell out for PR software, do it. Most tools have search features that make the process of finding journalists easier. I’ll share more about my tech stack at the end of this post. 

When this process is done, you should have a list of writers who would be interested in your content. Gather their email contact info and get ready to pitch! 

Step 5: Send Personalized Pitches 

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Let’s talk about scale for a second. 

As the solo PR person at TrustRadius, I'm usually able to run no more than 2 campaigns at once. But I actually don't see that as a bad thing.

We're pitching our projects to a niche audience of tech pubs and bloggers. Even if we did run 5 campaigns a month, we'd run the risk of overwhelming our key contacts.

In my opinion, it's better to pitch fewer things but make sure those things are much higher quality. Plus, I’m serious about personalizing every single pitch. And I have yet to figure out how to make that process scalable. 

Here’s how pitching works: 

For a large report, we typically send our first pitch emails 4 weeks before launch day. 

We give writers a full month to decide if they want to cover our research. We give them image assets and exclusive interviews under embargo so they can prepare. Then when the embargo lifts, we watch the mentions roll in.

This process works wonders for us. 

We also personalize every pitch. Yes, it is time-consuming. But it's also totally worth it.

Our rationale is simple: We're not just pitching today's story and calling it quits. We're actually trying to build long-term relationships with writers who cover our industry. We call these people VIPs. We're trying to establish a helpful long-term relationship with them.

SPECIFIC PITCHING TIPS 

  • Keep it short. Your pitch email should be around 100-200 words max.
  • Write a great template. I typically use a pitch template for each campaign. For a research report, this includes the basics—what the report is called, when it launches, a link to the report, etc. 
  • Personalize every email. I personalize the intro and the concluding sentiment for every journalist. And I personalize the entire email for VIPs. Never pitch without a personalized hook!
  • Include your data. For research projects, I include a bulleted list of the top 4 hottest statistics from the report. Or the top 4 stats that are most relevant for that journalist. That way they can see a taste of the data right up front.

Personally, I use PR software to send my pitch emails. The email interface is super smooth and I love using it. But you can also do this straight from your own individual email account!

My final tip is to try to be super helpful to your journalists. 

Your job is to give them everything they could ever need. Offer them a quote from your spokesperson. Give them full-size image files. Send the raw survey data if they ask for it. Be flexible to meet their publishing requirements. Share their finished work on social media. 

And if you don’t hear back from them, feel free to send a very brief followup email 2 days later. These people are b.u.s.y. and sometimes things get lost in the shuffle.  

Step 6: Promote Your Stuff on Social  

Once your PR campaign is rolling, start thinking about other channels for promotion. 

Ever since I started running Digital PR at TrustRadius, I’ve been promoting our content on social media. This step is crucial for increasing awareness—and it’s also a great brand-building strategy.

Here’s how I repurpose long-form content into social posts. I create individual social media posts for:

  • Every graph and mini infographic in the post
  • The top 3 hardest-hitting sentences/claims in the post

And that's it. For a blog post with lots of research, that's 15 posts right there.

I also serve as artistic director for our contract designers on every campaign. So I make sure to optimize all graphics for social media from the very beginning. Two birds, one nest! 

At TrustRadius, we publish posts to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. LinkedIn is our priority. We write for our LI audience and then post the same thing on other platforms (with slight edits to shorten for Twitter).

The truth is, our corporate LinkedIn account is less valuable than our individual employee accounts. Our CEO, Vinay Bhagat, gets way more engagement than our corporate account does. So keep that in mind.

What works best for our corporate account is actually tagging. Any time we can tag other companies or influencers, our posts get way more eyeballs.

If you’re curious to see sample posts, I left a few in this thread.  

Step 7: Measure Your Success

Graphical chart analysis

The best thing about the Digital PR approach is the results. 

TrustRadius is a very SEO-focused company. Therefore, most of our Digital PR efforts feed into SEO and are measured via those metrics. 

We measure the success of a PR campaign by the number of backlinks it receives (and the number of new domains). We also highlight any “big name” publications that cover our content. We monitor what keywords the post ranks for. And we watch the total number of pageviews rise over time.

We also see a correlation between high social engagement and increased pageviews to our content. But that usually doesn’t translate into mentions or backlinks. Or not in any way we can measure. 

The truth is, thousands of people might be interested in an article you share on social. They might click it and read it. But I'm betting that less than 10% of those people are involved in content writing or journalism. They're not going to publish anything about your article after they read it! 

Regardless of how you choose to measure your success, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. 

This is what helps make a business case for Digital PR efforts at your company. 

Measurement is also crucial for your own learning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised by which campaigns “flop” vs which ones “fly.” 

In SEO-land, we’ve also learned that some things take time. If you keep monitoring your projects after the initial launch, you may be surprised to see those pages skyrocket. 

For instance, one of our biggest reports of 2020 gained ~100 backlinks in the first month… and ~1000 in the first year. That’s a HUGE difference. 

Step 8: Level Up Your PR/Content Tech Stack

Finally, I hope I’ve made it clear that you don’t need a huge tech stack to bootstrap your PR efforts! But certain tools really do make my job faster and easier. 

Here’s the software I use every day: 

✅ BuzzStream for list building and sending pitches

✅ Cision for reporting mentions + social engagement

✅ Mention for tracking mentions

✅ Grammarly + Hemingway for editing

✅ Slack, Google Calendar, and Zoom for team collaboration

✅ Topic for streamlined keyword research and content briefs

✅ Semrush and Ahrefs for keyword research and reporting

✅ Google Analytics and Google Search Console for reporting

✅ Google Docs for drafting and editing

✅ WordPress and Divi for uploading

Of all of these tools, I would have to say that Buzzstream is my favorite. That software saved me HOURS when we first implemented it. The pitching process is much smoother than the other tools I’ve used in the past, and I love the email interface.  

Finally: YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS 

It’s pep talk time! Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of our Digital PR process at TrustRadius, I’m here to drop a truth bomb. 

This was actually my first ever PR position. 

Previously I worked at a thought leadership content agency. Then TrustRadius took a chance on me and hired me as the company’s first PR associate. 

I taught our team how to produce awesome content, and my boss taught me how to promote it. We’ve been gangbusters ever since!

I hope my story gives you confidence that YOU TOO can build trust with Digital PR. 

You don’t need a huge budget, or a huge team, or a big agency retainer. You just need to know how to play the game. 

If you’d like more PR and content-related tips, please feel free to reach out on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to talk shop with you.

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