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We keep seeing B2B PR strategies that make the same mistakes.
Yours is probably one of them, but that’s OK because we want to help. And we can – but only if you’re ready to be helped.
Here are some signs that you’re ready:
- You know you can offer more than media coverage, and want to break free from an over-reliance on journalists to tell your story.
- You want to stop churning out boring, corporate and self-serving content that is so bad you often have to pay for it to be published.
- You want to be able to link your public relations efforts to meaningful business objectives, not vanity metrics.
Answer ‘yes’ to any of those, and this guide is for you. You’re ready to leave behind old B2B PR – self-serving press releases, messaging and spin – and enter the new and exciting world of inbound B2B PR.
Answer ‘no’ to them all, then there is nothing for you here. You can go back to pumping out press releases about your ‘world-leading’ company’s new hires, new deals and new offices. Good luck, and see you around – or not, more likely.
Moving from a push mindset to pull with inbound PR
OK, we’re glad those guys have gone. So, what is inbound PR and how can it work for you?
As Ilyana Stareva, a promoter of inbound PR writes in her brilliant book of the same name: ‘With the Inbound PR concept, PR people continue to focus on what they are great at (content) but also manage to alleviate the industry’s biggest challenge – measurement and proving bottom-line results.’
With inbound public relations, the media still matter but coverage is just one element – albeit a powerful one – of a wider content strategy. Why? Because B2B buying is more complex now than it was when PR mostly meant media relations, and revolved around pushing out messages and spin.
Owning the narrative was more of a priority than earning trust, even before digital media turned this competition for attention into a bloodbath – again, at the expense of trust.
That might be tolerable to a point for companies selling jeans and trainers, but B2B buyers have bigger challenges than their waistline. And they’re looking to you – or your competitors – to help solve them.
Most of the buying cycle takes place before prospects reach out to vendors, in the form of online research. So you need to be publishing content that’s engaging, useful and optimised for search engines, in order to pull these prospects towards your company as someone they can trust to help solve their challenges.
In that context, your brand will slide into irrelevance if your B2B PR strategy looks anything like this:
Instead, you’re going to need something more like this:
That’s the outstanding PESO model, created by Gini Dietrich whose seminal book Spin Sucks is something we highly recommend you read. Offering a comprehensive view of the new PR and marketing landscape, Gini explains in much more detail than we have here why the old approach to PR is as dead as the dodo.
With the help of things like the PESO model, and more, you can create an inbound B2B PR strategy that generates leads and nurtures them towards a sale.
You’re the right person for the job too, because as Ilyana Stareva writes in Inbound PR: ‘PR professionals are the best content creators. They are natural storytellers – this is how it has been since the first press release. Writing and communication skills have been at the forefront of PR practitioners’ skill sets, not so much for marketing, advertising or digital agency professionals.’
In this guide we’re going to show you what it takes to develop a B2B PR strategy that takes advantage of exactly this, to secure real business results.
Your framework for a modern inbound B2B PR strategy
Let’s jump into it. The framework for your modern B2B PR strategy comes in six parts:
- Setting objectives
- Deciding on management processes
- Developing your target personas
- Choosing and creating your content
- Deciding on a distribution strategy for that content that includes, but doesn’t rely on, the media
- Measuring performance
You can revisit and refine these any time, based on your learnings. And you should.
But setting them out in advance is important.
Creating an inbound B2B PR strategy is a heavy lift. There are plenty of tools and advice out there to help, but there are not many shortcuts. We’re setting out to become trusted experts, remember.
Each of these elements are artforms or sciences in their own right, so we’ll sometimes link out to useful articles for further reading or that offer more detail than we can fit in here.
PART ONE: OBJECTIVES
(OR NUTS - MAY CONTAIN NUTS)
Start with your objectives.
No, we don’t think you’re stupid.
But, like food makers labelling packets of nuts with ‘may contain nuts’, we’re obliged to spell it out.
Your objectives set the tone for everything else that follows. Yet, even after the shock of finding nuts in your packet of nuts, you’d still be surprised at how many companies mess this up.
Objectives should be realistic and measurable (honestly, nuts – in nuts!), and we insist that you set benchmarks either as targets or to track improvements.
However, while 80 pieces of press coverage is realistic and measurable – it isn’t an objective. Why do you want that coverage? Did anyone reading that coverage become a lead or a sale?
Push yourself. You’ve read this far because you want to drive quality inbound, identifiable leads – now that’s an objective.
Some large PR agencies along with bodies like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations have come up with the AMEC Integrated framework for setting objectives. It’s free to use on the Amec website, and it was made by some very clever folks. But it’s pretty hard work, to be frank, and not suitable for everyone’s needs and resource levels.
By all means, scroll to the bottom of their homepage for an overview of the framework, and there’s also a 13-minute video tutorial here.
Good to go: Objectives?
A simpler objectives framework such as this might be more suitable for most companies:
- An uplift in a measurable outcome, aligned with business or product objectives, e.g. number of leads generated.
- An uplift in volume of quality media coverage, e.g. your AAA+ tier media and sites that Google recognizes as high authority (measured by ‘Domain Authority’).
- An uplift in brand or product sentiment (short term and/or long term).
- An uplift in website traffic or engagement, captured and optimised using Google Analytics.
Remember: based on current benchmarks, are your targets achievable?
It’s OK for performance to vary month to month or content piece to content piece; you’re looking for trends over time (B2B buying cycles are long and complex), that show you’re getting better at answering real questions for your audience.
PART TWO: MANAGEMENT
WHO'S DOING WHAT?
There’s no two ways about it: this is going to take time. Either in the form of creating content and herding cats (also known as stakeholders) to get it published and distributed, or in investing time in helping an agency do the heaviest lifting for you.
In our experience, agency-client relationships come unstuck because clients expect to just leave an agency to it. To get the best out of an agency, you need to invest time and supply information – especially upfront.
Before going forward with anything else in the plan, it’s a good exercise to pause and ensure you have a point person or team in place to either handle the work at your end or manage the relationship with an external agency.
Good to go: Management?
- Are you engaging an agency or an in-house team? Who needs to be on that team?
- Who has what roles and responsibilities, when it comes to content creation, distribution and measurement?
- What metrics, milestones and reporting mechanisms will you use to promote accountability?
PART THREE: PERSONAS
YOU TALKIN' TO ME?
The only way you can really create relevant and great content is to gain genuine insight into your customers.
You need to know who you’re talking to and what makes them tick.
To do that you create personas: fictional representations of your audience, describing their goals and pain points, based on the real-world factors influence them.
Ideally, your primary source here would be interviews with prospects or current customers, to explore their main challenges. If that’s not possible, your product development team likely already does this, so you could talk to them instead.
Good to go: Personas?
This is what you’re trying to collect during your interviews to as inputs for your persona:
- Personas are not your target market, which is broader. Instead, they aim to paint a picture of ‘typical’ individuals, people, that make up your market.
- They must always relate back to your brand, answering the question: who wants and needs the product you are selling?
- Start with the basics like name and age, and then get specific. For example, what’s a common career path for these individuals, and their level of drive?
- How does their career path, affect their decision making and how will they determine the credibility of your company?
- Do they use social media and how and what? How much do they rely on peer networks? Are they brave and bold or nervous and cautious?
- What media do they read and trust and why?
- Professional drivers are important but don’t be afraid to get personal: how do they spend their leisure time and what does this mean for how to engage them? If you’re going deep, perhaps even in a highly targeted account based marketing where you’re profiling real people, these insights can be valuable. But use them with respect – you don’t want to creep anyone out.
For how the output should look:
- We love these 10 examples of detailed marketing personas from L&T – head here for inspiration
- Quick Sprout offers a more detailed overview of persona creation
- These free persona templates from Hubspot will help you get started
Get the persona right and you’ll improve your content’s conversion rates, acquire more leads and engage them more often.
PART FOUR: CONTENT
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY, AND WHERE ARE YOU SAYING IT?
If you write about something nobody cares about, no one will read it. And if you write something that lots of people care about, but nobody can find, well, no one will read it either.
Both scenarios mean no leads and a lot of wasted time and money. So content must be relevant, organised and findable.
Achieving this is driven by two things, that work closely together: insight from your client’s pain points connected to your expertise and solution – from your persona, for example – and search engine optimization (SEO).
How to discover the topics that will drive inbound leads
We mentioned the PESO model earlier and, because we like it so much, here it is again:
PESO stands for ‘Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned’ media and the model shows how getting your story out there isn’t exclusively about press coverage anymore (we might have mentioned that, too).
‘Paid and shared media get prospects’ attention, but print ads and social posts don’t generally convince them to pull out their wallets. Earned media that establishes credibility and owned media such as case studies that showcase value play a bigger role in converting prospects into paying customers.’ – PR Week
PESO creator Gini Dietrich describes each of these media types as follows:
- Paid Media for PR means social media advertising, sponsored content and email
- Earned Media is what you know as either publicity or media relations
- Shared Media is also known as social media
- Owned Media is otherwise known as content. It’s something you own, and it lives on your website or blog where you can tell the story the way you want it told
Some of the secrets of relevant content
Gini has also published an excellent blog post on generating content ideas and distributing that content in line with the PESO model.
We’re going to refer back to it again in the distribution section, but the first part to take a look at is her method for content mapping, under the heading ‘Where to start’.
There she walks you through starting with a main topic before layering in a ‘supportive base’ of further topics to guide the content you create.
The relevance of your ideas comes mainly from the persona’s you created, and this process will form the basis for all your ‘owned’ content. (We say ‘mainly’, because your SEO research and planning will also help determine relevance.)
How to organise your content
Following Gini’s methods will also help you create your content in line with the current best practice on organising your content: content hubs, wonderfully outlined here by Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media.
Random and sporadic content on loosely related topics will not signal your authority on a subject, in either the eyes of search engines or real people – never forget people. In Andy’s words: ‘When content is focused on a topic [in content hubs], it piles up, reaching higher above the competition and gaining visibility.’
Read Andy’s article. Now. OK, later then. But soon. Please.
Some of the secrets of findable content
Now, findability. There are many free SEO tools that can help you discover the appropriate keywords to target with your content. (Keywords are not necessarily words, more like phrases or terms, and they also help determine relevance via search volumes and give you a steer on improving your topics.)
Importantly, these tools can tell you how competitive those keywords are too. You need to be honest about whether you can outrank your competitors. This depends on your situation, and theirs, but from a standing start it’s better to target less competitive keywords for quicker wins.
Here are three of our favourite tools for SEO-led content intelligence:
- Ubersuggest: This free tool helps with keyword ideas, but there are loads that do that. Where it sets itself apart is the way it helps you reverse engineer your competitors’ content, SEO and social strategies to see what’s working for them
- Long Tail Pro: In SEO, ‘long tail’ refers to the less competitive but more numerous keywords that, taken together, account for more of the total searches on a topic. Savvy SEO operators swear by the long tail and this tool helps you discover highly relevant and winnable search terms to target
- SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool: A comprehensive keyword recommendation tool offering a limited free version. It guides you through compiling keyword recommendations into handy lists showing their search volume, ranking difficulty, top competitors and other useful metrics
- Answer The Public: Just type in a keyword and see what questions associated with that term are being typed into Google
A bonus suggestion, although it’s not free, is the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. This helps you keyword optimise your owned content as you create it. Their site also has lots of SEO tips, including the sensational Ultimate guide to content SEO.
How to create engaging and effective content
The content you create from your topics can end up in many formats, such as:
- Long-form blog posts (on your site, a post on Medium or Linkedin), like the one you’re reading now
- Press releases
- An email newsletter
You need to decide what formats are open to you, and which ones you can resource with copywriting and design support. Consider whether your topics work in multiple formats – ideally, they will.
You also need to have to hand any proprietary data or insights – this is something you can offer that no one else can, and quickly sets you apart as an authority. This might come from inside the heads of your colleagues. Desk research is going to be a big factor when it comes to content creation, too.
Here, we’re going to let you into a secret. Nowhere is it written that B2B campaigns should be dry and devoid of flair.
The people you’re targeting are the very same ones that big consumer brands are spending millions of dollars to try and reach through fun, interesting and stimulating ad campaigns.
Think about that. Do they become corporate zombies when they turn up to work?
Don’t underestimate the cost of good design and writing when it comes to content creation.
To be regarded as an authority, and someone that can be trusted, you’re going to have to look and sound the part. So, if you don’t have budget allocated to creating and packaging up content that reads well and looks great then you need to reconsider. Sorry.
Good to go: Content topics and creation?
Step 1: Extract and pull together proprietary data and insights along with external resources
Proprietary insight might come from:
- Inside the heads of some staff!
- Custom research from a well-regarded analyst firm
- A qualitative targeted survey
You might even have your own platforms that capture unique data – can this offer any stories your prospects would find interesting?
Step 2: Generate your editorial calendar by combining those insights with your personas to brainstorm main topics, subtopics and content types, then use SEO tools to refine them
Step 3: Decide who will create it – both writing and design – and what format it will be in
Step 4: Optimise for SEO. The whole content strategy needs to be carefully thought for the web, clearly showing Google and other search engines which content is the cornerstone of your hub
PART FIVE: DISTRIBUTION
GETTING YOUR CONTENT EVERYWHERE YOUR PROSPECTS ARE
Using Gini’s content mapping method, covered in PR Pros Must Embrace the PESO model, let’s take the example of a fictional company looking to convince mobile app developers to advertise on TV.
Their content map might look like this:
And their PESO model for distributing each of those content pieces would look something like this:
Here we see again how media relations and the resulting coverage are part of your wider inbound B2B PR strategy, and not the basket in which you put all your eggs.
To integrate media relations within that wider strategy, whatever you’re pitching out must feature a strong hook for sending traffic back to your site – either through a direct link in the coverage or by driving follow up searches/visits by readers.
If you don’t bring those readers back to your site, you’ve basically lost them as far as your measurement is concerned.
In this respect, a great piece of owned media content based on original research or proprietary data is a strong card to play with the media. Key findings can be pitched as news using a press release accompanied by charts and graphics, and followed up with the offer of a byline article expanding on the story – with the full research and a wider selection of angles available on your website.
But you must do everything you can to make linking to your site or a follow up visit as compelling as you can. The data might be downloadable in a format that allows users to explore it themselves, or it might be packaged up in an interactive infographic format. (This would make it more shareable, too.)
Doing so will also increase your chances of securing backlinks from respected media outlets, which are a powerful signal of your authority for Google and so a major SEO boost.
More on that in a minute but, to wrap up, you should also consider these tips for making your pitch to the media as strong as you possibly can:
- If you haven’t already, you need to develop a tiered list of journalists and outlets that cover your industry or products. And it needs to be up to date and maintained as a record of their interests, publishing schedules, recent hot topics and your previous interactions.
- Be targeted with your outreach. Media relations is about building relationships over time, not destroying them with rushed, poorly thought out pitches. If in doubt, step away from the phone or delete that email draft and do some more research
- Test your story or your content’s newsworthiness
– But remember, the bigger opportunities with media relations are not often news-based coverage. News might be the hook with which you reach out, but the offer of a bylined opinion piece might be what clinches the deal.
- What content do you have to support or back up your pitch. You almost always need good (no, great) imagery to secure coverage, maybe even video. And do you have any senior execs or bigwigs available for interview?
Turning engagement into journeys with marketing automation
If you’re creating owned content that brings people to your site via media relations and other channels, then that’s great – but you can really light a fire under your inbound B2B PR strategy with a marketing automation platform.
If you’re creating owned content then that’s great – but you can really light a fire under your inbound B2B PR strategy with a marketing automation platform.
If your digital activity exists in silos, as it does for many organisations, you cannot cross-correlate who is interacting with what content. Your inbound leads come in, but how do you know where they go after that?
In a nutshell, a marketing automation platform enables you to build a complete picture of anyone who interacts with your company across multiple digital touchpoints. With that picture, you can create rules around email campaigns and other channels, that will help nurture prospects on a journey towards a final sale.
There are tools available for any level of sophistication and investment. SharpSpring and Hubspot sit at the more accessible end of the spectrum, while Marketo and Eloqua are popular enterprise-level applications.
We’re big believers in marketing automation as the final part of the inbound B2B PR puzzle.
It’s game-changing, for both strategy and measurement, to be able to track engagement with specific content pieces for optimisation or to trigger next actions for nurturing prospects, such as email sends or even phone calls from sales.
Content distribution beyond PESO
Backlink building is a critical element of your content distribution strategy.
In simplified terms, links back to your site from high-quality sources are one measure of how Google decides whether you’re an authority on a topic that should be rewarded with higher rankings. (Other technical factors also come into play on search rankings, such as mobile optimization and loading speed.)
In the previous example of pitching content to the media based on research or data, when Google sees the resulting link from a high-quality site (or a site with a high ‘Domain Authority’) it boosts your credits on the topic. The more people visit that page, read your content and even link to it, the more likely you are to head up the Google rankings based on the keywords Google associated with that page.
We’re going to refer you to Brian Dean’s definitive guide on the subject because, well, it’s the definitive guide. Read that and you will know everything you need to about the importance of backlinks.
In his blog post, How to build high-quality backlinks when nobody knows your name, world-leading SEO guru Neil Patel lists public relations first in his selection of eight backlink building strategies. This is another essential read, and also covers using social media to build relationships.
Good to go: Content distribution?
- How are you going to distribute your content across paid, earned, social and owned media (refer to the PESO model)?
- If you don’t have direct access to your company’s owned and social channels, who does and are they on board?
- Who are your top tier media and what’s your strategy for establishing and cultivating relationships with them?
- What’s your strategy for backlink building?
INBOUND B2B PR MEASUREMENT
You must, must, must (must) be using measurement to link your inbound PR efforts back to your objectives, in order to close the loop and evaluate your strategy.
It’s relatively easy to collect data these days so it’s tempting to collect and analyze it all.
Don’t. You’ll be overwhelmed by analysis paralysis.
You need the confidence and, often, experience to zero in on whatever tells you the most about how you’re doing against your objectives. Work only with that for a while, before adding more as you see gaps, become more sophisticated or higher resourced
Good to go: Measurement?
What you track and how depends on your objectives and the tools and platforms available to you, but it will include a mix of the following:
- Alignment with business or product objectives
– Leads generated and their quality, for example
- Volume and quality of media coverage
– Check out Coverage Book, for generating beautiful coverage reports
- Brand or product sentiment (short term and/or long term)
– Try Awario
- Website traffic
– Google Analytics data
– Backlinks and referrals
– Returning visitors
- Content engagement
– Buzzsumo for content performance, and intelligence gathering
– Inbound links generated by your PR work, using Answer The Client (this one’s free, and promises ‘Google Analytics data for your PR work’)
– Form submissions captured by your MA or CRM platforms if content is gated, or digital downloads
– Click through rates on your emails, social and on your site, and external site referrals captured by Google Analytics
- Addressing customer pain points
– Sentiment analysis or qualitative surveys
"EARN TRUST, EARN TRUST, EARN TRUST. THEN YOU CAN WORRY ABOUT THE REST." - SETH GODIN
There you have it – a framework for developing an inbound B2B PR strategy around creating and distributing great content.
But if you remember only one thing, modern B2B communications is all about trust, and that trust is earned through listening and responding to what people are asking. It’s earned through giving something to someone and not necessarily expecting something in return. It’s earned by showing someone that you can help them and demonstrating clear expertise.
This is the breach into which you’re stepping with your inbound B2B PR strategy.
We hope you can keep coming back to this article as you develop your strategy, and we’ve collected the checklist questions from each section of the framework into a free download here.