About Lexi Mills
Lexi Mills is a multi-award winning digital marketing expert, with a focus on integrating PR and SEO at both a strategic and tactical level. Her journalism and research work focuses on the ethics, risks and potential of machine learning and AI within the sector of internet search.
Lexi combines technical search algorithm knowledge and psychology to create data-driven measurable communications strategies that maximise influence on human behaviour. She applies this to external and internal communications alongside change management.
In her Learn Inbound talk, Lexi provides a highly practical session on integrated PR, SEO and content outreach. She shows real examples of successes and failures. She will also take you through the nitty-gritty of getting started and maintaining momentum and discuss how integration can help SME’s compete with bigger brands.
- Focus on getting to know business, trade and local publications. Also, understand how news desks work and what makes newsworthy content.
- Sometimes a female point of view, particularly in a male-dominated industry is enough to make something newsworthy.
- Give journalists what they need for a story in terms of content and pictures. You need to make it as easy as possible for them to cover your story.
What I want to convince you of today is that mind-bending content isn't everything. And in fact, as a small business, I would encourage you to put that to the side for a little while. Do what you can do best that beats the really big guys. And let's be agile. If you can move fast, you can do things that the big brands couldn't even conceive of. So today, I'm going to talk you through some systems, tactics, processes, and a couple of examples to show you exactly how you can do that.
Now, last year, I discovered these. These are pills that turn your poop gold. They cost around $500 and they've got epic amounts of coverage. Later on, Etsy came out with a budget version so if you send off $6.50, you can get glitter poop pills and again, these did exceptionally well. Now, if you were to say to yourself, "Okay, what Etsy's telling me here today is basically create a product that turns some of your bodily fluids in some kind of iridescent form and you will get coverage and links." I am not denying that is true and I would do the PR for free. Feel free to contact me, but that's not my point.
When I looked deeper into this coverage, what I saw is that these articles had essentially everything that you need to make a story. If you consider an anatomy of a story, it needs a really short, succinct headline and it needs to be able to be told in two sentences. And that's what these can do. And every single one of these articles had awesome images. Furthermore, they had quotes from the people who created these pills so that you had a voice in the story. This is something that I know a lot of people struggle with. Getting a CEO to talk about publicly is really challenging, but you can get them to talk about it preemptively. You can write up an interview ahead of time and have that bagged.
But what really makes a story fly is having a second voice, having a customer, having somebody else impartial, and an expert contributing to your story. Now, I know that's hard too because not all customers want to spend their time talking about your product. They want to buy it, they want to use it, they want to have glitter poop. But you can go on Twitter and you can just screenshot it. They've already made it public. It's yours to use.
And you can package that up and give it to journalists. If you can do nothing else in 2016 other than get good images, two sentence-defined stories, and you get two people to speak on behalf of your story, your content will fly like it's never flown before.
Now, over a year ago, I started working for Pledge Music and you might think that's really cool. You're going to be able to throw people out of planes and spaceships and get great content. That's not really the case. The average purchase price for music per year is around $2 per person. We're lucky if we get an average purchase of around $55 per transaction but I'm still not throwing people out of spaceships. I knew if I wanted to do really well, I had to come up with scalable systems and processes and that would allow me to beat people like Apple to the news. In fact, when Apple came out with Apple Music, I thought "Okay, this is my chance. This is my chance to put a system and a process in place that we can use time and time again."
So I watched Tim Cook walk up and down in this great, big, glorious stage talking about Apple Music and I was sitting in a flat in London which I called home at the time, thinking "How on earth am I going to make news out of this." And I couldn't think of anything. And then suddenly the coverage started to come in. Everybody was talking about the fact that Apple wasn't going to pay royalties to artists for the first few months. And then it kept rolling in. Everybody was continuously talking about this. And then the penny dropped. It's like "Hey, let's say what nobody else is saying. Yes, the royalties is an issue and it goes against the fundamental core principle of our business. We want our artists to make money; we want them to own their own content and data."
But there's something that's not being said in this story and the search volume speaks for itself. I didn't need Google trends to tell me this but I knew that there was going to be continuous search volume for Apple Music beyond the length of the narrative that was about royalties. So I thought "All right, you want to talk about it? I'll give you something to say."
Because we're a small business, I got on the phone to our CEO. I wasn't even fully working for Pledge at the time. I was still working at another firm. But I called my CEO and I said, "Hey, can you talk to me about the good parts of Apple Music?" And he said, "Yeah, sure." Spotify couldn't do that. They don't have that speed; they don't have that direct line of communication. I was leveraging our agility and we wrote this blog post.
But we didn't publish it. We held it. And I called Music Business Worldwide and I said "Hey, I've got this blog post. You can use some quotes from it, you can speak to my CEO, and I’ll give you a picture of him if you want it, and you can publish it and you can go first." And they did. Then we put it live on our blog and then I went out to the wider media and we picked up a lot of coverage across the world just for this one blog post.
And it was a really simple process. Craft your blog post, craft your opinion piece based on a news hook. Let your exclusives go live. After that, publish it on your site and that becomes the anchor, that becomes the place that everybody naturally references. And then you do your wider media sell-in and you can push it through all your channels thereafter. And you can do this time and time again. Here, you can see that I've got the Apple
Music search terms from last year. You can search the trends for your industry. Find out what trended last year because you know what? What trended last year will trend this year, most likely, and if it trended the year before that, it's pretty certain you're going to trend this year and if it trended three years in a row, it's definitely going to trend this year.
And you can look at Google search as well. Google trends will show you stuff that's trended year on year. And these can become hooks that you pre-plan for. You get your team ready to make comments. You find, if it's not your CEO, your head of marketing, you find your brand advocate, somebody who could talk on your behalf. BBC on this day? Brilliant. You can look at what trended on a specific day. Or even Netflix. I often look at what films are launching. For example, I dropped them into Huballin which I believed Patty mentioned, and I did this just for Game of Thrones. And you can see what all the questions are that people asked around this.
So if something happened last year, you drop into this tool and you can see what people are asking about it. You can then create commentary around it and do exactly what we did with Apple Music.
Because this process worked really well, when it came round to our birthday, I talked to the business; I was like "Let's release some stats, some stats that we've never told people." Like our average transaction rate. We've never told anyone that. Everyone said, "Yeah, we can do that" and I got really excited. I was like "Cool, we can use the process that we used last time that worked really well." And then real life happened. We were going through business changes and we couldn't go out with the details. And I was like "Oh, okay. What do I do? Do I kick it to the side? It's over, it's dead, and the time has passed."
If you hang around waiting for the perfect world scenario when it comes to content marketing for the perfect timing, well, you're going to be hanging around waiting for rainbow robot unicorn because perfect world scenarios come around just as often. And I'm telling you if that holds you back you might as well give up on content marketing to begin with. Ask yourself this question: Is the news on the story still interesting? And in this instance, I was like "Yeah, you still never released these stats. It might be six weeks past our birthday but a birthday's really just a lunar cycle. How relevant is that anyway?" So I called Sky News and I sold it into them. After that, we put it live on our blog, just like the process said and we sold it in. And we got epic amounts of coverage. Not the best coverage. We didn't get full national news like we would have, but the great thing was, I was sitting there thinking "There's no pressure on me. You delayed the launch." There's nothing better than a team who doesn't have the pressure to show results to get really good results. Because it's fear that holds back outreach teams a lot of the time.
And I want to draw your attention to something else. In every article, we pretty much got a link to our homepage and we got a link here. We've got a link to the blog post because journalists were naturally referencing where they got their details from. It was brilliant and that's why this process works.
Now you'll notice that all the things I've talked about so far have been around business PR SEO and that's very particular because as a small firm or on a limited budget, you can't make friends with every journalist on the planet. But if you were to prioritize them, I would advise you to go through your business media, your trade media, your local media, and get comfortable selling into news desks. That's four areas. That's manageable for any business.
And furthermore, if you have a quick look at business site, or any website for that matter, within sectors, they have their own sections. Every business website will have a place for case studies. Every business website will have a place for news and advice and Q&As;, which means you can use the same pitch email if you're pitching within a sector. Which suddenly means your outreach becomes scalable. You do not have to write a unique email to every single person.
I would also encourage you to leverage your ladies. You only have to do a Google search to find how many women in sections and articles there are. If you only have in the male voice, a male CEO or a male head of marketing that you're putting forward to quote on the story, you're going to miss out. Because you know what? Maybe the news media don't bite that week. But if you've got a female voice that might just tip it over. And that's exactly what I did with bathrooms.com. I'm quite annoying as a client, I will hang around your office and I will look for things that I want. And I hang around the bathroom.com office until I found this girl Nina. Nina is smart, she's intelligent, she knows the business inside-out and she's not scared to talk to media. Brilliant. So I've used her in loads of our RPR stories when we were doing business work for bathrooms.com. And as our CEO got busier, we used her even more. If you only have one person and they're male, you will luck out on a business PR SEO strategy.
And trade media. You know what's cool about trade media? They just like what you're doing because you're part of their trade. Whatever you're doing is relevant to them. And there's not one industry I've ever found that doesn't have its own trade association. I mean, who would have known that locksmiths have their own publication and it still runs in print? Furthermore, I had a client, Zapper, and they're a mobile payment device and we got them in loads of national newspapers and when I went and sat down with them, they were like "You know, every time you put us in trade media, the phone rings. Every time you put us in national media, we get a pat on the back from our investors." It's good to know. The conversion rate is quite high from trade media.
So business stories. What are you going to do? Well, there are loads. You could go out with press release statements like we did with Apple Music.
You can go out with statistics about your business like we did with our birthday announcement. Case studies.
But one of the best things is your new hires. They're really simple. You've got a piece of content that you've gotta write. Who is the new hire? What are they going to be doing? Where are they from? Put a nice picture, a nice quote from your CEO, story done. Now if I was a traditional PR, I would just send it to my local press and my business press and my trade. But I still kind of like links because I'm half SEO.
And in this instance, if you look at this example, this LA-based company hired someone from Nashville. So PR it to the Nashville presses as well. You may not be creating leads that are going to convert but you're going to get some really nice links and you're going to raise your profile. And product news.
Creative products are the fundamental basis of what we do at Pledge Music. Essentially, you can buy awesome music experiences. You want the drumsticks that Megadeth used to make their latest album? You can buy them on our site. And this is how we make a business. And this guy, Kia, really likes ducks. I seem to do a lot of stuff with ducks if you've ever seen any of my previous presentations. They come into my life a lot. You could sponsor a duck in his rubber duck race and buy the album at the same time. You could get Kia-branded shampoo or soap.
All these things, they were fun hooks for media. There are cool images for them to put in their stories, which meant that they wrote about the real things, the backstage passes that you could get, the downloads of the album, the private concerts that he would perform for you. But you're giving media what they needed to make a really good story.
And I know, like if I was sitting around the other side of the stage right now, I'd be thinking "Okay, cool, fine, you've got musicians, you've got rock stars, you've got something above me." Well, I did this with bathrooms so you can do it.
When it came to the royal baby birth, we made a miniature bathroom. Mini bath. Not that hard. And in fact, we didn't even pay for it out of our budget. The client did. Then we put it up on the website. We called it "The Windsor Bath" because it made it more believable because all bathroom collections have a name, so it had to be believable, it had to be real. We got loads of images and we put this into the same setup that every single one of our product pages had. So there was no massive redesign. I just had to give them the assets. And then we did the same process that I do with Pledge Music now. We sold them exclusives and then we launched it on the blog. Really simple and then took it wider. We got loads of coverage. And the thing is, this was low risk. It was low resource. There were low expectations. And these were high results comparatively.
The key thing was also that we weren't just working with a process that the client was familiar with, with regards to selling in exclusives, launching on the blog, selling it into wider media. We're working within the confines of their site. They knew how to put new products out. It wasn't like a mind-boggling process. It wasn't a new page that had to go up that had to be completely redesigned.
So when it came to Valentine's Day, I thought I'd have some real fun. And we contacted this company called Butlers and above and, just so you know, I've been banned from showing these slides at any other conference so that's step one. Let me put up this page. You think this one's naughty, just wait. Fits in the structure of the site. "Buy a butler running you a bath on Valentine's Day." It was really simple; we didn't pay for the partnership and they gave me some rocking images to send to the media. And they were free too. The product pages were simple and the outreach process was exactly the same as I did with Pledge and then I did with the baby bath. And we went out to national media. We got the Mirror, we got the Metro, and we got in the Gay Times. There's KBB Daily. They're our trade press. Brilliant.
You've got to remember, now, national media always want to run first. The only people that'll run after is trade because national media will keep an eye on trade media for trends and stories they should be writing about, which is just another good reason to be friends with them. And remember, the client could visualize this whole process, and when I say the client, it could be your boss, it could be your client, whoever you have to get sign-off from. It's the same one we used every time.
So what made this work? In the existing process, we worked within the confines of our site structure and we had some rocking images and we had a real story to tell. I could have just put out a press release. I could have put out a press release with just the images, but it wouldn't have been believable. You wouldn't have been able to walk all the way around the story and see it as real. It wouldn't have had integrity. We had to go that step further.
But you don't have to put out fake products all the time. You can do surveys and I know surveys can be a budget problem, but if you've got an omnibus survey, it's a survey that's going out anyway and you pay per question. So you can just pay for three or four and get three or four lines of data. Or you can look in your Google search data.
Is there something weird about iOS users that they only purchase certain products at two in the morning? I promise you, there are some websites out there that want to know about that. Or you can collect your own.
So when the new iPad was being launched, we went down to the iPad queue. We called a whole lot of journalists beforehand and said "What do you want to know?" And some of the journalists were a little bit humorous and like "We want to know how many people are wearing black turtlenecks like Steve Jobs." Fine. Add it to the list. If it's going to make you laugh, we'll do it. And then we got chatting to this dude at the front. This kid was waiting and he had already spent £100 on apps before he even got an iPad. So I thought, "Wear one of our client's t-shirts with this. Tell you what; if I pay for your, apps, will you wear the t-shirt?" All right, fair deal. Which student wouldn't do that, right? £100 in cash, legged it down to the ATM, legged it back, give him the 100 quid, give him the t-shirt, and tell him "Whatever you do, you have to have your hands above your head as you walk out." Why? Because every news media is going to want a photograph of the first person coming out of the Apple store with their iPad. It's the image thing, right? We've got loads of coverage. If they weren't covering our data that we put out, they were covering this dude wearing our client's t-shirt. And it cost us £100 and I would do it again and I'd pay it out my own pocket just for the glory of having that spread of coverage.
But when you're doing all of this, your contacts become important. Just because you're focusing on a sector of four key media, your business, your trade, your news, you still need to keep on top of them and it's a bit like playing whack-a-mole. Have you guys played that? I fucking love that game. Epic. But media move around like that, especially in this day and age with publishers going under all the time. If you think you can use old school tech like spreadsheets to accurately keep on top of your media, you are wrong. It is not going to work. You need a system of some description. I use BuzzStream. It doesn't really matter what you use. You've just got to pick one. And even with BuzzStream, I always site search, the site and the journalist's name to double-check that they've written on that publication in the last couple of weeks, because things change daily.
And while you're at it, checklist. Check how many words are in each type of article. If you're going out with a news story with four lines of data that you got from an omnibus survey, four lines is maybe 300 words. The average news story is around 600 to 700. If you are not giving a journalist 600 or 700 words-worth of a story, you're going to get chucked to the side. They might love your stats but they can't make their word limit into a story. So you have to give them an interview with your CEO or your female CEO. You have to give them something else. If you do that, your results will go up categorically.
And there's something else that I discovered last week. I didn't realize anyone still did this but apparently, they do so I'm raising it now. Fake personas. I made this in two minutes. I went online, typed in "Fake Persona," generate, got a fake person. If you want to build really good contacts, pretending that you're into tech, pretending that you're into ducks, it's not going to wash. You've got to have integrity with your outreach. You cannot be creating fake Twitter profiles to speak to journalists or fake Gmail accounts to do it.
That being said, a little smoke and mirrors goes a long way. If I'm honest, I still think SEO has a bad name in the media industry. And let's not forget what happened to everyone over at Panda. Can you really blame them? I mean, they know they should listen to us but they're still a bit upset about it.
It's all quite understandable.
Just remove your job title from your signature. If you've got "SEO manager" or "SEO consultant," just take it off. You can leave the link to the business you're working for. You can leave your phone number. People can check you out on LinkedIn. But I do feel there's a stigma and I honestly would just avoid it. I might tell you something different in a year or two, but right now, that is the truth.
Now, even with a small select amount of media, you're not going to have stuff to send to them all the time. What do you do in between times? How do you keep the conversation going? Well, fortunately for Star Wars, and this is something I've used time and time again. When Star Wars comes out, the first thing we used to do at Dynamo was send someone down to the IMAX to buy a whole bunch of tickets. It's not super expensive. And you know how many people like Star Wars? An awful lot. And then you just ring up a whole bunch of the journalists you've been working with and say "Hey, listen, we're all going down to Star Wars. We've got IMAX tickets. Do you want to come? You want to bring your girlfriend? You want to bring your boyfriend? Friend? Come on down." And you end up having a really informal evening where you end up getting an idea of who they are and the type of language they use so you can mimic it when you pitch them, what they're interested in, what trends are coming.
In fact, this works so well that last year... I don't know if any of you remember but Prince did a whole load of gigs in London and I am an epic Prince fan, epic, and if I'm honest, the amount of time I was spending in queues was becoming untenable. I just wasn't in the office enough. I made every gig, by the way. I'm very proud of that. So when they announced the Roundhouse gig, I thought "Okay, I have to come up with a different way of getting into this." So I called the directors and I was like "Guys, you know how Star Wars was really effective for media relations? I think Prince might be, too. Tickets go on sale tomorrow and I would really like some and is there any way we could deploy the entire firm to get some?" I'd already written the email, I had all the company credit card details and please, please, please, please, please say yes. And they did. And I got Prince tickets and I got right to the front with a whole load of journalists. And every single one of those journalists that we took with us covered one of our clients in the next six weeks.
And what was really key here is that we were bonding over something that we genuinely had in common. Everyone who went to the Star Wars event liked Star Wars. I was an epic Prince fan. It had integrity to it. In fact, it worked so well that when Queen came to the O2, I did the exact same thing and I got to see Queen again and called it work. It was brilliant.
And this notion of integrity is something I would really encourage and I'm going to push for the next few years. Have integrity in the quality of your stories. Make sure they are three-dimensional and you can walk around them. Have integrity when you're outreaching. Don't put up smoke and mirrors. If you're not into bathrooms and you're outreaching them, that's okay. As long as you're giving people all the assets they need, that's fine.
And when you're doing your media relations, invite people to things you genuinely want to do and you will naturally have a good bond.
So I'm going to leave you with some words that I discovered last week. I was stalking a journalist on LinkedIn, as any sensible PR should do, and one of my favorite journalists, underneath the description of his job, he'd written "Just making my way through this content renaissance we're all part of." That's what we're doing. These are my tips and tricks that work for me right here, right now, and I expect they'll work for the next three to six months. I'll take criticism. There will be places that they won't work. There'll be things that you're doing that I don't know about and I would love to hear about them. Show me what's worked.
But honestly, I guarantee you, if you go beyond big content, you focus on one core group of media, and you execute your story crafting and outreach with integrity, you're going to win, categorically. I'm Lexi Mills. Thank you so much for listening and I'm open to questions.