Digital PR and The Content Distribution Ecosystem

Summary: In this blog post, I will discuss the Content Distribution Ecosystem (CDE), an integrated approach to digital PR. I define Digital PR as the process of creating and sustaining an influential presence on the digital web.

The Content Distribution Ecosystem

To best understand the Content Distribution Ecosystem, imagine a clock or an engine that runs smoothly based on the integration of a series of connected cogs that turn in sync. The more optimized the cogs are in terms of seamless connection and synchronicity, the smoother and more efficiently the engine or watch runs, and for longer.

Threlkeld Communications Digital PR and the Content Distribution Ecosystem image of two cogs connected together showing how SEO and PR work together.

Your broad brand content network is like this engine or clock. It’s built on an ecosystem of discrete content components or cogs. Think of these cogs as your website, email newsletters, blogs, press releases, bylines, podcasts, social media, infographics, videos, to name a few.

To work efficiently, your content ecosystem must be well-tuned like an engine. This will help you achieve sales and marketing goals over time. This efficiency is ultimately determined by your ranking profile in Google for core keywords and keyword clusters.

The Content Distribution Ecosystem ensures this level of efficiency and optimal performance is built into every piece of discrete content. And, most importantly, this content needs to be connected across each part of your media mix. This includes Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media. This is known as the PESO media mix model.

Listen to this blog post on Spotify

Digital PR Defined

The Content Distribution Ecosystem is a foundational component of a Digital PR effort. As mentioned earlier, I define Digital PR as the process of creating and sustaining an influential presence on the digital web. Note that this is different than Traditional PR, which is primarily focused on media outreach and press release distribution. Traditional PR is part of an Earned media effort, which I discuss more below.

This influential presence is reflected primarily by three factors. First, your ranking in search. Second, your backlink profile. And third, the number of third-party mentions you get in editorial outlets and on social media.

Digital PR and the PESO Media Mix

The Content Distribution Ecosystem is a holistic approach to content development. By this I mean the content you create and publish across media mix channels must be optimized to work together. This makes sense on the surface, but it’s surprising how often brand content is disconnected once it hits the distribution channel.

Threlkeld Communications Digital PR and The Content Distribution Ecosystem image of the PESO ... Paid Earned Shared and Owned ... media mix model.

Many times this is because the individuals creating discrete channel content are not in sync. This content development silo mentality is often the source of poor Google rankings.

The PESO Media Mix model was developed by the people at SpinSucks. It’s designed to bring organization to digital PR optimization. It does this by helping define the boundaries of the overall media mix landscape.

PESO is an acronym for Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media. Any content you are going to produce and distribute will fit into one of these media mix buckets.

Paid: Any form of “pay to play” advertising, from traditional TV/Newspaper to Facebook marketing. This also includes alternate forms of paid media such as promotions and partnerships.

Earned: Earned media is exactly what it sounds like — media that is garnered in third party outlets such as online editorial websites through the efforts of traditional media relations. This includes, among other types, bylines, press releases, mentions in editorial roundup stories, etc.

Shared: This category reflects the enormous growth of social media as a platform for facilitating engagement and connectivity. Shared media is any media platform that facilitates the ability for multiple contributors. Think of a Facebook Group where users share their stories or opinions. Or blog posts where readers can contribute comments at the bottom.

Owned: Owned media reflects the growing presence of brand publishing on the digital web. Owned media is any published content that you direct and control the publishing of, including websites, YouTube videos, blog posts and infographics.

Six Steps to an Efficient Digital PR Strategy

So I’ve identified two benefits of a connected ecosystem of content — Optimization and Efficiency. And, the media mix boundaries the content will work within — the PESO Media Mix model. Next, I’ll identify six steps to an efficient digital PR strategy. Essentially, following these six steps will result in success with regards to the Content Distribution Ecosystem approach to digital PR.

Digital PR Step 1: Content Audit

Threlkeld Communications Digital PR and the Content Distribution Ecosystem - Content Audit image for digital PR Step 1

Before starting off on the road of developing new content, it’s best to take a step back and get an inventory of what content you already have created. Much of your current SEO value and market positioning lies within the context of your existing content assets.

I’ll talk about positioning more in Step 2 (Strategy). But, your current position in the market is largely defined by how your current content shapes brand impressions. This is true both in the eyes of consumers who read/view it and in the eyes of the search engine bots. These bots are crawling the web and trying to make sense of content for indexing.

So, like it or not, you have a starting point for your digital PR efforts moving forward. And that starting point will become clear once you perform the content audit.

This is where you take an inventory of the themes and keywords associated with each piece of content you have published. And, remember that this means reviewing this from the PESO perspective — Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media.

In performing the content audit, gravitate towards three to five themes or clusters you can put each content piece into. Identify each of these clusters by a phrase or individual keyword that occurs most frequently in the content.

Once you have done this, you will begin to get a sense of a first-person perspective on your brand positioning — based on existing content. Understandably, you may not like (or even agree with) this positioning status, but that’s not the purpose of the audit stage. This stage is only for identifying the state of the brand in terms of current content positioning.

Digital PR Step 2: Strategy

Threlkeld Communications Digital PR and the Content Distribution Ecosystem - Strategy image for digital PR Step 2

The natural next step is defining and setting a strategy. Your strategy should reflect the market realities you uncovered in your content audit. The market realities essentially point to your position and help define your positioning strategy.

The Principle of Positioning

The principle of positioning is often misunderstood. This means many marketers think of positioning as a tactical exercise. As if it’s something you do to a brand or product. But your brand or product position is really just a reflection of your place in the context of the competitive landscape. In other words, companies don’t position brands, products, and services — people do.

This is an important concept to grasp when you start planning your strategy. So, if you make the mistake of believing you define your position by declaration or sales speak, you will essentially be arguing with the market in general, and this is a battle that you will not win.

The facts and data you glean from the content audit will highlight where your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are. Building around these four foundational market realities is what’s know as developing a SWOT Analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Be realistic in identifying the components of each category, because, as the saying goes “garbage in, garbage out.” If you ignore the market realities in owning up to your Weaknesses and Threats for example, your strategy will send you on a fool’s errand.

All brands and products have areas where they can improve. So, listen to the market’s input, and identify where yours and your competitor’s Strengths are. With this, you’ll be well on your way to developing a strategy that will result in achieving your marketing and sales goals.

Digital PR Step 3: Keywords and Keyword Clusters

The next step in a successful Digital PR effort is to identify your core keywords, keyword phrases and keyword clusters. These are the general themes and “hooks” that relate to your brand or product. These themes reference the associations that match with your product or service.

Threlkeld Communications image of a keyword cluster structure as part of a content distribution ecosystem model for digital PR.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, has become a very popular and effective way to develop a keyword strategy. Your strategic approach to SEO should reflect the realities of the way that Google and other search engines see and rank your brand or product within the context of the market at large.

Google, and other search engines, have increasingly gotten better at understanding the broad context of your brand ecosystem as it relates to your content assets. This means that in order to be competitive in search rankings, your content must be organized and developed in a way that Google understands and rewards.

This is where identifying the keywords and keyword clusters closely associated with your brand pays off in the work you do in the initial stages of setting your strategy. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner or other services like MOZ and SEM Rush can help you identify the core keywords that the market associates with your brand or service.

Once you have a handle on these keywords and keyword themes, it’s time to decide if you are ranking (or positioning) for desired keyword associations. If not, or if you’re not ranking high enough for these associations, it’s time to work on your keyword strategy.

Keywords and Keyword Clusters

This means identifying the ideal keywords and keyword phrases you want to rank for, and beginning to systematically integrate those into content across the PESO media mix. Think of doing this in a campaign type of approach, which is what the Content Distribution Ecosystem is all about.

In other words, when you issue a press release that has a customer quote, take the contents from the customer interview. Make sure you’ve you’ve recorded the interview, and edit that into an MP3 file that can be uploaded as a podcast.

Use the contents of that interview to create an editorial-style PDF Q&A with the customer. Write a blog post about the customer and his/her use of the product. Next, create a short VNR (Video News Release) version of the press release that can be uploaded to YouTube or social media. You get the idea.

Digital PR Step 4: Optimization

Optimization is all about making sure that the cross-pollination of content in your PESO media mix will be understood by Google. This is where the concept of Keyword Clusters comes back into play.

Google’s bots are getting smarter every day at interpreting content contextually. This means that single keyword usage alone will not guarantee a high rank in Google any longer. Your content now has to be thematically sound, meaning Google’s AI-based bot sees contextual and thematic consistency in the content. Put another way, the content must be well-written and organized.

An essential part of the Optimization process is understanding the importance of thematic congruency across media mix properties. In other words, the themes and keywords used in your Google Adwords campaign should also be part of your press release, blog post, VNR, podcast, etc.

Google’s bots will be able to identify this contextual consistency across content platforms and reward your level of organization and optimization with higher rankings for each piece of content.

Threlkeld Communications Content Distribution Ecosystem Digital PR. Image of the structure of the content distribution ecosystem connected by SEO.

Digital PR Step 5: Publish

The era of the Brand-as-a-Publisher is alive and well today on the digital web. This means that brands that think like a formal publisher (ie a news outlet or television station) can oftentimes outrank the formal news channels in search and visibility.

Publishing content on the web has never been easier, as the more than 2-million published blogs a day attests. When publishing your content, it’s essential that you consider the “campaign” approach, releasing similar themed content pieces across media channels.

This multi-level publishing approach is the heart and soul of the Content Distribution Ecosystem. It’s called an ecosystem because the content is spread across the media landscape. But, it’s connected in terms of SEO value and thematic similarity. Think of SEO strategies as the glue which holds this content together across the broad content landscape.

The best way to publish content in the Content Distribution Ecosystem is by sticking to a regular publishing schedule. Consistency is key, because Google’s bots are continually scouring the web for content updates. And the more these bots recognize new content that is contextually connected, the more you are going to build your rank profile in Google.

To best organize your publishing approach, use a spreadsheet or a tool like Co-Schedule or Trello as an editorial calendar. This level of organization will help you stay on track in your efforts. It will also help avoid getting bogged down in dealing with inevitable distractions that will creep in to kill your momentum and progress.

Digital PR Step 6: Evaluate

Any program that you’re going to spend a significant amount of time and effort on should be tracked for ROI. And the Content Distribution Ecosystem model is no exception.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can track success in the CDE. One of the most effective ways is to monitor your place and movement in keyword rankings over time. This is particularly true for those keywords or phrases that you have identified as critical to your brand.

Use a tool like the Keyword Planner, SEM Rush, or MOZ to monitor the movement of your core keywords and phrases. Set goals for where you want to rank, but be realistic. Depending on the competitive nature of your sector and keywords you want to rank for, positive movement up in rankings can take months.

This is one of the key reasons why consistency in efforts is important. There are really no quick fixes when it comes to measuring higher in rankings over time. You just have to commit to the process and stay diligent with your efforts over time, and with consistency.

If you do this, you greatly improve the chances that you will be able to see your brand and rankings trending up for those keywords and phrases you have identified as vital.

Conclusion

The Content Distribution Ecosystem is the essence of what Digital PR is. It’s the process of creating and sustaining an influential presence on the digital web. By following the six steps I’ve outlined here, you will be able to create a content framework and structure that will see improved results in terms of visibility and ranking over time, for a long time.

Bill Threlkeld - Threlkeld Communications Inc

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, Inc., a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications, Inc. specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content.

Five Key Metrics to Track When Measuring Digital PR

Summary: How to measure Digital PR is a common question. Rightfully so! Traditionally, PR results have been difficult to measure and track. The emerging field of Digital PR is changing that. This blog post covers five metrics you can (and should) measure in a Digital PR program.

What is the Difference in Digital PR Versus Traditional PR?

Confused Guy What is Digital PR?

Before listing the top five things you should track when measuring Digital PR, let’s answer the question “How is digital PR different from traditional PR?” Actually, the two are more alike than they are different, but the differences create a wide gap between the two.

Both Digital PR and Traditional PR are used to raise awareness and support high-level positioning and/or strategic objectives. Both leverage the influential value of third-party non-paid endorsement. This is done through the use of writers, bloggers and influencers.

Digital PR Metric #1 — Backlinks

In the world of SEO, backlinks represent pure gold. Let me rephrase that — high-quality backlinks represent pure gold. To Google and Bing, a reputable site that adds a backlink to your content is a sign that your content is also high-quality. This is a great measure of how your digital PR campaigns are performing.

Measuring these backlinks is as easy as finding one of the free backlink checker tools. Services such as AHREFs, SEMRush, and OpenLinkProfiler and others offer free tools to check for backlinks.

One note of caution. The free backlink checker can also identify “toxic links,” those links associated with poor quality sites such as click-bait farms and offshore phishing websites. If you find toxic links in your search, contact the webmaster and asked to have them removed or, as a last resort, send a Disavow request to Google.

Digital PR Metric #2 — Link Clicks

Any content you produce, whether it be a press release, blog post, video, Facebook post, etc. should have an actionable component. The best way to do this is through relevant hyperlinks. And “relevant” is a key word here. Google measures the links in your content against the context or theme of the content overall. It uses this information to rank the content (up or down) in search.

So now that I’ve established the value of relevant links, how do you measure activity? One great way is to use Bit.ly for your links. Bit.ly is a free link shortening tool which allows you to track and measure engagement on the link itself. When someone clicks on a Bitl.ly enabled link, that click gets registered in the Bit.ly interface. This enables you to follow levels of engagement (day, time, subject, etc), which acts as a signal for success.

Another way to track link clicks is through Google Analytics. Obviously, you need to have Google Analytics set up on your website first. Once you’ve done that, you can log into the Analytics dashboard and look at the Referral traffic. This statistic shows what pages drove traffic to your site. You can use this to determine what content is working, and what is not in terms of your communication objectives.

Digital PR Metric #3 — Media Monitoring

A great measure of success is understanding where your brand or product is mentioned in third party content. An example of this would be a mention of your company in an industry roundup story in a leading B2B outlet.

There are a number of free and paid tools for getting this information. Google Alerts is a free tool that lets you enter a keyword you want to track (ie the name your new product or service). Once Google’s bot picks up that mention in a crawl, Google will send you an email notifying you of the pickup with a link to the coverage.

Other paid tools such as CustomScoop or BuzzSumo perform a much more robust version of this search analysis. For example, CustomScoop will let you sort pickups by outlet authority and then create a PDF report of that coverage.

BuzzSumo will perform a similar search, but also give you reference to the outlet’s social profile (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). This information helps you gauge the extended potential impact of the mention beyond the website mention itself.

Digital PR Metric #4 — Viewing Time

The longer an individual spends with your content — reading or watching — the greater the value. There are several great ways to measure the amount of time an individual spends with your content.

The first is through Google Analytics. In the Google Analytics report, there is a column called “Avg. Session Duration.” This is an estimated measurement of how much time an individual spent engaged with the content. Rather than look at the overall average for all pages, look at the Average Session Duration for individual traffic drivers, such as the Facebook page referral data.

For example, in the image below, traffic coming from Facebook spent an average 1:04 on the website (versus 1:16 overall). This tells you that the Facebook traffic performed slightly worse than all traffic. From this information, you could determine that you wanted to better optimize your Facebook posts to drive more qualified traffic — those who will stay on the site longer.

Viewing time for video content is just as critical to measure as that for written content. For example, on your YouTube Channel you can measure Average View Duration in much the same way you measure Average Session Duration for a webpage. Over time, you will begin to see trends in viewership that can help you gauge how to improve content for better engagement.

For example, if you notice in a video that viewership seems to be dropping regularly at 2:20 into your video, you will want to take a look at what is happening at that point in the video. Perhaps you shifted to a topic that viewers lost interest in. Or, you might determine that 2:15 seems to be the maximum attention span of your audience, so you can tailor your videos to be shorter to accommodate this trend.

Digital PR Metric #5 — Bounce Rate

Bounce Rate reflects the “stickiness” of your content. Again, this is a metric that you can review as part of your Google Analytics dashboard. Bounce rate is the percentage of single page visits (or web sessions). It is the percentage of visits in which a person leaves your website from the landing page without browsing any further. 

A high bounce rate — say 80% — reflects the fact that only 20% of visitors are staying on your site to visit another page. In most cases, this is a sign that your content is not connecting with your audience. Think of it as someone who is browsing in a mall and walks into a store to check it out. After quickly surveying the store has nothing of interest, that person leaves.

The Bounce Rate is very similar. You want to analyze the Bounce Rate to determine how engaging your content is, and edit pages as need to try and lower the Bounce Rate.

One instance where a high bounce rate may be misleading is with the blog component of a website. Often a reader will visit a blog to read about a single topic in the blog post, and then move on. When they do this, Google will record the single page visit as a Bounce, but in actuality, that person may have gleaned exactly what they were looking for in the post before moving on.

So be sure to take this into account when you are analyzing the Bounce Rate so you don’t “fix” something that is not necessarily broken.

Measure, Refine, and Measure Again

Measuring success of your Digital PR efforts is a dynamic process that should be done over an extended period of time. Don’t make significant changes in direction based on one or two months of data. At that point, you don’t have enough solid trending data to make a smart choice.

Some of the changes could be due to cyclical or market dynamics that are affecting all those in the market. In any case, it’s best to take a long view of measurement for the data to have the best results. Over time, as you measure, refine (based on results) and measure again, you should start seeing positive trends in your Digital PR and content marketing efforts.

And, with all things consistent in your operations and the market, you should see a rise in sales as your Digital PR efforts also trend upward.

Bill Threlkeld - Threlkeld Communications Inc

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, Inc., a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications, Inc. specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content.

SEO and Digital PR Strategy — Perfect Partners

Threlkeld Communications SEO and Strategy Master Image

An old saying goes like this: “If you don’t know where you’re going, every road will lead you there.” There is an alternative version of this saying: “If you think you know where you’re going, the road you’re on just might get you there.” In this blog post, we’ll take a look at establishing a strong SEO and digital PR strategy.

Both phrases characterize PR efforts when it comes to setting strategy. Most of us have been guilty of a “ready, shoot, aim” approach to marketing communications and PR in the past. More often than not, that sense of urgency we feel during the tactical phase of a rushed campaign is evident. It is being driven by the feeling that we have to pre-empt a sudden shift in the competitive market environment.

For example, let’s say the latest industry scuttlebutt is that your main competitor will release a head-to-head category killer competitive product next month. So, with panic mode setting in, you skimp on planning and rush up the launch of your product to address this sense of urgency. Before you know it, you’re only considering “mission critical” campaign components. And skipping important planning details isn’t part of an SEO and digital PR strategy.

What Is Your Strategy?

In other words, instead of spending time developing a viable competitive approach, your strategy simply becomes “go fast.”

Put another way, if the direction you’re heading in your PR efforts (aka your Strategy) is built on misinformation, you’re just going to get to the wrong destination a lot faster. How will you know this is happening? If key influencers, such as industry editors or bloggers, are not responding to your pitch emails or press releases, something is amiss. This means something is not resonating with your audience. And chances are you won’t have a strong sense of what that something is.

Too often, this uncertainty happens because, while in panic mode, you missed a key important step. You likely skipped performing competitive research. This is an essential step in being confident your messaging has a compelling edge or appeal.

Velocity Arrow with graphic for What is Digital PR Blogpost
Velocity is defined as speed in a particular direction.

But as I’ve zeroed in on in previous blog posts and podcasts, Speed is not necessarily your friend when it comes to SEO and a digital PR strategy. (Velocity is your friend — see this blog post.) Especially when the reality is that the road you’re taking might just possibly get you where you’re hoping to go. Maybe. Hopefully.

There is another way to recognize you’re off-strategy, especially once you’re in the tactical/implementation phase. Check to see if your social media posts or blogs are getting low levels of comments or shares. Content that doesn’t have any impact is rampant. It’s like the tree that falls in the forest when there’s nobody around … does it make a sound?

SEO and Digital PR Strategy: How to Head in the Right Direction

When it comes to digital PR, you must have a strategy that you feel confident will resonate with your audience. But this is so often not the case that it bears repeating. And it’s in this type of strategic planning environment where the concept of Velocity versus Speed really comes to light.

To illustrate, think of how we navigated from point A to B before the days of GPS and mobile apps like Waze and Google Maps. Navigation was handled via map printouts from services like MapQuest. These early Web 2.0 services allowed you to visualize a basic route from point to point.

But, as the saying goes, the map is not the territory. This became crystal clear when we encountered the unexpected traffic jam during the journey.

Mobile apps and GPS made digital mapping “smart.” The apps analyze traffic patterns and recommend the shortest route based on real-time analysis of traffic. When traffic clogged up on a street or road, et voila, the map app will direct you to another path that is clearer and faster.

The Solution: SEO and Digital PR

What is Digital PR blog post graphic
Digital PR versus Traditional PR

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) offers a great baseline for addressing this problem. When most people hear “SEO,” they tend to think of keyword optimization. This will help you rank higher in search. And to be certain, this is one of the key benefits that SEO brings to the marcom mix.

But SEO has equally strong benefits when it comes to setting a PR strategy. Using a service such as SEMRush, Moz, SpyFu or AHREFs, you can now diagnose the dynamics of the competitive market environment. With this in place, you can identify where the clogs are and steer clear through alternate keyword or content approach strategies.

Back to the map analogy. SEO processes such as backlink analysis and development and keyword analysis are like the dynamic traffic features in a digital map app. They give you real-time insights into the conditions of the market. With this, you can think about how to understand the market from a positioning perspective. This relates to how your customers, potential customers, and competitors are talking about the sector. From this, you can determine where the points of opportunity are, as well as the areas to avoid.

Using Keyword Analysis

By analyzing sector trends using keyword research, you can identify where the clogged or cluttered thematic areas are and steer clear of those. Just like in driving, getting stuck in content clutter is only going to slow you down in your goal to reach your communications objectives.

For example, take a tool like AnswerthePublic.com. It will identify actual relevant keyword search phrases being submitted. By analyzing these actual queries, you’re going to gain a much clearer understanding of how those that influence your position in the market — customers and potential customers — are acting and thinking about the space.

So, in summary, don’t just think of SEO and Digital PR as separate disciplines. Combine them to form a tactical approach to your visibility and rank-ability in search. Look deeper and from a higher strategic contextual point of view at the data you get. Then, you’ll be able to gather key insights into how to successfully maneuver in and around the competitive environment.

Bill Threlkeld - Threlkeld Communications Inc
Bill Threlkeld, Threlkeld Communications, Inc.

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, Inc., a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications, Inc. specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content.

Digital PR and the Velocity Effect

When we talk about Digital PR today it’s important to make the distinction between traditional public relations and digital public relations. And this is particularly true when it comes to the concept of velocity as it relates to digital PR. But that’s jumping ahead … first things first.

There’s a lot of confusion around the topic of digital PR and quite a bit a misunderstanding as to the differences between traditional PR and digital PR. I hope to clear some of the confusion up in this blog post.

I am going to cover two defining differences between traditional public relations and digital public relations in this post. But first it’s important to reinforce the primary purpose for public relations, whether digital or traditional. And that is with regards to the principle of positioning.

What is Positioning and What Does it Have to Do With Digital PR?

Many companies mistake positioning as being an actionable marketing activity. As if it’s something you do to a product or service. Because of this you often hear, “Let’s position X (the new product or service) as [this or that].” But the reality is that companies don’t position brands, products or services, people do. So your position in the marketplace is not necessarily what you say or think it is, but it’s what the market in aggregate says it is. This collection of these attitudes is what is known as share of mind.

Once you understand where the market has your brand or product positioned (and competitive research such as with a SWOT analysis or an SEO audit can help here), you are ready to set a strategy. A positioning strategy has two goals: a) protect and maintain that position; or b) shift from that position in a direction you want to move in.

Understanding a particular position (brand, product or service) before taking action is essential. It’s with this positioning mindset that digital public relations outperforms all other marketing communications disciplines. Digital public relations relies on actionable insights. And these insights are gleaned from a range of digital tools and services that help monitor and gauge the pulse of the market with regards to a product or service category. Understanding this positioning, or share of mind, from a macro standpoint lets you direct your public relations, or other marketing efforts in a pinpoint fashion.

How Is Digital PR Different from Traditional PR?

So back to the two primary differences between digital public relations and traditional public relations. These two components have to do with the point I just made about efficiency and direction when it comes to marketing communications.

The two components are Speed and Velocity.

Now we all know what speed is. It’s the rate at which something is moving. And historically traditional public relations has been reliant on speed for impact. Such as, “Let’s get our new product press release out quickly so we can break the news before competitors have a chance to react.”

To be sure, speed is an essential part of developing a competitive edge. And we all know the value of first mover advantage. But the problem with speed is that if you’re not 100% sure about the direction you’re going to move in, you’re going to get into trouble fast. And it may happen before you realize it. And then, it’s very difficult (and costly) to recover.

So that’s where Velocity comes into play. Velocity is a defining characteristic of digital PR. By definition, velocity is speed in a particular direction.

So to circle back to what I mentioned earlier about the value of PR insights. Especially those gleaned from digital tools and services that help gauge the pulse of the market with regards to a brand, product or service. Remember, positioning is something that consumers and competitors do. So gaining real-time insight into the realities of a competitive market helps ensure that you’re going to move with speed in the right direction when you take action.

What’s Next for Digital PR?

So does this mean traditional public relations is no longer effective? Not entirely, and it’s too early to predict the demise of traditional PR as an effective marketing communications tool. But that said, consider how many companies are still practicing “old school” PR. This means producing press releases, case studies, and other PR content and distributing it to the market based on best guesses when it comes to positioning.

It’s my belief that this tactic – moving quickly in a direction without market intelligence that confirms the direction – lies at the heart of why much content never gets any engagement or eyeballs. It’s because the content is not addressing topics and themes that the market is interested in at that particular moment.

So while it’s too early to predict the demise of traditional PR, the writing is on the wall. Digital PR allows you to move quickly and efficiently with velocity. In other words, speed in the right direction. This leads to greater impact, greater value and more targeted content marketing than you get with traditional PR efforts.

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, Inc., a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications, Inc. specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content.

Are SEO Specialists Replacing PR Specialists?

Threlkeld Communications Blog SEO Specialists

There’s a lot of buzz these days about SEO — Search Engine Optimization — and for good reason. The SEO discipline has transitioned from that of being a niche specialty largely handled by website designers and data analysts to one of an integral cog in the Digital PR and content ecosystem.

Essentially SEO is focused on improving the  odds that content, and that includes written or visual content, gets in front of a desired target audience. It’s very important to recognize that this is not the same as gaming the system using black hat processes as was done in the past before the search engines got smart. In an increasingly content cluttered landscape, the ability to analytically and efficiently help ensure your content won’t get missed is what is driving the rapid growth in SEO on the digital PR landscape.

The influencing factors driving SEO are the constantly changing proprietary search algorithms from search engines such as Google and Bing. These algorithms analyze content in real time and rank and categorize each piece of content with the goal of helping to ensure the right audience sees content that is relevant to it.

How does SEO fit into the world of Digital PR?

Let’s use a press release as an example. In the past, companies wrote and distributed press releases such as new product announcements using corporate speak and proprietary lingo that made sense to the internal audience, but generally had little relevance or appeal to the target audience. Because distribution channels were relatively few in the pre-web publishing days, basically limited to the newswire or email, this blast approach to a content strategy was accepted by default.

The web as a publishing platform changed all of that. Now, content published one place can stream to literally thousands of places instantly. This means increased competition for visibility, and this is where the search engines exert their influence by analyzing and ranking content.

So, for example, if the press release does not include key words or phrases relevant to the target audience (and I’ll explain more what this means in just a second), it will get ranked lower and receive less visibility because the algorithm has determined it’s not as relevant as other content that uses keywords best associated with the category or sector.

To put it another way using a familiar analogy as a springboard, content may be king but it’s relevant and engaging content that trumps everything.

So, to cut to the chase and the key question. Does this mean that SEO specialists are now the drivers of the discipline of PR? Absolutely not, and here’s why. The proprietary sophisticated search algorithms owned by Google and Bing grade and rank content on a number of criteria, and one very important one is content context and quality.

I know a number of top-notch SEO specialists, and with all due respect, while most are great at analyzing and optimizing existing content pieces and slicing and dicing relevant datasets, creative writing is not their specialty. Which means that, even though their content may be perfectly optimized in a lab for viewing, it won’t get read because it’s not interesting or creative. Content written purely with SEO in mind will come off as lacking emotion and appeal and a good litmus test of this type of content is when it’s not shared or engaged with.

What’s the Bottom Line for SEO and PR?

So the bottom line with regards to SEO for digital PR is that you need to focus on creative writing and relevance first and SEO second. And the process of writing — such as crafting press releases, blog posts or ghost writing bylines or OpEd articles, is what PR professionals do — and have done for ages — as a core part of their job. Plus, the search engine algorithms these days are getting very good at being able to “read” a block of content not only from an SEO standpoint, but also from a contextual and quality point of view.

To sum things up, when it comes to PR, you need an experienced writer first and foremost, and one that has a solid grasp of SEO second, not the other way around. Because content that’s not read or engaged with is not going to support your PR and marketing goals.

One last point when it comes to SEO and digital PR. Since context is so important, how does Google or Bing determine what is relevant and what isn’t? Think of it this way — search engines capture millions of searches daily. Each one of those search phrases is a nugget of contextual gold to the search engine. The search engine is essentially learning contextual relevance by what people type into search, connected to what link they click on based on the search results.

So while your old school press release might have referenced your new product by its model number and internal company description, the “PY-61 Ultra-light Aluminum Extruder,” an actual keyword phrase to use in the release could be something like “tool for creating a metal support beam.”

How do you find these search terms so you can know to include them? I use a number of paid Digital PR tools and services that streamline this discovery process. But Google itself yields strong insight through the organic search process. Next time you type in a search on Google, notice that Google will begin suggesting terms in the search box. This is Google’s way of telling you what terms in its database initially match the search you are performing.

Once you’ve identified core keyword associations, the challenging part is still to come – drafting a compelling and engaging piece of content. And that’s a process that is best left to an experienced writer, not an SEO Specialist.

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content

What is Digital PR?

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about Digital PR and cover a few key points about what Digital PR is — and what it isn’t — and how Digital PR differs from Traditional PR. This will be a basic overview. In a future blog post, I’ll go into more detail on some of the technical differences between the two methods, such as the importance of SEO, Backlinks and Keyword Strategy in a Digital PR program.

Confused Guy What is Digital PR?
How Is Digital PR Different from Traditional PR?

Historically, Traditional PR has been purely deadline driven. It’s focused primarily on outreach to editors and influencers based on the speed of getting a pitch or news release out quickly and beating the competition to the pitch angle or story. Traditional PR is often marked by a focus on cold call pitching to editors and writers, and this is known as media relations, with the component of fast-paced pitching and speedy activity driving the process.

Digital PR is also deadline-driven and recognizes the need for speed — that requirement that news and new product information get into the market as quickly as possible to maintain relevance. But a major difference between Digital PR and Traditional PR is a keen focus on ROI that enhances the concept of speed and incorporates the component of velocity.

Most of us are aware of the importance of speed, or reaction time, with regards to marketing communications. Speed is the rate at which a pitch or press release gets to editors and influencers. Velocity also centers around the concept of speed, but with the added component of direction. Velocity is defined as speed in a particular direction, and this is the major difference between Digital PR versus Traditional PR. It’s a more focused and directed approach, with speed remaining a key ingredient.

Another way to put this is that Digital PR is a much more efficient approach, with greater value because the ROI can be measured, where this is difficult to do with Traditional PR.

Digital PR uses digital tools and services to identify the optimal places for outreach — the direction to go with your efforts if you will — as opposed to relying on guesses or perceptions on which direction to go with a pitch. Traditional PR is the style of PR that has been practiced for decades, and it typically centers around the distribution of a press release announcement.

In a Traditional PR outreach effort, a press release announcement is first drafted. Next, the press release gets distributed one of two primary ways.

Should I Use the Newswire For Digital PR?

What is digital PR - Threlkeld Communications blog post

The first is via the newswire. Newswire services have been around since the days of newsrooms and an environment where editors got breaking news information sent directly to them via a discrete stream known as the newswire. Newswire services such as Businesswire, PRNewswire, Marketwire, PRWeb, and others have cropped up over the years to provide a way to distribute news via the newswire.

With a newswire, you pay to have your press release uploaded to the newswire feed and the press release would then be distributed, eventually reaching an editor or writer. If that editor or reporter deemed the information relevant, it might get picked up and run as news.

As the Internet developed into a robust broadcast medium, the newswire gained popularity with marketers because the feed was also distributed via the Web directly to mainstream news outlets. This content was automatically placed in new sections on many online sites. So, for instance, if your press release went via the newswire, it might also appear in the online version of USA Today or the New York Times.

The benefit of this direct-to-source distribution approach was short-lived, however. A few years ago Google decided that those news releases distributed via the newswire and picked up by outlets via the Internet were no longer deemed as credible news sources. So Google changed its indexing algorithm which meant that news distributed via the newswire was no longer picked up online. And this happened almost overnight, catching many marketers off guard.

Even though the newswire’s primary benefit as a digital distribution medium dropped with the non-indexable nature of news releases, newswire services had a business model to maintain, so cost for the newswire remained high while the value dropped significantly, and quickly.

Even though the value of the newswire as a news distribution source has diminished, many companies still resort to the newswire as part of a PR program due to a lack of understanding of how to get news out. So, for many companies today, the use of the newswire falls in the category of, “…it it feels like I’m at least doing something to help promote my brand…” But the reality is there’s just very little value in the newswire these days, especially as a news distribution mechanism.

The second way press releases are typically distributed in a Traditional PR approach is via blast email. And much like the newswire, this is typically a shotgun-style approach to media outreach that, in theory, puts the press release in front of key potential influencers. But the problem with this email distribution approach is that there is a lot of waste in terms of those recipients on an email list who either have no interest in the release or ignore the email altogether because of the blast distribution approach.

Typically these blast emails are sent to legacy internal PR media lists that are kept in a spreadsheet, and the reality is that, with the turnover in the reporting/media pool an all-time high today, these lists become out-of-date very quickly. So much of this type of email distribution effort is wasted.

Also with regards to results and results measurement, Traditional PR coverage has typically been quantified by what’s known as “Outputs.” Outputs is essentially a listing of places where coverage appeared over a given period of time. In the past, measuring and reporting Outputs as a measure of ROI was better than nothing, especially for clients who wanted to understand some of the benefits that PR was delivering.

Speed Versus Velocity in Digital PR

As mentioned earlier a key benefit of Digital PR versus Traditional PR can be seen through the differences between speed and velocity. Also as mentioned earlier, speed is the rate at which something is able to move. By definition, speed is one-dimensional — it doesn’t take into account the direction of the speed.

Velocity Arrow with graphic for What is Digital PR Blogpost

Velocity by definition is the rate at which something moves in a particular direction. So velocity is a much better measurement of the impact of PR outreach because it takes into account a course of direction along with the pace of activity. So Digital PR is all about PR moving with speed in the right direction. The right direction means focusing on, identifying and connecting with influencers that you already know have an interest in the subject being pitched and a history of writing about this topic.

Digital PR is based on the process of using digital tools and methods to efficiently identify current opportunities for coverage. The key word here is efficiently. The ability to identify relevant opportunities in the media, whether that’s via a roundup story of products or services in your sector or placement of a press release in a new product section of a leading B2B outlet is a primary benefit of digital PR over traditional PR.

What’s the value of identifying coverage opportunities based on past articles? The answer to this question and Digital PR’s ability to address it lies with the principle of Positioning. By definition, your brand’s position in the marketplace has its greatest context with regards to competitive brands and products in your space.

A key principle of positioning is this: “Companies don’t position products and services … audiences do.” So your position in the competitive market is heavily determined by that of your competitor’s place in the competitive landscape. So, when an article such as a roundup story showcasing primary products in your category shows up and you’re not listed, that is a positioning problem.

Digital PR has the ability — through the use of digital tools and services — to identify where this type of coverage is occurring and to address the gaps in those places where your brand or product may not be appearing. For example, let’s say your company makes Bluetooth keyboards for use with tablets or iPads. And a roundup story on the best Bluetooth keyboards on the market appears on a site like reviewgeek.com. And let’s say that your product was not included in the roundup story.

In a Traditional PR effort, there’s a good chance that this opportunity would go unnoticed because media digging and uncovering of opportunities such as this is not generally part of a Traditional PR program’s scope of work. But a Digital PR consultant would use a service such as BuzzSumo to scour the media landscape for articles on the topic. And once found, the next step would be to locate contact information for the Review Geek writer. Most Traditional PR consultants don’t have a way to identify writers like this except to do manual searches on Google, which can take a significant amount of time and eat further into the into the retainer fee.

Using a Digital PR media database tool like Cision, a Digital PR specialist or consultant could search for a list of writers associated with the outlet. Once a targeted writer is identified, an email pitch and press release can be sent informing that writer about your Bluetooth keyboard model and brand.

Oftentimes, the writer will appreciate the outreach, creating the opportunity for that writer to go back and edit the article to include a link to your product. So this is an example where initially coverage on your product did not appear but using Digital PR tools and processes to identify an opportunity and follow up with outreach resulted in highly valuable PR coverage.

One more important thing to note with the Digital PR process. Let’s say you pitch an editor via email and after the story was published. Now what? In a Traditional PR environment, you cross your fingers and hope that the pitch email got opened and read. You have little to no insight on the editor’s interest in the pitch in this case.

In a Digital PR approach, you would use an email service with the ability to track email opens on the backend so you would know if and when the email had been opened. This would lead to valuable insight into the increased awareness opportunities created by the email on that subject … if you know an email has been opened by an editor or influencer, this means your follow-up pitch call or email can be more productive because you have insight into the recipient’s awareness of the subject.

Additionally, by using trackable linking services such as bit.ly in your press release or email pitches, you can also gauge the level of knowledge or interest that an editor has taken with regards to the pitch subject. So if you see the email has been opened and trackable links have been clicked, it’s relatively safe to assume that the editor has taken an interest in the subject, and this opens a door for additional coverage and conversations down the road.

Digital PR Tools and Services

Finally using digital services such as SpuFu or SEMRush you can analyze key opportunities for increased backlink and keyword content development. One of the primary benefits of Digital PR in the web publishing era is the benefit that backlinks offer once a story has been published.

These backlinks bring greater ranking value to your website in the Google search ecosystem, which means that your successful Digital PR efforts are not only driving additional traffic to the website but increasing value in the Google search ecosystem at the same time.

So in summary, whether it’s a Traditional PR approach or Digital PR approach, both are focused on the pure value of what PR brings to the marketing mix, and that’s generating non-paid third-party endorsement coverage of your brand, product, or service.

And while Traditional PR has worked well for this in the past and continues to have some value in today’s content-rich environment, Digital PR has emerged as a much more robust and effective way to create and build awareness for your brand or product and help move the needle in a measurable way towards the sales and marketing goals that that you set.

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.

Public Relations and the Content Marketing Funnel

Public Relations and Content Marketing Funnel

In this blog post, I will address two issues: what does a successful content marketing funnel look like, and what role does digital PR  play in making a content marketing funnel successful?

First, let me address what a content marketing funnel is. According to analyst firm Forrester, on average, a person consumes 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchasing decision. In many cases, these potential buyers are at the very early stages of buying. And particularly the bigger the sale item is, such as a car or a camera, the longer the time it will take for the sale and the more research a prospective buyer is likely to do.

The content marketing funnel identifies the customer journey part of the buying process from start to finish. It’s a systematic way to introduce and nurture new leads and prospects through the buying process, ultimately resulting in buying your product or service.

When it comes to identifying the core components of the content marketing funnel, I’m going to focus on three basic components. These are the Top of the Funnel, Middle of the Funnel, and Bottom of the Funnel. I’m going to spend most of the time talking about the Top of the Funnel in this blog post, but before doing that I’ll give a brief description of what each component is.

Top of the Content Marketing Funnel

The Top of the Funnel is the early-stage part of the buying process where the goal is to capture your audience’s attention. In this stage you typically want to make an impression via some type of value-added content that can answer questions or address specific problems a buyer might have, while helping position your brand or product as a leader in the category. The driving factor behind the Top of the Funnel stage is building brand awareness.

Middle of the Content Marketing Funnel

The Middle of the Funnel stage is where you convert prospects and visitors to potential sales leads. This is the stage where prospective buyers have done their initial research and are beginning to make some sort of soft commitment to your brand. Most often this is in the form of an email address or a phone number. Or some sort of communication channel that bridges the gap between the potential buyer and you.

The key point to make with regards to this stage is that the currency exchanged in the Middle of the Funnel is Trust. When a prospective buyer gives you their email address or phone number in this stage, they do so with the expectations that you – the brand or services provider – will respect their right to privacy and not begin bombarding them with calls or emails right away.

Bottom of the Content Marketing Funnel

The Bottom of the Funnel is the area where your leads are converted into actual customers. Some might say this is where you close the sale, but since that phrase smacks of hard sell techniques, I prefer to say that the Bottom of the Funnel is the place where you and a prospective buyer agree to formalize a relationship through the act of a sale.

Public Relations and the Top of the Content Marketing Funnel

So let’s segue into the discussion on what role Digital Public Relations plays in the content marketing funnel overall. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, Digital Public Relations coverage by definition is nonpaid third-party endorsement of a product or service.

Let me illustrate this further by giving you an example. Let’s say you’re in the market for a new DSLR camera. And let’s say that you are at the very early stages of the buying cycle so you really haven’t done much research or know much about the new cameras on the market.

What’s the first step you might take? If you’re like most buyers — and remember, these are people who may look at almost 12 pieces of content on average before buying — there are two actions you’ll likely take. The first is to talk to friends or friends of friends and get recommendations or insights on the new camera market. This is known as word-of-mouth and because of the trusted relationship component – friends or friends of friends – word of mouth is considered one of the most powerful predictors of eventual new product purchases.

The other action you’re likely to take is to begin doing research outside of your close circle of friends. This research could take many forms but most likely will involve starting with a search on Google for keyword associations related to your new camera purchase.

In addition to a Google search, you might visit the newsstand of your local bookstore and search for photography-related magazines that relate to the new camera purchasing process.

In either case – the Google search or the magazine – both will lead you to read nonpaid third-party editorial coverage, such as a blog with reviews targeting people who are buying a new camera, or a magazine such as a Consumer Reports new camera buyers guide.

So where does the process of Public Relations come in here? In many cases, the third-party editorial coverage that you read in a photography magazine could have been triggered by a pitch to an editor from a public relations professional.

It is this early Top of the Funnel stage where digital public relations efforts and public relations professionals can have a significant impact on what happens further down in the buying cycle. For example, if you’re like most buyers, you will more than likely be influenced by a nonpaid third-party review of a camera prior to buying it.

In the tech world, this editorial review type of coverage is what has driven the popularity of sites such as CNET. The CNET site is heavy with visitors who are doing research on what new tech products to buy, and a lot of the new user visits to CNET has to do with the editorial credibility the brand has built up after years of trustworthy, non-partisan reviews.

The word trustworthy is worth noting here. I define public relations as nonpaid third-party endorsement coverage and it’s the nonpaid component that makes a site like CNET so reliable. CNET editors (and other reputable sites like it) do not take money in exchange for Point Of View reviews or articles.

The editors typically have built up a solid reputation as a source of knowledge for that industry sector or product category, and the fact that they don’t take money for the review gives their editorial a significant amount of weight and relevance. It’s important to note here that, while editorial departments (for the most part) don’t take money as a way to influence reviews or coverage, a traditional practice has been for these sites to sell advertising to fund the editorial direction and content.

And while advertising also falls in the Top of the Funnel category as an influence and awareness-building tactic, I will not be covering advertising as a Top of the Funnel awareness approach in this blog post.

So back to the preliminary research stage for new product purchases in the Top of the Funnel sector. Public-relations coverage, whether it be something like an editorial Roundup story, a press release or other PR generated piece of content, has a powerful impact in the initial awareness building stage. This is because of its third-party endorsement component, which is essentially based around a third-party outlet such as a magazine or blog publishing the content rather than your brand publishing the content itself on its own website or online property.

So from a tactical perspective here’s how you would go about integrating public relations to help influence top of the funnel activity. And there are a number of ways to do this, but I’m only going to cover two for the sake of brevity.

The first is via a press release distribution, and as I’ve discussed in past blog posts this could be one of two forms – a new product announcement release or a positioning release. Both are very different in their purpose but are similar in their style and distribution methods. If you like more information on what a positioning release is, see my past blog post at this link. For simplicity sake, I’m going to assume that most of us know what a new product announcement press release is.

The second tactic that’s effective in building top of the funnel awareness has the potential to be even more powerful than a press release distribution. And that’s what’s called in the PR discipline media relations outreach.

In a nutshell, media relations outreach is identifying the influencers in the third-party outlets – these would be editors or bloggers that are covering your sector or industry – and influencing them to write about a particular topic or subject that has relevance to your product or service. I call it influencing the influencers.

Now, there’s a fine line with regards on how to do this, and it’s not recommended that you start picking up the phone or sending emails to editors or bloggers at will. There are best practice guidelines for pitching the media directly, and if you haven’t had experience doing this it’s best left to a PR professional or someone who has experience. Otherwise, editors – because of the enormous amount of pitches and email they get – will quickly blacklist you if they determine that you are pitching them on a topic or subject without following best practice guidelines.

That said, a good pitch at the right time can have an enormous and powerful impact. For example, let’s say you’ve discovered that at about this time last year and influential editor in your sector wrote a story about a topic that is relevant to your business sector. And note that using digital PR tools like BuzzSumo or CustomScoop can help you do this type of research. After finding the relevant article from a year ago, a savvy PR person would locate the writer who wrote the story and reach out to them in a neutral pitch style to suggest that they consider a follow-up story from the year before.

Assuming the editor still has interest in the subject, and it’s likely a good bet to guess that this is the case, the PR pitch has just opened the door for your brand to be part of the new coverage. So, this is an example of how media relations can be used generate third-party editorial without sending press release or other information to an editor.

So to wrap up let me sum up what I’ve said. In a three-stage marketing communications funnel, the Top of the Content Marketing Funnel section is where awareness building and brand building happens. This is the stage where new prospective customers are doing research and starting the buying process. In this awareness stage, Public Relations can have a huge impact on initiating potential customer down a particular path – one that puts your brand or product top of mind during the research phase.

As a nonpaid third-party endorsement practice, Public Relations has the ability to get the buyer started on the right journey towards buying your product. And this hopefully can end up in a long-standing relationship between you and that buyer as your brand continues to deliver on the promises you offer once a customer has put trust in you.

In a future blog post, I’ll go into more detail about how an optimized Top of the Funnel effort can still result in failure or less than optimal results in terms of sales. But for now, suffice to say that assuming that the Middle of the Funnel and Bottom of the Funnel sectors are equally optimized, you will see your marketing communications and PR efforts producing great results.

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns, also known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.

What is a Positioning Release?

Threlkeld Communications Blog What is a Positioning Release

Most of us are familiar with the new product press release. Not nearly as many are familiar with the positioning release, which will be the focus of this blog post. Historically, the press release has been used by companies to introduce new products and services to the media. In the recent past, this generally meant sending the release to an editor or journalist either via email or the newswire.

The new-product orientation of a press release means that news distribution is generally dictated by the number of new products launched. Because most companies can’t or don’t launch new products weekly or monthly, new product press release distribution by nature is sporadic at best.

Since staying top of mind with media influencers (editors, bloggers, etc.) can mean the difference between getting mentioned or not in editorial coverage such as a roundup story, it’s important to create a regular cadence of information that keeps your brand top of mind with editors and influencers.

Enter the positioning release. It’s a document that is sent to media influencers that is written and formatted like a press release, without the purpose of announcing a new product. A positioning release is used to reinforce or build awareness of the essence of your brand or product while relaying new information about your brand or product to create value and relevance.

A positioning release is intended to fill in the visibility gaps that can occur between formal product news release announcements, but in a way that still adds value to the reader. A good example of a positioning release would be one focused on a customer use case of one of your current products, leveraging the value in a customer’s testimonial or endorsement of the product or service.

Listen to the Podcast

Since staying top-of-mind with editorial influencers is one of the keys to consistent earned media coverage, the positioning release non-intrusively reinforces the core value proposition of your brand or product by giving the editor a compelling context as to the viability of your product to the market he/she writes about. By leveraging the value in a user’s story or endorsement of the product in a positioning release, you create a connection to the viability of the product with regards to the market, and as a product that is in use by customers in that market.

Here’s how you would go about creating a brand advocate positioning release. First, look through your customer database to find a brand advocate that you know uses and loves your product. If you don’t have a formal list of these types of customers, you can also monitor your social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter to find customers who contribute comments to share their positive experiences with your product.

Next, reach out to that customer in an initial call or email to find out if they are authentically enthused about the product. Assuming they are, the next step is to schedule a brief phone interview with them. In this interview, use a list of prepared questions that highlights not only their enthusiasm for the product or brand but also elicits comments that reinforce core branding attributes.

Capture key customer comments from the interview that you can use as quotes in the positioning release. The positioning release copy could start with a paragraph about the product and its key features and its benefits. Then, finish the paragraph with a quote from the customer that reinforces the value in that feature/benefit from the customer’s perspective.

It’s important to remember that a positioning release is intended to inform and educate, not be a hard-sales piece. So resist the temptation to include sales-speak and hyperbole and just stick to the facts. A primary goal of the positioning release is to highlight your customer’s enthusiasm for the product and/or brand. Use links to your website in the release to follow-through on any sales opportunities created.

Once you’ve created the release (and don’t forget to get your customer’s approval before any further steps), you’ll need to prepare it for distribution. I recommend two key ways to do this, as well as one to avoid.

First, since the positioning release is intended to influence the influencers (editors, bloggers), get a list of these influencers (if you don’t already have it) and email it to them directly in a personalized manner. A very important point: editors get hundreds of emails every day, and most are either nonrelevant (blast email pitches) or veiled sales pitches. Not only will these get ignored, but they will also get you black-listed, diminishing the chance for any coverage down the road.

Send the positioning release with a very brief introduction to the editor. It’s best to include the text of the positioning release in the body of the email. Note that it’s considered a PR best practice to avoid sending email attachments in general unless the editor has asked for it.

It’s also a best practice not to send a follow-up email to the editor to find out if he/she got the release. There are two digital PR practices I use to help gain insight into whether or not an editor has taken an interest. You can use an email service such as Drip or MailChimp to send the email. Both of these services offer back-end analytics that indicates if the email has been opened, and how many times.

A second digital PR approach to analytics is to use Bit.ly for any links in the release. A Bit.ly link will track clicks on a link in the email, which also will tell you whether or not an editor has taken an interest. You can generally assume if the link was clicked, there was a level of interest that triggered the action.

Another way to leverage the visibility and value of the release is to put it on your website, whether in the form of a blog post, or a dedicated link from a Press area of your site. This is always a good step to take with any release – Press Release or Positioning Release – as it helps with SEO because the Google indexing process likes to see content updated on the website regularly, and all the better if that content is deemed relevant, meaning it has contextual value to the products or services you sell.

Finally, I recommend that you avoid putting the release on the newswire. Putting a news release on the newswire is still a common and costly mistake that many companies make. It’s one that will result in little value with regards to the goal of the release as a positioning tool. Google’s latest algorithm ignores press releases distributed via the newswire, so there is little if any SEO value in doing this.

Additionally, a newswire distribution, particularly one with a wide net target such as the entire U.S. can quickly become very expensive. Especially if the release is over 400 words, as newswire services charge more for longer releases. So in general, it’s a best practice to avoid using the newswire for positioning releases.

In summary, the goal of a release distribution strategy is to create a regular cadence of relevant information for the influencers who can publish the release or include the information in a roundup story. In a Digital PR strategy, a positioning release is a great way to to go to fill in the natural editorial gaps that will happen as your product introduction cycles dictate when to send official new product announcements via a press release.

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns, also known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.

What is the Content Distribution Ecosystem?

Threlkeld Communications - Content Distribution Ecosystem

The days of a public relations program’s success being judged by the number of press releases sent via the newswire or en mass via an email blast are long over. Still, that hasn’t stopped marketers today from throwing lots of money and time at these old-school tactics – ones that have little or no ROI or value in today’s digital-centric media environment. Why is this?

Simply put, it’s because these approaches were very effective in the traditional media distribution environment of the past, where publishing company influencers such as editors and journalists held the keys to coverage and visibility.

The Internet, and particularly the weblog, more commonly known as a blog, changed all of that. As disruption due to web publishing and blogs accelerated, marketers – and many PR consultants and professionals – refused to acknowledge the shift to the emerging digital media landscape and stuck with tried and true tactics old-school PR tactics. Too much money was still being made by these old-school service providers that were tapping into the confusion brand marketers had, and not enough ROI was being demanded by clients to force a change.

Fast-forward to today’s web-centric publishing environment where print publications and newsrooms are being decimated and editors and journalists come and go weekly. No longer can a PR professional rely on a network of editorial “friends” to promise coverage to a client. Where visibility of your news release was a challenge in the past based on an editor’s decision to run it, today, with over 2-million blog posts published every day, much of the content produced and distributed via the web gets buried under a mound of clutter. Content visibility is still a problem, it’s just that the point of influence has shifted from the gatekeeper to the fire hose.

The Content Distribution Ecosystem is a PR-based brand publishing approach that addresses this new publishing environment. It leverages the power of PR as a non-paid third-party endorsement practice while leveraging the power of web publishing to amplify media mentions and brand-published content.

The Content Distribution Ecosystem is built around the benefits of the Integrated Marketing Communications model. Integrated Marketing Communications, or IMC for short, focuses on the visibility and impact you get as a brand publisher as brand messages are consistently delivered across multiple marketing channels in sync for maximum impact.

This dynamic reflects the power of synergy. Synergy is defined as “…the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” Put in even simpler terms, the Content Distribution Ecosystem is like a 1+1=3 approach to marketing communications.

Threlkeld Communications Content Pod

Here’s how a Content Distribution Ecosystem approach works. Ultimately, between four to eight PR content assets are created and distributed, in a synchronized manner, all with a similar message. These individual content components become part of an integrated content “cluster.” Think of the release of this cluster of similar-themed content as an integrated PR campaign.

Tapping into the power of an influencer’s voice as the centerpiece of the PR cluster campaign, I interview one of your customer advocates via phone or Skype, where we talk about your product or service and their love for the brand and product. That interview is captured as a digital audio file and edited and produced into a short 8-12 minute podcast. This is then uploaded to any number of digital media distribution platforms, including SoundCloud, iTunes, Libsyn, Stitcher, to name a few.

I transcribe the audio interview and create an editorial style Q&A interview in PDF form, complete with pictures, logos, and any other brand element. The layout is designed to mimic the feel of an editorial article.

Next, I draft a press release using support points and quotes from the interview. The press release is pitched to targeted media – editors, bloggers – via a personalized one-to-one email method using a media database service I subscribe to that gives me access to individual journalist’s email and phone number information. The digital nature of email means that activity on the emails sent to these influencers can be tracked in terms of opens and link clicks, two activities that communicate the journalist has taken interest in the pitch, a good sign that would lead to a follow up call or email.

A branded infographic is created using third-party research on the industry sector tied to the product announcement. A blog post is also created, using the infographic as one visual. The blog post is uploaded to your website and the Facebook pixel is installed for the potential promotion of the news on Facebook.

Also, I produce a VNR (Video News Release) version of the press release. This is a short less than 2-minute video version of the press release, using images of the product and featuring voice-quotes from the customer obtained in the original interview. This VNR can be uploaded to any number of video hosting services such as YouTube or Wistia.

Threlkeld Communications Cluster Diagram

Now, here’s where the power of the Content Distribution Ecosystem really becomes evident. Because all of the content components in the PR cluster originated from a single customer interview, there is clear consistency and integration in the messaging strategy as an individual reads through or listens to content in the cluster campaign.

And, each component in the campaign is cross-linked and/or hyperlinked to encourage multiple levels of exposure to the messaging. For example, after reading the press release, an individual would click to the PDF Q&A interview with the brand advocate. From that PDF, an individual can click on a link to the audio podcast, which references the infographic and related research. The blog post has links to the audio podcast and an embedded version of the VNR.

In the Content Distribution Ecosystem, there are actually two levels of distribution from a brand publishing perspective. The first is the organic distribution of the individual pieces of cluster content – a press release via 1-2-1 delivery to journalists, a podcast uploaded to Libsyn or iTunes, for example.

The second level of distribution comes via brand social media platforms. Each content component in the content cluster also gets distributed via social media, such as links to the press release, podcast, and other materials Tweeted or posted on Facebook or LinkedIn. And even better if your website is structured in such a way to host each content cluster on a page on your website. This way links promoted on social media push traffic back to your site, details of which can be captured through the Facebook pixel or Google Analytics code.

Since, when uploading the blog post on your website, Facebook pixel code was also installed, this means you can leverage the content and visibility through your Facebook marketing efforts for very little money. To learn more about leveraging the Facebook pixel, read my blog post on this topic.

In summary, the increasing amount of content clutter on the web is making it harder and harder for brand marketers today to get exposure via traditional PR methods. The Content Distribution Ecosystem addresses the shift of influencing point in the media landscape to digital publishing and offers brands a way to continue to tap the third-party endorsement power of a strong Public Relations program.

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns, also known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.

Three Ways To Optimize Your Content Marketing Program

Threlkeld Communications Content Marketing Blog Post

Are you happy with your content marketing efforts? In a recent survey of thousands of marketing leaders, less than 30% said “yes.” But the surprising follow up to this question? Over 90% said they planned to continue their efforts!

It’s clear there’s a desire to utilize content marketing to support brand and sales goals. But inefficiencies and confusion are causing many to waste money on content marketing efforts that just don’t work.

The Content Distribution Ecosystem is a process I’ve developed over the years to address these inefficiencies and bring greater value to the content marketing landscape for companies. The Content Distribution Ecosystem, or CDE for short, does this by focusing on three core principles in content development — Content Mining, Content Recycling, and Content Association.

Content Mining

Movie production is famous for it’s cutting room floor – the place where scenes that were shot but deemed to not be relevant or contribute much to the story get discarded. Directors shoot a lot more content than they need knowing that much of it will not be used. From a content perspective, this is a very inefficient way to produce material because of the enormous amount of time, effort and money that gets wasted on content that will not get used.

Judging from the survey results, this same process tends to happen in many content marketing programs, and it’s generally due to lack of strategic planning and foresight as well as inefficient processes. For example, in writing a press release let’s say you want to have a customer quote included as a third-party endorsement component. So you contact a brand advocate, and in a 15- or 20-minute phone call acquire a two-sentence quote that you can use in the release.

Related Link: Content Marketing in the Age of the Disloyal Customer

But what about the rest of that conversation? Even though it’s likely that the influencer shared many great points about your brand or product, and probably with strong emotional appeal, most of that content (and the emotional edge) goes on the cutting room floor because your mindset was focused on looking for a 2-sentence written quote.

The process of content mining leverages the impact of this type of call by capturing all of the content the customer shares, weeding through those quotes, and finding ways — beyond the 2-sentence press release quote — to utilize the interview assets. This can be done in the form of an audio podcast (you need to record the call obviously), video soundbites, a transcribed Q&A document, to name a few.

Content mining optimizes the time and effort spent in creating content and digs around to find many different ways to maximize the value of the third-party content you acquire.

Content Recycling

We’re all familiar with the broad concept of recycling. The dictionary defines recycling as “…the process of converting wasted material into usable material.” Content Recycling is an extension of the concept of Content Mining and reinforces the efficiencies that an approach like the Content Distribution Ecosystem addresses.

Content Recycling is the re-use of material in other components in a content marketing campaign. It is the primary driver for optimizing efforts beyond a one-dimensional content marketing approach. For example, that quote that you got for the press release can now become the trigger for a second (or third) related content companion to the press release.

For example, let’s say you recorded the call or in-person interview with your customer-brand advocate. You used a small written soundbite from that interview as a quote in the press release, but the rest of the interview is also probably full of great content in support of your brand and/or product.

Click the play button below to listen to a podcast version of this blog post.

Why not recycle that quote and the interview into other content assets, such as a podcast, a customer profile blog post (using many more quotes from the interview), a Facebook post featuring the customer and their business and use of your product?

The concept of Content Recycling focuses on optimizing efforts spent in creating content, bringing more value and efficiencies to your content marketing program in the process.

Content Association

Content Association relates to leveraging one core asset — such as an interview with a customer-influencer — across multiple components of the content campaign. This process essentially creates the “Ecosystem” foundation of the Content Distribution Ecosystem.

For example, after the influencer interview you’ve done, you create a press release, a podcast, a blog post, a Q&A PDF and a video profile on the influencer’s business. This is what I call a Content Cluster with regards to the Content Distribution Ecosystem, and as more of these clusters are built around a customer-brand advocate interview, you will begin to build an extended ecosystem of connected content.

The content is connected because each component in the cluster is cross-linked via hyperlinks or URL references. For example, in the press release (with the single short quote) you could add a line such as, “To check out more of our interview with [Influencer], click this link. And that link could be a PDF with a transcribed version of the interview. And, from that PDF, you could offer a link to a podcast version of the interview. And so on across the cluster of content.

This cross-association between content components increases impact because, since all of the cluster content came from a singular interview, there is consistency and repetition (two very important concepts needed in persuasion or awareness-building) integrated across the campaign.

In summary, most content marketing programs are ineffective due to inefficiencies in content creation, waste in the overall process, and lack of strategic vision and direction from the outset. The Content Distribution Ecosystem concept uses the principles of Content Mining, Content Recycling and Content Association to address these deficiencies in a measurable and impactful way.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Content Distribution Ecosystem could enhance your content marketing efforts, please send me an email. I’d be happy to speak with you further about this unique approach to content marketing.

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns, also known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.