What Cision’s 2017 State of the Media Report Tells Us About the Future of PR

With the media landscape constantly evolving, it’s essential that all PR practitioners are aware of current trends and shifts in order to remain at the forefront of their industry. In practicing digital public relations, it is particularly important to be aware of how journalists’ preferences are changing to better engage their growing online audience. Cision, a media communications database, recently released the results of their annual State of the Media Report, which surveyed more than 1,550 media professionals about their preferred practices, biggest challenges and trends to be mindful of. Here are some of the key takeaways from this report.

Know the journalist’s beat before you pitch

According to survey results, 51 percent of journalists reported pursuing a story because of a displayed knowledge of their work, a 16 percent increase from last year.State of the Media ReportBut how can public relations practitioners accommodate these preferences in a practical way?

  1. Create specialized pitches for industry-specific publications and research each outlet to find one reporter that is most likely to pursue your pitch. This way you’re targeting niche publications in a strategic and efficient way.
  2. Create a master list of reporters you have already established relationships with for each industry. This will not only make your life easier when trying to find specialized reporters, but they will appreciate you respecting their beat.
  3. Take one reporter from a few top publications out of your media list and do the necessary research to really personalize those pitches. Maybe reference an article they recently published or trend they often write about. By doing so, you’re showing a vested interest in them and establishing yourself as a quality resource. Even if you may not land an opportunity that time, it will build the foundation for a lasting relationship. Who knows, they might reach out to you again for a similar story in the future.
  4. Take advantage of resources like Help a Reporter Out (HARO), where reporters post story ideas and request reputable sources for them. By using this database, you have the opportunity to find specialized story topics that will leverage your expert sources while increasing your chances of successfully landing an opportunity.

Get creative with multimedia

With the news shifting to become shorter and more interactive, journalists are searching for elements to use in their stories that will both entice and engage readers. Nearly 70.5 percent of survey respondents reported almost or always incorporating multimedia into their stories, and they ranked the type of multimedia that they value the most as follows:

  1. Photos
  2. Social Media Posts
  3. Videos including YouTube
  4. Infographics
  5. User Generated Content – Videos Photos
  6. Web Polls
  7. Live Stream / Blogging Embeds
  8. Data Interactives
  9. Animated .gifs

Photos, social media posts and videos come as no surprise as the most integrated multimedia elements in stories, but this presents a major opportunity for infographics. Infographics are useful to not only support a pitch with facts that are presented in a captivating way, but they can be used as a lead for a story as well. But what if certain reporters don’t accept infographics? It never hurts to ask what form of multimedia they prefer to receive and make note of that so you don’t keep pitching them with content they’ll never use. Respecting and valuing their preferences will pay off because knowing what they commonly utilize for their stories will make them a great resource for future opportunities.

Provide valuable and differentiated resources

Journalists are constantly being pitched with press releases and new story ideas, and while survey results show that this is their most valued resource, it’s essential that PR professionals find a way to break through the noise and stand out with their pitching ideas. One way to do this is to tie the lead to something trending in the news or to an upcoming event, which we refer to as news and time pegs. This not only shows that you did your research, but that you are stepping in as a valuable resource by providing a fresh perspective to a bigger story. Expert interviews and story sources were ranked as the second most valuable resource to journalists, so make sure to constantly check resources like HARO for these specialized opportunities. Finally, always be sure that you are presenting ready-to-publish content that helps establish yourself as a credible source. This means going through your pitch and checking for accuracy, grammar and AP style, and being sure that each hyperlink works.

 

Ariana HeadshotAriana is a soon-to-be graduate of San Diego State University and current member of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). As a journalism major with an emphasis in public relations, she brings both traditional training and fresh ideas to Circa as their digital public relations and content marketing intern. Her creativity and passion for storytelling contribute to Circa’s digital public relations presence.

 

8 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Press Release

As I discussed in my previous article, press releases can be an extremely effective tool when you are looking to promote an event or news within higher education. The potential impact of a press release goes far beyond this though, and should be an essential part of your overall public relations strategy. As defined by Entrepreneur, a press release is “a public relations announcement issued to the news media and other targeted publications for the purpose of letting the public know of company developments.” These short, compelling documents give your university’s latest developments a platform to be seen and discussed within the larger media circuit. However, if you do not include key elements in your press release, it is unlikely to be picked up by your target audience and your reach will diminish. Here I will discuss some key tips for you to consider when writing and distributing your next press release.

1. Make sure your story is newsworthy

Is your press release going to excite those within the industry? Does your news provide value and relate to larger industry trends? These are questions that you should be thinking about before you distribute it to the media. Innovative, exciting developments and research within your university make ideal topics for press releases. One of our clients recently announced they are developing a virtual reality application with the aim of improving mental health care, an incredibly innovative idea that appeals to a several popular media topics. We immediately saw this as an ideal opportunity to help raise awareness about the institution and the cutting-edge work that they’re doing through a press release.

2. Grab attention with the headline

The headline of a press release, as with that of an article headline or subject line within a pitch, is pivotal if you are to successfully pull in journalists and editors. Of course, it is important for your headline to be accurate and give the reader a strong idea of what is to come, but you also want to ensure that it is engaging and makes them want to read on. There are three best practices to follow when writing your headline: 1) Be unique – you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. 2) Be specific – give the reader detailed information to ensure they understand what you are presenting them. 3) Be beneficial – the headline itself must provide a benefit to the reader and show that the information is useful.

3. Include quotes

To increase your validity and credibility, it’s critical to include quotes from at least one high level source who is directly involved in the story. These quotes should provide greater insight and perspective and can also lead to further media opportunities for the expert and institution.

4. Remain relatable

It is important that you do not confuse the reporter or reader with your press release. Therefore, the language used should not be overly complicated, as much of your audience will lack the specialist knowledge required to understand the finest details. If there are terminologies that are complex, then explain these as if you were speaking to somebody who does not work within your discipline. Make the content simple, straightforward, and easily consumable for a general audience. 

5. Stay Concise

A press release should not exceed more than a single page and should only include the most pertinent facts. If the press release leaves them wanting more information, then they can reach out using the contact information provided in the press release.

6. Include a pitch

When distributing your press release, be sure to write a media pitch as you would if you were looking to create a traditional PR opportunity. The pitch is where you can really sell the story and the relevance of it to the publication’s audience and interests. Make sure to paste the press release below your signature as a journalist may not have the time or want to open an attachment.

7. Customize to each target audience (when applicable)

In order to maximize your chance of press coverage, you should tailor the press release to fit each audience when there is more than one. For example, we recently distributed a press release on the topic of virtual reality and mental health for one of our clients. Clearly, there is a both a technology and health angle here. You should be targeting both audiences and should alter the pitch and press release to ensure it relates directly to the industry you are pitching.  

8. Capitalize on link building opportunities

A press release provides you with an excellent opportunity to gain greater brand awareness as well as positively influence SEO. By including a link within your press release that takes the reader to the corresponding homepage or landing page, you will increase the chances of media outlets linking back to your target site which will in turn help to boost rankings. 

 

George has recentGeorgely joined the Circa team in California following the completion of his master’s in marketing management and strategy degree, where he graduated with distinction from Plymouth University in England. George is a PR and digital marketing specialist who is passionate about creating high level opportunities for professors within national publications. 

3 Ways Higher Education Marketers Can Leverage the 2016 Presidential Election

We are one month from the first presidential debate, and the 2016 election has already proven itself to be one of the most digitally reported and discussed elections in the history of the United States. In fact, over the past 12 months, Americans have spent over 1,284 years reading Donald Trump related content on social media. As we all know, the internet and social media are changing the way Americans interact with presidential candidates, and this provides an enormous amount of content marketing opportunities. The 2016 Presidential Election creates a variety of opportunities for higher education digital marketers to promote their schools and programs, and I’ve put together three ways that digital marketers can leverage the news cycle to build high quality backlinks. 

Leverage Your Professors

Throughout the election, candidates are asked to provide insight on a number of issues ranging from civil rights to the federal budget to foreign policy. These topics may be the focal point of a professor’s area of expertise which digital marketers can leverage when seeking PR opportunities.

When leveraging professors, it is important that digital marketers clearly articulate the value that professors can provide reporters. Professors are often the thought leaders of their industries and niches and can provide high-level insights that have yet to be published. For example, the release of Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation, which places a major focus on investing in computer science and STEM education, provides Circa’s PR team with the opportunity to leverage our engineering, computer science, and other STEM-related professors for articles providing expert commentary on what Clinton’s initiative could mean for the STEM industry, as well as its potential impact on the future of our education system.

Another way to leverage your professors is through HARO. For those that don’t know, HARO (which stands for Help a Reporter Out) is an online service designed to provide reporters with quality sources for upcoming stories and sources with the possibility to obtain media coverage. Those who have signed up for HARO as potential sources receive daily emails featuring a list of reporters seeking quotes or insights for upcoming articles. If an article seems to fit a professor’s area of expertise, all a PR specialist needs to do is respond to the email and pitch the professor by noting the expert angle or insight that she or he could provide to the story.

As campaign coverage continues to gain speed, there will likely be an increase in HARO opportunities with reporters seeking academic or professional insight, so if you haven’t signed up for HARO yet, it is certainly worth exploring.

Create Resources Highlighting the Election

Being one of the key events of 2016, the Presidential Election is a prime time-peg that higher education digital marketers can use in creating resources for their schools and programs. There are a number of different angles to take when creating resources. Some of the most popular include:

  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • GIFs

For those that don’t know, visual resources are great for creating informative, yet appealing content, so infographics would be particularly good for highlighting the election. There are a few different ways to highlight the election through infographics, which would include leveraging content on a topic candidates are discussing (Ex. cyber security) or creating an infographic on the election, such as this one on social media and presidential campaigns.

Within the creation process, keep in mind that the main goal of infographics is to build links back to your program, and the best way to build links is to create intriguing content that provides value to the viewer. Sometimes value can come from a unique angle, newsworthy content or reliable statistics; other times it can be through a graph or visual that highlights an intriguing contrast. Either way, be sure that your graphics provide value of some kind so that viewers will be more inspired to share them with their network.

Add to the Social Commentary

Whether it’s a insensitive statement or previously unreleased documents, every day it seems as though there is a new story involving Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And while journalists report the initial story, higher education digital marketers have the opportunity to leverage this content and add to the social commentary. For those that don’t know, social commentary is considered an act of expression that comments and thus expands upon a social issue within society. If this sounds complicated, it really isn’t. In fact, adding to the social commentary can be as simple as sharing a news story or quote on social media platforms and asking followers to share their opinions. Higher education digital marketers could also take this a step further by including a quick quote from a professor on the current political issue.

Regardless of what approach is taken, it is important that a call to action (CTA) is included at the end of the social post. This CTA doesn’t necessarily have to be anything complicated, just something to encourage the reader to share their insight or opinion.

If the election coverage continues to progress at its current pace, there may not be a more consistent time peg than the 2016 Presidential election, so digital marketers would be wise to leverage this opportunity as much as possible for their schools and programs. No matter what approach you take, make sure to clearly position your programs and professors as the leaders within their niche. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be creative and have fun with whatever method you choose.
Have you been leveraging the presidential election in your digital marketing efforts? If so, what has worked for you? We’d love to hear your insight!

Tyler Putz of Circa Interactive Tyler is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.

A Step-by-Step Guide on how to Leverage University Events for Your SEO Strategy

Universities throughout the United States regularly host events and conferences with the intention of bringing awareness to certain topics and causes, while simultaneously building upon their thought leadership within the industry. However, while more organizations and institutions are beginning to leverage online tactics to promote their events, many are still missing out on a key opportunity to build links to their event, which will in turn help with rankings and visibility for the program. Here at Circa Interactive, we have found that using university events and conferences as an SEO and link building tactic can be a very effective strategy in boosting our clients’ rankings and brand awareness. The reason that this strategy is so successful is because featuring relevant industry events can provide great value to a publication’s readership. For example, we recently acquired twelve links over a ten day period for a brain summit hosted by one of our university clients, which clearly proves that this strategy can be a powerful and effective one. Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can achieve the same results for your university program events, including but not limited to: conferences, conventions, exhibits, and university tours.  

Start with Event Websites

You should begin by targeting national event listing sites as these will be relevant to every event that you host and serve to create easy link wins. Many of these sites simply require you to send them the details of the event, along with the URL, so that they can verify whether it is a legitimate event. This is a great tactic to obtain your first batch of links. These links are also likely to be diverse in comparison to many others you may have in your portfolio, thus further increasing the value of these placements. A diverse backlink portfolio with a variety of high quality wins is seen as a positive indicator to Google and will therefore be beneficial from an SEO standpoint. Some national event listing sites that I would recommend starting with are: lanyrd.com, conferencealerts.com, and eventbrite.com.

Write a Press Release

The concept behind a press release is to share newsworthy content with relevant contacts. This should be used to accompany your link building efforts. If possible, also factor in how this press release will work best from an SEO perspective and how a search engine will recognize your keywords. Your press release should elaborate on the details of the event, discuss the target audience, and note who the key speakers are. Also remember to include any contact information so that media outlets can obtain more information if needed. Alongside this, remind the media contact why this topic is important in a wider context. This can be achieved by using a news peg that is closely associated with your event. Prior to our client’s brain summit, a report stated that the rate of ADHD diagnosis had risen 5% each year since 2003. This data signified the importance of continued brain research and enabled us to provide media contacts with an additional reason to publish information on the event. A press release has the potential to spread far and wide because many media outlets pick up stories from other local media sources. If you can find a few sites that are willing to post your press release, then this could create a ripple effect and you might end up with a number of placements in a short amount of time without having to manually acquire all the placements yourself.  

Look for Local Links

A big part of your strategy should be to target sites that report on news in the area where your event is being held. Being featured on the main page of newspapers, tourism sites, and local news sites can be difficult, but securing a link placement in their events section is certainly possible and very valuable. This provides a great opportunity to land a diverse set of links that may have been otherwise been very difficult to attain. News outlets are also more likely to be interested in an event that is being hosted in an area that they regularly cover and that is of interest to their readership.

Target Industry-Specific Sites

In addition to targeting sites that report on local news and events, it is important to pitch your event to industry-specific sites. If your event is based around the topic of mental health, then it makes sense to target blogs and news sites that cover mental health related topics. However, you should not solely limit yourself to these confines and should not be afraid get creative and expand your outreach whenever possible. Reaching out to sites that cover other medical related topics would not be too far fetched in this case. If you can position the event to be relevant and valuable to the publication’s audience, then you will have a better chance of getting a media placement and link out of it.

Conduct a Competitor Analysis

You are unlikely to be the first organization that is hosting an event or conference related to your specific niche. Discovering where similar events have been posted is a surefire way to find websites that you know are willing to post this type of content. Again, if you are hosting a conference on mental health, searching for simple keywords like “mental health conferences” in Google will enable you to find a host of previous events on this topic. You can then conduct a competitor backlink analysis for each event to discover which sites linked to them. There are a number of tools out there that can be used to conduct this analysis, but here at Circa we use Moz. You simply need to enter the event’s URL into Moz’s Open Site Explorer search bar and from there you will be able to view all inbound links to that particular URL. Moz only allows you to have three free searches a day unless you upgrade to Moz Pro. However, you can test out this software with a 30 day free trial. Once you determine which sites are good quality, a competitor analysis will provide you with an important set of leads to go after. One easy way to help determine which sites are high quality is to reference the information provided alongside the list of inbound URL’s, which includes the domain authority (DA) and the spam score. The domain authority ranges from 1-100, and the higher it is, the better and more high quality the site is. Conversely, you want the spam score to be as low as possible. By finding and targeting sites that have posted similar event information in the past, you will likely save time and resources on outreach while also increasing your success rate.

Follow Up After the Event

Even if you have acquired a respectable number of links prior to the event, your outreach shouldn’t stop there. Some of the best opportunities will come after the event, which is particularly relevant following a conference. The findings from a conference are often a great source of content for media outlets. Conducting searches on Google and social media will help you find individuals who have been talking about topics that relate to your event. Creating a new page on your website which discusses and dissects the findings will also help you to gain links following the event.

George has recentGeorgely joined the Circa team in California following the completion of his master’s in marketing management and strategy degree, where he graduated with distinction from Plymouth University in England. George is a PR and digital marketing specialist who is passionate about creating high level opportunities for professors within national publications. 

How to Write a Media Pitch (with Examples)

Pitching compelling story lines and sources are the crux of any PR strategy. In the higher education digital marketing space, we leverage the expertise of professors from the programs that we partner with to help increase the school’s visibility, student enrollment, thought leadership, and brand awareness. For us, this is primarily an SEO and link-building tactic to help boost program search engine rankings and visibility. Professors make excellent sources for stories through their unmatched level of expertise and experience in their respective fields, but without the correct messaging and communication strategy, this may never come across effectively to the media when pitching them. Regardless of the industry that you’re in or represent, knowing how to effectively craft a pitch for the media is the most critical step to success in PR and content marketing. Here are some tangible tips and examples that will help you become a PR pitching pro in no time and write a persuasive media pitch.

Create an Effective Subject Line 

Subject lines are the first and sometimes only thing that a media contact will see–often times determining whether they will even bother to open your email or not. Ensuring that your subject line is clear, concise, and enticing are some of the most important elements. While many would assume that shorter subject lines work best, especially considering the character restrictions of mobile devices, a report from Marketing Sherpa actually found that subject lines with 61 to 70 characters had the highest open rate. This proves that you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to cut down your subject line, as it can actually be beneficial to have a longer one. While creating a subject line that entices the media to want to open your email should always be the goal, make sure that you don’t use “click-bait” phrasing as a tactic to draw the recipient in as this may leave a bad taste in their mouth and hurt the chances of them opening your future pitches. The last thing you want to do is mislead them or appear spammy.

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Use Timely News Pegs or Research

Don’t do yourself the disservice of not using relevant news pegs or research as your hook for your pitch. It’s no secret that the media lives off of news pegs, trending topics, and new research to tell their stories. To increase the chances of someone showing interest in your pitch, it’s important to make their job as easy as possible; it’s a good idea to help to spell out the story for them so that your source or story fits in seamlessly with trending news topics and their target audience’s interests. Reporters and editors receive hundreds of pitches every day, so providing them with a story that their readers will be interested in and offering sources to help supplement that story will make them more compelled to move forward with the conversation. Along these same lines, always try to include hyperlinks to any research or statistics that you reference in your pitch. You don’t want them to shy away from expressing interest or continuing the conversation simply because they don’t have time to do the legwork to track down the sources themselves. When pitching a source for a story, I recommend abiding by this same rule of thumb and hyperlink to their bio page to provide more context and information on their specialities and background in case they’re interested.

Know the Reporter’s Beat

You can have the best pitch in the world, but if it doesn’t align with the reporter’s beat (the types of stories they cover), then it will provide no use or value to them. In fact, it will only blatantly show that you are sending out mass email distributions and aren’t doing the appropriate research and legwork before pitching them. While it’s not always realistic or feasible, personalize pitches whenever possible and mention any related articles that they recently wrote.

Keep it Concise & Know your Story

As I mentioned earlier, media contacts receive hundreds of pitches a day. If you’re lucky enough to get yours opened, the worst thing that someone with very little time can be confronted with is an unnecessarily long pitch. Find out how to say everything that you need to say in a paragraph or less (with rare exceptions). The more specific and focused you can be, the better. It’s also crucial to understand and communicate the story you’re trying to tell and how it aligns with the larger media trends yet provides a unique angle to the storyline. Here’s how our typical pitch is structured:

News peg (lead)

Introduce and tie in source you are pitching (faculty member in our case)

What unique value or insight can they provide to this story (angle of the story)

Thank them for their time and consideration

 

Following up is Key

Following up on initial email pitches is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. This is where most of your interest and responses will come from, so ensuring that you schedule reminders to do so is vital. It’s good to wait around one week until you send follow-ups out; this will ensure that the media contact has sufficient time to get through their emails and respond if they are planning to. If the story is incredibly time-sensitive, it’s ok to follow-up a bit sooner. Similarly, if it is not a time-sensitive story at all, then waiting a little longer than a week is also fine. Include your original pitch at the bottom of your follow-up email to help jog the recipient’s memory and provide more context for them. To see more about how to follow up on a pitch, see my example below.

Pitch Examples:

Initial (cold) pitch:

Hi [NAME]

A recent report pointed to the frightening reality that hackers using ransomware on medical devices could pose the biggest–and most dangerous–cyber security threat in 2016, with insulin pumps and pacemakers being some of the devices most vulnerable to these risks. For this reason, I wanted to see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME], a leading encryption and cybersecurity expert, DARPA contractor, and a professor in NJIT’s Computer Science program. He has been conducting research on security and homomorphic encryption of embedded medical devices and can discuss the severity of this looming threat and the ways that we can leverage new protection techniques against this potentially fatal new cybercrime tactic.

Please let me know if you’re interested. Thanks for your time.

Caroline Khalili
Circa Interactive
circaedu.com

Follow-up pitch:

Subject: Re: Just Following Up: Medical Device Ransom is Biggest Cyber Threat of 2016

Hi [NAME],

I just wanted to follow up and see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME] about the dangerous and inevitable threat of medical ransomware.

Thanks for your time. Any feedback is appreciated.

Caroline Khalili
Circa Interactive
circaedu.com

On Mon, Dec 21, 2015 at 6:38 PM, Caroline Khalili caroline@circaedu.com> wrote:

Hi [NAME],

A recent report pointed to the frightening reality that hackers using ransomware on medical devices could pose the biggest–and most dangerous–cyber security threat in 2016, with insulin pumps and pacemakers being some of the devices most vulnerable to these risks. For this reason, I wanted to see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME], a leading encryption and cybersecurity expert, DARPA contractor, and a professor in NJIT’s Computer Science program. He has been conducting research on security and homomorphic encryption of embedded medical devices and can discuss the severity of this looming threat and the ways that we can leverage new protection techniques against this potentially fatal new cybercrime tactic.

Please let me know if you’re interested. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Caroline Khalili
Circa Interactive
circaedu.com

Pitch for established contact/relationship:

I hope all is well. Thanks again for featuring [NAME] in your article on ICD-10. I wanted to reach out about a new story and source that I thought you might be interested in:

According to a new study, approximately one-third of radiology recommendations that need additional clinical action are not followed through on, and almost half of those orders are not even acknowledged. This is a deeply concerning finding that can have significant adverse effects on patient safety and outcome. This points to need for better communication with physicians and patients and more advanced IT systems and procedures in place to help ensure that important diagnoses or recommendations don’t get missed. For this reason, I wanted to see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME], a professor of Radiologic Technology at the University of Cincinnati and a member of the Board of Directors for The Association of Educators in Imaging and Radiologic Sciences. [NAME] can discuss the common missteps that lead to these errors and the ways that healthcare professionals can reduce the chances of this occurring.

Please let me know if you’re interested in speaking with [NAME]. Thanks for your time.

Caroline Khalili
Circa Interactive
circaedu.com

To learn more about our digital PR services, read here: Digital PR.

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team, and she has worked with partners such as HP, Cisco, and Adobe. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.

5 Reasons Why Digital Public Relations Should be a Part of Your Marketing Budget

Within higher education, digital marketers are lucky, because we have access to professors who are thought leaders on the cutting edge of their respective field. Clearly, professors are incredible resources for their students inside of the classroom, and outside of the classroom, professors function as brand ambassadors for their programs and the larger institution. Of course, marketing teams are aware of a professor’s value in order to attract students, and they build videos and web assets around them to create trust and illustrate value. But when it comes to student generation, are marketers effectively leveraging professors to accomplish larger organizational goals, such as increasing organic rankings, acquiring traffic to their website, and creating new touchpoint? What is clear about higher education digital marketing is that even in 2016, when changes in the SEO and social media industry have forced marketers to rely on the highest quality content, professors are not being leveraged effectively. Here is what they’re missing:

Marketing teams can utilize their professors to acquire more students by leveraging traditional public relations practices for a digital world. This is commonly referred to as digital public relations.

Digital public relations uses the larger media in order build brand awareness, increase the thought leadership for professors and university stakeholders, improve organic rankings, and, ultimately, generate more students. In order to illustrate the importance of digital public relations for higher education digital marketers, I created a list below that focuses on why all higher ed digital marketers should strongly consider incorporating digital public relations into their marketing strategy and budget.

 

1. Digital Public Relations Influences Search Rankings

Digital public relations is the best way to build the highest quality backlinks, which serve as indicators—or votes—that convince Google your site is relevant, trustworthy, and valuable. These indicators will in turn help to place your university program higher up in the search engine results page (SERP). When you land a backlink from a domain authority of a website that is strong, then that helps to strengthen your own website. (The higher domain authority of a website, the more value for Google.) The larger media landscape is one of the best avenues to land high quality backlinks, because they have incredibly strong websites, and they are constantly looking for content.

By leveraging faculty members, a skilled communications team can build stories around professors and pitch them to the mainstream media as sources. It’s very difficult to acquire a profile in the Wall Street Journal or CNN, but a digital public relations team can pitch professors to take part in a larger conversation. For instance, as the news broke on the controversy between the FBI and Apple over an encrypted phone, a digital public relations team can pitch their professors in criminal justice and computer science to provide expert commentary on the story. Reporters will include quotes from the professor, and the public relations team will ask for a link within the article. To see more about our successes, you can read the following article: Tracking digital public relations with SEO goals.

Byline articles are another way to leverage faculty members to create high quality backlinks. (It’s best to have a team who understands how to pitch articles to publications, and it takes someone with a background in journalism or public relations to land these types of opportunities.) In order to build backlinks at high quality publications, the team will pitch article ideas generated in collaboration with the professor to editors. By collaborating with the professor, the team will send an approved article to the editor, and in the bio information on the site, the professor can add the link. The best communication teams provide ghostwriting services.

Expert commentary and byline articles are essential strategies that digital public relations teams implement to reach the highest quality publications, and by landing a link on these sites, it will help build your site’s domain authority as well as send indicators to Google that your site should be higher in the search results. Students will then find your program organically for your targeted keywords, which creates leads without spending any money.

 

2. Increase Brand Awareness

Online education is more competitive than ever, and one way that your program can position themselves in front of your targeted audience is by creating media opportunities at publications with large reaches. By leveraging publications that are trusted, you’ll establish your program as being on the cutting edge of their industries. This will send signals to potential students that not only are the program’s professors actively engaged in the research they’re teaching, but show prospective students that they will be a part of the most relevant conversations and receive an education that will propel their careers. This type of publicity can serve as an opportunity for a prospective student to interact with your brand in a unique way.

While many online programs have marketing strategies that focus on creating interactions with potential students through landing pages, social media, and websites, those brand assets might not initially convert the student because of a lack of clout. Brand awareness and trust can be an issue. Digital public relations begins to create interactions with potential students by leveraging vetted organizations in order to build upon their brand. By interacting with prospective students in a natural way, the message will sink in easier, and the brand assets as well as the larger content marketing strategies will only be strengthened.

 

3. Create a Path for Students

As digital marketers, we’re always trying to imagine the research process of how prospective students come to make a decision about signing up for an online degree program. When a student searches for information about a degree program further along in their decision process, what will they find? Will they simply come across the program’s web assets—or will they find that their program is in the news and that their professors are not just engaging in an academic community, but that they are trying to tell their program’s story to a larger audience?

Digital public relations changes the way that a student researches a degree program by creating a new digital narrative. For instance, a prospective student will benefit by encountering a story about a professor who is quoted in a larger article at the Los Angeles Times, discussing the future of their profession. Perhaps they will remember a professor’s name in the Wired article on the future of 5G technologies. Perhaps students can also come across how a professor is a part of the evolution of digital education and dedicated to creating the optimal environment for students to grow. Or perhaps a prospective student will benefit from seeing a profile highlighting a professor’s advancement in their field based on a new grant. What digital public relations helps with is creating a path, an outline, for students to follow in their research, which illustrates the career options they will have when they graduate.

 

4. Build Relationships with Professors

One of the thoughts that many stakeholders consider when investing in digital public relations is whether or not a marketing team can handle the complex nature of the academic world. In order to have professors invest their time into a digital public relations strategy, they need to trust the team they are working with and know that they will represent their work in the highest regard. So a digital public relations team working in education must have the ability to understand and translate complex academic topics into something that would make sense for the mainstream media.

It’s essential that digital public relations professionals are experts in the art of turning complex academic jargon into something more informal and journalistic. Often, our team has found that professors have no idea how to change their style, so we help them learn to tell their stories in a way that can attract major media outlets. Our team accomplishes this by staying up-to-date on industry trends, interviewing professors the same way a journalist would engage with them, and doing our homework on a professor’s research and background so we can prove to professors that we can not only represent their university but their own personal brands.

But most importantly, we help professors shape their stories outside of academia, and this often creates great relationships with the team and the professor. They value our hard work and expertise, and when professors see their names or bylines in leading publications, they appreciate the value of a larger marketing strategy. Digital public relations benefits both the program and their professors by supporting their research and academic interests. This helps bridge the gap between the marketing team and the individual stakeholders that make up the program. The more a professor’s work is promoted, the more they become thought leaders in their industry, and they will be sought after by other journalists and editors, leading to the opportunity to create new backlinks and touchpoints.

 

5. A Long-term Investment

When it comes to deciding how to spend resources in a marketing budget, the fundamental question every stakeholder wants to know is: What is my ROI? With paid search, a stakeholder in an online program can see how their money is being spent in the short term and evaluate their cost-per-lead as well as their cost-per-acquisition and quickly understand whether or not their strategy is working. While this is an essential part of the larger strategy, a diversified marketing approach will take into account how to leverage all available tactics and try to think about ways to maximize the budget spent on paid ads.

Digital public relations is different than paid search in the sense that it is a long-term approach, and it is essentially free advertising. By building up the number of touchpoints potential students have with your brand as well as the number of backlinks from high quality publications, digital public relations helps online university programs increase their organic rankings, and students will naturally find the degree program without paying for keywords or social impressions. It’s a strategy that pays long-term dividends when it is a part of the larger digital strategy, and it’s an worthwhile investment in the long haul.

To learn more about our digital public relations strategy, see our process here: Circa digital public relations

 

JoeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

5 Tips for Successful Media Relations

Developing strong and mutually beneficial relationships with reporters and editors is crucial to being successful in digital public relations, and it can make the job much more seamless and efficient. While it takes time to develop relationships with reporters and editors, the payoff from these relationships will be more than worth the investment. Here are five ways to ensure that your PR strategy is performing at an optimal level by pitching smarter, not harder.

Do your research and personalize accordingly

To make a good impression, it’s essential to research and understand a reporter’s beat before sending them a pitch. A beat refers to the topic that a reporter covers. For example, a reporter could cover something broad like crime, sports, or nursing, or it could be even more specific like the city hall or a local sports team. By taking an in-depth look at the stories they’ve covered and the articles they’ve written recently, you’ll be able to get a thorough understanding of the stories they’re most interested in and will therefore have a much better chance of pitching them something they’ll be receptive to. Also, sending them a pitch that does not coincide with their beat can be an obvious giveaway that you haven’t done your research and are instead just sending generic emails to multiple reporters, which could hurt your chances of working with them in the future.

Including a relevant news peg or recent research at the beginning of your pitch is essential to capturing a reporter’s attention and can entice them to continue reading. Sending information that is even slightly inaccurate will instantly send signals that you’re an unreliable source.

Follow up, but bide your time

Follow-ups are a crucial part of the pitching process; journalists are extremely busy people and it can be easy to for them to miss an email or simply forget to reply. It is important to wait long enough to give them time to respond but not so long that the story is no longer relevant. Waiting one week is a good rule of thumb, unless it’s a very time-sensitive subject, in which case it’s OK to follow up a couple of days sooner.

Follow-ups should only be a few sentences long and contain keywords from your original pitch, such as a news peg, statistic, or source, that will help to jog a reporter’s memory of your angle. You should also include the original pitch at the bottom of the email in case they want to refer to the more detailed version. A follow up email should always have a slightly different subject line while also incorporating the original one. For example, using “‘just following up” or “last try” tends to increase the open and response rates to your pitch.

Finally, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone when it makes sense, but always be mindful of a reporter’s time zone. You don’t want to call them early in the morning or late at night. Showing that you have an understanding of their schedule and are respectful of their time will go a long way in building a long lasting relationship.

Track pitches and wins

Keeping a list of media contacts that you have developed a professional rapport with can be a great way to maintain relationships and land easy PR wins in the future. It’s important to send these contacts personalized pitches and reference any previous work that you’ve done with them. This will help to show your appreciation for the media placements they have helped to facilitate and ensure that they remember who you are. You should be pitching these contacts often enough that you remain relevant in their mind but not so often that you are flooding their inbox, which tracking your pitches and contacts will help to manage.

Be timely

When working with the media, speed of response is critical to success. You cannot sit on a journalist’s response for a couple of days, or even a few of hours in some cases, without potentially losing the opportunity completely. Even if you don’t have a concrete answer for them right away, it’s important to at least let them know that you’re working on it so that they don’t seek out someone else instead. Not responding quickly is a sure fire way to damage a relationship with reporters and editors. You will only have one opportunity to get it right, so clear communication with everyone involved is vital.

Be prepared

Reporters may come to you just before they are about to wrap up an article requesting items like bio information and/or a headshot for a source you’ve helped to connect them with. Having these types of resources on hand at all times will ensure that you don’t delay the reporter or their article. As you build relationships, try to remember how specific journalists work and whenever possible, stay one step ahead of them by anticipating their needs or requests before they even ask. If you are able to do this, you are sure to be a contact the reporter will want to work with again.

George has recentGeorgely joined the Circa team in California following the completion of his master’s in marketing management and strategy degree, where he graduated with distinction from Plymouth University in England. George is a PR and digital marketing specialist who is passionate about creating high level opportunities for professors within national publications. 

How Digital Public Relations Can Build High Quality Backlinks

Building high quality backlinks is a major component of any SEO strategy, and over the last two years, we incorporated a new approach to acquire those backlinks: Digital public relations.  Our process is simple: We leverage faculty members’ expertise and research to create media opportunities with the goal of getting a program link included. Our goal is to land placements in some of the best publications in the country (and the UK [Not an easy task]) in order to create a branding opportunity for our professors as well as build quality links to our programs targeted page to influence rankings and organic traffic. We created a visualization of our successes for nine master’s degree programs (some of which weren’t running the full year) and whether or not the publication added a link. We wanted to compile a list for other individuals running digital public relations for SEO purposes to have a guide on what publications add links — and those that don’t — as well as share other valuable information. Following the visualization, we have jotted down seven conclusions we drew from this analysis.
Digital Public Relations and Backlinks

1. General Insights from our Digital Public Relations Strategy

For the media placements we landed in 2015, the average Domain Authority (DA) was 72.42. During the year, the total potential reach of each publication resulted in a net of 919,690,441 unique monthly visits. (We actually only saw a small percentage of that traffic.) Our goal was to align DA and unique visitors per month and analyze any correlations. Our probability of acquiring a link after publication was 66%.

2. Best Sites for Landing a Link with a DA over 90

Landing an opportunity with a link for a publication over a DA of 90 is incredibly difficult, but we have found that the best site to accomplish this goal, so far, is the Huffington Post. It’s also great because once accepted as a blogger, you can create and post as many articles as you want. This is a great strategy when you incorporate some growth hacking principles that can build more traffic to those individual pages. We have also realized that Scientific American and Elsevier Connect are excellent opportunities to land a DA link of over 90 if you can supply high quality content. This is where a true PR professional needs to come in and pitch an editor on an idea that will provide value to such a high caliber audience.

3. The Higher the DA, the Harder to Acquire a Link

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any SEO specialist, but what we have seen through our data is that it’s very difficult to land a PR opportunity in a publication with a DA over 90, but it’s even harder to acquire a link. We have found that bylines are the best way to guarantee a link, whereas expert commentary–lining up interviews with journalists–has a smaller chance of landing a link but is a much more scalable process, because it takes more time to write an article than it does for a professor to speak with a journalist.

4. More than a Link: Branding Opportunity

While we primarily leverage digital pubic relations for SEO purposes, it’s also about brand recognition and potential reach. It’s also very important to understand that digital PR for professors accomplishes more than just acquiring high quality backlinks. Professors will become more excited with digital PR, because we’re helping tell their stories and put their research in front of a larger audience, which further establishes them as thought leaders.

5. A Need for a Certain Type of Story?

Certain programs did better than others. For instance, our computer science program had a total of 21 placements and the athletics program had 17 links generated from our PR efforts in 2015. Some of our other programs had less. What is hard to define from our analysis is whether or not a program’s subject matter relates to the ability to attain high quality links, because each of our programs have different budgets and varying numbers of participating professors. I can say that computer science, with the amount of tech blogs and the interest in new innovative technologies, is a fertile ground for higher education marketers because our professors are on the cutting edge of an extremely popular narrative. There is no doubt that reporters and journalists would like to speak with these individuals. 

6. To Link, or Not to Link

Another key takeaway from our analysis is that it’s difficult to know whether or not a publication will link or not. Sometimes we’ll ask for a link to be added to the article featuring one of our professors, and the reporter has no problem hyperlinking to our landing pages. Other times we’ve had reporters get upset we even asked or afraid that it will make them look poorly to their editor. We have also heard from reporters that certain publications have policies against adding links. For instance, an editor at MediaPost insisted they had a policy against adding links. That one is easy to cross off the list for adding links, but take note of Inside Higher Ed in the visualization. They have included a link for our program, and in other posts, they have not included a link. So our conclusions: Unless directly stated that there is a policy against adding external links, assume it’s possible. Just track your progress and update as you go. 

7. Probability of Success

Digital pubic relations takes work and creativity, but over the course of 2015, we saw positive results. Our probability of adding a link was 66%, and our goal is to get that closer to 75%. Through building relationships with journalists and editors, we’re confident we can make that change.
If you have any comments or questions about our analysis, then please feel free to comment below. Feel free to also share the graphic of our analysis using the embed code below.
JoeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more. 

 

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Why a Multi-Channel Digital Marketing Approach is Crucial to Student Generation

In the current competitive climate of higher education, having a cohesive, comprehensive, and diversified marketing approach is essential in digital marketing. While each marketing avenue or strategy has its own unique method of accomplishing client end-goals of student enrollment, brand awareness, lead generation, and market research, it’s the combined effort of all of them working together that fosters the most effective and all-encompassing solution. It is therefore imperative that those involved in higher education marketing understand how all of these components work together and independently to capture prospective students at every stage of the decision making process. Here at Circa Interactive, the overarching divisions of our company that help to accomplish our clients’ goals include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay-per-click (PPC), and Social Media.

 

How Do They Work Independently? 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is a crucial piece of the marketing puzzle, considering that 75% of prospective students start their research on a search engine. With so many competing programs and schools, it’s incredibly important to rank organically for relevant keywords in order to be visible to prospective students who are actively searching for related programs. There are several functions of our company that contribute to our SEO end-goals. The main off-page ones, which I will highlight here, are Digital PR and infographic creation and distribution.

Our goal in digital PR is to establish thought leadership, expand brand awareness, define program differentiators, and build quality backlinks for SEO that influence search rankings. We accomplish this by leveraging the expertise of faculty members and getting them and their respective programs placed in internationally recognized publications as well as in industry-specific verticals. On the other hand, infographics largely contribute to our SEO end-goals by generating backlinks through the creation and distribution of sharable content, which tells important stories within the larger narratives in the media.

Digital PR and infographics aid our SEO and brand recognition efforts by creating trustworthy and reputable backlinks to the programs that we represent, which in turn helps with organic rankings. These media placements also position our programs and professors as thought leaders in the industry, which is critical when trying to grow a brand and program. While PR links tend to be higher in quality, there is a tradeoff for this, which is quantity of links. While having our professors and programs included in nationally recognized publications is extremely valuable on a number of levels, more of our backlinks come through infographic distribution, where we have a broader reach due to our inclusion of smaller media outlets and blogs. Both strategies lend themselves to the same goals but accomplish them in different ways, which is why having both strategies in place is essential to achieving our larger SEO goals.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

Pay-per-click (PPC) can be an effective strategy for quickly driving targeted traffic to a website or landing page. This can be accomplished through keyword-based search advertising, display advertising in the Google and Bing Display networks, social media advertising (e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn), and remarketing, where you target prospective students who have already visited your website but have yet to convert. It’s also the most effective method for measuring return-on-investment (ROI). Since it’s easy to analyze and monitor results as you go with PPC, it has the added benefit of being able to adjust strategies according to the success of various channels. While SEO can be a more long-term and involved process, paid search has the ability to immediately get in front of prospective students and begin to generate leads. It’s crucial to have accurate and appealing messaging for PPC, because it could be the first encounter that a prospective student has with a brand or program.

Social Media

Social media is an important tool for higher education marketing considering that 57% of students will use social media to research universities. Although it’s very difficult to measure ROI on social media marketing, it’s a channel that should be integrated into every marketing strategy in order to have a well-rounded and consistent online presence. It’s also a great place to foster a sense of community and keep current, former, and prospective students engaged and up-to-date on university news.

How Do They Work Together? 

While I’ve explained how each of these digital marketing strategies operates independently, it’s just as important to understand how they intersect and why being visible and consistent across all potential touchpoints is essential to converting prospective students and amplifying brand awareness. A prospective student can encounter a brand in many different ways, but marketers will often only focus on the final campaign, search, or ad that the user interacted with to convert. However, as the multi-channel funnels reports in Google Analytics shows, there are typically many other interactions and touchpoints that the prospective student encountered in the process before converting. This further exemplifies the importance of having a diversified marketing approach that allows for interactions and cohesiveness across all potential channels.
One beneficial intersection between strategies is between PPC and digital PR. Since most people are aware when they are being targeted with an ad, PPC can come off as being disingenuous or less credible than organic results, which is why digital PR can be beneficial in adding another layer of credibility to a program. For students who are actively researching a program, seeing a program featured in various reputable publications can be important and, ultimately, help push them along in the admissions funnel.

Social media also plays an important role in building a credible online community for a brand. Since most students will research a program on social media sites like Facebook, having an established community of engaged and interested participants on social media platforms is important in getting prospective students excited and interested about a program. Additionally, there is often a link on Facebook paid ads that will be directed to the program’s Facebook page, so it’s important to have a strong social media presence built up when sending prospective students that way. Social media also has a mutually beneficial relationship with digital PR and infographic distribution because it provides another platform to feature this content on. This not only expands the reach of this content, further positioning the program as a thought leader and content creator, but also provides relevant and interesting content to the audience on social media.

As I’ve illustrated here, ensuring that a program or university is visible to prospective students throughout all possible channels and touchpoints that they may encounter is essential to a comprehensive and optimized marketing strategy. As we have seen, there are many ways that prospective students can search for or come in contact with a brand. A diversified approach accomplishes both short and long term marketing goals while more effectively reaching prospective students throughout various stages in the decision making process.

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4

Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.

4 Essentials for Innovation in Higher Education Digital Marketing

After graduating college, I left my home state of Iowa and traveled halfway across the country in search of something out West. What exactly – I wasn’t sure. The idea of “just finding a job” didn’t interest me, nor did the idea of saving money (rent is much cheaper in Iowa than California). Therefore, without having a specific job or industry in mind, I decided to base my job search around fulfilling what is most important to me: creativity and innovation. Luckily, I found Circa Interactive, a digital marketing company whose passion is to provide creative and analytical solutions for higher education. Upon joining the team, I have had the unbelievable privilege of collaborating with some of the most innovative, brilliant minds, and through these collaborations, I have made note of four essentials for maintaining innovation within higher education digital marketing.

1. What’s Your Angle?

Our Creative Director, Joe Lapin, is always providing tips on how to write clear and concise pitches for media outreach, particularly by constantly asking, “What’s your angle?” Through his questioning, Joe is illustrating that content–in and of itself–has no inherent meaning; therefore, the job of a writer is to make meaning by positioning content at a unique, engaging angle, especially when you’re asking high quality publications to publish your infographics or other creative content.

In higher education digital marketing, especially on the digital PR and content marketing side, Joe’s question “What’s your angle” is crucial to success. Some of us often forget that our brains are constantly taking angles when they process data or content. And because of this forgetfulness, we sometimes lose sight of our inherent creativity: the ability to choose our angle and shape messaging to highlight certain areas. For example, during my first month with Circa, I was assigned an infographic on bioinformatics. Naturally, I thought the graphic would be great for computer science or bioinformatics blogs. Yet after two rounds of distribution, the graphic had landed only two links. Obviously, I realized that my angle wasn’t working, so our team worked together to come up with a pitch based around STEM education. Through this new angle, the infographic found immediate success.

2. Shape Your Project to Fit Your Goals

Every project, no matter how big or small, has its own requirements. Personally, I like to think of each project as its own unique cookie cutter: each have their various shapes and styles, some of which can be extremely detailed and ornate. For example, as a digital marketer, some projects may require a massive amount of writing (e.g. pitches, press releases, communication with clients, etc.), while others consist more of innovative brainstorming or data analysis.

Sometimes even different stages of the same project can demand distinctly different skill sets. For instance, I’ve observed that the body of outreaches requires a vastly different style of writing than subject line pitches, and in order to maintain innovation, a digital marketer will need to stay as pliable as dough so they can quickly configure their skill set to not only fit but exceed any project’s requirements.

3. Drop the Bricks

Digital marketers can easily find themselves in a funk, especially during extensive outreach for a piece of content that had only a handful of responses. Our team has a phenomenal insight on how to handle these tough situations, as we often tell each other, “Don’t be afraid to throw spaghetti at the wall. If it sticks, great! If not, regroup and throw a new handful.” What we mean here is that you can’t be afraid to try something new (i.e. send new pitches, take a different angle), even if your ideas might not have worked out in the past. You have to drop the heavy bricks of doubt, stress or worry and refresh with something new.

This drop-the-brick concept was an old saying of my former basketball coach. He always told us players that if we made a mistake, just drop the brick and keep playing. If we carried around all our mistakes, then we wouldn’t be free to play at our best because we would be too worried about making another mistake. I’ve notice this same concept transfers quite well into the digital marketing world. Therefore, if an idea doesn’t stick, don’t take it personally. Let it go. Drop the bricks of the past and focus on creating something great, right here and now.

4. Share Your Vision

As digital marketers, a shared team vision is essential to productivity. If team members are unsure why they are doing something, they are far more likely to be uninspired or apathetic. Considering this: Team leaders should establish and share short and long term goals so team members can be confident as to why they are doing even the most menial tasks. Having a shared team vision is also extremely beneficial when it comes to staying focused and finding new ways to solve problems. There may, at times, be opportunities that appear enticing, but if they are outside of the overall vision, they are nothing but distractions that take up time and resources.

The digital marketing field will continue to be governed by the companies that strive to push the boundaries of creativity, innovation and productivity. Therefore, in order to elevate to this level, be confident and flexible. Stay aware of what angle your brain is taking when it is processing information, always try to configure your skills to fit each project and ensure you are communicating with your team to maintain a shared vision. Most importantly, don’t lose your confidence or start doubting. If there are times that you lose focus and doubt your abilities, just drop the bricks, lighten up, and progress forward.

TylerTyler Putz is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.