Lately, everyone’s been talking about “outreach marketing”…
But very few people are talking about what it is, or how to do it.
In this post, I’m going to lay out our entire B2B outreach marketing process step by step.
I’ll include the exact email templates we used to land huge media mentions and grow the organic traffic of a brand new software startup by 7,083%% in just under a year.
And above all, how we bootstrapped the entire marketing strategy ourselves, saving upwards of six figures on a third-party PR firm.
See, getting press – particularly as a B2B company – can be extremely expensive. Retainer fees for startups tend to cost $5,000 to $10,000, and can exceed $20,000 for established B2B companies.
For most businesses, particularly startups starved for cash, these kinds of retainers would quickly bankrupt the entire company…
How is that that just a few press mentions can be so expensive?
The fact is, PR agencies usually charge a hefty mark up on their services.
Their billed hourly rate, the price paid for content, the price paid to media partners… is all upcharged and passed on to clients who end up footing the PR bill.
What’s more, these agencies often have a tough time showing their client’s big investment in PR actually had an impact.
In a recent study of the top B2B marketers, PR “outreach marketing” was listed as the most difficult marketing channel to show proof of ROI.
If PR outreach agencies:
- ☑️ Charge way too much, and
- ☑️ Can’t even shown the ROI on their press and media buys…
…Why on earth should you consider hiring one?
Getting high-quality press and media mentions as a new, B2B startup is actually much simpler and more straightforward than most founders and business owners realize.
It may seem like a black box of handshake agreements behind the curtains, but PR is actually downright simple when done right…
There are just a few elements of nuance involved that most companies that offer B2B SEO services and PR agencies overlook, and it’s in those details where great PR is earned (and money is saved).
Today I’m going to share some of those nuances, so that you can avoid the same mistakes made by nearly every B2B business owner looking to hire a digital PR agency.
I’ll share the process we used to grow several B2B startups in some of the most competitive B2B niches today, and the results we were able to achieve with a small, agile team.
We’ll share the steps for connecting with journalists who are eager to talk about your business, including the exact email templates we used to win them over.
Above all, we’ll share some of our own secret sauce at Blue Tree for getting this kind of press for your business without paying the kind of absurd retainer fees charged by most B2B press and media agencies.
Before we jump in, a big nota bene for you, dear reader.
We are about to share our exact process for getting really good digital PR services for cheap, down to the smallest details… but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to replicate – not in the slightest.
This approach will take a considerable amount of up-front elbow grease. The first few months may even feel like you’re treading water, not quite getting anywhere.
But remember, this is about building real relationships – the payoff of which is a lot higher than buying one-off, transactional links or press releases.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
If you’d rather speak with us directly, click here to set up a call.
How We Cracked the “Outreach Marketing Code”
Public relations, at its core, is about connecting with journalists, influencers, and other folks in the media to get your business mentioned and shown – the purpose of which is to get eyeballs on your brand and bring in new customers.
This also indirectly helps B2B businesses get more customers because any major media mention is great for SEO…
The links in articles on strong sites help improve a website’s search engine rankings in Google and other search engines, which then leads to more organic traffic (which is the most valuable form of traffic, followed closely by email).
Surprisingly, most PR firms traditionally focus on metrics like aggregate view count and completely ignore the SEO value of strong, authoritative links.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more eyeballs on your brand but the “press only” approach ignores a very important fact: it does nothing for a company’s SEO (and in some cases is a net negative).
On the flip side, most self described “outreach and PR specialists” are simply nothing more than SEO consultants try to get high authority backlinks. In PR lingo, a “relationship-building email” is just a formal way of saying “trying to get a link”.
The key to succeeding with B2B PR in 2020 and beyond is to get media mentions that are strong from an SEO perspective as well as get viewed by thousands or tens of thousands of potential customers…
To really get your brand to stand out, you need both SEO and PR working together in harmony.
The main problem with this approach is that startup founders (who are often technical developers) and B2B business owners are extremely busy and don’t have the time – or bandwidth – to do this effectively.
So, how did we manage to grow the organic traffic of a brand new B2B software startup by more than 7,000% in just under a year? 🤔
PR That Works – Our Approach
Are your PR planning efforts producing a positive ROI? If not, maybe it’s time to consider a different approach.
At this point, you might be wondering – how the heck do I get legitimate press that shows a clear ROI and doesn’t break the bank?
Let’s walk through the process, step by step.
Step #1: Build Your Digital Persona
Nearly everyone who uses the internet today has a digital version of themselves – an “avatar” so to speak.
Our social media profiles, blogs, and general internet history tell our story: what we like, who we know, and what we’ve accomplished in life.
Building a strong online persona is incredibly important to succeeding at any type of online business.
Since we can’t always meet people face to face, we have to rely on the trust signals associated with their name and online profiles.
Today, fierce competition and a growing lack of trust in online marketing are changing the way people make buying decisions online.
So, it’s more important than ever to make your persona as polished and trustworthy as possible in order to build the trust necessary to convert traffic into paying customers.
Here the steps you should take to make this work for your own business and clients:
1. Get bloggin’.
To demonstrate your interest in the particular field or topic, make sure the person doing the pitching has some kind of writing portfolio to their credit. If you read an article about mobile banking or investing, would you rather believe a Fintech SEO expert that wrote hundreds of articles, or someone anonymous?
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a beautifully designed website, but consider having your team engage with the industry by writing thought pieces on your company blog, Medium, and elsewhere.
Recent research from Content Marketing Institute demonstrates the importance of blogs for B2B demand generation, showing that blogs are the most effective means for generating top of the funnel awareness for B2B leads by a long-shot:
If a company looks up the person behind the email, they will be more likely to reply if they see that they’ve written about their industry on third party blogs.
Case in point, here is an email from an editor at Forbes in response to an email from one of the outreach team at Blue Tree (who prolifically blogs on many websites):
The editor was impressed by Laura’s blog writing, even offering to pay her.
2. Get social.
Spend some time building a high quality Linkedin profile. Connect with some people or get your team to spend 10-15 minutes a day using Linkedin and engage with others in the industry.
Linkedin is the new resume, and you can really “connect with who you want” on the platform, without going through gatekeepers.
A whopping 92 percent of B2B companies are looking at Linkedin profiles for trust signals.
Many of our team members get regular invites to conferences and requests for opinion, soundbites on other publications, and even TV news appearances in his Linkedin inbox.
A hedge fund manager seeking advisory support.
An I.T. engineer offering to translate a client’s article into Chinese (free PR!).
3. Use an email from @domain.com
As mentioned earlier, if you’re a PR agency representing a client, ask them for an email @clientdomain.com. Don’t be shy about this — it has a big impact on response rate.
From a security perspective, people are more likely to believe emails that are coming from the official domain of the company.
You need to do this for two reasons: First, you look way more professional. Second, you’ll get better email deliverability. (More on deliverability in a minute.)
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at a poorly executed outreach email from an ill-defined persona. Here is an email one of our B2B software clients recently received, soliciting a guest post or press release:
Needless to say, this is a weak attempt at landing a backlink. There is no personalization whatsoever and the email is just a random Gmail – it could be anyone.
Pitch aside, if we look up the name, there’s a strong indication that the person is just looking for a link, or that he/she doesn’t even exist. A quick Google search of ‘Faiza Farooqi’ reveals:
- ✅ An Upwork profile listed as “Digital Marketing Expert”
- ✅ A Twitter profile filled with auto-tweet spam
- ✅ No trust signals (legitimate social media profiles or blog writing)
Not only would this email not get a response, but it would be flagged as SPAM.
💁Now let’s take a look at a B2B PR done well. Here is an email sent from a PR firm on behalf of their client, NETSCOUT:
Notice how in depth and well crafted this email is. It accomplishes a lot:
- ✅ The sender comments on recent articles we wrote, and on which sites
- ✅ They ask if we’re attending an upcoming industry conference
- ✅ They offer to meet
- ✅ They provide a ton of value by offering to share their report
- ✅ They offer to make an introduction to a well-known policy advisor and influencer.
All in all, this sparked a great relationship with our client and has led to tens of thousands in repeat business between the two companies.
Note: this PR person could have done even better by 1) picking out specific details from our articles about what she liked, 2) using an email address from the company (@netscount.com), rather than her PR firm, and 3) keeping it a bit shorter.
All in all, though, this was done well.
Notice the huge difference between the first and second emails: one is purely trying to take without giving anything in return, whereas the second is almost all value up front without asking for much.
Step #2: Build a Highly-Targeted Email List
Now that you’ve set up a trustworthy digital “persona”, it’s time to start building a list of people to reach out to. As the saying goes, “the money is in the list”.
Likewise, “the money is in building the list.” Many B2B companies reach out to us with large email lists that are a mix match of clients, customers, vendors, and much more. Note – there isn’t a whole lot of value in a broad, unsegmented list of emails.
So, when endeavoring to build a list of people and companies to connect with via email, it’s important to use a “sniper rifle” approach, rather than shotgun.
It will take a bit more time, but the quality of your list will be much higher, and ultimately it will cost a lot less time and money in the long run as you can actually act on the data you’re getting from your outreach campaign.
That said, let’s walk through the steps to building a list of qualified email contacts in any B2B industry.
Let’s start off with my first and favorite one…
1. Ask for a Referral
It turns out that the editor community is pretty small and a lot of big sites work together. Often times, one huge digital magazine is part of a large media conglomerate, which owns many similar sites in a particular niche.
Once you’ve gotten in an editors good graces (by following all the steps outlined above) asking for referrals is easy. We’ve gotten columns on Entrepreneur, Payoneer, Marketo, Forbes and GeekWire by asking for referrals.
(Coincidentally, this is something that no other SEOs are doing, so it comes across as even more natural than the “perfect” cold email pitch).
2. Use Good Email Finding Software
Tools like Hunter (our favorite) and FindThatLead expedite the process of what would otherwise be manually searching for emails.
If you’re doing lots of outreach, for SEO or otherwise, investing in one of these tools is a no brainer.
3. Hire and Train Contract Workers
When operating in the software / tech space, it’s not uncommon for one founder to be associated with many different companies, ie domains. So, their go-to email is rarely going to be “@thedomainyourelookingfor.com”.
The only way to find their preferred email address is through some digging on Google, Twitter, Linkedin, their personal websites, and whatever else you can find.
Tools can’t do this, but talented contractor works and virtual assistants (“VAs”) can.
Note, these strategies work on a case by case basis. Every correspondence will be slightly different, so this can’t be scaled – it must be done painstakingly, one custom email at a time.
But that’s the beauty – once you’ve made the connection, you can rest assured that the vast majority of PR firms aren’t putting in the same amount of effort to find the emails.
At this point we need to take a minute and reemphasize one of the most important points of this approach: it won’t be easy at first. It will be slow, tedious and feel like low ROI on your time.
But like anything in life, high barriers to entry scare off lazy competition.
You need to think about this form of B2B PR as compounding over time. The up front hustle, relationships and previously-written pieces compound on each other to make future efforts and networking easier.
In just a few months, you can be at the point where a single outreach specialist on your team can land several media mentions per day when done well.
Of course, you don’t have to have an in-house marketing team, using outsourced marketing services can do wonders for your company.
Quality over quantity. Start slow and do it right.
Step #3: Using Your Persona For High-Touch PR Outreach
Before we dive into the details of writing emails, let’s address the elephant in the room: most PR agencies pitch journalists and webmasters using email addresses at the PR agency…
Consider this the “cardinal sin” of B2B PR outreach – using an “agency email”, rather than an email set up on the client site itself.
News flash: people want to do business directly with other people, not through intermediary agencies who use cookie cutter templates full of marketing jargon.
What this means, in practice.
1. Write pitches for individual people.
You need a specific angle… for the site and the person being pitched. Maybe a technical background or a specific opinion or a criticism of the editor’s information breakdown.
Ideally, the pitch should be:
- ☑️ Timely/newsworthy, based on a current event happening right now
- ☑️ Relevant to the site and its audience
- ☑️ Relevant to the person being pitched.
This may sound overly granular, but it’s this level of granularity that almost guarantees a response and separates you from the legions of others pitching them the subject line “Re: Love your content! (and a proposal)”.
This stopped working years ago (in fact, we’re not sure if it ever worked.)
I cannot stress how important this is. It’s truly what separates successful (re: positive-ROI) PR agencies from everyone else.
2. Do things that don’t scale.
For the simple reason that most PR firms – regardless of the tactics they use – think purely in terms of “How_Can_I_Scale_This?” 🤔💭📈🤑🤑 (scientific representation of the average PR agent’s thought process.)
Can you imagine if you had to deal with hundreds of these people on a weekly basis? It would get exhausting. And that is precisely how most journalists, editors, and webmasters feel when they see a pitch like so.
Rather than send a templated pitch like the above from your email “firstname.lastname@example.org”, try something more personalized with a softer touch.
At Blue Tree we regularly ask, “What can we do differently… even if it doesn’t scale? Especially if it doesn’t scale.”
Our emails often have 6, 7 or even 10 personalized touches, written specifically for the receiver. This allows us to connect with some very strong websites, eg the U.S. Library of Congress:
3. Improving Email Deliverability.
One important tip regarding deliverability. Email deliverability is something not many PR companies talk about but it’s extremely important. After all, once the point of building a database of journalists and influencers in your industry and email them all if your emails never even make it past the spam folder?
Here are four quick tips for improving yours. Be on the lookout for a guide about this in the future.
- ✅ Don’t add links, documents, or attachments in the first cold email.
- ✅ Avoid spam and commercial words like “free”, “cheap”, or “discount”.
- ✅ Check deliverability via – Mail Tester.
- ✅ Use a reputable ESP – ideally one that runs through Amazon SES
- ✅ Send to active subscribers first (based on web activity or another signal), then Gmail users, and then send your pitch to the rest of the people on your list.
- ✅ When using a new email inbox, send 2-3 emails per day for a week to friends, family and colleagues with casual conversation. This effectively “warms up” the inbox, so that when you start scaling up outreach, the messages won’t be flagged as suspicious.
Implement each of the above six tactics and email deliverability won’t be an issue.
Step #4: Best Email Templates and Tactics For B2B PR
If you came to this post just to find some B2B cold email templates, you’re in luck because that’s exactly what we’re going to share in this step.
(Don’t worry, we’re not offended. In fact, we quite enjoy coming up with B2B email pitches in our spare time… #outreachnerds 🤓).
Inside look at a Blue Tree team meeting.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past six or so years of doing cold email PR outreach, it’s that one crafty pitch can truly change the course of your business in a huge way.
In the words of Gumroad founder Sahil Lavangia, “A well-written cold email can change your life.”
So that being said, here is where we spill the beans, share the goods, and open the kimono (choose your favorite marketing “reveal” aphorism).
🛑Warning: most B2B email marketers and PR firms will tell you not to copy their emails verbatim (“Use your own creativity!”). On the contrary, we encourage you to use these exactly as is, or modify them if you like.
The only way to know if they will work is to try them yourself.
When writing a pitch, there are a handful of variables you need to consider that will determine what kind of message you write. These include:
- ☑️ The person you’re pitching (role at Company X and background)
- ☑️ The site you’re pitching and the type of content on the site.
- ☑️ Your persona and background experience.
- ☑️ The general approach of your campaign – eg, is it a short, targeted list or broad list with not much discretion as to who you’re emailing or the types of sites you’re targeting.
If, say, you’re targeting the CTO of secure cloud storage companies in the B2B space who just raised a Series A round between $2-5 from a “security expert” persona, then your pitch needs to be written in a way that aligns perfectly with the above criteria.
If, however, you’re emailing all the companies listed on AngelList and pitching general PR, it needs to be broader and more open-ended, able to appeal to a wide range of people.
With that in mind, here are our four favorite email templates for B2B cold email outreach, and the rationale behind each one:
Email Template #1: The “Technical Writer”
This is a template we use at BlueTree for messaging broad lists of tech, software, and security-related publications for our B2B SaaS clients.
It’s sort of the “default” message we send, and despite sending it to a variety of different websites, has a very high response rate (more than 25% across the board on the first email alone).
The email cadence (ie, tone) is a bit direct. The idea here is that the person pitching is coming across as no-frills, not wasting an editor’s time.
As mentioned earlier, editors regularly get pitched by hundreds of B2B marketers and PR agencies, so keeping it short shows respect for their time.
Here’s the pitch:
Let’s break down this pitch to see why it’s so effective for cold email outreach. It works because:
- Starts with “Dear”, comes across as a bit formal (which matches the person pitching, and older gentleman.)
- Intros with an indirect apology, which disarms their “marketing shield” and again, matches the persona.
- Includes a bit about yourself: you’re a “technical writer”, not just a writer or copywriter. When you say “technical writer” it literally means someone who can write about code (not a developer per se), but it could also mean someone who writes about technical topics. By positioning yourself as such, you further disarm their “marketing shield”.
- You’re writing about network security and open source applications. Nowadays, nearly every software company has a security component, and likewise, most people in the software development community are open-source advocates.
- You ask if there’s an option to “contribute” and “write for the site”, not “submit a post”. The subtext here is that it could be a long-term engagement. Most big companies don’t have the time nor energy to field guest post requests; they are looking for regular contributors.
- Quickly add some credentials (social proof) and be on your way.
This pitch is so effective on un-targeted lists that I sorta regret sharing it in this case study… we’ll have to think of a new variation soon. 🙂
Email Template #2: Comment + Thank, Comment + Add Perspective
This is a straightforward PR tactic, whereby you email a journalist and mention something from one of their recent articles (or Tweets, or video, or any piece of content), and explain why you like it or something you learned from it.
You can elaborate on how your behavior has changed as a result, showing that they’ve had a real, tangible impact on your life in some way.
For example, if you found the first email template useful, you might email me saying,
I really loved your email template here in your B2B PR case study and am getting a ton of use out of it. It’s clear, direct and to the point. We put it into practice at ABC company and our open rates were up more than 12% last month!
I would immediately reply to this kind of email, and likely welcome them to write about their experience on their blog if they asked.
Alternatively, instead of thanking the author for their insight, you could add even more value to the conversation. Adding more value to the conversation could be any one of:
- Teach them something new, building on the original idea.
- Share a different perspective or alternative viewpoint, one they may not have considered.
Here’s the same response, modified:
I really loved your email template here in your B2B PR case study and am getting a ton of use out of it. I wanted to point out one thing, regarding email deliverability… you mentioned that, as a best practice, one should ‘warm up’ an inbox for at least a week. In our experience, Gmail inboxes need a minimum of two weeks to be warmed up, whereas @domain.com email inboxes need about 10 days. Here’s a post I wrote about deliverability, which your readers may find useful: [link to post on their website].
This is a friendly email. It doesn’t argue or contradict what I wrote, but simply says that they have additional data. I would definitely check out their article and, if it made sense, include a link to it in this guide.
The sky really is the limit here when “Commenting + Adding Perspective”. Unfortunately, most PR firms and SEO consultants use a cookie-cutter version of this tactic called The Skyscraper Technique. In it, they use a templated version that effectively “Comments” on someone’s article, but doesn’t add any unique perspective. It typically goes like this:
I was looking for info about KEYWORD, and came across your post [here.] I also wrote something awesome [over on my website]…. Could you add a link please?
This approach essentially says, “I haven’t bothered to read anything you wrote, but can you please give something to me?” Again, all ask and no give.
Remember, the purpose of this template (and any email) is to add value to the conversation – literally, make the internet better.
If you’re just looking for a link and no real relationship, you’re not doing PR – you’re just building links (SEO).
This pitch is personalized on site by site and author-by-author basis, so the list should be highly targeted and the pitch customized to each person you reach out to.
Whereas the first template was more of a shotgun approach, this is more of a sniper rifle.
One well placed “shot” is all you need to get a foot in the door and land some big media mentions. 🎯📈
Email Template #3: Fixing Errors
How much content is produced on the internet each day? That was the question answered by a recent MicroFocus report, and the numbers are staggering:
- More than 4 million hours of content uploaded to Youtube every day, with users watching 5.97 billion hours of Youtube videos each day.
- And according to Worldometers, somewhere between 4 million and 20 million blog posts are published every day.
… That doesn’t account for all the Tweets, Snaps, and Facebook Updates, all of which number in the billions per day.
All that to say, humans are creating a LOT of content. So it’s no surprise that a lot of the content we create has mistakes.
For journalists with strict content quotas to hit, it’s nearly impossible to get everything right on the first try. By the time they hit publish, they’re already on to the next article.
This presents a golden opportunity for businesses seeking cheap PR wins: look for articles where journalists made some kind of error, then simply reach out with a fix. Here are some common errors to look for:
- Image attribution errors (missing attribution, outdated image, or wrong source).
- Outdated data (where a journalist points to a study that is no longer relevant or altogether incorrect).
- Simple spelling and grammar errors.
Before we dive into the template, remember the goal with “fixing these errors” is building a long term relationship that leads to a lot of repeat press over time. (As opposed to just “getting a link” and then disappearing into the galactic ether for all eternity 👾🚀💨).
Try this template in your own campaigns:
Outreach Email Template for Fixing “Image Attribution” Errors:
The approach with “image attribution” PR outreach is to let people know when one of the images they’re using could be improved.
This could be because the image is old and no longer relevant or that the image is just wrong.
One of my favorite – and most effective – tactics here is to look for things that are commonly mistaken or confused for something else.
In the B2B SaaS and B2B software industries, this is quite common. Many software terms are quite technical, and journalists without much I.T. experience tend to confuse them.
Take, for example, one of our clients in the B2B cloud hosting industry. They sell a type of hosting service known as a “seedbox”.
Many people confuse a seedbox with a “Virtual Private Server” or VPS; they are almost identical but have a few key differences.
So naturally, when people write about seedboxes, they tend to use images related to VPS’s and VPS functionality.
Here is the email we use on behalf of this client for updating the image, and positioning them for ongoing PR.
Apologies for the out of the blue email, I just wanted to bring something to your attention. In one of your recent articles about [article title], you do a great job of explaining the role which a seedbox plays in the file sharing industry. However, I just wanted to point out that the second image you use in the article – the one showing ‘how a seedbox works’ – is actually not a seedbox, but rather a dedicated VPS server.
They are similar, but there are a few key differences between the two. I actually made a diagram explaining the differences, which you can find [here on this page].
If you like, I’d be happy to share a bit more about seedboxes and VPS hosts with your audience. Our company [ABC Company] creates customized [service] for our clients, so we’re heads down in the industry day to day and love talking about this stuff!
In any case, thanks for your time and consideration, and thanks for spreading the word about seedboxes!
Not surprisingly, this is highly targeted outreach.
But again, you’re coming across with nothing but value: not only are you offering to correct their error, but you’re providing a better resource and positioning yourself as an expert for future PR and link opportunities.
It’s a win-win-win, and done properly, will almost certainly get a positive response.
The same general format works when offering to fix and update old and outdated data. Write an email that hits on these points:
- ✅ Compliments them
- ✅ Points out their mistake/error
- ✅ Offers a solution
- ✅ Includes some social proof as to why they should listen to you
We used this approach for one of our new clients selling B2B web security software:
More than half of the 311 referring domains are brand mention links (PR + SEO) built using a cold outbound email “attribution update” campaign, and the links are on the strongest sites in the industry.
The collective value of these media mentions is several hundreds of thousands of dollars in what a PR agency would charge, but we acquired them at a minute fraction of the cost.
If you want us to do this kind of outreach for you, click here and let us know.
Step #5: How To Write Like a Journalist
If you’ve followed each of the steps in this guide, you’re already in a good position. Let’s recap:
- ☑️ You’ve built a strong, trustworthy persona.
- ☑️ You have a list of targeted leads.
- ☑️ You have an outreach plan in place.
- ☑️ Your email messages are tailored just for your list.
You’re basically past the twenty yard line, into the red zone, and the goal line is in sight…
That said, the worst mistake you could make would be to fumble the ball and lose out just before reaching the endzone.
The last push is to make sure the content pitched to journalists is extremely well written. Sounds simple, right?
You are, after all, the experts… it shouldn’t be that tough to come across as an expert when writing about your industry.
And yet, many businesses and PR agencies do indeed turn the ball over here at the 11th hour.
After all the hard work of establishing rapport via email, they pass off the job of writing to a “content agency” or contract writers who don’t have deep domain level expertise.
Editors can spot this type of content from miles away. They may not be experts themselves, but they have a keen “B.S. detector” sharpened over many years of detecting B.S.
What this means for you: when hiring writers for your articles, it behooves you to find the absolute cream of the crop.
Don’t cut corners on content cost, or you’re going to pay down the line in other ways: lost/burned relationships, rejected articles that need to be rewritten, lots of time and stress.
All that said, here are a few simple tips for finding and vetting great writers:
How To Find and Hire Veteran B2B Business Writers
The quest to find good B2B writers is both fun and challenging. It’s not something you do once, but something that, as a business or PR firm, you regularly do.
Finding good writing talent is similar to any talent acquisition in sports and in business. The best people want to work with the best organizations for the best rates. Writing is no different.
So, how do you find truly great writers – the “gems” – without paying hefty fees?
The answer is not to cut costs and go cheap (as we mentioned already), but rather refine your search and present possible candidate writers an attractive offer.
At Blue Tree, we’ve been working with a group of 20 or so writers for more than three years, many of them writing for much less than what’s considered the industry standard for B2B business writers.
Here’s how we do it:
- Cast a [very] wide net. If you’ve ever thought to apply to any agency that offers professional marketing services as a writer, chances are you’ve seen one of our job posts. When we do a hiring “push” – typically quarterly or biannually – we post literally everywhere. These include FlexJobs, CareerBuilder, Indeed, We Work Remotely, Remote.ok, Contenta, Textbroker, FreelanceWriting.com, Problogger and many others. Lately we’ve been having a lot of success finding candidates on remote work jobs boards, as many people seek the freedom that comes with remote work and a laptop lifestyle.
- Ask a lot of questions. Don’t be shy when vetting writers. Add a form to your application and ask a lot of questions, such as what their availability is, expected rate, writing samples, and a bit about them. Based on their “about me” and writing samples, you should have a clear idea of their competence (or lack thereof) as a writer. This is why many SaaS companies specifically focus on a candidate’s writing ability during their application process: it reveals their ability to think and communicate.
- Trial work: sink or swim. It’s not enough that a writer is talented and willing to work at a reasonable rate. He or she must also be hungry. Hungry writers are focused, determined, and bring a level of energy that comes through in their work. The bad news is that it’s often harder to find hungry writers than it is talented writers. They are, by definition, constantly hustling for work. The good news is that you can test for hungry fairly easily. It’s simple: give the writer a challenging PR piece to write based on an editor’s specifications, with a clear deadline, and let them loose. Either they get it done (and done well) by the deadline or they don’t. If they don’t, let them go and move on to the next one.
Trial by fire, or by ice. Seek B2B writers who truly want it.
How To Create Writers Briefs That Make Your Writers’ Lives Easier
A writer’s “brief” is simply the set of instructions you send to a writer to help them write the article. At the most basic level, it should include an outline/structure of the article, assign the proper voice and tone, SEO considerations (links, headers, keywords), and external research that should be incorporated into the article.
Click here to get an example brief we use for our own writers.
Using detailed, well written briefs is one of the most valuable skills for B2B PR agencies. A good brief can turn a B2B writer into a B2B expert writer. Let me explain…
We touched on the importance of using subject matter experts when writing articles as part of your PR outreach strategy.
But what (or who) exactly is an “expert?”
True experts, ie the people at the top of their field, aren’t looking for contract writing work online.
For example, if you’re writing an article about new brain-scanning technology, it would be nice to hire a neuroscientist or biomedical engineer to write about the tech, but unlikely that 1) they would have the time to write, and/or 2) that it would be worth paying them.
In many niches like medicine, law, and engineering, expert writers earn anywhere from $1-3 per word.
If your average articles are around 1,000-1,500 words, that means you’d pay anywhere from $1,000 to $4,500 for a single press article. ☠️
That’s not feasible – nor wise – for most startup B2B businesses looking to bootstrap.
The best approach is to find a happy medium of people who have a good deal of writing experience in you or your client’s industry, who write well, and who won’t break the bank… and send them a detailed writer’s brief so that the article is as good as expertly-written.
We touched on a few key elements that should be included in a writer’s brief. Here are a few more:
- Approximate word count (and how flexible they can be).
- Proposed title & description. Title should include the keyword and be click-worthy.
- Who is the target audience and what is the goal of the content?
- Voice, tone and cadence. Eg, professional or conversational, fast or slow.
- Example URLs to use as a basis for the article (not to rewrite), and any specific details about what was good (and bad) about those particular example URLs.
- From a high level, important words and phrases to include. These should be based off of keyword research, as well as trending / topical news related to the article.
- A structure and format, broken out by heading tags and general guidance for each section. Also, notes on what we’re looking for within each section, eg high level informative overview, sales-focused conclusion with call to action, ordered list, any specific H tag, quote. Include an approximate word count for each section.
- Complete keyword research. Keywords should be organized by parent topic/subtopic and ordered according to the proposed outline. Keywords are then sorted within each section by search volume. Note: we sometimes choose to omit this based on the article. Telling a veteran writer that he/she “must include certain keywords” can be stifling for creativity. On the other hand. Providing a well-thought-out list of keywords can also trigger different writing ideas.
To see an example of what I mean, check out the writer’s brief we use for our clients’ PR articles:
Click here to get an example brief we use for our own B2B writers.
How To Add Links and Mentions in Your Articles
Remember what we said at the start of this guide regarding the nature of SEO and PR?
A quick recap in case you forgot:
- ✅ Most SEOs ignore PR (they just want the link).
- ✅ Most PR people ignore SEO (they just want the eyeballs and direct traffic).
As a result, each camp misses out on a lot of marketing juice.
The most cost-effective way to get PR is to make sure your brand is getting mentioned and linked to from big sites with lots of traffic.
So, when writing articles to submit to journalists and editors, it’s important to make sure you accomplish two things:
- ☑️ Get your brand mentioned.
- ☑️ Get the link, too.
Both are easier said than done… editors are hawkish when it comes to mentioning any company in columns on their sites.
And today, thanks to hoards of SEOs pitching them 24/7, they are cautious about including any backlinks in those same articles.
To get both the mention and the link requires a bit of finesse.
Over the past three years, we’ve written and submitted more than 1,500 articles for our clients and our own sites, and to date have had only about 22 links or mentions stripped.
We’re not perfect, but a 98.5% success rate is pretty damn good.
Here are a few things we do differently that helps us fly under the radar:
- Built the article around the link, not the other way around. What this means is that the link should be so fundamental to the article that the editor couldn’t strip the link without rejecting the article entirely.
- Quote someone at the company (eg, CEO, CTO, CISO, CFO). When quoting someone at a company, you’re able to position them as an expert and use the quote in such a way that it becomes necessary to the core argument of the article. This is particularly effective if you can pull the quote from an actual conversation with the editor/journalist you’re pitching.
- Use lots of other links in the article, both internal and external. By using internal links, you disarm editors who see that you’re promoting other content on their site. External links to reputable authorities accomplish the same.
- Add the links and mentions further down the article. Following on the last point, once editors have been “disarmed” by seeing lots of natural internal and external links, they tend to relax a bit in the latter half of the article. Note: links have more “power” when placed higher up in an article, but the trade-off here – getting your link and branded mention published – is well worth it.
These work very well for us, but there are many ways to skin a cat.
We are by no means the most talented PR folks, nor the best SEOs in the world, but when it comes to marrying PR and SEO, these tactics have proven themselves time and time again.
Step #6: Adding Value After-the-Fact
You’ve done it – you got amazing press, and a strong link to boot…
Congratulations on a job well done. 🎉🎉🎉
But don’t sit on your laurels for long, because the truth is that the work has just begun.
Remember, the true value of the tactics we’ve laid out in this post is that they compound over time a result of building real relationships.
If the goal was just a one-off transaction, there are plenty of PR firms and SEO consultants who could sell such placements… but what’s the point? You’d overpay and be left hoping that the single bit of press pays off.
We publish anywhere from 50-70 articles per month through various media partners, and of those at least 80-85% are repeats.
All the hard upfront work of building the relationship was done long ago — now, it’s just a matter of maintaining it so that we can continue to publish without much friction.
Like any relationship, a network of journalists, editors, writers, and partner agencies takes time and effort to maintain. But like the best relationships, they only get better with time.
Here are the actions we take with each of the journalists and editors in our network to keep them happy and keep the PR content train running, so to speak 🚂🚂:
- Engage with them on social media. Like and retweet their tweets, share their articles, and comment on their Linkedin updates and posts.
- Share personal stories from your life. When “touching base”, avoid getting down to business too quickly. Let them know what you’ve been up to, and don’t be shy about sharing some personal stories. Our team (including our writers) is 100% remote, so we’re often doing fun, interesting stuff around the world. People love connecting with people, and these stories keep relationships warm.
- Recommend interesting stuff. Given that your team will be in the trenches of writing and managing press for different clients, they are likely to come across interesting news stories and content. When emailing journos, share this with them and they’ll love it (remember, their job is looking for interesting things to talk about). Pro tip: if you have multiple clients in related verticals, feel free to cross-pollinate some of their press for an extra boost.
- Directly promote them in your other columns. We get a lot of press for our clients each month. So, naturally, there are a lot of opportunities to not just help them out, but also help out the journalists and websites where we got the press. When you get a mention for them, they will truly love you for it and you will basically have a free pass to write what you want, when you want going forward.
What Would 7,000% More Traffic Mean For Your Business?
Our Offer – Explain what BT does and how we can help them with all of this
First off, congratulations on making it to the end of this guide.
You’re basically a PR expert at this point, but you might not feel like one.
You also might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Don’t worry, that’s normal.
You probably have questions, a couple of doubts and might be thinking there is no way your content marketing team can execute on all these steps.
It’s important to remember that the process we laid out works – but it’s also the culmination of perfecting and working on this process with a talented team for the last four or five years.
Our process is constantly evolving and getting better. What we did last year isn’t what we do now.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remember that each of these steps needs to be integrated into your business processes slowly.
Each stepped rushed creates a weak process and less viable long term growth. In the words of Lao Tzu:
“Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.”
Treat your PR efforts as a game you’ll play forever, and it will change the way you interact with people along the way.
One Last Thing…
No gigantic PR study would be complete without a self promotional plug, right? 😉😉
Well here’s ours.
If your business can clearly benefit from organic traffic and understands the long term importance of organic discovery but doesn’t have the manpower to execute on this kind of PR, we’d like to talk to you.
We specialise in hands off organic growth for startups.
Just click on the handy schedule a call button below and we’ll setup a free 20 minute consultation call to see if Blue Tree is right for your business.
Thanks for stopping by everyone.