4 things PR pros should borrow from the marketer's playbook

4 things PR pros should borrow from the marketer's playbook

We all know the feeling - you've sent around a solid press release to tons of journalists, but no one's biting. You're confident in what you're pitching, so what's the problem?

Experienced PR pros and marketers will both tell you that how you're spreading the message is almost as important as what your message is. Sending a press release to as many journalists as possible and hoping someone will slog through the text, recognize how interesting your pitch is and want to write an article will only get you so far.

It's time to stop guessing. It's time to make a plan, define what success means, and yes, use some data to back up your decisions. It's time to borrow tactics from the modern marketer's playbook.  

1. Identify and Measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Your Email Pitches. First things first: start recording stats about every email pitch you send. This doesn’t need to be complex. There are lots of email service providers (ESPs) that offer free, no frills packages for sending and measuring email campaigns, including Bananatag, MailChimp’s TinyLetter, Sidekick, and MailJet.

With your ESP in place, you’re ready to identify your KPIs and start measuring success. For a PR pitch, you can keep it simple. Measuring open rates, click-through rates, click-to-open rates, and unsubscribes should have you covered. If those terms aren’t familiar, check out IAB's handy overview, and then some. Over time you can see what’s normal, what’s improving, and what’s not.

Remember: there’s more to an email than just whether the journalist responded. Did lots of people open it, but only a few clicked the link to more info? It might mean you had a great subject line but the presentation of content was lacking. Did you have a low open rate, but a high click-to-open rate (meaning of those who opened it, a high percentage clicked)? Could be you need a more attention-grabbing subject line but your content is spot-on. With this data in hand you can identify the aspects of your pitch that actually need help - and the parts you can leave alone.

2. Keep User Experience (UX) in Mind. Your email pitch should cut through the ever-mounting email noise. Do this by making sure it’s more than simply well-written. If the recipient has to read to the second paragraph of your press release to decide if it’s interesting, you’ve got a problem.

Try experimenting with format and simple design. Limit the email to a bolded one to three sentence overview or a short list of critical facts. Follow up with a single line suggesting they get in touch with you for further info and include a link to download the press release. You want to make their decision as easy as possible, and feed them the nitty gritty details once they need them. Don’t get passed over because your pitch landed in the “too long; didn’t read” slush pile.

3. Segmentation is Your Friend. You likely already group email lists by journalists’ beats, so this one will be second nature. Keep your lists updated and think of new ways to leverage what you know about your recipients. The more relevant the content is to them, the higher the likelihood they will open, click, or reply.

If your pitch could be interesting to journalists in a couple different categories, create a message tailored to each group. You can also segment based on location or the type of publication they work for. Another is past behavior - split the list and send targeted messages based on those who recently clicked or replied to an email from you vs. those who never engage. The less engaged group may need a harder sell or be interested in knowing more about you so they can determine if they want to work with you.

4. Try a Little A/B Testing. Should you use a straightforward subject line or punchy one? Which items should you include in your bulleted summary? Which language works better for the press release link: “learn more” or “download now”? These conversations happen constantly around offices; people often fall back on what their gut tells them. By utilizing A/B testing, you can stop relying on hunches and get real answers.

Try sending the straightforward subject line to half your distribution list and the punchier one to the other half. Same goes for the bulleted list items. Open rates are a good measure of the former, and click-through rates or replies could tell an interesting story about the latter.

Finally, make sure you get statistically significant data. Recreate a similar test two or three times; make sure there are at least 30 recipients on your list; and try to test one thing at a time. Ideally the results will tell you something you can apply to many future mailings, too.

Would you add anything to the list? Let us know in the comments.

Natalie Selzer is a writer, editor, and digital strategist with comms and marketing experience in publishing, media, and education. You can find more of her work on Muck Rack or www.natalieselzer.com and follow her on Twitter @natalieselzer for short vignettes and strong opinions.

Photo: Playbook via Shutterstock

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