What Content Marketers Can Learn From 7 PR Wins And Fails
Remember #TheDress? Columnist Kerry Jones explains how the same elements that caused major PR stories to go viral can be applied to content creation.
Fractl, my employer, recently teamed up with Moz to examine how a surge of press coverage affects search engine optimization.
We picked seven brands that were in just about every publisher’s newsfeed between February 2015 and February 2016 to analyze the impact of major media attention on press mentions, organic traffic and backlinks.
Not surprisingly, the media coverage led to huge increases for most brands.
Sound familiar? Here’s a quick refresher on why these companies made headlines:
- Roman Originals: #TheDress was a photo posted on social media that set off a debate on whether the dress in the image was blue and black or white and gold. The clothing designer made the best of the social media frenzy by debuting a version of the dress in white and gold, even though the one pictured was in fact blue and black.
- Turing Pharmaceuticals: This biopharmaceutical company bought a prescription drug and raised the price by 5,000 percent.
- Peeple: This new site announced a soon-to-be-launched “Yelp for people” app, which would let users write reviews about friends and acquaintances.
- Miss Universe: Host Steve Harvey announced the wrong pageant winner.
- Gravity Payments: The CEO of this credit card processing company said he would reduce his salary to create a minimum staff salary of $70,000.
- Airbnb: A man erected an igloo in Brooklyn after a blizzard and listed it for $200 per night on Airbnb as a joke. Airbnb later removed the listing.
- REI: The company decided that all stores would be closed on Black Friday and that it would pay employees not to work that day.
Although receiving this amount of news coverage is rare, it shows how beneficial even one big media hit can be. This was especially true of the brands we looked at, many of which were relatively unknown before the story broke.
UK-based retailer Roman Originals provides a great example, with the most impressive results of all the brands we analyzed:
- More than a 17,500-percent increase in press mentions in just a month.
- Nearly a 420-percent rise in US organic traffic.
- Over 2,300-percent growth in new backlinks.
- An increase in global sales of 560 percent within a day of initial press coverage.
How Content Marketing Fuels Press Coverage
Publicity is an effective way to increase brand awareness and boost SEO, as we saw in the examples above. But to get publicity, you need to do something newsworthy. To do that, you need an interesting story.
While “our product is fantastic” or “we had record sales this quarter” may be an exciting story line within your company’s walls, it’s usually not enough to attract media attention. You need to find a newsworthy angle for these stories to get them picked up, but sometimes it’s a struggle to make your company’s latest happenings newsworthy to outsiders.
This is why content marketing is becoming a popular method for attracting press coverage. Through content, you can tell a story that’s interesting to people outside your company but still ties back to what your company does.
Creating newsworthy content also provides a more predictable way to consistently secure press placements while giving you some control over the story.
By looking at why these brands ended up in the news, we can extract lessons on how to make newsworthy content.
Create Some Controversy
Controversy is at the heart of every good story. Conflict creates tension, and you need tension to keep an audience’s attention. Including conflict in your content can help increase its appeal to publishers and audiences alike.
An interesting finding in our study: The brands with negative stories appeared in more headlines, and those stories received more social shares than the positive stories. We found that Miss Universe, Turing Pharma and Peeple appeared in 172 percent more headlines than the positive stories — and received 176 percent more social shares.
Each of the stories we looked at had some element of conflict, including the three positive stories: #TheDress sparked heated debate, REI took a stance against Black Friday and Airbnb deleted the igloo listing.
So how can you weave conflict into your content?
Create Subtle Conflict
You don’t have to beat the audience over the head with controversy. There are more subtle ways to create conflict, like solving a pain point. In this type of content, such as a how-to guide or video, the problem your audience has is the conflict, and your content squashes the conflict by providing a solution.
Another way to create conflict is to pit two or more things against each other. At Fractl, we’ve received a lot of PR hits to content that compares cities or states.
You can also try taking a stand against something or present a contrarian opinion. Author Elisa Gabbert details the power behind this approach in an excellent post on the WordStream blog:
[blockquote] Controversial ideas have a huge ripple effect because people take an interest — clicking, reading, commenting, and often sharing — whether or not they agree. That’s because it tends to hit people’s emotional triggers, like surprise and anger.[/blockquote]
Use a Popular Narrative Theme
Most storytelling incorporates recognizable ideas, also known as narrative themes. Here are a few narrative themes you can incorporate into your content to create more tension and conflict.
- Brand vs. Itself: Gravity Payments made the news when it made a radical change to its business and offered all employees a minimum $70,000 salary. Stories about brands that make major internal changes for the better often attract media attention. Has your brand made internal improvements or overcome a big setback, only to come out stronger? Create content that shares what your brand learned from a big change or a challenging issue.
- David vs. Goliath: The Airbnb story probably attracted even more attention since the listing was shut down. This plays up the “David and Goliath” narrative of the little guy versus a powerful corporation. Smaller brands can benefit from this angle, since everyone loves an underdog story.
- Brand vs. Customer’s Problem: Does your brand have a unique way of solving an old problem? As mentioned above, content that solves a pain point can evoke subtle conflict.
Include An Element Of Unexpectedness
All of the stories we examined presented something unexpected, from an igloo being built in the middle of a city to a major retailer shutting down on the busiest shopping day of the year.
Making your content surprising not only increases its chances of attracting media attention but also raises its potential for being widely shared. When a story presents something unexpected, it attracts initial attention and propels people to share the story.
This is why content that goes viral is often surprising.
- Escape: Negate what you have taken for granted about the topic.
- Reversal: Reverse something you have taken for granted about the topic.
- Exaggeration: Is there a numerical or quantitative element you can play with to arrive at new ideas?
- Distortion: Try to distort one piece of something you take for granted about the topic.
- Wishful Thinking: Suggest a fantasy you know isn’t possible that relates to your topic.
As our study showed, major publicity can bring benefits far beyond getting your name in the press. But without a great story, getting media coverage is difficult.
By creating content that incorporates newsworthy elements, such as conflict and unexpectedness, you can attract the attention of publishers and secure more media placements.