Why You’re Doing Digital Public Relations Wrong

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Why You’re Doing Digital Public Relations Wrong

As the managing editor of SEJ, which gets almost one million pageviews monthly, I find myself receiving up to ten press releases and “embargoed announcements” from all kinds of companies everyday. And almost every time, I find myself shaking my head and simply deleting the email.

While the reasons for my heavy use of the trash icon in Gmail can vary, it is most often for the common sense stuff: they addressed the email to an editor from years ago; or there is no name at all. Or, their press release isn’t related to SEJ in any way, and I figure they must have pulled our website from a list of major publication outlets, with little regard to the fact that our audience isn’t interested in Tibetan sandals or new business partnerships (unless Google decides to buy Pinterest, if so, give me a call).

Unrelated pitches, robotic sounding paragraphs that don’t interest me, it all means public relations has a digital problem. Sending out mass emails to bloggers and journalists isn’t cutting it anymore.

So, what does make a digital press release or outreach message good enough to get an editor’s attention?


If you don’t know the name of the person that you are emailing, you shouldn’t be emailing them. If you aren’t giving them the respect to even know who they are, why would they give you the courtesy of writing about your company or product?

A personalized email is going to get you a lot farther than a mass email. While mass emails filled with BCC email addresses of editors around your niche is sometimes inevitable (due to a time crunch or other issues), if you can take the extra minute or so to personalize your email, your rate of return in interest is going to be exponentially higher.

Prove You Know Their Audience

Why You’re Doing Digital Public Relations WrongIf you are trying to pitch me Tibetan sandals, then you obviously have never visited SEJ and have no clue who our audience is. However, if you take the time to reference a recent article you liked and tie in how it relates to your product or service, then I’m going to be more likely to continue reading.

Joseph Parker of DigitalRelevance has a good article with more reasons why digital PR campaigns fail and recommends using tools like Cision, Buzzsumo, and Followerwonk to further research the people you want to connect with.

Another strategy (which has been mentioned on SEJ before) is to offer your company’s expertise or additional information that really will make our audience members’ lives easier. If we run a post on our favorite Google+ tools, pitching your own Google+ tool and why it is different from those mentioned (thus making a case for why it should be included) proves your value to SEJ.

Simply put, show how you are different, prove that you care, and many people will be much more willing to give you a chance.

Make It As Easy As Possible

Once you’ve reeled your contact in with a personalized approach that shows you know their website and audience, make it as easy as possible to take action. Give me the HTML (or the image attachment) of the infographic you want us to share. Send pre-written tweets that I can automatically send out, no thinking needed.

As digital marketers, we appreciate all the information up front as often as possible. According to the Huffington Post, a study from the McKinsey Global Institute claims the average office worker spends 28% of their work week (or 13 hours) on email. We don’t have time for back and forth, asking for a link or more information. Give me more upfront: make my life easier!

Be a Person

Finally, you would think that as a person, it would be easy to send emails as a person. However, that’s not always the case. If your email has a tone that sounds like a computer, most people will stop reading in the first sentence. The first sentence of, “I saw SEJ’s post on Google+ Tools by Debbie Miller and thought I’d sent you a recent infographic on Google+ our company just did.” is a lot more natural (and showcases that you know me and SEJ) rather than, “Google+ has been a growing force in our industry, and our new infographic on Google+ growth showcases how it’s making a difference in social media in 2014.”

While most of these changes boil down to writing to specific people instead of attempting to cover as many outlets as possible, it’s alarming how little public relations professionals have done to modify their strategy for the digital medium, given that their ROI can’t be that impressive. Changing your strategy, while more time consuming, will lead to a much better response rate and growth of relationships than attempting to BCC hundreds of people and hoping just one will reply.


All images via Shutterstock.

Kelsey Jones
When she's not editing and scheduling posts, Kelsey Jones manages the Marketing Nerds podcast and moderates SEJ Summit conferences and Marketing ThinkTank webinars. She has... Read Full Bio
Kelsey Jones
Kelsey Jones
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  • Karan Rawat

    !hola Kelsey,
    Great post, it remind me of writing “applications for leave” in the high school, which they never approved.


  • Ari Herzog

    Digital PR is much more than sending emails. Where’s the marketing angle? Where’s the community management? You make a good point but the title is deceiving.

    • Kelsey Jones

      You are very right. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg and unfortunately many people think sending out emails is enough. Everything you mentioned probably a post all on its own! Thanks for inspiring me to hopefully keep writing about this.

  • Brendan Murphy

    Great tips – “be a person” is so simple and honest and breaks through so many automated and ‘type and send’ campaigns – if you really authentically, genuinely want to connect, at least be real. It reminds of the boy at the dance who just walks up to every girl asking for a dance, knowing his strike rate will eventually land a partner. Hey, wait a minute, maybe that boy was me, in another lifetime….

    • Kelsey Jones

      I’m sure that strategy has an eventual success rate, right? Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Trent Flood

    What is most shocking to me is that this article needs to be written. I believe the same basic piece was written 15 years ago when I started my PR career. However, the reasoning remains the same, clients who don’t “get” PR are looking for quantity not quality. I also believe many of the individuals pushing these releases each day aren’t PR professionals; they are small business owners who think this approach works. Either way, it’s sad we haven’t matured past this point.

    • Kelsey Jones

      Thanks Trent. I’m glad you agree.

  • awhitecavage

    You just blew my mind, Kelsey! How awesome would it be if Google bought Pinterest–that would revolutionize search. They could do so much with it! (Not to mention, what SEOs could do with it.)

    • Kelsey Jones

      Ha! It was just a random example. I hope Pinterest doesn’t get acquired, at least for a while. But if it was, I would trust Google to let it be to its own devices. 🙂