OutREACH Online 2020 Round-Up

19 June 2020

Posted in: Events Outreach

Last Friday saw Seeker (virtually) head to Verve Search’s outREACH Online 2020, where outreachers, PR pros, link builders, creatives, and more come together to talk creativity, strategy, and everything outreach.

Usually, the event would take place in London, but coronavirus put paid to that. But far be it from Verve Search to let a global pandemic stop this meeting of minds!

Read on for a concise round-up of what the Seeker team learned. Time for some knowledge bombs.

Creativity Is A State Of Mind — Kim Bjørnqvist

Creativity is a funny thing. It’s not like a tap we can turn on and off, but more of an unpredictable river — sometimes it surges and flows, while at other times its ebbs to a slow dribble. We are at the mercy of our own creative juices.

But Kim Bjørnqvist thinks otherwise.

Peppered with quotes, phrases, and other memorable soundbites — “there’s nothing more creative than a massive f*ck-up” — Kim’s talk looked to help us quantify and control creativity, bending it to meet our own needs and goals:

  • Be a hoarder — collect useful (and useless) ideas
  • Learn to unlearn — break out of established modes of thinking
  • Failure leads to creativity — embrace your mistakes and learn from them
  • Methods + order + discipline = valuable creativity, rather than unruly misdirection

Kim also highlighted some idea killers we need to be wary of: those who dismiss ideas as too expensive, too difficult, for instance.

He points to common blockers from our own colleagues too — the frustrating “that’s not the way we do things here”, “management will never accept it”, or even the self-limiting “if this is so brilliant, why hasn’t it been done before?”

Creativity is essential for outreach, particularly for creative SEO or digital PR campaigns. Ideation is often the hardest part of the process, requiring deep reserves of carefully-directed creativity to hit on that single idea that works. Rather than adopt a scattergun approach, control your creativity to help you find that nugget of genius that just works.

Content Deconstructed: How To Reverse Engineer Wildly Successful Content — Mark Johnstone

Next up was Content Hubble’s Mark Johnstone, content marketing consultant and PR campaign extraordinaire.

Finding an idea or angle or campaign strategy that is likely to win links is a delicate art. But there’s a plethora of successful assets out there, so why not stand on the shoulders of giants and reverse engineer it for your own fresh ideas?

Mark began by asking us to look at boxing legend, Mike Tyson. He posited that Tyson’s talent didn’t just come from within, but from diligent study of all the greats that came before him.

The same is true of so many cultural legends — each studied their predecessors, learned from them, and then developed their own style.

You can see where this is going.

By learning from previous successful campaigns, we too can develop unique, engaging PR content that wins hearts, minds, and crucially links.

Mark took us on a whistlestop tour of some of the best PR campaigns and assets, identifying four different starting points for reverse-engineering these ideas:

  • Data
  • Format
  • Topic
  • Research

Data is a strong starting point. As Shannon McGuirk highlighted in her 2019 BrightonSEO talk, your campaign story is so often in your data. Find a unique hook within a dataset and use this as the basis for your campaign or asset.

But format is also a great place to reverse-engineer an idea from. The iconic shark attack asset is a great example of this — such a striking expression of a single data point makes for a memorable asset and an example of how one fact can create an entire campaign.

Simple topic ideation is another. Start with one element, and then build on that.

Mark used the example of music. From music, focus on music exams, which can then be narrowed down further to rhythm tests. This particular strand turned into the wildly successful Got Rhythm? asset — truly, a hazelnut in every bite with topic ideation.

Finally, research: just Google the asset idea itself. The point of the game isn’t to predict how someone got to an idea, but guess how you got there — it’s mental rehearsal. You’re laying down new pathways in your brain about how you can get to new ideas. The more pathways you have, the more possibility of getting to those ideas yourself.

Great Expectations: The Truth About Digital PR Campaigns — Shannon McGuirk

Shannon McGuirk, Head of PR & Content at Aira, prolific BrightonSEO speaker, and digital PR pro, opened with a look at the uncomfortable reality of digital Twitter.

As an industry, we often shout about the great work we do. And this is fine — we should absolutely celebrate our successes.

But when we only celebrate our wins, we’re only acknowledging half the story. We skew the perception of our industry, setting unrealistic expectations and putting forward the idea that steadily-performing campaigns don’t have value, when the opposite is true.

It’s a real problem in the digital industry. The impact of social media on self-esteem is well-documented, and as digital professionals, we are not exempt from this effect. Twitter in particular can be a toxic space, and we often forget that when we blow our own trumpet on a public space, our industry colleagues can be caught in the breeze.

With refreshing candour, Shannon touched on one of her failures, an asset about remaining oil reserves in the US that was launched during the election of a certain orange president…

Of course, against such competition, the asset didn’t win any links. But it gave Shannon, and by proxy, the rest of us, some valuable lessons for future campaigns.

Everyone has big wins, and everyone has big failures. But steady performers actually make up for the bulk of campaign results, and studying these campaigns helped Shannon achieve a 95% increase in organic traffic and a 63% increase in organic revenue.

Shannon advised we should review our work every quarter to identify problem areas and optimize your strategy. Seems daunting? It’s not — Shannon provides a handy template to help us achieve just that.

Expert Outreach Panel — Straight From The Horse’s Mouth

Next up, we were treated to a panel of expert outreach speakers with industry pros Gisele Navarro, Carrie Rose, Ruth Barrett, and Laura D’Amato. There was so much to take from the panel, but here are the highlights, starting with their favourite outreach tools:





  • Moz’s Link Explorer
  • Twitter: #journorequest & #prrequest hashtags (make sure your client isn’t under an NDA first)
  • Google: reverse image search (handy for finding out when links go live)

We touched on a few pre-outreach tips, too.

Carrie highlighted the value of building a relationship with journos to help test later content ideas pre-launch — essential for a second pair of expert eyes on a campaign. Ruth agreed, but advised only testing a few times a year so as not to put strain on your journo relationship.

In the same vein, she also pre-tested ideas on forums. Game’s Christmas Tinner idea was tested on a vegan group, helping it get the go-ahead and resulting in a successful campaign.

Need data? Go back to uni, said Carrie — universities often get research grants, making them ripe for expert data sourcing. Reach out to them on Twitter to start talking.

On the subject of experts, Laura says there are two types: one to provide the questions, and one to provide the data. Someone from the outreach team helps draft the questions and then they bring in the experts early on so they provide the data — nice.

How To Write The Perfect Email — Stephen Panico

As we reached the afternoon and morning dawned In the US, our stateside speakers joined us, starting with BuzzStream’s own Stephen Panico.

Where Mark showed us how to reverse-engineer content for PR campaigns, Stephen adopted a similarly investigative approach, but to outreach emails.

Stephen ran through a few real-life examples of outreach emails, each with quite disparate qualities but still successful nonetheless. Surgical and highly granular, Stephen picked apart these emails to show what exactly makes them so great.

He began with an example from Verve, with a win on Forbes magazine.

This email is all business. No pleasantries, no fluff, just straight down to brass tacks with a solid lede. This is followed by a no-nonsense outline of the methodology, with a juicy fact to pique interest added too. Finally, the email closes with a link to the full study for the journo to peruse the data at their own leisure — slick.

So why so serious? Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist. On a Friday night, you’re likely more concerned with a post-work pint than slogging through a dense outreach email. I think we can all relate to that.

Next, Stephen showed us an example from Root Digital’s Darren Kingman, who landed a great win on CNBC.

Darren takes personalisation to a whole other level. His outreach email features a select few bullet points that highlight various elements of the data and campaign — good practice for easy-to-digest outreach emails.

But — get this — each point is phrased in the same kind of language that the journalist would use. The journo can simply copy and paste the bullet points into their article. It’s a simple hack but one that increases your email’s chance of landing ten times over.

These are just a few of the examples Stephen used. Each adopts a different tact in approaching journos, and yet the results are the same: a successful pitch that results in some big campaign wins.

Measuring The Value Of Links — Lisa Myers

Next up was our host Lisa Myers, who showed us how to measure the value of links at a time when the topic is under scrutiny within the industry.

There is a great deal to take into account: relevancy, site popularity, scale, follow/nofollow links, site authority, potential penalties, and so on. But how do you sift through the duds to find what matters?

The answer lies in brands. As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: “brands are the solution, not the problem… Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”

And this is reflected in its strategy too. Google constantly alters its algorithm to prioritise sites that are trusted, authoritative, highly read, and routinely receive links from other brands and publishers. As such, we should target those websites with a significant brand presence.

Small wins are fine, but with 73 websites taking up 50% of web traffic, it’s important to pursue sites with higher authority. That means targeting the journalists who write for them with clear, concise, and effective pitches.

It’s important to remember that the journalist is your main target audience. Consequently, it’s worth creating content that actually helps journalists meet their targets.

How The Web Landscape Has Changed — Rand Fishkin

We finished the day with a typically forward-looking talk from SEO legend, Rand Fishkin.

Rand began with a stark but realistic depiction of the post-COVID business world. Unemployment is high, many businesses have been harmed by the pandemic, and the future looks fraught and complex.

But ever the optimist, Rand highlighted some positives that brands and agencies can hold on to during the strange reality of 2020.

Rand ended his speech by outlining a handful of solid tactics that marketers, brand, and agencies can use for now:

  • Shoot for podcast ads & guest spots
  • Be smart with your targeting — go for websites that send high-value traffic
  • Offer free value in exchange for email signups (a tactic that works especially well during recessions)
  • Hit the ground running by building pent-up demand for products when customer budgets are tight
  • Test pulling back branded search and repurpose that budget for other channels

These are all useful, actionable tips we can all learn from, but Rand’s final tip was particularly resonant.

During coronavirus, community matters — reach out to your colleagues, clients, even your competitors, and collaborate. Work together to find mutually-beneficial opportunities, offer opportunities for furloughed workers, or simply hook people up with useful connections.

Help others, and you’ll help yourself. Solid advice even beyond the world of outreach.

On-point advice from expert speakers from a dizzying variety of backgrounds. Coronavirus might have forced us to go virtual, but the actionable tips and advice we learned were very real. See you next year.

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