Sales & Marketing 3 Comments

PR Automation: 3 Ways to Kill Brain Numbing Tasks Forever

Dmitry Dragilev

April 7th, 2017

PR Automation Guide

Last year, I wrote a lengthy blog post that now ranks on page one of Google for cold email. Every day, at least 60 people sign-up for my email list thanks to that one single blog post. Hopefully, you’ll find this post about PR automation similarly valuable.

One of the first things people ask me after subscribing is “How do I do cold email outreach?

And my answer is always the same: just as you would pitch a journalist or a blogger.

As a former marketing guy running his own startup, I’ve been on both sides of the aisles. I’ve pitched journalists as a marketer, and I’ve pitched leads as a founder.

One thing is clear: the lessons from pitching journalists are equally applicable to pitching customers.

There is a lot of overlap between the PR automation process and the sales process – from tools and tactics all the way down to cold email templates. 

More importantly, just like sales, you can also automate and streamline your PR process.

I’ll show you how to do exactly that in this series of posts.

By the way, if generating massive revenue from cold emails is part of your sales strategy – I’d recommend checking out this free cold email mastery course built by Max Altschuler & co at Sales Hacker.

PR Automation Will Never Work If You Don’t Build Relationships

The first rule of sales is build relationships.

The same applies to PR automation.

While the process I’ve outlined below will help you find PR targets and grab their attention, your PR approach should rest on building relationships.

Don’t wait until the last minute. Reach out to journalists, bloggers and influencers before you need them. – Dmitry

Just as you wouldn’t pitch your product in the first email you send to a cold lead, don’t ask for a press mention in your first email to PR targets. Instead, start a conversation by commenting on something they did or sharing something that might interest them.

I want you to internalize this shift in thinking. I’ve seen far too many people focus on the bottom of the funnel – templates, tracking and follow-ups – while forgetting the relationship aspect of PR. Their results, as you can imagine, are generally poor.

If you think about each stage of the buying process, you wouldn’t offer an price estimate or quote to an ice cold prospect that hasn’t engaged with you. Same applies to PR. You wouldn’t ask a journalist for a press mention without nurturing them first.

growth funnel hacks

Once you’ve embraced this relationship first approach, you’ll get much, much better results from the PR automation process I’ve outlined below.

Step 1: Building your prospect list

The first step in the pitching process is to build a list of target journalists, bloggers and influencers. As any experienced SDR will tell you, this step is crucial – a good prospect list equals better leads and more conversions.

It’s easy to get tangled up in a host of meaningless metrics when building out your prospect list, so I like to keep this process simple.

My two qualifiers for selecting targets are:

  • Do they cover my beat? The ‘beat’, for the uninitiated, is journalist-speak for area of expertise or coverage. If your target writes about tech for TechCrunch (or their own blog), you wouldn’t want to send them a sports-focused story (unless you can tie it to technology).
  • Do they have a large and engaged audience? An obvious qualifier – you want to target people who have a large reach. But engagement rate matters as well – a blog might have a lot of casual readers who don’t read past the headlines. That’s no good. You want to ideally target publications with a lot of readers and engagement (i.e. shares, comments, etc.).

In the spirit of simplicity, start by creating a spreadsheet with fields for:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Website
  • Social Profile

PR Process Automation 1

I also leave a field empty for notes and observations. Don’t over-complicate things beyond these fields.

Finding prospects

Your prospects will essentially fall into three categories:

  • Influencers – These targets have a large following (on social media, email or their blogs). They are invariably well connected to other influencers in the space.
  • Journalists – Go after medium to large publications who cover your beat.
  • Bloggers – Folks who run their own blogs.

Google is your best friend for finding these prospects (though I’ll share a few other tactics later as well).

Use this simple formula to figure out what to search for:

{business space} + {noun}

For instance, if you’re running Uber, you might search for “car sharing app”.

You are essentially looking for journalists and bloggers who write about your business space.

If you’re targeting journalists, focus your search on Google News since it usually features stories from larger outlets.

Here, for example, is what I see when searching for “car sharing app”:

PR Automation 2

You’ll notice that publications can be divided into three categories:

  • Broad niche focused outlets that feature stories about a specific technology or expertise, like a tech blog that also writes about clean energy – PC Magazine and Mobile World above.
  • General news outlets that also cover a specific beat (like technology) – Baltimore Sun in the above example.
  • Niche publications that only write about a particular area of expertise – like a blog exclusively about clean energy. In the above example, this would be TransportXtra.

You’ll have the easiest time getting onto a niche publication that writes exclusively about your area of expertise (category 3). The broader the publication’s focus, the harder it will be to get on it.

For each of the stories in your search results, find the name of the writer and the URL of the publication. Enter this data into your spreadsheet.

Personally, I like to target bloggers and influencers who run their own independent, single-person blogs. This at least ensures that they will actually see any pitch I send them.

Free tool for Twitter prospecting: Followerwonk

PR Automation 3

Find relevant results and plug them into your spreadsheet.

Find email addresses

One of the easiest ways to find emails is to use a tool like Email Hunter or LeadIQ. Hunter will find the naming pattern used on the domain and give you a list of possible email addresses.

Here’s the result for ‘TechCrunch’:

Journalists don’t protect their email addresses like business execs – many will publicly share theirs on Twitter. It’s a good idea to look up the journalist on Twitter as well.

Here’s Ryan Mac from Forbes:

ryan mac forbes

Since this is a sales blog, most of you would already know how to find email addresses, so I won’t go much into this.

Step 2: Perfect your template

In an ideal world, I would send a personalized email to each and every prospect I found above.

In the real world, I have limited resources and deadlines to meet.

And so I stick to using templates.

When using templates, you might be tempted to just pull one off the internet and plug it into your campaign. Don’t. Your prospects have likely seen similar templates in the past. Plus, the template is likely not customized for your specific requirements.

Here’s what you should do instead: send a few different emails to a handful of your prospects. Use the results from these emails to create a custom template.

Creating a template

There’s a lot of conflicting advice about outreach emails, but the one thing I’ve found to always be true is this:

Always give value before you ask for anything in return!

There are two ways you can do this:

  • Offer a genuine compliment
  • Respond to a recent public query or comment

Regardless of what tactic you choose, avoid any faux, copy-pasted praise (fluff phrases like “your article was awesome”). Instead, offer pointed, relevant comments.

Say, you read a fantastic article on the prospect’s blog about email marketing. When you email them, don’t just say that you loved the article.

Talk about exactly what you loved about the article. The more specific you can be, the better.

Essentially, you’re using this as an ice-breaker to kick-start the conversation.

Follow This Template Structure

  • Personalized greeting: This is crucial lest you want a quick trip to the spam folder. Avoid spammy greetings like “Dear” as well. “Hi {first name}” is good enough.
  • Genuine compliment: Talk about something they recently did, then elaborate what you liked about it.
  • Offer valuable help: Scour their social feeds to find questions they might have asked recently. Offer pointed advice if it’s within your domain of expertise.
  • One-sentence pitch: Your entire pitch, condensed into a single sentence. Focus on how this pitch benefits them.
  • Your CTA: A clear, concise request in persuasive language.
  • Your signature: Include your name, title and company. You can also include your social profiles or recent blog post links.

Here’s an example of this format:

Understand that this won’t be your final template – you’re only using this as a placeholder until you get more data.

It’s also a good idea to follow your prospects on Twitter to get a feel for their writing style and things they regularly share. I only do this for high-value targets like mega influencers and writers at major press outlets.

Email Marketing Metrics

By the way – MailChimp has done some phenomenal research on email marketing benchmarks. I’d recommend checking that out if you’re interested in learning more about which metrics you should be tracking, and how you stack up against industry standards.

Setup Email Tracking

Before you send out your emails, make sure that you have a way to track open rates. You essentially want to know which of your emails people actually open, which CTAs they click on, etc.

I like to use Mixmax for this since it also has strong mail merge capabilities which we will use later. There’s a free version you can use if you don’t want to pay $9 a month. HubSpot also has a free tool you can try.

Set it up by signing up with your Gmail account, then add the Mixmax Chrome extension. Mixmax will guide you through the setup process. Once you’re done, create a new email like you normally would. You should see a ‘Track’ button. Make sure that you track ‘opens’ as well as ‘clicks and downloads’.

Send and optimize emails

Start by sending one variant of your email to a handful of target prospects. Do the same for the remaining variants as well.

Your objective is to maximize these metrics for every email. It’s not impossible to get 50%+ response rates for your first email if you optimize it right.

How do you optimize emails? Here are a few pointers:

1. Focus on benefits

Journalists and bloggers aren’t altruists; they might be willing to help, but they also want to know what’s in it for them.

This is why every email you send should focus on the benefits – long-term and short-term.

Here’s one great example of how to provide value in cold emails before asking for something.

Here’s another example from an email I sent out when I was doing marketing for Polar (acquired by Google). Notice how I mention the benefit clearly – that it can help readers get back to the article (who wouldn’t want repeat visitors?).

It’s important to focus on a benefit that aligns with the prospect’s interests. In the above example, I mentioned returning visitors. That’s something bloggers want. But if I were to mention how it will help “generate leads”, a blogger might not be interested.

2. Be substantive with your help

It can be tempting to rush through this part, offer a few perfunctory phrases of praise, then jump off to your ‘ask’.

Don’t. Busy people get dozens of emails every day from people wanting something from them. Most of these emails sound like they were rushed off from a conveyor belt of email templates.

When you offer real and substantive content in your email, you immediately stand out from this group. If, say, the prospect mentions that she is planning to go to Greece, and you send an email with a few hotel suggestions, you will win their trust because no one else is doing the same.

Being substantive is essentially a tactic to stand out and draw attention.

3. Use a strong CTA

Every email should have a clear ‘ask’. This is the reason why you’re sending the email and what you want from the prospect – your CTA, so to speak.

A strong CTA will boost your chances of getting a response significantly. 

PR automation process

There are a few things you can do make your CTA more actionable:

  • Add urgency such as a deadline – like in the example above.
  • Add scarcity by mentioning limited quantity of something (such as the number of open seats at a webinar, a roundup, etc.).
  • Have a clear ask. Place your CTA on a separate line and mention exactly what you want your prospect to do.

4. Use social proof and appeal to authority

Social proof and authority are two of the pillars of persuasion according to Dr. Robert Cialdini. They are as effective in turning cold traffic into warm leads on a sales page as they are at getting journalists and bloggers to answer your emails.

For example, let’s look at the above email again. Notice the highlighted sentence – “Over 60% of your councilor candidate peers…

This is a classic example of social proof. By showing the reader that others they respect and follow (their peers) are already doing something, the email builds social proof.

Appealing to authority, on the other hand, would mean referencing an authority figure the prospect would recognize. Say, if your story was picked up by a big industry publication, you should mention it. Or if you’re picking up responses for a roundup, mention how a big industry influencer has already contributed.

These don’t have to be the bulk of your email – just a mention or two – but they can have an outsized effect on your response rate.

Turn your best email into a template

Once you’ve sent out the emails, wait a few days and check the data from MixMax. You should have a clear idea which emails get the most opens, clicks and responses.

Your next step should be to turn your best performing email into a template. This is very easy if you’re using MixMax. Write your email as you normally would. If you want to import data from elsewhere (such as a spreadsheet), enclose it within two curly brackets {{___}}.

Something like this:

We are essentially creating a template where we take the first name, business name, website, etc. from a spreadsheet. We’ve left enough space for a personalized comment. The rest of the email remains the same for every recipient.

Next, click on ‘Insert’ and select “Save this message as a template”. Click ‘Done’ on the next screen.

PR automation guide sales hacker

It’s important to use the same placeholder names within {{ }} as your prospect spreadsheet headers. That is, if your spreadsheet has rows titled First Name, Website, Business Name, use {{First Name}}, {{Business Name}} and {{Website}} in your template.

You’ll see why this is important below.

When you now log into your MixMax dashboard, you can go to ‘Templates’ in the left menu, click on your selected folder name and find this template.

You can also find a lot of templates online – just Google ‘cold email templates’. 

Step 3: Automate and Scale Email Outreach

You now have a template and a list of prospects. Your next step is to turn things up to 11 by automating the entire outreach process with mail merge.

Mail merge essentially means taking data from an external source and merging it with an email template. That is, if you have a spreadsheet with a list of 300 names, email addresses, and website address, you can create 300 emails quickly by merging this data into an email template.

I’m going to focus on MixMax here since that’s what we’ve been using since the start of this article.

To use mail merge, go to your MixMax dashboard and click on Sequences in the left menu, then click on ‘Create New Sequence’.

On the next screen, you can add data from Salesforce or upload it as a CSV file.

PR automation guide sales hacker

Since we’re using a spreadsheet, we’ll just upload it as a CSV file. MixMax will automatically create placeholder names for your template based on table headers, like this:

PR automation guide sales hacker

If you’ve already used the same names in your template as in the table header, you should now be good to go. Add your recipients from the CSV file and send yourself a couple of test messages.

Once you feel that things are okay, start sending out your emails en masse after adding a few personalized comments.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that there is some legwork involved in finding prospects and creating a compelling email message, but once you have everything setup, you will be 10x as productive at outreach.

About the author

Dmitry Dragilev

Two years ago Dmitry single-handedly grew a startup from zero to 40 million page views through press outreach and got acquired by Google. Now he has translated his know-how into JustReachOut, a SaaS launched in early 2016, which is now used by more than 4,000 small businesses and startups (as well as big ones such as Airbnb, HubSpot, Leadpages and Nickelodeon) to pitch relevant journalists and get press coverage without the help of PR firms. In his spare time he writes on CriminallyProlific and coaches students on how to reach out to prospects through PRThatConverts coaching program.

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