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PR Automation: 3 Ways to Kill Brain Numbing Tasks Forever

PR Automation Guide

 

Have you ever tried to pitch a journalist to write a story about you?

How about pitching a blogger to link to your website or tool in their blog post?

If you have, I bet you know it’s not easy to get a response, let alone a positive response.

The problem with most PR outreach is that most email pitches are cold emails which means the journalist or blogger receiving the email does not have any trust established with you, no relationship either, so it’s the equivalent of walking up to a stranger on a busy street in New York City and asking them to cover you or link to you.

Personalization is the name of the game if you want to increase your response rate. Doing the research on who you’re emailing, knowing something about them before you reach out is how you stand out from the crowd.

Take this example of a broken link email template outreach, pay close attention to the personalization in the email:

Hey {{first name}},

I came across your article about <insert three words> while doing research on Google for <insert two words>. Love the article!

{{url}}

I’d like to promote it to our X+ customers in one of our next newsletters, but there’s a broken link in it that leads to an error page. Any chance you can fix the link so that we could promote it?

The broken link is here:

{{broken link}}

We have an article on a similar topic on the blog for you to replace the broken link with, would it be OK to send it over to you so you can replace the broken link?

I have been writing on this topic for a while and my articles have also appeared in.

Thanks,
Signoff
Email Signature

 

There are three spots this pitch is personalized:

  1. Three words describing the article
  2. Two words describing the research
  3. Email signature

The response rate for this email template above is directly correlated to three spots listed above. If you do a crappy job at doing the research about your prospect and put something generic such as “business” in the #1 spot in template above instead of “best ways to convert traffic into sign ups” your response rate suffers a great deal.

Another spot most people forget to personalize is the email signature, yet it’s probably one of the most powerful tokens of credibility you have in a cold email to a journalist.

At JustReachOut we analyzed 5000+ customers’ 15M+ emails over the last 7 years and found that the vast majority of first clicks (that is the very first click a blogger or journalist or podcaster receiving a PR pitch makes) is on a link in the signature!

Changing your email signature to look attractive to the journalist you’re emailing does wonder for your response rate.

Long story short – personalization is a must when it comes to PR outreach. If you do not personalize your emails you run the risk of getting your emails blocked or simply delivered to the spam folder.

The problem of course is: How do you automate your PR outreach?

You can’t sit all day and look up details about a journalist, blogger or podcaster you are going to email in bulk.

After using PR to grow a startup from 0 to 40M pageviews per month and getting acquired by Google I focused on creating an automated way for any brand to do PR which focused on personalized outreach and relationships.

Personalized PR automation is what we do at JustReachOut and what our platform guides each one of our customers to do when pitching journalists and podcasters.

In this post, I want to show you how to do the same even if you don’t have a budget for any fancy software tools.

Ready to learn how to automate your PR outreach? Let’s roll!

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

The first rule of sales is to 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. The 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 the 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


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”:

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

Find relevant results and plug them into your spreadsheet.

Expand and your prospect list

If you’ve followed the above steps, you should have a small list of prospects.

The next step is to expand this list and filter out irrelevant prospects.

To expand the list, look at sites that have linked to the story/blog.

For example, when I searched for “cold email” on FollowerWonk, one of the first results was Heather Morgan, who runs the wonderful Salesfolk.com website.

Here’s a two-step process for finding people/sites similar to Salesfolk:

1. Find the most popular content on the site

Head over to Buzzsumo and enter the site into the search box.

 

If you’re targeting a large publication with multiple writers, you can add the site domain and your keywords. For instance, these are HuffingtonPost’s best-performing articles on “cold email”:

 

If Buzzsumo isn’t your thing, you can also use SEMRush to find a site’s most popular pages (in terms of organic traffic and rankings – different from Buzzsumo’s social focus).

To do this, plug the domain into SEMRush, then click on ‘Entire Menu’ in the left pane and go to Organic Research > Pages.

2. Find people who’ve linked to this content

Next, take the top-performing link(s) you found above and plug them into a backlink research tool like Majestic or Ahrefs. For a free alternative, check out Open Link Profiler.

Here is what I see when I plug in Salesfolk’s top link (as per Buzzsumo) into Ahrefs. The topmost referring domain would likely make for a good prospect.

Find email addresses

One of the easiest ways to find emails is to use a tool like Snov.ioEmailHunter or LeadIQ.  Any one of these tools 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.

Automate the prospecting process

If you follow all the steps, you’ll have a nice list of prospects…after 40 hours of work.

There are ways to automate the entire process using tools like JustReachOut (disclosure: I run JustReachOut).

Instead of searching for prospects on Google and finding their email addresses, you can simply search for your keyword on JustReachOut to find relevant journalists/bloggers.

For example, here’s what you see when you search for “cold email”:

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.

Here’s a structure I like to follow:

  • 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.

Setup tracking for your emails

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.

These days if I’m not using JustReachOut I use Mailshake to send out and track my PR outreach emails to podcasters, journalists, and bloggers, it’s a pretty simple sales prospecting tool and that’s why I like it, it has a lot of nice features to track your campaigns.

If you are just starting out and just need a free tool Mixmax is perfect for you to kick the tires with outreach, that’s the tool I started using years ago since it has such a simple and easy-to-use mail merge feature.

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.

 

Tracked email data will show up in your Mixmax dashboard like this:

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.

Then pop into Mixmax to see their open rate and CTR.

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 a great example from Sapph’s article on CriminallyProlific. Sapph wanted some specific candidates to participate in a survey. So she sent out this email:

 

Her response rate for this was just 35% – good, but not great. So she tweaked the email around to focus more on the benefits. Notice how she mentions the ‘print version’ that will allow the candidates to reach voters who “cannot normally be reached with online/social media campaigns”.

By amplifying the benefit, she increased the survey completion rate to 60%.

Keep this in mind when you’re crafting your emails. You should have a clear answer if the prospect asks, “What’s in it for me?”.

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

If you’re following my advice, you’re likely starting off your emails by offering some pointed, personalized advice, comments or feedback on something your prospect created or asked for publicly.

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. For example, when Sapph added an urgency trigger (a fixed deadline) to the email I shared above, her survey response rate increased from 60% to 75%.

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

  • Add urgency such as a deadline – like in the example above.
  • Add scarcity by mentioning the 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 of 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.

 

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’. If you’re using JustReachOut, you can find some templates within the tool itself. Just search for your keyword, find your target journalists and click on “Send email pitch” to find pre-built templates for common cold email outreach.

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 addresses, 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.

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:

 

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 set up, you will be 10x as productive at outreach.

While this method targets journalists, you can use it for contacting sales prospects and leads as well at scale. The target might differ, but the process remains the same – find prospects, gather data, create an email template, scale and send out using mail merge.

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    • 0
      @Brooke Harper
      ( 0 POINTS )
      4 years, 5 months ago

      Thank you for this in-depth article, Dmitry. I think this would do well (or even better) than your post on cold emails. I like how you gave a step by step guide on creating a successful PR automation. But I agree more on your main point which is in creating relationships. It’s in growing and nurturing that relationship that can push any PR automation at its peak. Because any automation strategy won’t work if you don’t show your network that you value them. They would just shun any PR effort from you.

      • 0
        @Dmitry Dragilev
        ( 0 POINTS )
        4 years, 5 months ago

        Thanks Brooke! Happy to share any insights I have and help anyone tackling this type of outreach. Like you say – it’s all about relationships! Shoot me a note if you have any other questions!

    • 0
      @Jon Winkel
      ( 0 POINTS )
      4 years, 2 months ago

      I love this article and have referred back to it several times now. Indeed, this is an innovative strategy and a template worth implementing immediately. Nice work and thanks for sharing.

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