Digital PR Tips in the Time of COVID-19 [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
May 14, 2020

Should you pitch right now? Who should you pitch? And what should you pitch them? 

 

via GIPHY

These are tough questions to begin with, let alone during a pandemic.

Dmitry Dragilev, founder of JustReachOut.io, discusses the pitching behavior he’s seen on the platform and suggests what would work for other people doing their own DIY pitching.

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Current digital PR trends
  • Examples of what local journalists need at this time
  • How businesses have pivoted their pitching angles

Related resources/links:

 
Transcription:
Amanda: This week we have a guest who's actually a returning guest, Dmitry Dragilev, who is the founder of JustReachOut.io, was actually in the first iteration of the show, the Ask Amanda about Marketing version of the show for anyone who didn't listen to that. It was kind of generation one of this. And we're really excited to have him back to talk about something topical and timely, we're recording this in the time of COVID-19 and Dmitry has a really great perspective on what's going on in the realm of Digital PR. So, welcome to the show, Dmitry. 

 

Dmitry: Hey, thanks for having me back on, excited to be on and just happy to share, you know, insights and kind of actual, to tell folks on what to do when PR comes your way and you got to face journalists.


Amanda: Yeah. So, can you have-- you have a lot of insight into this because of the JustReachOut platform, you see how different people are pitching reporters. So, what-- I want to start things off with just asking, what are you seeing that's different now than it was, you know, several weeks ago?


Dmitry: We have a lot of people pitching through our platform, like thousands. And so, these are DIY PRs, they're not professionals. They're like, you-- and probably not you and me, because you guys are professionals with Fractl, you know, I'm kind of like a DIYer that just kind of learned the trade by myself and just became pretty good at it, built a tool to help people do the same. But the rest of them are even less, you know, less experts in PR space, they're just founders or you know, marketers, content marketers that are not very versed in PR, but are doing so. And so, one big thing we saw early March, late February is people just stopped sending stories, and the reason they did so is because they were afraid as to what they're sending and whether the stuff they're sending is appropriate. And so, a lot of people just don't know how and where to pitch and they don't want to be out of context, they don't want to spam me, they don't want be stepping on anybody's toes and they just feel uncomfortable in this situation right now to produce content, market it and get seen by big publications for it. And so, people stop. And now, people that didn't stop are getting a ton more opens in terms of the pitches, right? I'm proportionally have had more opens and to be honest, to be fair, the stuff they're pitching is not always better than what everyone else was pitching before, right? 


So, to give you a very specific example like, we have a cyber security company, right? And in the light of everything that's happening, cyber security concerns are probably one of the least in their mind, right? And so, they're like, "Oh, we thought...", right. And we have a marketing company that's pitching different like, how to market your business, how to grow your business type of pitches, and they switched and they're pitching like three ways to stay productive at home and during COVID, five ways to grow your business during COVID, they're very generic, kind of like fluffy type of stuff and they're getting way more success because the cyber securities of the world and all these other little like, mom and pop that have a subscription boxes, granola subscription box, we have another one, they're just kind of like, "We're going to ride this out, we're not going to do anything for the next three months. And then we'll see what happens after that.". We're all on the annual plan so, it's fine. But I want my users to continue pitching and I feel like the cyber securities over the world, granolas over the world, they should be, you know, continuously pitching, and they even have a better chance now, because there's a lot less pitches going out.


Amanda: Right. I mean, that's been the struggle so many people have had is, how the volume of pitches that are sent and trying to compete against them, and now the competition is just so much lower. But do you think that these journalists, you know, that they're looking for stories? It seems like, because so many verticals are talking about COVID-19 in one way or another, but if you did send a helpful, valuable pitch, you know, do you think it's more likely that it would be picked up right now?


Dmitry: I think journalists now are trying to figure out stories that are-- have COVID-19 in it but are a little bit more deeper and more thoughtful, has more info in them, because it's-- reporting on news is one thing, but having data insights and information to back up your opinions and studies is something that they just don't have time to come up with now. I see a lot of people that are starved for content, starved for video content primarily and starved for like, studies and data, because like, investigative journalism, just journalism in general is all done from home. And so, you're just suffering from that, you know, lack of video content that we're seeing, lack of examples, and that's what, in the product at least, that's what I'm seeing. I'm seeing journal-- like, literally like, we have a marketing firm and what they do, they'll create little video footage of interest for experts, and they'll send to a local station, and they'll say, "Hey, WKGZ, I'm here in Princeton, New Jersey, this is-- PPP loan stuff just came out. This is what's happening on the ground, I just interviewed three small business owners and here's their opinions on the process of getting a loan from it.". A little bodega down the street, it might be-- I think the next one was some kind of shop and then there was a 99-cent store. And so, what they did is they literally did a Skype call or Zoom call, like we're doing now, and they did three quick interviews, and they're sending to their local news publications and they're getting hits for that, right? Because that local news publication is starved for content like that, they can't go out. And then, journalists are needing for that stuff, and if you can step in and become a mini assistant for these journalists and be on the local level primarily right now, you know, you'd be hitting a homerun here. Avoid like, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and get into, you know, a launch of some kind of app, a launch of, you know, "Here's a new product we built, new feature, new funding we got.", forget that. Like, that in the light of what's going on now is not something that like, you'd feel comfortable and genuine talking about with a journalist that you, say met face to face or overview right now. But if you have information about kind of what's related, what's going on now, or you drum up that stuff, that's what's-- currently that's what I've seen people pitch and get success from.


Amanda: I love the concept of acting like the journalist's assistant because they're literally having trouble getting access to these things like you said, and if you can set that up for them, just the fact that you did that alone is such a value add, let alone the information itself as you're saving them so much time.


Dmitry: It's not that hard. Like, literally anybody who's listening to this right now, it's not that hard to do that because you just-- you can find small business owners anywhere, just talk to them, everybody's sitting at home now, everybody's way more tuned in and answering emails and calls and everything. So, you just got to interview like two or three of them on a video and any local radio station will definitely have that content, love that content from you. So, it's not too much to do that. 


Amanda: So, how relevant to that, how can people, if you're a brand and maybe you don't have like as direct of a connection to everything that's going on, and you're not really sure how to contribute, how have you seen people come up with ideas for content that is useful to pitch?


Dmitry: Yeah, so, the first thing that I would say and we have a lot of these brands that are like, "Listen, I just don't have anything COVID related, like, is there anything that I can pitch?", and the answer is, "No". You can continue pitching your expertise, you know, the first, they're like two things that I would say. One is, you don't have to produce the content to actually pitch it. So, you can literally come up with an idea of what that content will be and then pitch it to journalists, see what open rates you get, see what responses you get, and then go and produce the content if there's incentive. So, what I see a lot of our customers do, and we have an app, like, I'll give you another example, we have a dating app, this person runs a dating app and this is literally an app that checks-- does third party validation on your date, tries to find out if that date is, you know, creepy or not before meeting up with them. And so, this spread-- this company, you know, suck obviously and what they're doing now is they're coming up with ideas around studies, as you know, dating, virtual dating versus non virtual dating, how are the two different? Men and women, men are more likely to not check, the women are more likely to check, 79% of the women are more likely to check than men before hopping on the first date over virtual versus non virtual, or something like that. They have a quick 10:34 [inaudible] and what they do is they literally will make a tool or some other will find all the journalists covering eating or dating apps or whatever recently they've written about and start responding to them saying, "Hey, you covered dating, I have a new study I'm running right now. I haven't finished it. Preliminary results say 79% of men will forget about third party checking, while 90% of women will check before the first date, do a third-party validation check on their first. Is this at all interesting to you? We'd love to share more info.". That's it, sign off. That short test of having that pitch like literally, "This is what I'm running right now, are you at all interested?", is exactly what you would figure out if the journalist is interested in your topic. And I would highly suggest people sort of do that. 


And in terms of you asked, how do you come up with ideas? I usually go to our press opportunities search. This is where journalists are asking questions and you're answering them, this is Herro if you guys have heard but, there's also CraftNet, there's also spot the guests, radio clips, journal requests, we aggregate all of them and will allow you to search all of them with one keyword, but you can subscribe to different newsletters. Idea here is to understand what a journal is asking about and try to single out instead of not just COVID, right? So, don't serve COVID. This is why in our tool, you just put keywords. So, it just filters out all the COVID junk out of there or whatever you're really interested in. So, you can put in something like productivity or you might put in something that's like health, and anatomy or finance or technology, some of the keywords that you're an expert in, and you'll see what the asks are from journalists that are very recent asks, and you use that to inform yourself on what topic you should be covering, pitching journalists or what you should be coming up with. A lot of things I use are journalists' searches similar to like if Google News and type in PPP loans or you might type in, you know how to convert customers better, how to grow your business during a downturn, something like that, and then look at what people are commenting the last two weeks, that's what you might do to figure out, "If this is covered very recently, what's my unique take on that stuff? What can I do to sort of improve this information?". Wherever another customer in that data security space, that literally they put in data breaching, they found six questions on how, you know, what are the most prevalent scams of 2020 and then found journalists, some of those scams being covered in detail. And this, they're going to create sort of a whole map of the world, showing where those scams are coming from, and the frequency of those scams. And again, this is just an idea they're pitching. They just got six responses saying, "Yes, I want to check this out. I want to see this data.", and they're about to create. So, yeah, so that example really helps to kind of put it in lines of listeners, I guess, is like doing that research, it's like the ask, so, people are asking about these different scams, look at people have been recently covering, people are covering those specific scams in different places of the world, "How can I create one thing? Well, maybe I create one map that shows the frequency and kind of visualization of the thing.". Great. Now, let's pitch it, don't create the map, pitch it to see if people would actually use this, if they ask, great, then you go and create it.


Amanda: Yeah, that's a really good point about the research you have to do up front rather than just kind of like trusting your instincts and creating something and winging it. And you talked about, you know, similar topics on your Traffic Think Tank webinar recently, and one of the things you said in that, that I think is important and relevant to what you're saying now is not to duplicate what's already there, right? Like so, instead of pitching somebody who already did what you were thinking about doing, looking for those opportunities where it's not quite, it's like, complimentary or supplementary to something that they're writing about, right? Some kind of a resource or tool that can--


Dmitry: Be very different and unique, you have to show value. So, if you're like, in my first example, we were talking earlier, like pitching a local news station right now, very hot thing to do but you can't go and look at everything that that local radio station or TV station has covered, and just kind of be the same thing, right? You need to kind of push the envelope a little bit, right? You can't be like, "Oh, I heard the story on NPR about economic downturn and small businesses struggling maybe I'll go interview three more businesses do it.", you're just recycling on what you've heard. Maybe there are new perspectives there but it's kind of a meh like, for an editor. But if you see something new that just came out, and you can interview some new faces around it and can produce something, a new take on something that's what you kind of want. And same with this day, right? Like, you just want to kind of package it in a very different way. I, Kristen is also part of Traffic Think Tank, you know, and we've been chatting with her and she showed me just phenomenal examples of how she was using sort of some of this data to visualize it. It's just awesome, the way you guys do this. I really enjoyed it. It was on lawsuit.org you guys did? Which countries are staying home most visualization, and that was just, it's just so cool. You know, like, we don't see that information visually like that and it's always telling us-- we always read these articles, we listen to the radio, we watch the news, but to have some kind of visualization of how countries are staying home more and it's just interesting to see, it's novel. So, be thinking that way, right? Maybe it's the same thing but then your take is visualization.


Amanda: Yeah, I've always been interested in the concept of like providing proof for something that most people thought was like the reality, which is a little contradictory too, we've always said that the surprise factor is really important with things. People don't, like you said, they want to see something new, something that shocks them but also, I think there's merit to things that are proving assumptions, like, you're saying, and that lawsuit example, you kind of expect that people are home, but now you actually have data that shows how often it's happening. It's like really validating, I think, and something that people like. So, I think that is one way to look at it. But it has to be new data, it has to be something that hasn't already been shared a ton. And this is like, generally our strategy anyway, is creating data driven content and pitching it and we found like, have you seen a lot of people, because we've seen this, where we've done this, because we have clients that we're working with and we had projects already in progress and it didn't make sense to do this all the time, but to pivot them, because the reality is, even if you're not directly related to COVID-19, so many other things, like you mentioned before dating, right? Like, you wouldn't have necessarily think right off the bat, "Oh, dating definitely has to do with a pandemic.", but because of the nature of isolation, and quarantining, like so many parts of everyday life are affected, that we've been able to pivot some of our pitches, have you seen people doing that as well? 


Dmitry: Definitely, yeah, except actually the dating guy, you know his original pitch was men versus women, you know, how are they checking third party validation of their date, and now it's more basically, his hypothesis now is, "Hey, people are checking way more because of COVID because we're at home because we're only doing virtual and people are less trusting of people virtually than they are in person.". So, he just came up with some random numbers like 79% don't trust or whatever and then he sent it out. People came back saying, "Yes, I want to know more info on that.". So, he's running the data now and it seems like it's proving to his hypothesis is true. You know, there are less trusting, of course, virtually, because you can't really read cues as well, I guess but he did pivot to this now happening. So, yeah, like, if you have absolutely-- it's a sound, you just have to take the reality of the situation and relate your expertise to it. You don't have to pitch a COVID story, you don't have to pitch directly about it, you don't have to create resources about it directly, but it's impacting you somehow. And a lot of times, you know, the most useful thing you can do is not-- you don't have to come up with this new data, you can just answer questions on your topic of expertise and get featured in press, you might have a mention, not a feature but, you know, if you're impacted in some way or you're working from home, you're doing remote work, every day, this is the most tricky section of our tool is, press opportunities. Because there's so much that comes out on these newsletters, ProfNet, Herro, and you can just respond on productivity and things that are not 100% related to what you do might be, but you still get featured in American Express and Forbes and Fast Company just for having a good answer at the right time to these journalists. So


Amanda: There's something I wanted to go back and touch on quickly, which is, if you're somebody where you want to build your own brand's authority, and you do have something relevant to say during COVID-19, is that tactic you're talking about where you just look for questions that are directly being asked and answer them? Is that the best way to go like, if you're like, "I've never done media before, but I know I have something that could be valuable to people to say.", and you don't really have the resources to come up with like a data driven project or anything like that, is that their best tactic?


Dmitry: I say supplement with that, your primary outreach should be journalists and we have an exactly the same-- exactly a customer fits that profile right now, they do transcription service and there is a company that just secured a ton of money and they do live transcription of podcasts and stuff like that, or events. And this guy has data to say that 95% of live transcription is actually junk, it's like BS. And so, what he's doing is he's targeting everybody who's covered that one company that got a lot of funding because they got a lot of press and saying, "Hey, I actually have data to say that this stuff doesn't work as well, here's why.". And so, he has something very relevant to say about something very specific that's happening right now and if that's your case, then you got to target on keyword, that one company, whatever it may be, and just piggyback press and literally target them. You have to be very directed and very specific that way, if it's too narrow, this approach doesn't work as well. So, you want to-- have something to say, needs to be super specific, like Otter AI, he knows that like, "Hey, Otter AI, 22:23 [inaudible].", or there is, he does scam tracking. He basically looks at fraudulent services in the transcription space and tries to find a scams, and that is how one of the big companies was fined and there was a lot of press around it. So, what he did was, he kind of compiled all the companies that are scammy and fraudulent on his site and started pinging everybody who's covered that one scam to say, "Hey, I actually have data on all major scams going on for 2019. Are you interested to expand your story, not to just cover ones here but there are more.”. So, he's like targeting here, might be very-- so, if you have something very specific around COVID, targeting is a big issue here so, you want to make sure that you target them but if you do, I wouldn't even bother on the question side, I would go directly to journalists because it's so specific and directed. Questions are more general you know, have you applied for PPP? What's your, you know, like small business owner struggles during this process? 10 tips for remote work, those are the questions that you will see from journalists and answer them, you'll get, you know, mentioned in these big publications and this will hold up your image and it'll help you all over the place, you'll land podcast interviews and get featured and in the future pitching, answer these and supplement your stuff. But if you use specific stuff, that's what I would do, kind of follow this from transcription services guy or do that kind of outreach that's very specific, you know?


Amanda: Yeah. And that's something that applies all the time, right? It's not saying something that you think somebody else could have said, you know, with almost no preparation, because why would somebody talk to you over anybody else? It's making sure you have something new to bring to the table. So, make sense that that would still apply now.


Dmitry: Yeah, it never, yeah, that's always the case, I feel like. But I should-- you shouldn't worry about whether you know, stuff here you're saying is-- there's a lot of like worries and sort of people are just, in general unsure, which don't really make any sense to me all the time. Things are, as usual, you know, you need to bring value, uniqueness to your peers and people are warm to accept stuff if it's really, really awesome.


Amanda: Right, exactly. Well, thank you so much for being on the show Dmitry, really appreciate you sharing your insights during this time.


Dmitry: Sure, no problem. Happy pitching everybody. Stay safe and I'll see you on the other one.


Amanda: Awesome. Thank you, Dmitry.


Dmitry: Sure.

 

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