Author Archives: Sarah Skerik

A Twist on Crisis Planning: When Allies Attack

You’ve heard the adage “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and arguably, there’s no place it’s more true than in the realm of online opinion.  Today at SXSW, a session titled “Breaking the Mold: What to Do When Allies Turn” tackled the subject of frangible online alliances, and what to do when things go south.  The discussion was lead by:

  • Jehmu Greene, TV Commentator & Media Trainer at Fox News (@jehmu)
  • Joanne Bamberger, Editor/Publisher, Broad Side Strategies (@jlcbamberger)
  • Sally Kohn, Writer & TV Commentator, Movement Vision (@sallykohn)
Mmes Kohn, Bamberger and Greene.

Mmes Kohn, Bamberger and Greene. (Sally, thanks for making sure I knew who you were, but I recognized you from Crossfire. Just saying.)

Dealing with blowback is never fun, but when people or organizations that were you thought were in your corner turn the tables and attack, working through the situation can be demoralizing.

Kohn advised getting in front of potential problems by building credibility and goodwill within your community.  While goodwill won’t insulate you from online attackers,  building a credible and engaged network is a way to develop virtual comrades-in-arms.

When haters go “all sharknado” on you, it’s important to remember their motives, advised Bamberger.

“Haters are all about control,” Bamberger advised. “It’s not about you, it’s about them trying to stake out their territory.”

Kohn referenced the “Disapproval Matrix” created by Ann Friedman as a guide for discerning the difference between critics and haters.

Sussing out the difference between critics and haters is an important tactic in managing online attacks.  Critics care about the issue, and on some level are offering constructive feedback.  Haters, on the other hand, care more about themselves.  Embrace critics, and try to tune out the haters.

Planning for controversy is also crucial, all three agreed.  Anticipate reactions and have your facts locked down.

When dealing with rampant haters – the avalanches of nasty tweets and relentless evil e-mails – all three offered tips while also acknowledging the fact that meanness stings.

“Laughing at them takes their power away,” said Kohn.

” If you step in it, remember that $#*^ can be wiped off a shoe.” Greene agreed.

Ultimately, if everyone is agreeing with you, you’re not making an impact Greene reminded us.  Challenging conventional wisdom is leadership, and Kohn noted that sometimes, being liked isn’t part of that equation.

“You can’t worry about being liked,” summarized Kohn. “Negative blowback is one of the costs of leadership.”
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

The Secret to Real-Time Storytelling Revealed at #SXSW

What’s the secret sauce for real-time storytelling? Telling a story as it unfolds requires significant planning.  At SXSW today, I got a look behind the scenes at the making of the Melbourne Remote Control Tourist campaign, an extraordinary piece of work masterfully produced by Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, Tool and Exit Films for Tourism Victoria. Our guides were:

Dustin Callif, managing partner of digital, Tool North America

Jason Nickel, interactive director & technologist, Tool North America

Jason Zada, director, Tool North America

Together, the three told the story of creating the Remote Control Tourist (“RCT”) an example of what they call real-time storytelling, which they describe as the merging of social media and live action, and having the audience impact what’s happening with a narrative.

The project started with the task of “curating the city,” which involved finding the best and most interesting things in Melbourne, but doing so with an eye toward the logistics of filming.

“You have to start from the standpoint that this will be something good that people will want to watch,” noted Zada. “The second you started being boring, people start leaving. When you are doing  a show like this, every single second needs to be as interesting as it can be.”

The user interface also required an extraordinary amount of work. There were a lot of moving parts, starting with an interactive map, into which the team built a lot of functionality including realtime updates on the RTC’s status as well as background  information and context for each location.  All of this was framed around the live video, and overlayed with near real-time social interactions.

The campaign exposed the fun and positive messages about Melbourne to more than 100MM people worldwide, and resulted in the world’s first crowd-sourced city guide.    Thousands of people made requests of the tourists during the live window, and the wide-ranging RTCs garnered some surprising celebrity cameos, too.  Despite the visibility generated, at the end of the session, Callif noted the value of high quality owned media and recognized that even more could have been done.

“There’s a PR hook in this stuff that needs to be capitalized on,” he said, noting that in the next project, he’d want to more emphasis on  leveraging the content to earn more attention.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

#SXSW Interactive 2014 : First Look At Trends & Themes

sxlogoWe’re in Austin this week for South By Southwest Interactive, which kicks off later today.

This event is one of my favorite of the year – for me, it’s a one-week crash course in what the future holds for anyone involved in the digital space.

A 360 degree look at privacy

Despite the fact that SXSWi is now firmly in the mainstream, and is no longer a funky little nerdfest, a look at emerging themes from this year show the event hasn’t strayed far from its roots.   The big story this year is our notion of privacy, and (more specifically) where privacy intersects with things like national security and digital marketing.

Edward Snowden and Julian Assange will both be addressing the digital faithful, via satellite.  (The Texas Tribune will be livestreaming Snowden’s address here: on Monday, March 10 at 11 CT.)

My partner in crime at SXSW - PR Newswire's VP of audience development, Vicky Harres.

My partner in crime at SXSW – PR Newswire’s VP of audience development, Vicky Harres.

Underpinning the focus on privacy is an emerging theme of “how to do what is right” with respect to user data and individual privacy.  On the one hand, organizations can use our individual data to provide us with customized experiences, relevant information and advertising that actually reflects things we care about.  On the other hand, some of these measures are designed specifically to separate us from our dollars, and let’s face it – some of it is creepy.  The panels and keynotes around privacy promise to make us think and, true to the SXSW spirit, some promise to stand conventional wisdom on its head.

The digital user experience

Web design evolves incredibly quickly, keeping pace with emergence of new platforms and devices we use to live our lives online, and I remain convinced that content creators (PR people, I’m talking to you too!) can learn a lot from the wizards of UXD (user experience design) – after all, they are creating the environment in which our content will be consumed.    This year it looks like personalization will be a consistent theme in the UX sessions.

Do it all differently, and better

Fostering innovation, continuous learning and recalibrating our organizations to absorb and captitalize upon the changes the digital revolution continues to bring are the focus of a large set of panels and keynotes.    After all, SXSW is first and foremost about change, but for change to happen, organzations and people need to be ready to embrace it.

How we’re covering SXSW:

Keep your eye on the Beyond PR blog – we’ll be posting updates over the weekend, and re-blogging posts from Beyond Bylines, our new media blog.

Vicky and I will be live-tweeting sessions via @PRNewswire and our own handles, @sarahskerik and @victoriaharres.

Additionally, we’ll be sharing pictures on the PR Newswire Tumblr too.

If you’re here, tweet us, we’d love to say hi in person.  And if you’re not, join us in spirit digtially as we dive into SXSWi!

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Extreme Makeover: Press Release Edition

pr makeoverA colleague and I recently re-tooled a traditional press release into an entirely new type of message.  The goal of the message was to acquire new audience for a blog, in the context of promoting a live event.

We sliced through the copy, turning the most interesting fact we could find into the headline and moving brand and event info down the page.  The rationale? The headline has to first and foremost attract attention, but it has to do more.  It has to arrest readers and induce them to click and open the story.

Focus on why the message is important to readers, not what the brand is doing. 

All the branding and positioning in the world do little if the message isn’t consumed, so we moved the brand introduction (“XYZ, a leading provider of ….”) out of the lead, and instead focused on building reader interest.   We did this by focusing more on explaining why the event was important and interesting (provocative topics with lots of experts) versus what the brand was doing (holding the event.)

Offer one link as a call to action for readers 

I see lots of releases that start with a URL link to the company home page right at the beginning of the lede, an exercise which provides zero utility to the reader. Unless the home page strongly supports what the press release is about, chances are good that reader you just sent to your web site will leave immediately.

So in overhauling this particular release, we dialed back on the number of links. Instead of distracting readers with scads of links that in reality didn’t strongly support the key message of the release, we focused on just one link offering it as a call to action midway through the body of the release.

Results & how-to: 

The results were significant – engagement (as measured by reader interactions with content – e.g. click-throughs, shares, etc.) and total visibility were higher for this release than for all the others issued to promote the event, save one.

The breakdown of the makeover is included in the following deck, which was presented earlier this week on PR Newswire’s webinar (now available on demand) titled: Tactics for Maximizing the Results of Your Press Releases.

If you’ve been inspired to switch up your approach to (or uses for) press releases, I’d love to hear about it!  Post a note in the comments, and I’ll be sure to see it.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Getting Press Release Readers to Take Action


Before and after landing page optimization results from MecLabs. Changes to how web pages are structured can significantly increase the results those pages generate.

Marketers know that slight tweaks to their web pages can deliver astonishing “lift” in the results those pages generate.  Moving a button to a different spot on the page and reducing the amount of text and other visual clutter increases the likelihood that page visitors will take the desired action, clicking on the primary call to action on the page. This is called ‘landing page optimization,’ and it’s an increasingly important field of digital marketing.  What’s the connection with PR? I’ll be talking about this in detail later today, on a webinar about new press release tactics.  (Join me, it’s free.  1 PM ET.  See you there?) but here’s the gist…

The press releases we issue become landing pages of a sort when they hit the wire and are distributed online.  They are hosted on thousands of web sites, and are the digital ambassadors for our brands, conveying messaging, branding, visuals and – importantly – links directly back to our web sites.

New press release outcomes 

As a result, many organizations are using releases to generate more than media coverage.  Driving social interactions that lead to improved search engine results is one potent new outcome for which brands are using the distribution of content.  Promoting content – such as blog posts and white papers – is something else we’re seeing more brands do with online news releases.   Generating leads and direct sales (such as app downloads and event registrations) is a third use of news releases we’re increasingly seeing.

Formatting press releases to encourage readers to take action

f map

Jakob Neilsen of the Neilsen Norman Group is the grandfather of online user experinece (“UX”) research, and has devoted considerable time to researching how people read content online.  His conclusion – people don’t actually read content online the same way they read long-form print. Instead of methodically reading each line, online readers scan content, using an F shaped pattern, spending more time at the top of the page, and then scanning the left side.

PR pros penning press releases can utilize this research to create more effective content.  When formatting news releases and other content destined to be distributed online, writers should pay attention to the following tips, taken straight from Neilsen himself in the article titled, “F Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content:”

The F pattern’s implications for Web design are clear and show the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the Web instead of repurposing print content:

  • Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.
  • The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.
  • Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.”

It’s no surprise that the inverted pyramid of news writing and search engine optimization best practices also offer similar advice in terms of placing key information at the top of the page and using bullets and bold text to highlight information for readers.  Many press release writers, however, ignore this advice, instead loading lead paragraphs with long-winded boilerplate and hiding key messages deep within blocks of text.

I think it’s time to put our messages under the microscope.  We need to tune our press releases for our readers, not allowing competing egos or “the way we’ve always done it,” to add barriers to message effectiveness.

Learn New Tactics to Improve Press Release Results 

If you’d like to update your press release tactics, view our free on-demand webinar titled “Tactics for Maximizing Press Release Results.”

Learn how to create press releases that can compete with the best of the web’s content for audience attention. This webinar dives deep into press release tactics, including:

  • Writing headlines that do more than just grabbing attention – they inspire action
  • How to construct your news release copy to channel the interest of your readers
  • Strategies for optimizing content for maximum search engine benefit for your brand

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

26% of Press Releases Aren’t Optimized for the Digital Environment

PRN-Pulse-Poll_Release-Change_Feb2014Despite the explosion of digital media and the importance of online readership and search engine visibility, more than a quarter of respondents to an informal poll by PR Newswire report they have not changed their press release tactics.

The majority of respondents indicate they are updating their approach to how they write and structure their news release content.  The most popular tactics employed are embedding links that enable readers to either hop straight to a selected web page or encourage social engagement.

Incorporating visuals – the most effective means of driving press release visibility – is also an increasing popular tactic employed by PR teams.  As social networks and search engines continue to increase their emphasis on visual content, using visuals will continue to be an important and effective tactic.

Search optimization tactics continue to stymie press release writers, largely because the rapid pace of change employed by the search engines makes keeping pace with best practices a challenge.  (Related: 4 Keys to Creating Search Friendly Content.)

Learn New Tactics to Improve Press Release Results 

If you’d like to update your press release tactics, view our free, on-demand webinar titled “Tactics for Maximizing Press Release Results.”

Learn how to create press releases that can compete with the best of the web’s content for audience attention. This webinar will dive deep into press release tactics, including:

  • Writing headlines that do more than just grabbing attention – they inspire action
  • How to construct your news release copy to channel the interest of your readers
  • Strategies for optimizing content for maximum search engine benefit for your brand

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

2 Ways PR & SEO Need to Collaborate to Drive Results

In the PR realm, “SEO” often refers to the goal of getting a press release seen in search results. However, in reality, search engine optimization is much larger in scope, referring to the art and science of getting your company content (the web site and other assets) to appear at the top of internet searchers’ results pages (the “SERP” or “search engine results pages,) for the words that relate strongly to the business and attract likely new prospects.

One of the most potent ways to get to the top of the SERP is via earned media, and as we know, that is the realm of public relations. That’s also why leading SEO site SearchEngineLand ran a post today titled: 5 Tips For Working With A PR Firm To Build Links.

SEO and PR need to be on the same page.  Literally.

Earned media – whether in the form of social proof or traditional pick up – are the most important search ranking factors today.

In my mind, the article misses an important angle, which is this: SEO pros should work with the PR team (in house or agency) to align and integrate their efforts around the pages to which links are desired. The PR teams should have a table of the key URLs for which the company is developing optimization strategies, and the corresponding topic areas and relevant keywords. The public relations staff can (and should) include those URLs when pitching, penning posts and writing press releases, which will result in the eventual reference to those links in journalists’’ online posts and social shares.

Illustrate the value of earned media.

But we’re not done there. The SEO agency or team should reward the PR team – who, let’s face it, are often struggling to express ROI – by giving them a report illustrating the value of the media they earned. The SEO guys are measurement wizards – they know how many people visited a particular web page, and where they came from, and in many cases, what they did subsequently. They tabulate conversions and track revenue, and they can tell the PR team what out comes the media earned generated.

One could even argue that search rank should be a defined PR outcome, and you know what?  I would agree.

The barrier is education, not territory. 

Learn more about getting the most out of your press releases in today’s digital media environment on this free webinar on Feb. 26.

The article intimates at – and gives an unfortunate example of – the issue of territory. Many of the PR pros I work with aren’t thinking in terms of SEO and earned media, which is a crying shame, given the importance of earned media and social proof in the search engines’ ranking algorithms.

It’s not a territory issue; it’s an education issue, and a huge opportunity for PR to generate immense and measurable value for the brands they represent.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and  New School Press Release Tactics.  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

4 Things PR Must Do to Leverage Digital Media

Should PR take control of content marketing?”

That question was posed by Craig Pearce on Jeff Bullas’ blog today. My answer is a qualified “Yes.”

As a content marketer who has spent the last two decades in the PR realm, I am wholly convinced that PR should be marching in lock step with content marketing (as well as its cousin, social media.) Commingling content tactics and strategies to achieve brand objectives and fully capitalize on the digital media environment is an imperative for communicators.

Join us on Feb. 26 for a free webinar on press release tactics that will drive results.

Join us on Feb. 26 for a free webinar on press release tactics that will drive results.

More specifically, PR should have a primary role in shaping the brand’s content strategy: PR teams are the story tellers, they are the influence-wranglers, they are the strategists who build reputation and chart the communications course for the brand when the going gets tough. Craig offers great advice for pumping up PR messaging with content marketing tactics in his post, and I’m in complete agreement with his suggestions.  This is a green field of opportunity for PR pros to expand the value they deliver to their organizations, garnering influence within the organization and budget for the department.

But not everyone is PR is jumping on board the digital media bandwagon.  From my vantage point here at PR Newswire, where I talk to PR pros daily, where I scan press releases continually and where I spend a lot of time following conversations about PR on various forums, I see four hurdles that could keep some PR pros from leveraging content marketing as a PR tool, and instead wind up ceding ownership of external influence to their colleagues in marketing.

Hence, the qualification in my answer, which is this: PR must leverage content marketing and digital media, but to do so, the public relations team must do the following:

  • Align content to the organization’s prospects’ buying cycle  
  • Develop messaging that serves the audience first (and in so doing, serves the brand.)
  • Fully understand and embrace social media
  • Get really serious about measuring outcomes, not output.

Here’s what I mean.

Alignment with the buying cycle:  It’s not unusual to hear PR pros eschew outcomes such as lead generation when talking about publicity strategies. But let’s face it – in an era when we can map the course each new prospect took across the web and social media before winding up in our marketing funnels, ignoring the opportunity to influence the organization’s success and to quantify the PR team’s efforts is a losing proposition.  Smart PR pros will use the personas, buying states and other content marketing data points to inform their own editorial calendars and content creation strategies.

Audience first messaging:  One lesson PR can really learn from content marketers is how to speak the audiences’ language.  Content marketers trade heavily in information that is interesting and useful to their target markets, and they’re generating social proof and even earning media with that content. I’ve heard numerous accounts of content marketers who have approached their PR teams with a pitch or idea, only to be shot down when the information isn’t deemed “newsworthy.”   If PR is going to own content marketing, the definition of “newsworthy” needs to expand dramatically to encompass that which is interesting and useful to the audience.

Social media as an influence engine: While traditional earned media still carries enormous value, social proof is playing an important role in shaping opinion – and driving search engine results.  The savviest public relations professionals are making deft use of the influential power of social channels by building engaged brand presences and fostering interaction with their audiences – and winning loyalty and lasting visibility as a result.  PR pros who fail to embrace social and digital media are in effect abdicating their organizations’ most influential attention markets and influence networks to other communication disciplines.

Measurement: It’s time to abandon vague numbers once and for all.  Estimations, impressions and (worst of all) equivalencies are relics from an era when measurement was difficult if not impossible.  That’s no longer the case.  The data our organizations have allows us to set starting benchmarks and then chart subsequent growth and change.  We can measure things like branding and awareness – which seemed pretty vague a few years ago – with a mix of metrics relating to social conversation volumes, mentions and search term use (to name a few) – enabling PR teams to accurately describe how their efforts changed audience behavior.

But wait, there’s more.  We can now understand the quality of the attention generated, as measured by the subsequent actions of the newly acquired audience.  Did the people who read your press release take another step, sharing it with their own social networks (and thus amplifying your message, a new metric worth charting) or clicking on a link you embedded?

new school cover

Read about Jive’s success (and see other real-life examples) in this free eBook.

One PR Newswire client, Jive Software Inc., was challenged by their CMO to improve the conversion rate of their press releases.  We tweaked their formatting, and the changes resulted in a 200% increase in traffic to a web page the company was promoting.

Another client, SecureState LLC, shared with us that the press releases they use to promote their blog posts are a leading source of new prospects, as measured by new names in their marketing database.

These are a couple examples of smart PR teams fully leveraging outbound communications to generate qualified inbound traffic.

It’s crucial to realize that all content published by a brand is easily found and consumed by a variety of audiences. Prospective customers are reading press releases.  Journalists are scanning marketing materials.  Regulators read blog posts.   Your organization may be siloed still, but your digital content isn’t.  This is why it’s so important for public relations teams to embrace new outcomes, and not be afraid to embed a landing page in a press release or to add marketing-type measurement to the department KPIs.

In my mind, truly, content marketing and PR really do belong together.  Audience interest and earned attention are at the core of each.  Rather than pursuing separate strategies, many brands are finding success by merging the two, using interesting content to earn media and using the attention PR wins to drive new customer acquisition.
Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and  New School Press Release Tactics.  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

How have your press release tactics evolved? [Poll]

Have you changed up your press release tactics?  For an upcoming infographic and post, we’re doing an informal poll of public relations pros.  Take a second to respond below, and then check back next week to see how your response compares to what your peers say.

And while you’re at it, please share this poll with your social networks. Simply click to tweet:  How have your press release tactics evolved? lil tweet


What is PR & How Does it Relate to Marketing & Social?

What is PR?  This question cropped up on a webinar last week, and it got me thinking.

Traditionally PR has been about managing public opinion; however the organization one represents defines their various publics.   It starts with building awareness, and then through the deployment of messaging or experiences, the emotional responses are elicited, opinions are shaped and reputations formed. At that point, one can start measuring the ensuing actions of the audience, whether those outcomes are measured in terms of votes or purchases or some other behavior.

new school cover

This free ebook offers a slew of new press release tactics designed to win more attention for your messages.

At its core, PR today hasn’t changed – it’s still about influencing opinion and behavior.  However, the mechanisms for building awareness and influencing opinions have changed dramatically.lil tweet

So as I think about what PR is today, I find my answer is multifaceted.

PR is mutable.  It’s changing and changing again, and then yet again.  The tactics have to keep pace with the audience, and audiences are fragmenting and coming together again on a variety of digital channels.  It’s imperative that PR pros understand and embrace the channels where their audiences live.

PR is measurable.  It’s time to bury vague numbers like ad equivalency values and impressions, and start quantifying the top line impact of PR.  This means measuring outcomes, not output. The good news is that digital channels and media are spectacularly measurable.  Awareness can be gauged by volumes of conversation sparked by the content we produce and the media we earn.  Ensuing interaction can be tracked with social data and web site referral information.  Outcomes can be counted and correlated directly to PR activities.

PR is multifaceted.  The conversations we spark and content we publish can earn media, generate social proof and influence search rank.  The results of these outcomes are larger, better qualified and well engaged audiences.  Influentials can be found anywhere – in discussion groups, curating social content, authoring blogs, hanging out on forums and (of course) writing for media outlets.   Developing messaging and content to target and serve the array of influencers and their respective audiences is the purview of today’s PR pro.

It’s multimedia, multi-channel, multi-platform.  It’s difficult to win attention for a message without a visual.  Facebook gives a visibility edge to posts that include multiple visuals.  Entire social networks like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube (which is also the second largest search engine in the world) are built on visual content.  In addition to garnering attention, good digital content can develop a long life span and continue to accrue audience long after it’s issued.  PR pros need to be thinking visually, and building message and content strategies to reach audiences on different channels with the media mix that’s right for each.

PR is everywhere.   Audiences see our brands and organizations through the internet lens.  Online reviews, social interactions and third party blog posts roll up into reputation and are part of the PR equation.  The reality is this: public relations isn’t just the domain of the communications department anymore. Integration across departments is crucial, as many efforts, such as social campaigns or market research, may be initiated in Marketing or a community team that may not be fully aware of the opportunity to earn additional media and social proof their content.  PR needs to be aware of all outbound communications, not for purposes of message control but for message amplification.

So there’s my answer to the question, “What is PR?”  I’m curious to know whether or not you agree.  Please weigh in with a comment!

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebooks Driving Content Discovery and  New School Press Release Tactics.  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.