All businesses need some sort of public relations plan. Whether they are selling products or promoting their services, without a strategic approach that incorporates PR, companies lack the ability to effectively communicate their messaging and show value to customers at their full potential. A well-established PR plan that has been built with close attention to detail, is strategically organized, and tailored to the needs of the organization and audience is how you can make a difference in terms of growing your business online. In recent years the PR industry has changed quite a bit, and like many other channels of communication, it has acclimated to the increasingly digitalized world. That being said, the role of online media relations for nearly all businesses is more important than ever. While the same basic techniques and best practices of traditional PR hold true with digital PR, there are some additional elements to consider. As always, you still need to identify the key goals of your campaigns and determine exactly who your audience is and the media outlets they frequent most often. However, with digital PR, you also have to focus on where your readers are online and how you can tell a story that will best encourage them to visit your website. This will provide you with the opportunity to further market them and advance down the conversion funnel. Take a look below at our step-by-step guide to online media relations to better understand the process of implementing an effective digital PR campaign:

Determine Your Target Media Type

Generally speaking, good PR results don't happen overnight-strong media placements take time. The beginning phases of your media outreach should be reserved for planning and developing a cohesive strategy. Pitching broadcast outlets is far different from pitching bloggers or even other online media outlets, as each type of platform requires different tactics to make a story resonate well with their audience. While most brands today put an emphasis on digital media placements, traditional media still holds value too. Take the time to investigate if those traditional platforms syndicate their content and stories online, because more often than not, they do! Ask yourself, what makes sense for your brand in terms of the type of media you'd like to hone in on with your outreach? In general, certain brands have different media types that are most fitting for telling their story. For example, do you have a spokesperson for your organization that could speak on TV or on the radio? Do your products look visually appealing if photographed for print publications? Do your services speak for themselves or do they need to be highlighted in real-life examples? Are thought leaders or industry influencers important to your customers?

Finding the Right Beat

Once you've determined the type of media you're going to pitch, next you have to focus on the right outlets, and even more importantly, the right contacts at those publications. In general, it's fairly simple to identify the news site, magazine, or newspaper that you'd love to garner some publicity in, but finding the appropriate reporter or editor that would find your story idea relevant can be difficult. Any experienced PR professional knows how important relationship building with media contacts is, and unfortunately, journalists can be offended if your pitch misses their "beat" (or the general theme of the stories that they cover). Lucky for us in the PR industry, it's rather easy to avoid offending reporters by pitching irrelevant stories with access to so many tools and resources, but it takes time to cut through all the clutter. A simple Google search will provide insight into a media contact's professional background and interests. Tools like Cision make it simple to see what topics media contacts cover. Take it one step further and conduct a quick search for their name and/or publication to read some recent articles, confirming the information you're planning to pitch is relevant to the writer and will likely capture their interest. Check out their social media accounts (Twitter tends to be best with reporters), to provide yourself with some added confidence that your pitch will be getting in the hands of the right person as opposed to someone who will hit delete after a quick skim of your email. Another great tool to use during this stage of the process is Followerwonk, which allows you to do an in-depth analysis of any Twitter profile to better understand their interests and the accounts they engage with most frequently.

Crafting the "Perfect Pitch"

Ultimately, being to the point with your email is what can really set you apart in an inbox and allow you to stand out among the clutter of the reporter's (likely inundated) mailbox. You have a few seconds to grab the journalist or editor's attention and want to provide them with the "need-to-know" information right away. Always assume your email is at most getting a quick glance over, so make sure you have an eye catching subject line and that your email message is easy-to-digest and not overwhelming. Provide a link to your website for more information, and be sure to let them know that you can offer more information or answer any of their questions.

Let it Simmer

Journalists are busy. Let your email settle for a few days before sending your follow-up. In the world of digital PR, a good rule of thumb is to leave 3-4 days between your initial outreach and your follow up message. The inboxes of journalists are flooded on a daily basis, so it's perfectly normal for them to take a few days before sending a reply.

Follow Ups

If a few days have passed, and you haven't received a response from the contact you pitched, it's time to send a follow up message. Never assume the reporter isn't interested after only one message, but there is definitely a fine line between being pushy and simply checking in. Keep your follow up note short and sweet, stating that you're following up regarding the topic addressed in your previous email, and expressing that you'd love to connect, discuss, or share more information. Often times, one last prod will garner some sort of response from the media contact you're pitching. Whether you receive a yes, no, or an "it's on our radar," it's important to accept the response you receive. If you hear nothing after you've sent your follow up, its best to leave it at that, and revisit the outlet or reporter once some time has passed and there is a different angle of news to pitch surrounding your company, products, or services.

Be Responsive

So you've got a bite! Now you'll need to guide the process and coordinate all the necessary pieces to secure a successful placement. Provide supplementary information, coordinate and facilitate interviews if need be, or offer to chat more to iron out the details and ensure that everything runs smoothly. PR is about relationships-hence the word "relations." Once a media contact reaches out to you, you're not done yet. It's in your best interest to stay plugged in and respond as soon as you can while you're top of mind for the reporter, alleviating the chances that that they move on to cover a different story instead. This doesn't mean not having a work-life balance, but rather keeping up on your correspondence to lock in the perfect placement.

Asking For a Link

A key difference with digital PR and traditional PR is the close connection between digital PR and SEO. Simply put, the more links you obtain from authoritative outlets (think top-tier outlets), the higher you'll show up in relevant searches. In theory, the better your search engine rankings, the more likely users will be to visit your website and convert. While it's important to not lose sight of the value of a strong media placement without a link, there is definitely added value in securing links alongside your mentions. If your efforts have proven effective and you've gotten a great placement in an outlet with great readership, but there is no link, what can you do? This is very much so a case-by-case basis, but under some circumstances it's okay to ask for a link. If you're comfortable with the reporter or have worked with them before, it's worth a shot. If you've had minimal communication with the journalist, or see that there are virtually no links in any of their other articles, it's best to avoid asking. Ultimately, if you think it will be damaging to your relationship with the contact by pushing for a link-don't.

Simple Manners

Say "thank you" when you secure a placement and are alerted by the journalist or you do your own research to see if the feature went live. Sending over a quick note to show your appreciation can go a long way. Once again, building long-lasting relationships is the essence of PR, and being courteous is a vital part of any relationship.

Online Media Relations

The public relations process isn't something that can be done instantaneously. Sure, online media relations can be time-consuming, but if it's done correctly, the benefits can be incredible for building a brand's presence online. Do what you can to maintain the relationships you've begun to cultivate. Interact on Twitter, like posts on LinkedIn, or simply send a "hope all is well" email. Believe it or not, a little genuine interest goes a long way, and ideally, the contact will begin to remember you and associate a mutually beneficial and positive relationship with you and your brand.